Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Words into Action: Brighton and Hove budgets for sustainable transport, but is it enough to change people's transport habits?

Looking east along Old Shoreham Road: new cycle lane with raised kerb 20 Mar 2012
Brighton and Hove City Council released its 2012-13 Local Transport Plan capital budget on 15 March 2012 (link to download below). The budget lays out how £6.46m of capital will be spent over the next year with allocations for the following two years. This compares with £3.34m in 2011/12, £3.02m in 2010/11 and £5.79m in 2009/10. It is good to see progress - at a time when not much tangible seems to be happening - but I fear it won't be enough to show the benefits of sustainable transport. So the goal of a significant shift to sustainable transport won't happen. Yet.

Real priorities are funded in the Plan, including Lewes Road and Dyke Road cycle lanes, and expansion of area-wide 20 mph limits. The Plan contains real progress, but it doesn't promise a sustainable transport network throughout the city so I'm not convinced that it will improve public transport and cycling links enough to achieve a substantial 'modal shift' in the way people travel around the city.

Cycle lane - mixed use at bridge pinch point
I know it is a case of limited funds and limited political power. But we should remind ourselves of the objectives, and real possibilities that have worked in other cities. So I re-state the case for a East-West Sustainable Transport Corridor in Brighton and Hove (already outlined in the year 2000 Local Transport Plan 2).

Here is a (maybe radical) idea for testing the idea of a Sustainable Transport Corridor. We have already temporarily closed the Old Shoreham Road to construct a cycle lane. Can we extend the experiment by keeping the bridge over the railway (by Silverdale Road) closed to private cars? Only open to buses, cycles, walkers, taxis, local trades, emergency traffic etc. Introduce rapid (limited stop) buses along the route and make rapid public transport from Mile Oak to Brighton Central a realistic alternative to cars? We could show the public that sustainable transport is about more than just cycling.

There is already sustainable transport action in the city - I live near the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane construction scheme, and I (among others) have cycled along the new cycle lanes though they're not yet officially open. The widened cycle lanes give cyclists like me a much better feeling not just of safety but of room to "be" - a sort of confidence in being a cyclist, rather than a marginalised eccentric in a torrent of dangerous traffic. The space for car traffic is reduced. There may be complaints that this reduced space slows traffic. But right now it's closed and there is no traffic. The city survives. Boys play football on the Old Shoreham Road and it feels great to be car-free.

So this might be a good time to argue that the Old Shoreham Road should not be seen as an 'artery' for private motor traffic in greater Brighton-Hove-Portslade. We have the A27 bypass for people who want to drive between the suburbs. We want to reduce rat-run commuter traffic traffic in our residential areas because it is dangerous for children and cyclists. But it seems cars are the only fast way to get about town. We need a Rapid Bus Transport route. Could we re-propose the Old Shoreham Road become a Sustainable Transport corridor, where it's fast, safe and pleasant to cycle, walk and use buses? I guess these preliminary moves on Old Shoreham Road might turn out to be a first step in this direction. We don't need to jump at an untried 'Sustainable Transport Corridor' if we can implement and test it step by step.

We might make the transition easier if we engage motorists with planning alternative routes. I spoke to a lady who said it took an hour for her to drive from her home in Portslade to her job in Central Brighton the other day - including parking (in free-parking QP/Hanover). She says she lives too far from Portslade station to use the train. Can we show we do respect car drivers by talking to her of the alternatives: use the A27 and park for free. Or catch a bus and train... already we know that bus-train will involve long waits and slow buses... we're back to the need for a rapid bus. Likewise it can take an hour by bus from central Hove to Woodingdean or Moulescomb depending on your luck with traffic and connections.

So we need an east-west sustainable transport corridor, with feeds from the suburbs such as Mile Oak - maybe with with a fork running up the Lewes Road and to the Deans. It's not enough to say, as Mary Mears did, that there's a perfectly good cycle route along the coast. Most people don't live or work close to that route. It needs to be a transport backbone rather than on the edges of the city. There's stuff to work out. Lots of people don't like cycling. Try cycling to Woodingdean from central Brighton - the hills! Could we provide buses with cycle space? Many people don't cycle so rapid public transport is key to a sustainable transport corridor.

If handled right a Sustainable Transport Corridor might be acceptable to motorists and cyclists as an experiment, especially considering the road is already closed. Rapid buses would need to be provided. It would be good to show that the vision behind sustainable transport is more than a cycle lane in congested traffic.

Link to Brighton and Hove City Council Local Transport Plan Capital Programme 2012/13

Thursday, 1 March 2012

If we kept the Old Shoreham Road closed to cars? Unexpected side effect of cycle lane construction - quiet residential streets

There has been some complaining in the letters page of the Argus: the closure of the Old Shoreham Road to build cycle lanes has apparently increased journey times for some of those who like to commute the mile or two from Hove to Brighton by car. But it hasnt brought the city to a halt, and I think it shows us we don't really need these "arteries" for cars as much as we think we do.

I happen to live in the area affected near the railway bridge. Normally our street is a hectic 'rat run' for cars associated with the Old Shoreham Road traffic. Now, it's blissfully quiet.

