Ben Howlett, prospective Bath conservative MP, contacted me yesterday to ask what Cycle Bath’s opinion of their recently announced Bath Transport Manifesto was and if we could offer feedback. I duly put out a request for people to give feedback and feedback I did receive.
To be fair Cycle Bath is not a political animal. Pretty much every party falls short in their approach to healthy transportation. It’s within the nature of being a single issue campaign group that there is never enough. However this is going to be a complex analysis and one that other parties should take note of when writing their manifestos.
(apologies for any and all grammatical mistakes)
Firstly I want to establish the criteria by which I am going to critique the manifesto. We, as a campaign group, campaign for better cycle infrastructure to enable people to make a healthy transportation choice. To choose to walk, cycle, or take public transport. To be able to leave the car at home and feel they can safely cycle to work or school. We do not campaign for better cycle infrastructure for people who currently cycle, but for those who feel that the roads are too unsafe to cycle on.
These are the points I want to build any critique of the manifesto on:
- To make cycling attractive, you have to realise you are not catering to existing people cycling, but are persuading people who don’t currently cycle, that the network of routes available to them will get them safely to work/school without mixing with speeding motorised vehicles. This means delivering an end to end network of protected bike lanes. This is what Seville did and they had an 11 fold (1100%) increase in people who cycled within two years.
- To acknowledge that healthy transportation or “active travel”, and by that I mean walking, cycling, and use of public transport, are fundamentally important to delivering a physically and mentally healthier nation of people. A recognition that people that cycle to work take 50% less sick days and are 15% more productive than people that do not use a form of healthy transportation to get to work. Having a healthy, fitter nation is good for business.
- That enabling people to take up healthy transportation options can potentially save the NHS an estimated £17 billion per year.
- A recognition that 49% of commuting is under 5km (15 minutes by bike), 68% under 10km (30 minutes by bike) and that providing an end-to-end, safe network of cycle routes reduces congestion and improves air quality.
- That a car centric policy focus can have negative unforeseen consequences. That widening roads creates induced demand, where you end up with even more traffic and congestion. Where building park and ride facilities can reduce use of rural bus services (pdf) as well as create a induced demand.
- That a person that cycles along a route is better for businesses than a car driver along that route. That protected cycle lanes save lives and increase traffic flow.
- That a manifesto recognises that healthy transportation is part of every aspect of work the council does within the public realm and that there is a requirement upon the council to audit public realm developments for their cycling and walking. Audit tools give councillors the tools to work better with council officers. An example is available in the Welsh Active Travel Guidance.
- That all delivered projects adhere to nationally recognised good design guidance, in particular, those issued by Sustrans or the exceptionally good Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance.
- More importantly, that ANY road improvement, be it redesign or resurfacing, attempts to deliver cycling and walking infrastructure based on the following grid (taken from the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance). In effect, all council departments, be it transport or parks, are on board with the idea that healthy transport is their number 1 priority and must consider it in all aspects of their work.
- That a manifesto sets targets for healthy transportation use increases.
- Finally that the manifesto commits council money to a minimum spend per head per year to cycling infrastructure improvement. It is simply the best return a council can make on any investment with some council’s experiencing a 35 to 1 return on investing in cycle infrastructure.
With all this in mind, I will begin.
The manifesto comes in various sections so I will discuss those each in detail and where needed add a What is missing section.
The first thing you have to recognise is that transport planning and implementation take years in the making. The current Newbridge Park and Ride was initially planned in 2009. Lib Dems came into power in 2011. So when a manifesto states:
We cannot go on with the piecemeal approach to transport which the Council has taken. We need a strategic approach which brings together all modes of transport and sets out the short, medium and long-term investment needed to bring our area’s transport infrastructure up to a higher standard.
I feel they are actually talking about the previous administration, that is, themselves. I, personally, believe whoever inherits the recently released Bath Transport Strategy that the council put together will have a stunning 5 years in power. Come the election after this one and the party in charge should be able to list the following transport achievements:
- East of Bath Park And Rail
- Metrowest electrification of trainline increasing capacity by 20%
- Opening of Saltford Train station
- Significant delivery of the Cycle Network Review
- A46/A36 bypass
- Banning of HGVs from London Road
- Bath Enterprise Area regeneration in the city centre
- Potentially cycle racks on all buses ( My pet project 😉 )
They will have the Lib Dems and the current council officers to thank for this and should be congratulated for what they have done. However this is a manifesto and it is important to find fault in the current administration.
