Our Transport in their hands and the future is bleak…maybe

We have a problem in England and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Given the recent Newbridge Park and Ride design, I think we’re pretty much staying still. We are designing roads for cars and then adding on active travel aspects as an afterthought. The fault here is very much at the council officers and not the councillors. Elected representatives come and go. Officers are forever. Officers know this. A lot of transport schemes are 5+ years in the making. It really makes no difference to the officers what the councillors want. In a couple of years they will be gone and a new bunch of councillors will be in. In the meantime the councillors get it in the neck from the voting public. It’s obviously their fault because obviously being elected to office immediately makes you an expert on transport.

The reality is that councils have senior management teams that are paid a LOT of money for their expertise in delivering good transport infrastructure and they are just not up to scratch.

I think up till last week we had one official design guide “Local Transport Note LTN/2/08 Cycle Infrastructure Design“. It’s horrendous. It’s really really bad. However last week something rather good happened. The Welsh government released their Active Travel Design Guidance. It’s good. Very good. Wales now has the equivalent of the Netherlands CROW manual. Most importantly it recognises that it may have things wrong and that this guidance is a ‘living’ document. It will get even better over time.

Wales enacted the Active Travel Bill which became law in November 2013. This places a legal requirement on councils for all departments to consider the impact of Active Travel when delivering services and infrastructure. However it then took them another year to create the guidance needed to be able help their councils not fall foul of the new bill. The result is a document which has had input from the Netherlands CROW manual and a significant input from Sustrans. In fact it puts the Sustrans guidance to shame. The Welsh guidance has one hell of a backbone. Sustrans guidance seems to be something local authorities can ignore if the solution gets too difficult or is politically a bad idea (i.e. removal of car parking).

It’s quite explicit in what needs to be delivered and how:

Welsh guidance on delivering a cycle track (segregated) or cycle lane (paint on the road).
Welsh guidance on delivering a cycle track (segregated) or cycle lane (paint on the road).

I mean it even gives a set of walking and cycling audit tools councillors can beat officers over the head with to force a minimum quality of delivery:

Cycling Audit Tool
Cycling Audit Tool

This guidance will make uncomfortable reading for any Transport officer. It puts walking and cycling at the top of the food chain. Traffic flow is realistically a secondary consideration and it defines a performance metric against which they can be measured. This isn’t just a bit better than Sustrans’ weak design advice that can be ignored, y’know ‘cos traffic flow. This fundamentally changes the game.

There is however a BIG problem. Currently we have 4 ‘guidances’. The Welsh Guidance, the Sustrans Guidance, LTN 2/08 and the London guidance (which is also very good). This gives scope for confusion across councils. Transport officers need to be trained to one standard.

The following should happen:

  1. The Department for Transport should immediately remove LTN 2/08 and replace it with recommending the use of the Welsh Guidance.
  2. Sustrans adopt the Welsh guidance for councils to follow.
  3. Councils sign up to using the Welsh guidance and the audit tools tools that it provides.
  4. The DfT needs to recognise that having one recognised national guidance standard is a good thing.
  5. The Welsh guidance audits the London guidance and brings in the ‘good bits’ from this guidance with a view to making it a ‘national’ standard.
  6. Accredited training courses are provided (by Sustrans/A nother) to enable council officers (and keen activists) to be trained. This can also be seen as skill advancing and a ‘good thing’ for your career.
  7. DfT should work with Universities/Colleges teaching planning courses to incorporate the guidance.

It is no longer acceptable that a bunch of amatuer campaigners who sort of fell into campaigning for better cycle infrastructure are the ones telling people who have trained all their lives to deliver transport solutions the glaring mistakes they are making.

Of note, I do not expect Councils to deliver a 35 point minimum infrastructure but I do want them to know they have just designed a 14 point infrastructure solution. It is down to councillors to insist their officers in the planning departments require a certain level of points, be that 0, 20 or even 35.

Thinking about active travel should be fundamental to anyone delivering public realm infrastructure. Remember we are not designing space for current cyclists. We are designing and delivering space that persuades people that don’t cycle because they feel it is unsafe to get on their bike.

If you want to make a difference, write to the DfT (and your MP)  and request they drop LTN 2/08 and recommend use of the Welsh Active Travel Guidance. It is time we fundamentally change the way council officers think about our public realm.

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