Daws Lane – One year on

Alasdair Massie followed up his correspondence with Cambridgeshire County Council (see Newsletter 66) with this letter to the relevant council officer later last year.

Trees from private gardens encroach into path, narrowing the space available to path users. In summer, the nettles on the left grow to 4 ft high and grow right into the path.
Image as described adjacent

You will recall that we exchanged correspondence on the maintenance of Daws Lane, and other, similar, traffic free cycle paths at this time last year. I thought that it would be useful to review progress. I hope that you will take the time to read this, act upon it, and review policy with your colleagues, contractors and partner organisations.

A rose branch at eye height could blind someone. Branches are not visible at night.
Image as described adjacent

I am aware that responsibility for the maintenance of this path does not lie with one body. Indeed, that seems to be a key problem – maintenance is not managed or coordinated very well and appears to be haphazard and reactive rather than proactive.

After our extensive discussions last year a number of the most acute problems were addressed. Unfortunately there are many chronic problems which need addressing in order for this path to operate satisfactorily. These were not addressed, and as a result problems have persisted for users.

As you know, the design, width and geometry of this path falls some way short of the requirements for a shared use path. In order to get the best out of this valuable asset it is therefore essential that maintenance is of the highest standard.

No passing space where this tree has collapsed into the path. It lay in the path, waiting to be cleared, for several months.
Image as described adjacent

Chronic problems facing users are:

  1. Poor visibility at bends and junctions due to encroaching vegetation. This leads to increased potential for collisions and conflict.
  2. Loss of width due to encroaching vegetation. This leads to increased potential for conflict between users.
  3. Loss of width due to encroachment from plants in private gardens. Conifers at the western end are becoming an increasing problem, and they will not get smaller with time.
  4. Hazard from vines and brambles trailing from trees. Brambles and rose tendrils are particularly hazardous. They are difficult to see, and can take an eye out. A cultivated rose straggles right across the path at the western end.
  5. Hazard from nettles growing beside the path. The mid summer cut was hopelessly inadequate. The nettles grow to chest height and straggle so far into the path that it was impossible to avoid getting stung for much of the summer. These need to be cut back far more ruthlessly.
  6. Dead and decaying branches regularly collapse across the path bringing vines and debris down with them. There is a considerable amount of dead, diseased or unstable wood overhanging the path, just waiting to come down. It provides no benefit, makes the path dark and gloomy, and needs to be cleared back before it falls.
Scrubby low branches on bends restrict visibility to only a couple of metres, increasing the likelihood of accidents and conflict.
Image as described adjacent
The sheer volume of vegetation, and the large amount of vine and dead or diseased wood ensures that branches regularly collapse across the path, making passage difficult if not impossible.
Image as described adjacent

Good, proactive maintenance saves money. Many of the problems are caused by scrubby, low level vegetation. This is easy to cut back, and if done properly it is easy to control. If on the other hand it is allowed to grow out of control, the branches grow thicker and harder to cut, and the volume of material to be cleared expands exponentially. It really is better to nip encroaching vegetation in the bud – proactive maintenance will always prove cheaper and more effective than reactive maintenance.

Now, at the end of the summer, and after your maintenance team has been through, the path is about as bad as it should be allowed to get before you call in the maintenance team. There is a substantial mismatch between the standards needed for safe and satisfactory service, and the standards that are actually applied. At present, the path is passable with care, but in the middle of summer it is an obstacle course.

As a reminder, I am including an extract from TRL Application Guidance Document 26 – Footway and Cycleway Design Construction and Maintenance, giving the dimensions required for successful operation. These are the requirements when growth is at its worst, so an appropriate margin is necessary when cutting. Obviously there are places where these targets can never be achieved by maintenance alone. In this case the aim should be to get the best out of the path, within the constraints, and to keep it that way.

Cycle Path Basic Design Dimensions
TRL AG26 Footway and cycle route design construction and maintenance guide 2003
Parameter Recommended Worst allowed
Gradient 3% 5%
Width 3m 2 m (1.5 m if part of shared path)
Crossfall 2.5% 1.2% to 3.3%
Radius of curvature 15 m or greater
Tight bend radius 4 m minimum (TD 36/93)
Visibility on bends 30 m 20 m
Design speed 30 km/h min

Alasdair Massie