Cardiff and the Active Travel Act

Big changes are afoot in Cardiff, not least for those of us whom get around by bike. The Active Travel Act is here; the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is here; and the Capital Region Metro is on the way.

However, looking at the recently published “existing route map” that Cardiff Council consulted on until 29th December 2015, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the council is going backwards on its promises. Fear not, this is all part of the plan. Let us explain.

The Enfys Era

Way back in March 2009, Welsh Government and Cardiff Council launched a joint venture to be Wales’ first Sustainable Travel City. It was to be two years of funding that would give us the Keeping Cardiff Moving website and a cycle network we know as Enfys.

We know Enfys (Rainbow in Welsh) as the painted communications cabinets we see dotted around the city and a nice big map with a central hub and “routes” heading off in every direction. Whilst work did take place to make cycle-friendly the streets under the inked lines on the map, it was generally of poor quality and far from the sort of infrastructure you’d let your children loose on.

Fortunately, in political circles things were beginning to turn in our favour. Faced with ever-increasing costs to the NHS for avoidable health problems like obesity and type-2 diabetes and the ever tightening limits on air pollution there was a realisation across governments all over the world (apart from Australia, apparently) that there may be something in this walking & cycling malarkey and that it should be encouraged. So, in May 2012, a white paper was presented to the National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise & Business Committee that would eventually become the Active Travel Bill.

The Active Travel Act

By November 2013 the Bill became an Act and active travel provision became law in Wales. Meanwhile, Cardiff Council continued working on the Enfys network, but in light of the Active Travel Design Guidance the newer on-road cycle lanes began to take on a new look. They became wider, the central line was removed with the expectation that motorists would fight over the centre ground and whilst not perfect, they did at least conform to the requirements of the Act.

Skip forward into 2015 and Cardiff Council began consulting on their existing route map. It’s missing quite a lot from the Enfys route map we are familiar with, but there’s a very good reason for that.

3.26 Routes that fall very far short of the standards, to the extent that they are difficult and can not be used safely, should not be shown on the maps regardless of their location. High quality routes should also not be shown on the maps if their location does not enable access to services and facilities, or if they can not be accessed safely from the rest of the network. This may be the case for routes that are for purely recreational use, or newly built routes that have yet to be connected to the wider infrastructure.

Unfortunately, much of the work done under the Sustainable Travel City era was well below par, meaning that it cannot be included on the map. The new work –James Street, Colum Road and Cathays Terrace is ok, as is much of the Taff Trail.

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However, the Act includes a number of provisions, including:

2.1 The Act makes provision:

  • for local authorities to produce maps of existing active travel routes and related facilities in a local authority’s area (the existing routes map) and to submit these maps to the Welsh Ministers for approval within a prescribed timetable;
  • for local authorities to produce maps of the new and improved active travel routes and related facilities needed to create integrated networks for active travel in a local authority’s area (the integrated network map) and to submit these maps to the Welsh Ministers for approval within a prescribed timetable;

We’ve just seen part one. That has been consulted on and every council has published its current route map. The next part is due in September 2017 when councils submit their Integrated Network Maps and also a newly updated existing route map, which should have some new routes on it. You see, the integrated map is intended to be a 15-year plan, essentially, but funding continues to flow to implement works already on the local transport plan.

3.49 There should be a 12 week public consultation on the integrated network maps, which can be combined with the existing routes map consultation. It will be important to be clear in the public consultation that the integrated network maps are aspirational maps. Whilst they will include proposals for new infrastructure and improvements to existing infrastructure that are under active development, they will also include possible plans for the next fifteen years which are subject to planning permissions or might be affected by future events. It will be important to make this clear in public consultation to ensure that the process does not give rise to unrealistic expectations of what will be delivered and by when.

So, contrary to what you may have heard, Enfys isn’t necessarily dead, but it’s going through adolescence and it is too early to tell what it’ll look like when it reaches adulthood. In 2017 we’ll be that little bit closer to finding out. Cardiff Council will have a cycle network, they have no choice whatsoever in that.

The good news is that the delivery guidance is quite robust. It makes it pretty clear that should an active travel route disadvantage motor traffic, tough! Modal shift away from private cars is one of the overall aims.

2.15 There may be occasions where, to deliver coherent network for active travel, routes are necessary in locations which will significantly disadvantage motorised traffic. In such a circumstance, local authorities should judge whether there is an alternative location for the route that would still fulfil the needs of the integrated network. However, if there is no suitable alternative, inconvenience for motorised users should not be the sole reason for not proceeding with an active travel route. One of the aims of the Act is to achieve modal shift. The Design Guidance contains advice on how to proceed in these circumstances (Chapter 5 Section 2: Network Planning for Cyclists).

The integrated network map

We believe it is important to consider the eventual shape of the active travel network in Cardiff, whatever it is to be called, in the context of the big changes happening in Cardiff over the next 10-15 years.

The Cardiff Metro is in development, including a bike hub at various locations and a focus on multi-modal provision, meaning that in an ideal world, taking your bike on the train will be considered a fairly normal activity and you shouldn’t be the one whom gets leered at when you try taking your bike onto a packed Arriva Trains Wales service to either Barry or Pontypridd.

We’ve also got a few more houses going up around the city and any active travel network is going to have to provide for those new developments too.

It’s also important to remember that we are VERY early on in the process of implementing the Active Travel Act. Before the Act, cycling was arguably an optional distraction for the council, but now we are backed by a law that states that councils have to improve provision year on year. Going backwards is not an option.

3.4 The Act requires that the maps are submitted to the Welsh Ministers for approval. The existing routes maps must be submitted within a year of commencement of section 3 of the Act and the integrated network maps must be submitted within three years of commencement of section 4 of the Act.

  1. 25 September 2014 – Act Commences
  2. 24 September 2015 – Submission of the existing route maps
  3. 24 September 2017 – submission of the integrated network map and resubmission of the existing route map
  4. 24 September 2020 – resubmission of the existing route map and the integrated network map.

 

It takes a long time to change a city; to change the ingrained behaviours of its residents and to win people over to a less car-dependent society.

So, we’ve got a bit of time to wait for the next stage. In the meantime, the act is in force and Cardiff Council has to continue improving the network according to the current plan. If the eventual plan ends up looking like the Enfys map, great, but only time will tell.

However, there’s a lot more information in the delivery guidance that you might want to read. Things are actually looking quite optimistic, but it’s going to take time to see the changes we want to see. The best thing we can do is keep the constructive feedback to the council flowing and to take this journey with them. We’ll have a better chance of getting what we want that way.

 

Gavin

Bike commuter, randonneur and cat wrangler

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