Archive | January, 2014

Solihull Gateway Project

31 Jan

The Solihull Gateway project aims to expand the pedestrian realm along Station Road in the Solihull center. As there are a few concerns that I had over it, I took a trip down to Solihull Library to attend the consultation event. Here are my thoughts and the responses given.

UntitledSource: http://www.solihull.gov.uk/Attachments/Theme3_P.pdf

Central to the project (literally) is the shared space ‘courtesy crossing’, that will replace the existing light controlled crossing. The idea being that buses will give way to pedestrian traffic crossing the central area and therefore reduce motor vehicle dominance, however there are some potential issues. My concerns are that either pedestrians dominate the central area and require buses to ‘nudge’ their way through the crowds to make headway, or (more likely) pedestrians will see the central area as a road and give way to buses. Therefore creating an even worse crossing situation than before (after all, how many people would be willing to assert their right to the space in the face of a couple of tons of metal). A similar situation has occurred in a similar project in London: Exhibition Road.
The responses to the issues that I raised were along the lines of:

  • Bus companies and drivers will be briefed on the need to give way appropriately.
  • Bus services will potentially be increased to the area.
  • Slow speeds will enable mixing.

However I still have my doubts over the use of shared space, for one thing the edge of the central section of the shared space, despite being the same type of paving as the pavement area, is clearly marked as separate. This reinforces the central space as being a section of ‘road’ and therefore the dominion of motorised traffic, however if the edge strips were removed it would encourage the section to be viewed as an extension of the pavement. Therefore encouraging pedestrians to view it as their space.

Another potential issue is cyclist access to the area. This is the current layout:

Once you get to the end of the pavement path, there is a toucan crossing that allows you to either join the traffic flow and cycle in between the buses to the touchwood stands. Or cross onto the pavement and wheel your bike to one of the stands. The new layout looks something like this:

Gateway 2

Cyclists are supposed to either use both pedestrian crossings, by turning right onto a the narrow corner strip and then left across with the pedestrians again. Or alternately, attempt to cross three lanes of un-signalised traffic and then either scoot onto the pavement or join the traffic flow. The stands at the beginning of the high street will again only be accessible by wheeling your bike along the pavement or joining the bus flow.
Responses:

  • ‘Confident cyclists’ will be able to cut the corner.
  • Nothing can be done about the amount of space on the shared use corner, due to the church grounds.
  • There is a likelihood of the junction with Herbert Road becoming severely congested and blocked when queues to enter the John Lewis parking are at their worst (e.g. during festive periods)
  • There is the possibility of converting the pavement next to the bus stops to shared use if cyclists increase in number. (No proper response to my concern that increasing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians don’t mix).
  • There was a plan to put cycle infrastructure down the middle of the bus area, but due to the complications and safety issues, it didn’t make the final plans.
  • Official response is that as cyclists only make up 2% of all traffic (about 4 an hour apparently), they cannot be appropriately planned for.

However there are quite a few positive points to the scheme:

Gateway 3

  • In many areas of the project the crossing distances have been decreased significantly.
  • Relocating the taxi ranks and service road exit should reduce traffic through the bus/pedestrian area.
  • Increased pedestrian space, plaza style.
  • Tidier bus area which should reduce delays and conflicts.
  • Removal of traffic signals at the Herbert Road end should also promote bus efficiency.
  • Re-arranging of the bus stops creates more space and opens up the pavement just where it is needed.
  • Trees are always nice.
  • Increase of the 20 mph zone, always a good thing.

If the concerns that I have over this scheme are ironed out, this project looks like a pretty good step forward.

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Freedom and Rights?

4 Jan

NHS could be ‘overwhelmed’ by people with long-term medical conditions: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/03/nhs-overwhelmed-long-term-medical-conditions

One of the big accusations commonly leveled at cyclists, is that we are ‘elitist’ and have a ‘holier-than-thou attitude. Simply because we happen to live healthy active lives and not kill people or pollute the air we breathe in a bid to get around. The majority of politicians and decision makers do not appear to see these benefits and instead obsess about the votes they would lose, and the ‘right’ to drive. The UK is a country that prides itself on freedom and personal rights (as any sensible country should), but where should these rights and freedoms end? Should they be curbed when they infringe on other peoples rights? In a way they already do, there are laws in place that, for example, say that you do not have a right to shoot a shotgun in public, as this would infringe on the right of other people to live. So in this (rather extreme) example, behaviour is restricted according to the potential damage it can do to the rest of society.

However this system seems to fall to pieces as soon as it encounters the motor vehicle. Whereby those who drive are not only allowed to continue doing so despite the damage to society, but are also actively subsidized by the government.  So in this way, those who choose to cycle or walk are subsidizing the very group that pollutes the air, destroys the roads, damages the earth and endangers this very same group that subsidizes them. Many people at this point would say “So what? I enjoy cycling, they enjoy driving. Does it really matter where the money goes?” My answer to this is: what if that money spent on drivers could be used elsewhere? What if it wasn’t just about roads versus cycle tracks? What if that subsidy is depriving your children of the best education they could get? Or raising your council tax? Or maybe even encouraging lifestyles that are such a drain on the health system that it may not be able to function properly in the future! 

Maybe it is time for us to put on our ‘elitist’ and ‘holier-than-thou’ hats, and say to the politicians “We subsidize your freedom to drive that over-sized car. We represent a healthier and happier future for this country. Start paying attention to what we want and need, to keep doing the good we do.” This isn’t about proportional representation, according to amount of population that travel by a certain mode. But about supporting what people need and not necessarily what they want (at this point in time anyway), and supporting lifestyles that are good for the country as a whole.