Side note: With the above in place, there is the potential to convert Sydney Gardens to a clockwise gyratory with a two way cycle track, replace all traffic lights on London Road with dutch style roundabouts and enable people to ride safely into the city centre by bike.
At the heart of our Manifesto is an overriding belief that people have the right to be able to get from A to B as quickly and conveniently as possible by the best mode of transport for their journey.
This is a bit like a patient going to a doctor and demanding antibiotics for a virus. The doctor knows it won’t work but does it anyway. The reason Bath has such a massive transport and congestion issue is that people won’t leave their cars at home. They choose not to cycle, walk, or use public transport to get to work or school. You do not and cannot solve Bath’s transport issues by making it faster and more convenient to ram your car into the rather overstuffed city we have. You need to show people that the car is the worst choice for getting around Bath.
Now, and I apologise for forgetting his name, I know this person that owns an electric bike. Thin as a rake. Lives up by the Odd Down Park and ride. He commutes by bike to the city centre to work. In rush hour it takes him 7 minutes, guaranteed. EVERY DAY. Coming back up the hill is a relaxed ride on his electric bike.
This is how you solve Bath’s transport issues. You give people real choices to feel they can leave their car at home and safely travel to work or school by bicycle while becoming fit and healthy.
SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT
Review 20mph limits to ensure they are effective and appropriately located, and consult on new 20mph limits where there is a demonstrated need and clear support from residents.
If you go back up and reference the “Preferred Minimum Provision” grid you will see that ‘enforced’ 20MPH speed limit roads enable you to obviate the need for specific cycle lanes. They work. They create a calming effect and enable kids to play and cycle in the streets. They save lives. The problem is, if a resident only ever gets into their car and drives from their house to work, the gym, and the shops, then they see no need for it and perceive it as a nuisance. 20MPH zones take back the streets from cars. They enable people that walk and cycle to enjoy the space safely. They make it a living street.
Residential 20MPH zones are not something a car centric resident will understand, other than as an inconvenience. Giving people the option to revert against scientific fact that they do save lives and they do make residential areas better to walk, play and cycle in seems a bit strange and pandering to voters.
Work with local schools to produce effective School Travel Plans in order to reduce the need for parents to use cars to take children to school, and work with schools to make school transport as affordable and reliable as possible.
Let’s be honest here. I have a daughter that goes to Hayesfield. She walks every day. She could cycle but the roads are too dangerous. I see skinny physically fit kids cycle up to Beechen Cliff every day. I see fat ones roll out of cars. I see parents drive all the way up Beechen Cliff, park anywhere, drop their kid off and queue to pull out. Must take them at least 20 minutes to go from Wellsway back to Wellsway. They could easily drop their unfit child off at the bottom and let them walk the 5 minutes up the hill. These are 11-17 year olds. You need to make it harder to drop kids off by car outside of schools. You need to use permeable road blocks to make it easy for kids to walk or cycle to school in car free zones. You really need to stop parents pandering to their lazy kids.
(I also acknowledge that some people come great distances to school and these need to be catered for.)
It is recognised that up to 25% of rush hour traffic is the school run. In fact a recent analysis of bus travel times in Cambridge showed this even more markedly:
You should be enabling parents to decide that it is safe to let their children cycle to school. You should be trying to create a network of safe cycle routes connecting schools into the heart of surrounding communities.
If the child lives within 5km of the school, why are they not cycling? What is stopping them? How do the council officers deliver a network of child safe routes to enable children to cycle to school?
Continue to promote cycling as a healthy and attractive alternative to the motorcar and support schemes which make cycling as safe as possible for all road users.
This is subtle, but is actually pretty terrible. How do you make cycling as safe as possible for all road users? What does this actually mean?
Either you are saying that cycling on roads is unsafe because of the design of the road or are you implying that people cycling are a danger to people walking because the design of the road makes people cycling feel unsafe on the roads, forcing them onto the pavement.
Either way it’s obviously the person cycling fault, not the danger presented to them by the design of the roads. I refer you back to point 9, the minimum infrastructure grid. Make people want to get on their bikes. Deliver a high quality connected safe network.
You are trying to sell cycling to people who want to cycle but feel it is unsafe to do so. Look at what Seville did. They built high quality segregated cycle lanes and had an 11 fold increase in numbers cycling.
