Thursday, 24 March 2011

OPINION: Will Brighton & Hove get away with scrapping the cycling dream and keeping the money?

Clock Tower Approaches
Audit and evaluation of The Cycle Demonstration Town by the seaside

Cycling England is set to close on March 31. But there may yet be a few twitches from the corpse of the body that was supposed to promote cycling in England. After it closes, the work of the monitoring and evaluating the work done in Cycle Cities and Towns, funded by Cycling England grants, will continue for some time.

So we’ve yet to hear the reports of what happened to Brighton and Hove’s Cycle Town scheme, where key components were scrapped.

Despite its apparent commitment to being a Cycling Town (link below), Brighton and Hove, where I live, is in the grip of a minority Tory council administration which in January declared its intention to “repeal” the city’s decade long commitment to promoting sustainable transport, and instead to combat “unfair penalisation of car drivers”.

Over the last year or so, the council has cancelled key elements in the plan for a network of protected cycle lanes that lay at the heart of the Cycling Demonstration Town scheme. The scheme was paid for by Cycling England grants and cost around of £4.5 million including partial grant matching from the city.

In February the Conservatives proposed a budget including plans to demolish The Drive Cycle Freeway in February - which cuts across the driveways of Tory heartland in Hove. Council Leader Mary Mears she said there were no fears the council would have to refund the money to Cycling England because “that quango is about to be abolished.”

Of course Mary Mears is mistaken. She will have to account for it because it is public money. But since her council now no longer has to answer to a “Non Departmental Public Body” like Cycling England, but rather to the Department of Transport under the political control of Liberal Democrat MP for the nearby town of Lewes, Secretary of State Norman Baker, one wonders whether the evaluation procedures applied will be as rigorous as they might have been when Cycling England was alive.

Cyclists in Brighton and Hove are incensed by the apparent diversion of resources intended for a cycling infrastructure that was supposed to encourage thousands of school children to cycle to school. Where are the protected cycle lanes planned for Old Shoreham Road and London Road? Where are The Drive’s safe interchanges and connections with the north of the city and the South Down’s National Park?

We draw scant comfort from the fact that the Department will continue to fund Bikeability (cycle training for children) for four years from 2011 – 2015, and to fund safe routes to school and Bike Club in 2011/12. These programmes encourage children to cycle to school, but I know from cycling The Old Shoreham Road myself that this is asking for trouble when there are no safe cycling lanes. Kids are forced to cycle along the pavement because it is too dangerous along the road. And cycle casualties are increasing in the city.

The council has cancelled the important backbone of protected cycle freeways, and instead painted white lines on the road or designated cycle lanes on peripheral routes, such as Madeira Drive, which is actually closed during peak summer periods. (more>>>)
I phoned Cycling England to find out how they would audit the delivery of Brighton and Hove’s Cycle Town scheme. A spokesperson told me about Cycling England’s evaluation of the first six “Cycle Demonstration Towns” (CDT’s) for 2005-2008 (link below), which included Brighton and Hove. It was declared a success based on an increase of in cycling of 27% vs a national decline.

In 2008-2011, 12 new “Cycle City and Towns” (CCT’s) were funded, plus the original six. The problems in Brighton and Hove occurred in this second period. I asked when the audit of the second three-year period will be published and who would publish it in view of the demise of Cycling England?

The spokesperson told me that monitoring and evaluation teams were contracted to the Department for Transport, and would continue after Cycling England closed at the end of March. I had to talk to the DfT about that.

At the DfT I was surprised to learn there is was no particular body or person to deal with my query on Cycling England. A press office spokesperson told me the Cycle City and Towns project would end on 31 March, and in April the Local Authorities would submit claims detailing the work done to the DfT. They will later submit a final detailed report summarising work done over the 2.5 years in line with their funding agreement. The spokesperson said: “The final reports will be checked by DfT staff who have been working on this project.”

Cycling England employed over a dozen staff to manage its projects and advise local authorities, so how will the DfT be able to check what is happening on the ground once Cycling England has closed?

Even under Cycling England, the cycle network in Brighton and Hove has problems. The National Cycle Network in Brighton passes through notorious danger spots such as The Level, and Vogue Gyratory, a multi-lane round about of fast crossing and merging traffic, which even hardened cyclists balk at.

DfT boasts it has already set up a new online Cycle Journey Planner (link below). I wondered whether it flagged these danger spots. Aren’t computers wonderful? I typed in Falmer University as a departure point, and destination the Old Steine in Central Brighton, close to the seafront. The map came up with a route into town along Cycle Routes 90 and 20, straight through The Level and Vogue Gyratory. That’s the problem with remote control and computerised solutions; you can’t see what’s happening on the ground. Anyone who cycles that route would recommend it only with a health warning.

Anyway, back to the audit of Brighton and Hove Cycle Town scheme. The DfT spokesperson confirmed an on-going evaluation of all 18 Cycle schemes is funded by DfT and conducted by Sustrans and AECOM. “This continues throughout 2010/11 into 2011/12. Sustrans is to undertake a final telephone interview survey of residents of the six CDTs this spring, and final report will be published. The interim report ‘Making a Cycle Town’ has already been published. Concurrently, AECOM is undertaking a more detailed evaluation of the 12 CCTs, and the DfT will soon publish the findings of the baseline household survey. The final household survey is not due to be undertaken until Autumn 2012. We will put into the public domain future findings as they become available.”

So will the DfT’s evaluation programme report that the original Cycle Town scheme in Brighton has been abandoned? The monies are all accounted, whittled away by consultant’s fees and road paint. It is a subjective argument as to whether consultancy and road paint was a worthwhile substitute for segregated cycle freeways.

Cycling England’s interim January 2011 audit records “unavoidable changes in programme due to political pressures” in Brighton and Hove. I presume they are referring to the cancellation of the scheme’s backbone: the Old Shoreham Road Cycle Freeway.

There is a tendency for these bodies to present results in the most favourable light. Cycling England reported their programme to be a success because it improved cycling by 27%, against a backdrop of falling levels of cycling in other towns. But consider the baseline: 1-2% of trips in England are made by bicycle. 33% in Netherlands. So 27% improvement in UK makes what, still about 2%. That is not a really a success.

My bet is that the DfT isn’t going to make a big fuss if the next audit reports that political pressure caused key elements of Brighton and Hove’s Cycle Town scheme to be abandoned, so long as the money is be shown to have been spent. Somehow.

So I don’t really expect Brighton and Hove’s administration will ever have to account for the fact that the original scheme was never delivered.


DfT Journey Planner

“Making a Cycle Town”

Brighton and Hove Cycle City

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