The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Recently, there have been a few conversations in the world of cycling campaigning about good and bad  infrastructure. Two of the conversations have centred around cyclists having accidents as a direct result of badly planned infrastructure, another has looked at whether a particular path is “quite good” or just “OK”. It’s no surprise that most of the good infrastructure that is discussed and is used as a benchmark seems to come from the Netherlands whilst most of the bad stuff is from the UK. So, with that in mind (and nursing an injured shoulder made worse after slamming it into a narrow “A Frame” barrier!) I went on a quick infrastructure safari around Burry Port and Pembrey.

In many ways I am lucky, I live in a 20MPH area and arrive at a fully segregated though shared use path within 300 yards of my house. The route I chose comprised of a short section of NCN Route 4 that is also a “Safe Route in The Community”, a length of properly segregated next to a road track and part of the Millennium  Coastal Path. All these paths are shared with pedestrians. Here’s the route:-

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=6339695

and here’s what part of the first part of the path looks like.  It is a good new tarmac surface and runs like this for about a mile.

phone pics june 2014 259
The start of the route

Unfortunately the access to the path isn’t so good:-

Gate No. 1The First Barrier

 and these gates will become a recurrent theme!

The path continues for about 300 yards until we reach another access point. Although I didn’t use it, I thought it would be worth a picture:-

Unlocked Access Point!

Unlocked Access Point!

Gate No. 2

 Although it has an A Frame and anybody with a tandem, disability scooter, laden touring bike or trailer is going to have problem at these points, the installers have kindly left the gate unlocked – but fear not, it only get’s worse!

Shortly after gate No. 2 there is a road bridge – the road that goes over the path is Furnace Road :-

Bridge Under Furnace Road 2
Bridge Under Furnace Road 2

I have tried to show the spilled rubble covering the path – this continues under the bridge. Unfortunately the “under bridge” is used by local kids as a drinking and generally hidden place to mess about – what you can’t see in the photo are the finely ground up Stella bottles!The path then continues in a generally good if slightly overgrown state to the Bridge Under Ashburnham Road and the exit to Randall Square and the Primary School:-

phone pics june 2014 262
Bridge Under Ashburnham Road
Gate No. 3
Gate No. 3 to Randall Square
phone pics june 2014 264
Padlocked Access gate

A careful look at the bridge picture will show the dangling bramble snare that has been left to trap the unwary traveler and the ditch running along side the path. The “A Frame” photo doesn’t really do justice to the fiendishly narrow, shoulder damaging gap at the apex. The additional access gate has been conveniently locked.This path forms part of the “Safe Routes in the Community” network and is supposed to help children be more active in getting to and from school as an attractive link between Pembrey to Burry Port and the Secondary school at Glan Y Mor. So, access issues aside, how does it rate?

  • Well, it is unlit throughout its length,
  • there are three dark bridges,
  • it is prone to flooding in the winter,
  • a good part of the path is in a hidden gully
  • it is littered with broken glass and ankle turning, wheel buckling pebbles in places.
  • it is liberally sprinkled with dog muck.

More positively, it is traffic free and direct.

A quick point to note is that this path is the signed NCN Route 4 – a tourist route, Randall Square in Pembrey has a pub and a Spar Shop, would a sign pointing these out be that difficult?

To carry on the ride I exited the path at Waun Sidan and another gate:-

Waun Sidan Gate

Waun Sidan Gate

This one is the most fiendish of all as the rider has no alternative but to lift the front end of the bicycle and manhandle it about 600 milimetres to the other side – here’s an alternative picture with a different bike:-

Duh!

Duh!

This is not clever design by any standard and I’m surprised that Carmarthenshire County Council haven’t been lambasted by people with disabilities for this.

The route fiddles about for a couple of hundred yards until you get to this:-

The Road To Cefn Sidan - OK Factory Road Pembrey!

The Road To Cefn Sidan – OK Factory Road Pembrey!

Absolutely brilliant! OK, it’s shared use but hey, spot the pedestrian. this road goes all the way down to Pembrey Country Park and picks up NCN Route 4 westbound or turn east onto the Millennium Coastal Path:-

MCP going east

Millennium Coast Path

with views like this:-

phone pics june 2014 271

but surfaces like this:-

Ouch!

Ouch!

To be absolutely frank, most of the time I don’t really notice the issues (apart from the access barriers), I use the paths daily either on my bike or walking the dog and have got used to their failings.  When you live somewhere that looks like this:-

Home

Home

it’s easy to forget the mess on the Pembrey – Burry Port Safe Route but maybe for the sake of the children, we should just stop and look with fresh eyes.

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Sport Success = Active Travel?

