Monday, October 28, 2013

Cycle route provision–Courses for Cyclists

Friday, 20th September 2013: I am going to have to make an effort to catch up with near-real-time on my Postings. Once again I am rabbiting on about stuff that happened over a month ago. As I sit here the worst storm since 1987 2002 has just run through. The damage caused has still been pretty sobering though. Here in Cambridge trees are down and trains aren’t running.  The national picture seems worse though.  Apparently we were lucky here in the flatlands as it tracked slightly further north that originally anticipated.

Should we blame it on climate-change caused by man-made causes – well such proof is hard to pin down. Unusual events are well unusual and so it takes a long time to build an accurate picture. In the mean-time, in my mind I reckon we (humankind) we certainly having an affect, we are causing energy to be added to the global system, and we do so at out peril.

If I look at my own lifestyle compared with when I was a boy, my own energy consumption has increased hugely.  When I was a boy we did not have central heating, in the winter my bedroom window iced up from the inside. We normally only had one source of heat – a Rayburn (fuelled by coke), in the kitchen, which also was used for cooking and providing hot water. Later in the day a fire would be lit in the living room. This meant that we tended to congregate in two rooms. So fewer lights were lit. Nowadays with central heating and air-conditioning (in offices and shops and cars) we consume far more energy maintaining our environment. Certainly it is more comfortable. I’ve just remembered we had a radiant heater in the bathroom high up on the wall, it seemed next to useless. But woe betide us if it was accidentally left on…

We had very little electronic equipment, with a valve radio, a valve television and one record player. Later on we did get transistor radios. However we had very little in the way of gadgetry that required re-charging (computers, monitors, WiFi, phones, MP3 players, tooth brushes, razors…) or equipment on standby.  My “TV” actually consists of several boxes which all sit in standby, radios around the house, sit in standby – which all consumes more power than you think.

As kids we never got taken to school by car and I reckon that people travelled shorter distances to work. This facilitated the use of buses and bicycles and walking. Looking at the National Travel Survey: 2011 “the average distance people travel per year has increased by 53%”.

Although to counter balance the trend we have also seen improvements in efficiency with improved insulation of houses, our electronics is more power efficient, engines are more efficient and factories are also more efficient. (The type of industry in the UK has also changed.) So although the UK energy usage, according to this Government report has been rising from 1970 to around 2000, but seems to have dropped over the last few years (both household and total). (Some of the reduction is probably due to the down-turn and the exporting of some types of economic activity – eg. steel-making.)

We reap what we sow though.

So what has this to do with cycling. Well there seems to be quite a lot of political discussion about sustainable energy and the so-called green taxes.  In my mind there are two issues we need to consider on a national basis, the first is the cost of energy, the other is our dependence on other countries for our energy.  Apparently we face the highest risk of winter blackouts for almost a decade. Our gas supplies are also at risk apparently. Petrol stocks are also looking tight because of Industry structural changes.

So those are some the the UK’s weaknesses. What do we seem to be doing about it – well I haven’t a clue. Yes we do have energy subsidies and truckloads more Wind Turbines than we used to.  Apparently the country has 6.8 GW of available wind power but it depends upon the wind and so is inherently variable. There pressure now seems to be on Solar – Burwell might get a Solar Farm and Soham has also been earmarked for a solar farm.

The trouble is as humans we tend to quickly forget the past and focus on more of the now. Well I do anyway. So more of the now seems to be road building and house building.  More roads be more cars, more pollution. Cambridge has an air quality problem according to the Cambridge City Council.  The plans for the A14 upgrade could apparently also “push air pollution past legal limits”. According to this review of Air Quality Progress things haven’t really improved much.

We also have a truck-load of houses planned for the area (e.g. Alconbury 5,000 homes, Waterbeach – 8,000 homes, Wort’s Causeway -  430 homes, Cambourne + 1,500 homes, Newmarket Road – 1,700 homes and Bourn airfield – no more than no more than 1,500 homes…) Not to mention all the housing  near Trumpington and Northstowe – up to 10,000 homes. Cambridge could go from 120,000 to 170,000 inhabitants in a generation.

The trouble is the thinking seems to be more of the same with lip-service being paid to the impact this influx will have on the region.  There is an opportunity to be bold and transform the approach used. Everybody talks about cars – and roads – no we need to put sustainable and workable transport solutions in place.

We need:

  • High priority, high quality cycleways from population centres to work centres
  • High safety cycle routes from population centres to schools.
  • Connected transport for instance trains and cycles, trains and buses
  • Streets safe for kids
  • High quality broadband especially for the remote communities
  • We need an overall plan and a Champion to lead this

Instead we get more of the same thinking – a bit of a cycle path here, a bit of a shared path there, fines for cyclists on that pavement next to the dangerous road there. We have an inconsistent mess – where is the strategy?  Meanwhile there seems to be some idea that there is a war on motorists – well given how much imported energy they burn, how much pollution they cause, how much street space they invade, how they terrorise vulnerable road users – I can’t see much of a war going on.

