Congestion charging, and the £500 million
It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that Cambridgeshire County Council have published initial proposals for congestion charging. What has sadly been almost totally absent from media coverage has been the enormous package of £500m of transport investment which the County Council propose would accompany the scheme.
As a Campaign, we have not taken a formal view one way or the other on the principle of a congestion charge, though at some point soon we may want to do so. It may be that, as a Campaign, we take the view that we did with the Guided Bus: we have no view as to the principle but if the scheme goes ahead, we will do our best to make sure that whatever cycle provision is planned is of good quality. Or we may want to take a more active view for or against the proposals in due course, once more detail has emerged from the County Council, due later in October.
So far we have merely tried to ensure that the ‘huge carrot’ aspects of the proposals are covered more by the media and to remind people that 50 000 new houses around Cambridge in the coming decade will considerably worsen already bad congestion, so radical measures of some sort are going to be needed.
In terms of a charge, there are certainly factors relating to housing and commercial developments which we cannot ignore; a congestion charge could certainly have unexpected effects on future development patterns.
The government’s Transport Innovation Fund system offers a perhaps unique opportunity for free government money to improve transport (up-front, as often wanted by critics), but only if a charge is also introduced. The levels discussed, in the hundreds of millions, are practically unheard of in terms of local transport funding. We must not underestimate what a huge difference that could make.
Of course, the key question for the Campaign will be how such money, if a scheme goes ahead, will be spent. Such a large amount of money could do a lot of damage, or if spent properly, could transform cycling conditions in Cambridge towards the sort of quality found routinely in the Netherlands and elsewhere.
We have succeeded so far in steering the County Council’s consultants and key senior officers towards a quality agenda in these proposals – as displayed by the postponement of pavement-style cycleway proposals for Madingley Road, which with the tens of millions of pounds on the table, could be done properly instead. Officers are well aware that their existing schemes are often hampered by lack of money, though clearly the will has often also been lacking too.
Gonville Place crossing – next stage in the saga
Almost 18 months since Councillors, with little information on what was planned, agreed to turn this important crossing into a toucan, the work to turn it back to a parallel crossing has now begun, albeit with the silly turning ban reintroduced (see article).
Whilst Councillors and Officers are to be thanked for agreeing to the reversion work, the fact is that the Campaign had to spend far too much time convincing the Signals Team at the County Council what ought to be obvious: that reducing a crossing width by half, stuffing the crossing with obstructive poles, and removing automatic cycle detection is not the way that the UK’s premier cycling city should be heading.
There is not much point for the Cycling Campaing to support congestion charging if the cycling safety and infrastructure basics cannot be got right first, even when the extra money is available and the commitment is there.