Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Back to the Fen via Horningsea

Wednesday, 28th September: I took my Mum back home after having driven more miles in two weeks than I would normally do in several months.  It also reinforced my view that whilst the roads are becoming more congested that standards of driving on the roads do seem to have dropped. The trouble is an increase in carelessness and congestion will lead to more accidents. We could build more roads, take up even more countryside, create even more pollution or we could made radical changes to the way in which we plan to lead our lives.

Here in Cambridgeshire the city is already the focus for a large number of incoming commuters, either to work in the city or commute further afield. There is significant pressure to build more houses for people to live in. It was highlighted in a recent BBC news item – “New homes could add 900 cars to Cambridge's rush hour”. It seems to me that for a lot of people are keen to get others out of the way (bikes & buses) so that they can carry on driving. We need to change our way of thinking way more than that – we need to switch from residential streets being places for cars to move around on and park on to places for kids to play.

Not unreasonably and in my mind linked new developments must also have the facilities to to both encourage and make possible inhabitants a less-car existence. As suggested in this report “Gridlock predicted if new homes receive go-ahead”. The trouble is the same thinking about schools and health centres also gets attached to the A14. There is an automatic conflation of homes and cars.  If you do that then you have failed at the first hurdle of making the radical changes that will really change our driving behaviours.

This is a problem that is not going away – “Traffic jam fears as junction plan likely” highlights residents concerns around Babraham Road – yet their concerns seem to be ignored or dismissed. The trouble is our thinking about roads needs a radical overhaul, not just a bit of tinkering around the edges. Here is yet another report of a lorry crashing into a level crossing, this time at Ely. Another accident, this time along the B1050 in which a car seems to have landed in a ditch. Apparently the situation is not helped by heavy lorries affecting the road.

Meanwhile a serious accident between a cyclist and a lorry was reported – “Cyclist fights for life after colliding with lorry”. I believe that cyclists have a right to cycle on the roads and expect to be treated with courtesy by other road users. However I also think that once roads get to a level of congestion then the safety of those roads is heavily compromised by the wide range of vehicles that use them.

That is not to blame any particular type of user, however lorries and cars struggle to share busy motorways safely because they have such different “properties”. Whilst lots of car drivers hate the way that lorries overtake each other so slowly on two-lane carriageways such as the A14. They even call for restrictions on those lorries but arguably it should be the cars that are restricted because the passage of the lorries is more important to the economy than the cars.

Interestingly lorry drivers are more heavily regulated than car drivers with more stringent driving tests, controls on their working hours and Tachographs to monitor their driving. Perhaps the time has come to monitor and log car and van drivers driving. If a lorry driver can’t work more than 9 hours a day (with two 10 hour periods) then why should someone be able to work for 8 hours and having driven for an hour morning and evening?

I have suggested that perhaps lorries ought to use the roads at night and cars during the day – although I would imagine that driving overnight has its own problems of tiredness, There was a report of a lorry crash on the M11 at 4am causing problems on the A14 and M11.

Similarly in towns lorries, buses, cars and cyclists struggle to mix safely. Especially when motorists do so much multi-tasking such as this “Motorist driving while using laptop, writing down answers to radio quiz…” It happens all the time – I still see loads of drivers using their phones, from all walks of life.

Why does this all matter – well petrol is getting scarcer and won’t come down in price over the long-term. Indeed whilst I am banging on about congestion apparently “Drivers ‘cut petrol use by 15%’ research suggests”. Of course this does not necessarily mean less driving, it could mean more economic driving. An AA test suggests that more economic driving can lead to between 10% and 33% fuel savings.

So using AA data on petrol car running costs at a petrol cost of 15p per mile (to make it easy) then if you commute 30 miles a day plus another 50 at the weekend then you spend £1,500 a year on petrol – which means with better driving you could save between £150 and £500 a year.  Sounds easy doesn’t it – except that is not how people drive – perhaps the driving test ought to be improved to include an “economy test”.

The bottom line for me is that there needs to be a radical improvement in the overall planning with a significant switch away from the car economy – after all houses are around for a long time .We are building houses now for future generations – let’s not tie them to the old-fashioned car. This means serious changes to the way planners think. The trouble is planners are ruled by politicians and politicians (imho) tend to have a short vote-driven horizon.

The current approach to cycle lanes, even here in Cambridge is pretty pathetic.  The trouble is money is wasted on poorly designed facilities – as in this NY video of a cycle commuter’s journey. The Dutch helped drain the Fens many years ago – perhaps we ought to get them back to build the cycle infrastructure!


NY Cycle Lanes

Anyways – back to my ride. The weather her in the Flatlands is taking a great turn for the better – you’ll see the glorious blue skies in the pictures. So after a week or so off the bike, well it seems like a long time I got out for a ride out and back past Wicken Fen.

After picking my bike up from Ben Hayward Cycles – with its new, hand built rear wheel and a few other bits ‘n pieces (chain, rear block, brakes) – it felt like new again. That is one of the great things about a bicycle they can, in most cases be quickly fettled to super-smooth operation again.

Here is the route – Lodes Way Loop 21,  59Km/37 miles. I went clockwise and it was glorious – although I was expecting things to be a bit more Autumnal after such a lot of time had passed.

As you can see in this picture looking down over the A14 bridge along Low Fen Droveway – the skies were blue!

A bit further along flat lands, freshly ploughed and wide open, blue skies.  This is a very busy time for farmers as they go through the various preparation stages from ploughing, rolling, drilling, treating and fertilising their fields ready for another crop. 

After passing through Horningsea and heading back along the bridleways to Lode – this field, which I am sure had peas in it that were harvested seems to have grown another crops of peas which are being ploughed back. Now it might be that the last crop were ploughed in and those peas grew new plants and the same will happen to this lot, I am not sure. It would also be that the peas are being used to put nitrogen back into the soil. You can see the tractor ploughing the field up along the horizon.

I reckon that the farmers in these parts take a pride in how perfectly they can prepare their fields – it amazes me just how finely tilled the soil looks.

An apple tree along the route of the old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway, near Anglesey Abbey.

Further along Lodes Way looking across Sedge Fen towards what is referred to as Blinkers Hill on the old maps.

There is still harvesting taking place – the other side of this crop of maize. (sweet corn)

After cycling along Harrison’s Drove and alongside Wicken Lode this is the view looking back down the Lode from the cock-up bridge there. You can just about make out my shadow on the water.

This is looking down Reach Lode before it splits into Reach lode and Burwell Lode, with a boat heading down.

Although there has been lots of farming activity there is still lots to do.

The good news is that the fine weather is due to last over the weekend – that bad news is that with my time of the bike for the first time in ages I suffered a little chafing in sensitive areas – I’ll have to resort to the sudocrem the next time

 Surprised smile

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