One of the themes of the recent Wales a Cycling Nation conference was how do we convert our success in cycle sport to getting bums on saddles.

There is no doubt that Wales has much to be proud of, both in people and facilities. There are successful stars like Geraint Thomas, Nicole Cooke, Becky James and Simon Richardson, facilities like the velodrome in Newport and great mountain biking trails particularly in North and Mid Wales but can we convert these to getting people to use their bikes for transport? Can we convert this:-

Imageto this?:-

ImagePhoto courtesy of http://departmentfortransport.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/cycling-in-the-netherlands-picture-post-4-children/

It’s an interesting conundrum. Would you use Mo Farah to persuade people to walk to the shops or Lewis Hamilton to promote safe driving or to sell a Toyota Prius? There is a view that utility cycling has as much to do with cycle sport as a mum on the school run has to F1  motor sport .Yes I know some drivers think they are on the track at Silverstone but some cyclists think they are climbing l’ Alpe d’ Huez when in reality they are climbing one of the land bridges on The Millennium Coast Path – both parties have a reality disconnect and that isn’t what concerns me here!

In the last year we have had a couple of “own goals” from pro cyclists; Sir Bradley Wiggins got caught out with an off hand comment re bike helmets shortly after his Tour De France win. More recently Laura Trott said that cyclists should behave themselves on the road and wear crash hats. Now, I have no doubt there are many bad, dangerous law breaking cyclists out there and maybe (to be fair) they should be lumped in with the 2 million uninsured drivers, the drivers who park illegally, those who speed and those who use their mobiles while driving – they are all road users who break the law. But, the problem here is that the comments made by Laura Trott and Sir Brad were both picked up by the national media and of course gleefully used by on-line commentators to criticise cyclists further. I can’t see that their forays off the bike have done much to help the cause of mass cycling.

Chris Boardman on the other hand has used his position as a retired elite athlete and more recently TV commentator to plug for better cycling facilities and has been much more considered in his approach to dealing with the media:-

but has he increased the appeal of utility cycling to the average teenaged schoolkid? Probably not.

I think there is a way to use our success in sport to boost everyday cycling but I think it needs more than our sports people riding fast. We need cycling to be cool and relevant:-

  • Lets have some pictures of our rugby stars on bikes. Most Welsh people will find it much easier to identify with Adam Jones or Lee Halfpenny than Geraint Thomas – sorry Geraint but Rugby is the Welsh national obsession for at least eight months of the year. Can we get Jonathan Davies back on a bike here in Wales?
  • Let’s not limit it to sports people – how about getting Katherine Jenkins on a Dutch style bike or The Manics riding down the Taff Trail. There are loads more Welsh people in the media that could be approached.
  • If we use our elite athletes let’s get them on ordinary bikes going to the shops or schools. Let them show that you don’t need £4000 of carbon fibre and titanium to travel on – ordinary bikes are cool, and more important you can use them as transport.

So yes, we can use our sport success to promote the Wales Cycling Nation message (but please ensure that there are no Daily mail reporters around when they speak!). However. don’t think that super fit people riding fast round and round in circles or that the infrastructure they use will get mothers riding to school with their children. No, they need to see cycling as normal, they need to see that you can do it in normal clothes, they need to see that it is safe and secure and that the safe, secure routes get them directly where they need to go.

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Wales, A Cycling Nation

ImageA couple of days ago I was fortunate enough to attend on behalf of The Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, a conference in Cardiff launching the Welsh Government’s vision for cycling in Wales. .

And what a grand vision it is. This vision is at the heart of the Active Travel Bill which is due to be made law next month and will make all local authorities obliged to provide safe direct routes to all local amenities for people to walk or cycle – getting the nation active.

The speakers included John Griffiths AM – Minister for Culture and Sport, The Right Hon. Carwyn Jones AM – our First Minister, and Dr Ruth Hussey the Chief Medical Officer for Wales and was chaired by Philip Darnton of the Bicycle Association – I understand he was also something to do with bikes across the border too!

Philip Darnton introduced the event by emphasising how incredibly different this was and that we must not under estimate the governments commitment for change – the simple fact that our First Minister had called the conference was evidence for this.

John Griffiths then introduced the idea that Wales has had fantastic success in Cycle Sport – Geraint Thomas,  Simon Richardson and Becky James got mentioned but he forgot Nicole Cooke who kicked off the Welsh revival. His message was that we were to build on our success in sport to make Wales a true cycling nation where the bike will be chosen for most local journeys. Whilst there was no denying that Wales was lumpy it hasn’t stopped other lumpy countries having more cycling than us – for every up hill, there is a down hill. Indeed, our topography and geography will be used as a selling point! We were to be under no illusions that what we were looking at was no less than a “step change” in Welsh transport habits and they knew that to bring about this “step change” better infrastructure will be required – we cannot expect people who are wary of traffic to mix with it! Before the conference he said ”

“Everybody recognises that increasing levels of cycling in Wales can boost our economy, create jobs, increase tourism and cut congestion.”

