Monday, March 10, 2014

Commuting–the new waterboarding?

Sunday, 2nd March 2014: It is easy to feel hard-done by when cycling on the roads today. I used to cycle for miles when I was a kid. I cycled to school (in a city) from 11 onwards. We used to go fishing – well my brother did I went along to ride my bike.

The reality is that things change, for a start there are more people living in the UK and more cars.  According to these DoT Transport Statistics (GB 2011) the number of licensed vehicles has increased from about 4 million in 1950 to over 34 million in 2011 ( I make it 14 million in 1970).  According to this DoT data the road traffic (motor vehicles) covered 302.6 billion vehicle miles in 2012 and I reckon it was about 120 billion vehicle miles in 1970.

The simple truth is that the UK is pretty different to the days of my youth. We can’t and shouldn’t live in the past, but rather look to the future and think about how we want to live. The trouble is forecasting the future is difficult and shaping the future even more difficult.  We all know about climate change and pollution and probably know of people who have been in serious road accidents. But most of us tend to assume that cars will be as much as part of our future as our past. Despite the fact that our past was pretty different to today, we forget that.

Also if we were any good (as a nation) at shaping our future surely we would have made a better job of the unpleasantness that is the daily commute into London.  Or did someone really design the daily commute as a way of life? “London-bound train overcrowding: 100,000 have to stand”. Of course some might claim this is due to market forces you get what you pay for. Well if that we really true then why do so  many people commute despite 11 out of 19 train companies having a customer satisfaction levels of  less than 50%! (The worst is apparently Reading-London.)  In case you were wondering – more than a fifth of London-bound commuters forced to stand on ‘overcrowded’ trains.

It would also be easy to blame local and national government, but look at the uproar whenever local or national governments even hint at controlling our transport systems. Uproar is of course very frightening for people who rely on voters for their positions. Of course the London Congestion charge did get enacted and has resulted in a reasonable reduction in traffic levels (and pollution levels).  Mind you such an approach can only work if there are reasonable transport alternatives and London is a transport hub with a railway system focused on the city and an underground railway system and a bus system.

Having said that the when our politicians do propose change there can be a tendency to push it out to some future point e.g. “Lib Dem plan to drive all petrol and diesel cars off the road by 2040 to force motorists to go green”.

We have heard in the past about joined-up Government, but I can’t help but feel that when it comes to transportation we have anything but a joined-up system. There has been quite a shift from petrol to diesel cars for reasons of economy and now we are told to worry about particulates emitted from diesel engines (especially at the school gate.) Who thought that one through?

So two thoughts – Cambridge – all the factors that drive congestion are coming your way. It might not be London but it will only get worse. Although the Local Transport Plan 3 (LTP3) didn’t enthuse me – it was rather anodyne, let’s see what the County Council Presentation said.

“Business as usual won’t suffice”

“40% growth forecast between 2001 & 20131: need for significant modal shirt.”

The slide showing the planned modal shift is somewhat less radical. Most of the shift is by absorbing the additional “traffic” though a growth in cycling in Cambridge.  With smaller changes in work from home, rail and bus.

Although the words then say

The backbone of the strategy will be a high quality passenger transport network of bus, guided bus and rail services, fed and complemented by comprehensive pedestrian and cycle networks

Cambridge will be linked to all nearby villages, and each of the Market Towns surrounding it by a high quality, safe and convenient cycle/pedestrian network.

Some additional capacity for general vehicular traffic will be needed

So some fine words but where are the targets and the key drivers of “modal shift”. It also seems to include the notion of tunnelling under the Gog Magogs, a link between the A14 and the Fen Ditton and Airport Way and widening the M11.  In short a lot of money spent on the roads.

I feel that I am being sold on a idea to create modal shift – but underpinned by spending huge sums of money on roads which will bring way more cars into the area leaving the other infrastructure to be done on the cheap. Gee thanks. Welcome to Cambridge a Carocracy.

To be fair there is talk of a Guided Busway to St Neots and extending the current CGB  to Waterbeach and Huntingdon, along with a railway to Bedford…Oxford. There is also talk of improving the rail corridor between Cambridge and Newmarket to Ipswich and Soham.

But if their projections are correct then there will be the same number of cars and more buses and roughly double the number of cyclists.  So Cambridge congestion will not improve and it  will increase – their modelling suggests a 30% growth in traffic in the City during the morning peak and a 39% growth in South Cambridgeshire during the morning peak.

It seems to me that despite the dire situation facing Cambridge – with 44,000 new jobs and 35,000 new homes being built there needs to be vision and drive to transform the impact transport has in Cambridgeshire.

There needs to be a clear set of targets, with a substantial infrastructure investment in a proper cycling network and integrated with a high quality public transport system.  There needs to be active discouragement to drive as well as active encouragement to switch to other modes of transport.

In particular there should be investment in separating cycling and walking – the shared use paths are not a solution they lead to conflict and undervalue both walking and cycling as means of transport.  Cycle routes need to be direct and have priority over motor traffic to encourage those that would otherwise not cycle to switch.

This isn’t just about congestion it is also about improving society which means it isn’t just about transport but the way new developments are designed and integrated.  One aspect that needs more work is how to enable more people to work from home – better broadband to the countryside – when they build the direct and segregated cycle routes they ought to lay fibre (optic cable for proper broadband) at the same time.

Let’s face it things are going to change we need to steer them to change for the better. 

So my assessment of the Transport Strategy – must work harder still too car-centric.  To see how the CCyC have responded check here.

The other aspect that isn’t really addressed is the need to ensure that there we need to ensure that there are also quiet and secluded areas of countryside.  This needs active planning as well.

Noise carries. I enjoy cycling around the Wicken Fen area because of its relative solitude and reckon we need to ensure that the Vision is encouraged and that similar areas are available around the County. Such areas need to encourage cycling and walking as well.

One thing not mentioned was use of the rivers that pass through Cambridge (in particular the Cam and the Ouse) – whether for tourism or for transport. One thing that we tend to forget is that places are closer together than you might think.  This picture was taken from the road in Upware.(with a zoom lens).  Now the river is around 150m from the road -however in the picture you can see cars in the distance. That is the A10, around 3.6Km away. I hadn’t realised but there is a Solar Farm, just past the railway line, around 2.5Km away. Planning was granted for a 5MW Solar Farm at Radical Farm, Chittering.  I reckon it is that white line to the right of the picture.

Apparently it is used to provide power for the AmeyCespa’s Mechanical Biological Treatment Plant. Mind you I am a little confused as to where the Solar Farm is. According to this document the (Grade 1 agricultural ) land was up for sale in two lots – totalling 68.5 acres  subject to leases for two solar farms totalling 10MW. Whilst reading about this  one Cantelupe Farm might also be getting a 17-Hectare one? Phew apparently solar power trumps Green Belt land. There seems to be a dash to turn farm land into solar power at the moment and I though that brownfield sites were favoured. I guess it must beat the uncertainties of farming? Apparently in the case of the Cantelupe Farm solar farm on 33 hectares in Haslingfield the it was poor agricultural land.

Congestion – what congestion – boat on the River Cam – Upware

In case you were wondering what a Solar Farm generates this website estimates the output of the Radical Solar Farm – income from Jan 2013 to Dec 2013 - £130,958.10    That is rather precise for an estimate.  The same website estimates the Wadlow Wind farm annual income at £6,970,336,51. (Spurious accuracy strikes again).

What was it I was saying about how quickly the world changes. I blinks when all that land got turned over to Solar power.

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