Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The future Brighton: Motor City or Green City?

Pic: sustainablecitiesnet.com
City launches public consultation over Local Transport Plan
Brighton & Hove has launched a public consultation to discuss the future of transport. It seems to avoid asking the crucial question: should we to prioritise sustainable transport or not?

Most people say they would would prefer to use fast public transport, but private motor car is simply safer and easier to use in Brighton & Hove. Our streets are clogged with polluting cars, while public transport takes way too long and cycling is unsafe on many routes. We are stuck thinking there is no way ahead. Yet some European cities have shown there is a different way.

We need a policy decision to change things for the better, and we now have the chance. On October 29, the City Council opened a public consultation to discuss its forthcoming "Local Transport Plan". This will close on December 10. The Plan is the strategy document that will define how planners will develop infrastructure for roads, buses, cycling, rail and other ways of getting about for the coming decades.

Sitting on the Fence: Green City or Motor City?
I answered the on-line Plan consultation questionnaire. I found it frustrating. I mean, who needs to be asked: "Should we create safe and attractive streets and places that everyone can enjoy?" Surely everyone's the answer to that is: "Yes!"

The real question that needs to be asked is: "Do you want sustainable transport? Should Brighton & Hove to be a Motor City or a Green City?"

The City needs to make a fundamental decision: should the Plan give priority to sustainable transport, as has been done in other cities? My opinion is we do not want to continue to prioritise motor transport, for reasons of air pollution, personal fitness and safety, let alone climate control and global warming.

We need a bold policy decision to rearrange transport priorities resulting in fast public transport and safe cycling. At present, buses take over an hour to travel a few miles from one end of the city to the other. Cycle routes are crowded out by traffic and children have to cycle to school on the pavement. This needs to change. Priority needs to be given to sustainable transport. This is not rocket science. Look at any number of cities in Germany, Netherlands, Denmark. Cycling is an important component, but the key is fast, reliable public transport.

At present people jump into their cars to make short journeys to the shops, beach, school. When people find their car is less convenient, they will use fast buses, or safe, fast, cycle routes. We can develop tailor made solutions for our city - buses or trams for steep hills, beachfront rail, etc. At this stage, planning is more the key than money, but in later stages investment in pubic transport may help revive the city economy.

But policy half measures and lip service to the vision of sustainable transport are strangling public transport in Brighton at present.

Brighton's claim to being a city of excellent cycling and public transport: lip service
Take a look at Old Shoreham Road by Hove Park during the rush hour. School kids struggling to cycle along "pedestrian only" foot paths while aggressive drivers push and shove their cars along the narrow roadway. Public transport is at a standstill. It takes an hour by bus to travel the few miles from Aldrington to Patcham. Fifteen minutes by car. The solution seems obvious. If everyone uses cycles or public transport, it will be safe and fast to get to work on the bus or bike.

The council is effectively controlled by a Tory minority, and they are pro-motor car. The 2009 public consultation about the Old Shoreham Road Cycle Lane showed the public wanted a cycle lane, but the public also warned the scheme as planned was unsafe. The Council was suggesting that 7,000 school-kids would use the Cycle Lane to get to school, but the lane was simply lines painted on the road amid heavy traffic. Traffic simply ignores these painted lines in most other parts of the city. The public wanted the scheme improved to include protected cycle lanes. This would mean reducing room for motor cars. Cars would have to use the bypass, taking longer to get about the city. Rather than improve the scheme, the Council scrapped it.

You only have to read the text below, from an academic paper, to see why Old Shoreham Road (OSR) scheme could not have succeeded: "separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections" are needed. The paper was from 2007. So why did Brighton planners put together a scheme that would fail because of safety? Was it planned to fail, by a Tory controlled council who need to show lip service to sustainability but don't really believe in it?

Local Transport Plan: opportunity for a real sustainable transport plan
Brighton & Hove should become the city of excellent public transport and safe cycling that it claims to be. Others have blazed the trail for us. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have made public transport fast - the route of choice - and cycling is a safe, convenient and practical way to get around their cities. The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling. In addition to their many pro-bike policies and programmes, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany make driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central cities through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use and parking. Moreover, strict land-use policies foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter and thus more bikeable trips. It is the coordinated implementation of this multi-faceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies that best explains the success of these three countries in promoting cycling. Compare with the marginal status of cycling in the UK and the USA, where only about 1% of trips are by bike.

Sounds to good to be true? I didn't make it up. The paragraph is paraphrased from a 2007 academic paper called "Making cycling irresistible". You can download the paper from

Sustainable transport could become a flagship of policy in Brighton if the council had the vision or the will. Will it alienate motor car users? I think most of them would welcome viable alternatives to car transport, especially if it is promoted properly. Will it cost money? Not necessarily - significant engineering work might be needed on schemes like OSR, but mostly it is a matter of road use policy and planning.

Note: the Local Transport Plan
Brighton & Hove City Council's new Local Transport Plan (LTP) will set out how it proposes to maintain and improve the city’s transport network. It will outline priorities for transport up to 2026 and how to achieve them. Producing an LTP is a legal requirement and must be completed by April 2011.
The plan will include a 15-year, long-term transport strategy and a short term, three-year delivery plan of specific schemes. Brighton & Hove’s plan will be supporting the five national transport goals: supporting economic growth; tackling climate change; promoting equality of opportunity; contributing to better safety, security and health; and improving quality of life.
The Public Consultation was opened 29 October and closes 10 December 2010.
For more information, and to complete the questionaire, go to: More on the Local Transport Plan

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