Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Past Performance is not an indicator of future results

Monday 4th February 2014: One of the thing I do when cycling is mull (definition No. 2).  My thoughts can be quite random, if I have a presentation to make I might think about that, or the state of the roads or anything.  Just recently I have been thinking about a couple of things - climate change and its ramifications and how we humans seem to be pretty bad in our forward planning. We humans do seem to assume that the future is just a slight extension of the now. We forget the rapid changes in history and seem to plan for a future that is based upon the assumptions of the present.

In the earlier days of the Guided Busway I read various statements about the likelihood the the Maintenance Path (aka cycleway/cycle path)  being unusable because of flooding and there was a prediction, which I can no longer track down on the web.  However this Cambridge News article indicates that some stretches of the Cycleway will remain under water for an average of 29 days per year. Last year TTGB reported – Busway Flooding over 100 days of flooding in under a year.

This Council Assessment Report Sept 2004,  (see 4.2227) suggests that in any one of the last seven years the longest period of closure would have been 66 days.  But in section 4.223 it does reference the Foresight Report and Climate Change which indicates by the 2080s the risk of flooding could increase by 2 to 4 times, but could be even worse.

In what seems to be a blatant piece of optimism I did find this Cambridge County Council Press Release – Plans in place to raise flooded sections of Busway cycleway which talks about:

“so it (the path) will only flood for a few days, to a few weeks, a year during a typical winter.”

In fact on re-reading the lines I reckon it is cobblers – their “typical winter” implies a 7 to 1 spread in the severity of flooding so an atypical Winter could easily mean, say four times that amount. So as Climate Change bites then that implies a spread (assuming few = 3) of 12 days to 96 days. With what was once considered atypical becoming typical.

No wonder the Cycleway flooding is such a lottery – the Cycleway is not fit for purpose.

The same problem seems to be afflicting some of the flooded villages. Apparently last year the village of Muchelney (Somerset) were told their flood was a 1 in 100 year event, this year’s is another 1 in 100 year event then?  On top of that we have the Government cutting spending, semi-accountable QUANGOs changing their priorities and the public baring the brunt of the problems.  It doesn’t seem like democracy to me. It seems that despite the evidence that the Climate is changing – MET Office: Evidence ‘suggests climate change link to storms’ some of our assumptions are based upon the past whilst, even worse some parts of the Quangovernment are managing a retreat, and spending less on a problem that is getting bigger.

We now see headlines like – “Swamped by the Thames…” and “FLOODING: River Cam risk in Cambridgeshire ‘certainly not over yet’, says Environment Agency “ and “Brampton Brook seems to be going uphill at the moment” and “ …Britain braces for ‘Wild Wednesday’ with 100mph winds and heavy rain forecast”.  And then we ask ourselves what planning took place?

I would ask the same thing of our local Government – with New local plan for south Cambridgeshire – including new town at Waterbeach and village at Bourn airfield – backed by council chief. Where is the joined-up thinking in this mad dash for development. Note this picture doesn’t include East Cambs with a truckload more houses in the pipeline.

So we have a mountain of development, concerns about flooding, the main areas for employment and the city centre suffering from congestion – it all smacks of a belief that we are doing a bit more of what we have always done – but on such a massive scale that it will have massive repercussions – for transport, education, health. Already Cambridgeshire is the worst funded out of the 152 local authority areas for education. Cambridgeshire Schools receive £600 per annum less per pupil than th4e national average.  Perhaps we should have told the government to stuff the new development until that was sorted.

The elephant in the room is that all the new development will put more pressure on managing climate change.  Road transport is one the the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. So unless we get better managing our sustainability then we will end up with more climate change…  In my view that means that we have to work on the transport issues directly, whilst switching to sustainable energy might help reduce emissions from the generation of electricity cars and lorries are still burning fuel and we will end up with even more of then in Cambridgeshire.

The trouble is the County Transport plan (LTP3) seems to downplay the issues of the amount of development taking place, in its 8 Challenges. Already whilst nationally 21% of the carbon dioxide emissions come from the transport sector in Cambridgeshire in 2007 it was 32% (from the LTP3).  The report seems to work at the level of motherhood and apple pie without grasping the nettles. Check out Figure 2.1 – Summary of how LTP Objectives will be met.  There doesn’t appear to be a clear target for what we need to achieve and how it might be achieved.

Which means public transport, cycling and walking will all still be treated as the poor relations.

Now I had meetings in Cambridge on Monday and despite all the Tweeters who bleat on about how Cambridge is full of cyclists is isn’t that pleasant cycling in Cambridge. Too often cyclists are treated as slightly faster pedestrians who should share the pedestrians’ paths, unless of course they shouldn’t and then those same cyclists should be shamed, fined and castigated.  Lots of cycle facilities are half-assed and incomplete. Lots of cycle paths are scenic – good and yet indirect – bad.

Take route NCN51 that passes through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex – 214miles. It is a ragbag of different qualities and approaches. (Also Sustrans – please spend more on cycle routes and less on a flashy website.) Heading out of Cambridge to the East you cycle alongside the River Cam – pleasant but bit of road, then a bit of path, cattle grids, through a Park and Ride along narrow shared paths. There is also this – am I pleased it was built – well yes. It carries the route under the Cambridge – King’s Lynn railway line, by using a wooden bridge to run alongside the River Cam under an existing railway bridge.

A clever compromise, but a bottle-neck, a bit like building a zebra crossing over the M1 – dangerous. It causes conflict. The LTP talks about encouraging a switch to sustainable transport – well you could say that – it also encourages conflict.  I took the picture because the boarding has been re-surfaced again to improve the grip after a previous attempt that rattled you teeth out and seemed to cause my GPS to crash as well. So not only does cycling get sub-standard facilities the money gets wasted as well.

Stourbridge Common Railway Bridge

I still use the bridge – although I did once have to go to casualty one icy day when I crashed off my bike – I bashed my head and had to have it glued back.  You could say that maybe if I’d worn a helmet – although that kind of implies that cyclists who wear helmets subsidise p*ss-poor cycling infrastructure – I’d prefer it that our planners got it right in the first place.

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