Deliver balanced investment in our cycling network, with a greater emphasis on segregated cycleways, as supported by the Get Britain Cycling manifesto, and identifying key arterial ‘flat routes’ for cyclists.
Deliver based on the grid (point 9). Do not think that hills are a problem. They are a minor inconvenience. You get used to them. In fact they almost become a pleasure (yeah right).
What is more interesting is that most people live up on hills and work at the bottom of the hill. So if all public buses had the ability to carry bikes up hills or you looked at other solutions to get people with bikes up hills, the idea that you could only consider ‘flat’ routes would go away. Consider electric bike charging stations.
The GBC manifesto also calls on a minimum investment which I note this manifesto does not mention. Where is the guaranteed minimum investment per head of population in cycling? Will you commit to providing £10 per head for cycling on top of any government grants?
Cost benefit analysis has shown an up to 35 times return on cycle infrastructure investment where there is an established cycling community and an average of 5 times return nationwide. There is not a single other thing that a council can do that will give this level of return.
In a car you drive from your home to your work, park up and that is it. Healthy transport is about getting on your bike, catching a train, then cycling the other side. You might even cycle to the train station, catch a train and walk the other way. With a bicycle a bus stop a couple of mile away is a 5 minute cycle. It’s about physically keeping you moving. I saw no attempt to consider provision of high quality secure locking stations for bicycles. To enable multi-modal transport across the county.
There was no attempt to recognise that the way to make healthy transportation work is to segregate, make it safe, and enable people to make a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle choice. No more shared paths. No statement that what the council delivers must be good for ages 8 to 80. Yes that means an 8 year old on a bicycle should be able to ride safely on the provided cycle infrastructure.
No commitment to investment per head per year.
INVESTING IN TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE
I was going to try and take this apart quote by quote but pretty much the whole thing is about building more roads. If you refer back to point 5, induced demand is not some made up namby pamby eco thing. It’s a scientifically proven effect. You build more roads, you create more traffic. It’s an exceptionally backward looking section talking about improving traffic flow and reducing congestion. Building more roads creates more congestion.
You simply need to get people out of cars. Remember that 50% of commuter traffic is travelling less than 5kms. That is half the cars on the road. What is stopping them cycling to work. Why is public transport so unappealing?
This section feels like something from the 1970s aimed at the pensioner voter.
It would have been nice to have a statement about creating more segregated cycle lanes to encourage less pavement cycling. A recognition that many people that cycle feel unsafe on our roads.
What is missing is a discussion about re-engineering our roads to reclaim space to for segregated cycle tracks using the minimum provision grid in point 9. About identifying key direct arterial routes where on street parking is sacrificed to enable delivery of the grid.
However parking is to the UK as guns are to the USA. Any party that suggested removal of the right to dump your private property on a key arterial route just to enable the country to choose a healthy transportation option would not win the election.
CUTTING CONGESTION AND REDUCING POLLUTION
Earmark funding to allow the Council to find ways of reducing congestion and improving traffic flow at some of the worst traffic ‘hot spots’, bottlenecks and pinch-points throughout the area, as well as bid for Government funding to increase capacity at congested junctions where it is feasible to do so.
We’re back onto widening roads. Also ‘where feasible’ is manifesto speak for doing nothing because if it could be done the Highways department would have done it by now.
Further investigate and seriously consider innovative solutions to improve the flow of traffic in and around the centre of Bath, such as a trial remodelling of traffic-flow around Queen Square, and undertake a full review of the flow of traffic in and around the city-centre.
This is basically a way of saying that private cars driving through the city centre do not work. You need to do what the rest world is doing. Making it hard for cars to drive through a city centre, ban them, make routes convoluted for people driving cars but easy and direct for people walking or cycling. Make the choice to not use the car or to leave the car at the city edge a no-brainer.
Review the times of operation for all Bus Lanes to ensure they are appropriate and effective, and in particular assess whether peak-time only operation would be more appropriate in some locations than 24-hour operation, and whether any Bus Lanes could also become ‘2+’ lanes.
This is a terrifying idea. As somebody who cycles, Bus Lanes are a critical traffic free route into the city. They enable unconfident and new people to cycling to be able to leave their car at home and ride to work. These are critically important. Healthy transport requires public transport to be a good option, one that is faster than driving by car.
What is missing?