My friends who drive cars tell me its a pain having to use alternative routes, such as the A27 bypass, to get from Hove to Brighton. But it's not really that much of a pain, a few minutes extra.

If we closed the Old Shoreham Road to car traffic, then the buses would run superfast into Brighton. And my friends might think of taking a bus to get to the other side of town. Or even, heaven forbid, a bike.

This is the kind of city planning used by the Dutch. Design the residential areas in 'cells' using one way systems to control traffic. To get between 'cells' by walking or cycling or bus, use the most direct route. But if you want to go by car, you have to use a longer, fast flowing bypass: you can't "rat run" through the residential streets (injuring people along the way). 37% of journeys in Holland are by cycle, only 2% in the UK. We need to change the way we design our cities.

I thought it needed an integrated city plan to work properly. We need the rapid buses AND we need to rearrange traffic priorities AND we cycling and walking routes... or maybe the way is to do it quietly, one street at a time...

Convert car lanes to bus-and-cycle lanes, says Jo Walters Masterplan for Brighton's traffic blackspot

1 March 2011. An independent study has called for car lanes to be converted to bus-and-cycle-lanes in Brighton's Lewes Road traffic black spot, and for an immediate end to mixed 2-way cycle-pedestrian traffic along the kerb of the A270/A27 merge slip road where Jo Walters died.

On Friday last week (24 Feb) the Jo Walters Trust released a "Cycling Masterplan" for the A27/A270 Falmer Interchange, where newly qualified school teacher, Jo Walters, lost her life in an accident in 2010.

The Masterplan, authored by traffic planning expert Paul Mynors, recommends "converting the inner (left hand) lane of the A270 in each direction into a wide bus/cycle lane. Within these wide lanes, cycle lanes would be provided where the width is sufficient (4.5m or more). Elsewhere, cyclists would share the inner lane with buses".

This would have the effect of extending on-road cycle lanes coming out of Brighton on the A270 to the east, where at present, cyclists in some places have to share pavements with pedestrians and other cyclists going in the opposite direction.

For those not familiar with the area, the A270, also known as the Lewes Road, is the main link between Brighton and the universities of Brighton and Sussex, the Amex Sports stadium, the city of Lewes and it is a designated Regional cycle route, D90.

The Masterplan says:
"A check on traffic flows showed that in principle this [reduction from 2 lanes of car traffic to one lane] should be possible, now that the A27 Brighton bypass has opened and removed long distance traffic from the area. Between junctions, the flows on the A270 are no longer such as to require two lanes in each direction for general traffic. In 2007 the two-way weekday peak hour flow on the A270 northeast of Coldean Lane was slightly under 1,600."
At the time Paul Mynors started consultations on this project, in May 2011, Brighton and Hove City Council won a £4m grant from the Department of Transport's Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) to make improvements to the Lewes Road, aka A270. The council has been refining these proposals, and invited the public to contribute. One of the new ideas (not included in the original Lewes Road LSTF scheme) was to convert the inner (left hand) lane of the A270 in each direction into a wide bus/cycle lane.  

Plans for Lewes Road will be the subject of detailed public consultation in 2012, following initial consultations undertaken in November / December 2011.

Jo's family started the Jo Walters Trust, which funds diverse community projects, and employed transport consultants to make cycling safer. Transport planner Peter Mynors developed the Masterplan following local consultations that started with a meeting at Brighton and Hove Council offices on 24 May 2011. 

Community cycle groups Bike Train & Lewes Road for Clean Air (LRCA) worked with the Trust and transport planner Peter Mynors in developing this plan.

LRCA spokesperson Duncan Blinkhorn said on Friday 25 February: "Jo was a Brighton University student who was killed in an accident while cycling along the cycle track by the Lewes Road at Falmer in July 2010. A tragic accident due in part to the inadequate width of the shared two-way cycle track at the A270/A27 interchange outside Sussex University."

Mr Blinkhorn added: "The plan has also informed the City Council's developing vision for The Lewes Road which will go out for consultation from 16th April. We look forward to doing more to help turn these ideas into a reality of improved cycling conditions during the coming months and years."

At the spot where Jo Walters was killed the cycle lane runs on the pavement alongside the A270 as it feeds onto the A27. Here, the Masterplan makes a call for immediate action: east and westbound cycle traffic should be separated by signage - east-bound (uphill) cycle traffic only should use the pavement alongside the A270. Westbound, downhill traffic should use the quieter, parallel Stoney Mere Road. If the Masterplan was fully implemented, so far as I can see, the left hand lane of the A270 will be converted to a bus and cycle lane as far as the actual merge with the A27 - and then it will leave the A27 and join Stoney Mere Road.

In addition, the Masterplan details secondary cycle  lanes around the area, and champions a 'nodal' system of cycle lane sign posting, a system which reportedly works well in the Netherlands. In a complex network of cycle routes, cyclists need more than route numbers to guide them.

For a copy of the Masterplan, please visit the Jo Walters Trust http://www.jowalterstrust.org.uk/