In this post I intend to provide an analysis of Solihull Council’s Cycling Strategy document (2009). Note: All emphasis and opinion is my own. The overall goal of the cycling strategy is:
“To promote and increase cycle use throughout Solihull, by highlighting the benefits of cycling as a healthy sustainable mode of transport and through the development of green infrastructure which is safe, convenient, efficient and attractive for cyclists.”
While the idea of high quality infrastructure which is safe and attractive for cyclists is a promising one, the emphasis on promoting cycling is slightly worrying. Historically the government has placed significant emphasis on ‘encouragement’ versus decent infrastructure, however this has resulted in a pitiful 2% of all journeys by bicycle: promotion is clearly not the answer. Further on in the document it is stated that travelling to school by bicycle is the most popular choice among school children, and the main reason why they are restricted in this choice is road safety concerns. No amount of promotion can change this justifiable apprehension of road conditions.
Themes in the document:
“To publicise the health benefits and facilitate a cycling culture.”
I have similar concerns for publicising, as promoting. As for facilitating a culture; cultures grow from environments. If the environment makes cycling a safe and attractive option, then cycling culture will naturally follow.
“To make the cycling network more accessible by encouraging the development of neighbourhoods which are easy and attractive to use.”
A little vague on the details, but safer neighbourhoods through traffic calming, low limits and selective access are essential to a widespread cycling network.
“To ensure safer routes for play and better access to play spaces for children.”
This links in with the safer neighbourhoods above. However much of the newly installed infrastructure in the north of Solihull, is not the most child friendly. Putting the onus on the children to cross road mouths safely without assistance, as opposed to placing it on turning and emerging traffic. “It is proposed that the ongoing programme be adopted to create safe cycling facilities in Solihull’s parks and green open spaces and that greater use be made of the extensive existing networks of footpaths through conversion to shared use.” As I have covered in a previous post, this is a terrible, terrible idea. If there is any wish at all to raise cycle above the pitiful level that is currently experienced in Solihull, then shared use pavements should be avoided at all cost. Shared use pavements:
- Become effectively single use as soon as foot traffic increases. Such as during school opening and closing times.
- Do not provide priority across side roads, leading to turning conflicts and energy costly delays.
- Can often be obstructed by parked cars.
- Provide an unfriendly environment for pedestrians, especially those who are elderly or impaired.
- Restrict speeds of bicycle users significantly, thereby making them very unattractive.
- Are often cluttered with street furniture.
- Are seldom maintained to the same standards as adjacent road sections, especially in winter.
Shared use pavements are therefore not; efficient (stop-start cycling), safe (not safe for pedestrians) and attractive (obstructions) and fail to meet the council’s own vision and aims, failing to separate transport modes effectively is a hallmark of an excessively car-centric authority and represents a failure to design for cycling. As well as failing the overall vision; “To promote cycling as a viable transport choice.” Infrastructure
“To make the physical cycling network more accessible and safer to all through the removal of barriers and coordinating and prioritizing works programmes.”
Not sure if this refers to barriers such as large roads and heavy traffic or actual barriers. Such as these that are found on the shared use route between Solihull College and Chelmsley Wood center: The former is obviously significantly better to deal with than the latter, however both are worthwhile aims.
“Cycling will be considered in the design of all new highway schemes.”
Still a long ways off requiring decent cycle infrastructure in new projects, or ensuring highway schemes do not actively make conditions worse for cycling: very much an empty promise.
“The provision of cycling specific facilities will consider the hierarchy of users and provision. This process will include a design review audit of all capital programme schemes from a pedestrian and cyclist viewpoint.”
From (Cycle Infrastructure Design, DfT, 2008) Via: CTC http://www.ctc.org.uk/article/campaign-article/hierarchy-provision As the provision states, shared use pavements should be ‘considered last’, so Solihull Council appears to contradict itself directly. However the word ‘consider’ once again seems to be used as a get-out clause. I would be interested to know how heavily the council ‘considered’ the installation of shared use pavements.
“Specific attention will be given to the problems caused for cyclists by roundabouts and the creation of 20 mph zones around schools and residential areas.”
I fail to see what problems could be caused for cyclists by the creation of 20 mph zones around areas where they are most needed. Though I imagine it they are something to do with drivers not being able to overtake as readily, however that is a separate issue of impatient and inconsiderate driving. As for roundabouts, the target is most welcome. However I very much that interventions are not done to this poor and ill-considered standard:Regional Policy- Local Transport Plan
“Vision for sub-region is a ‘vibrant thriving community where everyone will be able to have a better quality of life that is not dependent on the availability of a car.”
Excellent passage from a relevant document underlining the central argument for widespread and high quality cycle infrastructure.
“Cycling would be common place in an environment where people make direct, attractive, safe and comfortable journeys by bicycle.”
Applause! Would be great if infrastructure reflected this aim.
“Currently the level of cycling in the West Midlands is below the national average [...] many journeys within Solihull are only a few miles in length [...] Surveys report indicated that 46% of respondents would cycle more if infrastructure conditions were improved.”
Indicators of latent demand and the reason for this suppression in one paragraph.
As of writing this review I have been unable to locate the cycling or transport action plans, without which this document is very weak. So while the vision for Solihull’s future laid out in the strategy is a good one, the implementation is extremely weak on the details and very few meaningful commitments. However far more worrying is the continued emphasis on the conversion of footpaths, which is likely to continue setting back cycling progress for years to come.