“But to make this work we will need a cultural change that will see cycling to school or work as a routine part of most people’s lives.

“This may sound very ambitious now but we’ve shown in Wales that we can change behaviours and mind-sets quickly. Who goes to the shop in Wales now without their re-usable bag or consider smoking in a public buildings?

“We have a record of taking a distinctly Welsh approach to issues in Wales that reflects our own particular needs and aims.

“I’m confident that by taking this approach we will deliver our aims of making walking and cycling a safer, easier and more desirable option for the people of Wales.”

As an Arch Infrastructuralist this was music to my ears.

the First Minister then took the stage to say that this isn’t about sport and lycra, it is about giving people a real choice, opening up transport for our poorest and most disadvantaged people. There are sound economic, environmental and health reasons for this policy. But, we must be under no illusions that it will happen overnight and the conference we were attending will be an annual event to make sure the change happens. Critically he said ““By taking a whole government approach to cycling that will involve transport, health, sport, recreation and planning – rather than a marginalised single department approach – we will succeed in making Wales a cycling nation.” Crucially he said, “we’ve built for more and more cars, increasing traffic and marginalising cyclists” and this must change.

Dr Ruth Hussey was providing medical support for the Active Travel Bill – cycling was more than just healthy, it helps to support total wellbeing it is important that we don’t just concentrate on obesity. She particularly wanted to reach out to the people in the less active areas – essentially the South Wales Valleys, how to they persuade people to cycle and walk?  Frankly this is a huge challenge, Wales is bottom in the UK and Northern Ireland for active travel for shorter journeys https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/225731/nts2012-01.pdf and the health crisis is demanding and urgent response. Without additional funding support for the Bill we are looking at many years to achieve any tangible benefits. She did mention that cycling must be seen as normal – she demonstrated this with a picture of her on a bike.

Bendegedig – fantastic, but (there has to be at least one), there was an elephant NOT in the room, where was Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport? Surely we were discussing cycling as everyday transport – “Active Travel”, “everyday cycling”, “utility cycling” or whatever and this is transport. Yes, it’s good for you, the environment and the economy but in the end, it is TRANSPORT and the absence of the Transport Minister or her deputy presents one problem for me. The second concerns the silence around funding. You cannot create a cultural “step-change” without providing safe, direct and secure routes to get people where they need to go and Infrastructure costs money. Wales has 1200 miles of great off road routes but if they don’t get the kids safely to school or their parents to the station, work or the shops, they may as well be on Mars. If the people who don’t cycle don’t see the routes as transport links why should they use them?

There were also a series of round tables and workshops:-

The morning round table discussion was on cycling and business. I felt that this discussion lost it’s way and too much emphasis was placed on the cycling business – bike shops, mountain bike centres etc and not enough on how cycling can be used to regenerate town centres and a failing tourist industry.

In the afternoon I was part of a panel with Jane Lorimer – Director of Sustrans Wales, and Steve Fry from M2 Sports Management, chaired by Simon Nurse from CycleStuff blog. We were looking at “Promoting cycling in your area”. Fortunately most of the questions concerned the importance of good infrastructure. We also considered considerate behaviour by all road and path users – as both a cyclist and dog walker I have experienced inconsiderate behaviour by all parties and suggested that local campaigns on shared use facilities may help. I mentioned the old Ramblers Association “2 Tings” campaign reminding cyclists to warn pedestrians of their approach. I have no problem with this, for as long as we are stuck with shared use provision, everybody has a duty to consider other path users. I don’t think we really tackled the core question of promoting cycling – a brief mention was made of encouraging youngsters to join cycling clubs but I think that was missing the point.

Phillip Darnton closed the proceedings – very enthusiastic but nevertheless not glossing over the challenges ahead, “you are unusual, you are cyclists and you are very few. Most people love their cars and they are voters………..”. Either he didn’t hear the First Ministers speech, didn’t believe him or was possibly warning him. Time will tell.

Overall, like most people there, I have to be positive. My own Assembly Member, Keith Davies told me at a meeting last week that we were “pushing at an open door”. It is however going to be essential that those within the cycling community – either as campaigners, promoters or simply people on bikes maintain the pressure and be prepared to remind our ministers of their vision to “make Wales the best cycling nation in the World”.

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