We previously talked about the people we are campaigning for in our quest for better cycling infrastructure in Cardiff, but perhaps it is now time to take a look at exactly what we are asking for.
Cycling infrastructure comes in all shapes, sizes and configurations but unfortunately much of what we are exposed to here in Cardiff should come with an instruction manual.
We’ve all seen them, the seemingly random slivers of paint, sometimes in the shape of a bicycle; the randomly placed dropped curbs; the broken tram lines running parallel to the gutter, full of sunken manholes and potholes; the lanes that end abruptly; or the occasional “dismount” sign. It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle of oddness that, were you bestowed with the divine power of a non-specific deity you might be able to piece it all together into a coherent route.
The fundamental issue here is that there is often a disconnect between the highways engineer and people who have any idea whatsoever what a cyclist needs. Rather than plough through an area and create a route from start to finish, projects are often undertaken on a piecemeal basis –sometimes a junction or short stretch at a time and most likely by different teams of engineers.
Each change appears on the council website as a Transport Project and is consulted on separately, often in isolation from the rest of the project. It isn’t all that surprising that none of it makes sense. It’s frustratingly common to see a new piece of “infrastructure” appear on a stretch of road only to have us two-wheeled folk exclaim “what on earth were they thinking?!”.
We’ve also seen the off-road routes like the Taff Trail that are never gritted and are rarely swept for leaves and mulch during the winter. It’s a wonder any of us cycle at all.
What do we want…
We all agree that things need to change. Ask any cycle campaigner in the land and they’ll tell you that things cannot go on this way. However, ask them what needs to be done and you may get some very different answers.
Some people want segregated cycle lanes going to the places where people would normally go by car; some people want routes through back streets, often referred to as “quietways”; some will want widespread and rigorously enforced 20mph zones. However, there will also be some who want nothing but a change in the law to one of presumed liability because they are already adept at vehicular cycling and can get around much faster in the traffic. They just want the law to protect them from a group of motorists who are often let off with a fine and some points for taking lives.
The good news is that none of these are necessarily wrong, but the right answer is likely to be a combination of all of the above. We may not be a homogenous group, but it is probably fair to say we’re not good at being restricted to rigidly defined tracks. We will find the most efficient combination of roads, paths and trails to get to where we want to go.
The only slight problem here is that whilst efforts have been made to accommodate us in the past, as we alluded to above, they haven’t always gone so well.
The Active Travel Act
Fortunately, here in Wales we have the Active Travel Act 2013, which helpfully includes design guidance for Councils to follow. We’ve talked about this in some detail before, particularly in the context of Cardiff’s existing infrastructure. However, the design guidance is quite specific in how it sees cycling infrastructure. It specifies minimum widths; road profiles, surfaces and the way networks should be mapped. It also gives examples of good practice in terms of re-allocating road space and reducing vehicle traffic.
The thing is, even though it has 2013 in its name, in 2017 we’re not yet at a stage in its timetable where projects are starting to go ahead. We’ve seen the woeful “existing” maps and now we’ve seen the proposed maps and Cardiff’s strategy for delivery. These maps aren’t due to be submitted until the Autumn, by which point if approval is given, the work can start. This is where and when the money needs to be ready.
One thing you may have noticed in our deep dive series is that the primary routes effectively link up the new housing developments, occasionally at the expense of existing settlements. Well, there’s probably a good reason for that. A good chunk of the funding for these routes will no doubt be sourced from the developers of those new sites. It at least goes some way to explain why the primary routes are quite ambitious and are what a lot of us have been asking for, but the purple routes are far more low-key.
To fund the purple routes, the rest of us will have to wait until the Council has sourced funding from elsewhere, be that its bottom line or by grants from Welsh Government etc. This is also why the “purple routes” are longer-term plans and the primary routes are to be completed in just three years.
Will everyone be happy?
Probably not. Many of the more vocal campaigners are already experienced cyclists. If anything, we’re probably the last people who should be dictating the terms, particularly as many of us already have a set idea of what we would like to see and that may not be what people need.
The council has to target the people not currently cycling. The people who want to cycle but are too nervous to deal with the traffic; the people who have short commutes; the children who want to find their independence but whose parent fear for their safety; the people in that photo up top, not to put too fine a point on it. These groups offer the highest potential for growth in our modal share, simply because the rest of us, the existing cyclists, are in the minority.
Segregation from traffic is key and that, to the council’s credit is exactly what is in the strategy and in their plans for the primary routes. However, there would also be merit in making existing roads safer by policing and deterring close passes and by reducing speed limits and actually enforcing them as part of a holistic approach to reclaiming the streets from the car.