During the current administration, things weren’t trialled. They were implemented and they sometimes got it wrong. So the bus gate down on Dorchester street failed. However the real issue there whoever implemented the layout for Southgate car park and the location of the bus centre. The Lib Dems tried to fix the extremely complicated setup. There is a chance that the Enterprise Area plan will solve this.
What seems to be missing is a commitment in this section. Lot of trialling going on. Lot of thinking. Just not a lot of committing to something.
PROMOTING AND IMPROVING LOCAL RAIL
This section is pretty good however it does seem to miss the idea the healthy transportation options are inherently linked together. They synergise.
If you can’t easily get to a train station, you’ll drive to it.
If the train station doesn’t give you good safe options to store your bike at both ends of your journey, you will choose to drive.
There needs to be a recognition that bus services, walking and cycling networks all need to connect well to train stations. That trains need to have a cycle friendly approach to travel with a bike. Good, safe, protected cycle lanes leading to train stations from residential area are vitally important.
IMPROVING PARKING PROVISION
This section is, by it’s very nature, something I have a problem with. It is because the council allows parking on major arterial roads into and out of the city that we can’t have nice segregated cycle lanes. There is an IMMENSE amount of space on Bath’s roads once you remove the right to park on them but it would absolutely wreck a party in a election to suggest that the real issue is people’s perceived right to dump private property on any road.
Seriously if you replaced traffic lights with roundabouts and removed on street parking, you could have a two-way east-west cycle superhighway all the way from Newbridge Park and Ride out to the A46 London Road Roundabout. We could be the next London. It would create a massive boost to people choosing to leave their car at home and get on their bikes.
So when a manifesto goes on about parking in the city and how we need more parking. How parking charges should be reduced to encourage more people to drive into the city. I almost give up.
Parking in the city should be expensive and should be profitable. The profit should be used to discount public transport, particularly making Park and Ride cheap, enforce speed restrictions, and where possible deliver better healthy transport infrastructure.
You can cycle from Locksbrook to the end of London Road in 23 minutes. This is a tiny tiny beautiful city. We do not need to encourage more parking. We need to encourage the idea that getting round the city by car is a hard thing to do.
Like I said, this section is just where Cycle Bath has to depart from what political parties can and cannot do. There should be a ban on parking on major arterial routes to enable the provision of on road protected cycle tracks. Parking can be implemented IF there is space like this:
It is not to say that parking does not have it’s place in city centres, but that the idea that lack of parking in Bath affects revenue does not seem to be proven. (Please correct me if I’m wrong).
Any manifesto Cycle Bath looks at will have problems. You have a car centric voting public and what we do and what we are trying to achieve specifically points at the car and identifies it as a real problem within urban areas.
I recognise that in rural settings the car is unbelievably necessary, but if you only get one bus per day and the idea of cycling down a narrow country road with 50mph cars coming around blind corners does not appeal, I get it. Until councils start connecting villages and towns by traffic free paths you will keep using the car.
The bicycle isn’t the answer to one thing, it’s the answer to so so so many things.
- It makes you fitter, healthier and mentally happier. It saves the NHS a fortune.
- It’s better for businesses. People that cycle past your business stop more often to use your business. Your employees are sick less. They are more alert and more productive.
- It’s great for the environment, in particular, pollution.
- It’s fantastically cheap and the fastest way to get around an urban environment.
- By a person cycling to work, you are reducing congestion. If all people commuting 5km by car chose to cycle to work, you would have a 50% reduction in traffic overnight.
So when I look at this manifesto, I can recognise the need for it to pander to the majority of people that drive cars. However a manifesto must contain a vision of the future. A place it wants to get to. What I’m seeing is an ideology based firmly in the 1970s where the car is king and somehow we will find even more space for the convenience, while a nation continues to become more obese and sick through pollution.
A manifesto should have principles upon which it stands. The Space For Cycling campaign has six principles. They are good and simple to understand. They compliment each other and together build a foundation for better living space for tomorrow.
The Conservative Manifesto appears to be based on principles that fight against each other:
- More roads and road widening ergo more traffic.
- Better traffic flow but you’ve just increased traffic
- More parking but you’ve allocated more space to roads
- Cheaper parking so congestion in the city is higher.
- Removal of bus lanes at certain times of day discouraging healthy transport options increasing traffic.
I could go on but I’ve written rather a lot. Please feel free to comment below.
[EDIT there has been a response to this from the Conservatives which is worth reading.]