Phew – where did that rant come from. well it all started with me thinking about how crappy many cycle routes are, and how little attention they get and how much we of the system seems to be stacked in favour of motorists.

Much of cycle infrastructure provision seems to be in the hands of a Charity – Sustrans – how weird is that.  The rest seems to be random and haphazard. Part of my moan is that I got caught out by the p*ss-poor signage that we endure enjoy here in Cambridge. I was cycling into town from a ride around Wicken Fen along NCN51. Now usually I would head off through the P&R to take the scenic route alongside the river. However I was pushed for time. So rather than delay by crossing the road to the shared-path on the other side I carried on along the right-hand shared-used path going into town.

It was a mistake, first you have to cross the entrance to the aforementioned P&R, then run the gauntlet alongside the Shell garage, where cars pulling in don’t always seem to know which way they are going. Then you come to some traffic lights and wait for a while in order to cross the Marshall’s Garage Service Road.  Then you cross the Marshall’s Garage access Road. Then you cross Ditton Lane.   Every now and then you get clues that you are on a shared-used path. Then I made the mistake of assuming that I should carry on across Wadloes Road.  Now this is a wide junction, I can’t recall seeing any signage, but perhaps that’s because I was focused on crossing the road.

I found myself on the pavement the other side – which is the obvious direction when heading into town. However I had doubts about it being a shared-use path. So I crossed the the other side of the road – with some difficulty. As there is a separating kerb in the middle of the road. (Note in the last link ther4e is a cyclist who probably didn’t realise that the path isn’t shared-use.)

That is what cyclists have to put up with, random routes that seemed to be designed to maximise the danger for cyclists whilst at the same time maximising the different types of cycle infrastructure that a cyclists might encounter. Just look at the Cambridge City Cycle map if you want to see just how higgledy-piggledy it is.

To add to the confusion if you go further down the road to Ditton Walk and look back on the same side – there appears to be a cycle lane – well there is a painted white cycle logo on the pavement. A bit further along (by the Ditton Fields turn) there is another white cycle painted on the pavement.  Now this is at odds with the City Cycle map and the OSM Cycle map.

However using Streetview I can’t see any  END OF ROUTE signs. Thank you Cambridge City Council for making it so clear and obvious.  Perhaps that stretch of pavement will be the next place for the PCC’s cyclist crackdown.  Lull the cyclist into a false sense of security, then do them for cycling on the pavement.  What was it that the Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said “Shared use footpaths are clearly marked and our advice to cyclists would be that unless the footpath is clearly signed as such they should not use it as a cycleway”. That might work – but the signage needs to be well maintained – which it isn’t. It might also help if there weren’t illogical gaps.  

Why does all this matter – well it is my life they are playing with. Cycling is not inherently dangerous – but I’d still prefer not to be brought into conflict with other road and path users. It is not much fun being knocked of your bike by a car when cycling – all the high-viz and positioning in the world doesn’t stop a SMISDY.

The issue is that on good logical, planned routes there shouldn’t be conflict whether it is shared-use or not.

So it is not surprising that for pleasure I head away from the confusion that often abounds when cycling in Cambridge.  You have to keep your wits about you mind. 

This time I headed off through Quy and along Station road and then along a byway towards Lode. I did stop to admire this freshly tilled field.

Freshly prepared field – near Quy

Although one piece of Headlake Drove has been re-surfaced I was a little surprised that the cracks along the edge of the road hadn’t been fixed at the same time. These cracks get larger at this time of year. The trouble is the lie at the edge of the road to catch out the unwary and wary cyclist alike. This is a narrow road and so if you were cycling along here you would naturally move to the edge of the road in the face of an oncoming vehicle. I would also be paying attention the vehicle rather than the road. Well if you did these cracks would probably tip you off your bike.

So I will report them (I have also reported one on the other side of the road.  (This is looking back towards High Bridge Farm). Here is the CTC web link.

Cracks – Headlake Drove

As you can see wide enough for my wheels and deep as well.

Cracks – Headlake Drove

The grass also disguises them.

Cracks – Headlake Drove

Interesting clouds above Burwell Lode

About time – the is the NCN11 route as it heads through Wicken Fen – the path as been a mess for ages – I am pleased to see it is being sorted – although not all of it.

Wicken Fen – NCN11 Path repairs

Why does it matter – well I have fallen off the side of Headlake Drove. A few years ago I was caught by a gust of wind – my wheel slipped of the edge and I lost my balance when I tried to get back onto the road. Fortunately I rolled and only damaged my pride.

A friend recently had a similar experience – only he fractured his hip and has spent quite a few weeks on crutches. He has recently progressed from two crutches to one crutch and is looking forward to no crutches.

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