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

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