Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The perils of country cycling


At today’s session of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling’s evidence session on cycling, a representative of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) made the point that it is not All About London (central or suburbs), there is countryside too, and rural A roads are something like 15 times as dangerous as urban roads for cyclists, with half of all fatalities occurring on them.

I can attest to that – not that I have been involved in an accident in the country, although I have been knocked off my bike four times in London, but it just feels really, really dangerous.  So dangerous in fact, that when I first had the brainwave that in addition to being a useful way of commuting, cycling could be a pleasant way to get exercise at weekends, I went out on my trusty Dawes CityVision 7 for a randonn√©e √† velo on the local roads.

An hour or so later, having sampled the delights of the B2131 Petworth Road, to the east of Haslemere, I more or less went straight to Cycle Works and peeled off an unfeasible amount of money for a Specalized Rockhobber “Hardtail XC” so that never again would I have to ride on a road, I could stick to the bridle paths on the commons which surround me.  (And if you have never tried them, here is my ringing endorsement.  Hindhead, Witley, Hankley, Thursley, Rodborough, Marley, Lynchmere etc commons are the bees’ knees for off-road cycling.  Easily accessible via Godalming or Haslemere railway stations and you should be able to get a bike on the train at weekends).

Why?  Because I was terrified.  Rural B and smaller A roads are narrow, windy, have no footways, poor sightlines, but the traffic still races around them.  In fact, most rural roads once you step away from the town limits have the national speed limit for single carriageway roads, which is 60mph, and many drivers apparently believe that 60 is the obligatory speed, not the maximum.  It did not take long to figure out that, while that builder’s van which creamed past me just now passed safely, all it would take is for a 4x4 coming unseen around the bend ahead to hove into view at just the wrong moment, and van driver would almost certainly smear me across the tarmac rather than collide head-on with another motor vehicle.

Cycling on roads like these is for “none but the brave”, and I do in fact see cyclists out and about at a weekend if the weather is fine – I saw three lunatics, all lycra and carbon frames and wraparound shades and gritted teeth, in a five-mile stretch of the A286 only last weekend.  I think they were all below-middle-aged men, though when they are dressed like that it can be hard to tell.  What you would most assuredly not see is a lady on a Pashley, or a more mature gentleman on his Raleigh.

Take a look at the snip of map below.  
 
 

View Untitled in a larger map



Here we have a line drawn on what might be a plausible route for someone to take from their home in Holdfast Lane to Haslemere railway Station, to commute by train to work every day.  This is a random choice of location, but there are several houses along here which could plausibly be occupied by a rail commuter, in a local authority district which, according to the Guardian's excellent interactive map of commuter transport modes reported in the 2011 census, has the highest proportion of train commuters in the wider area - more than 18% of all adults, which makes nearly 30% of those who actually travel to work. 

The distance is just under 2 miles – an easy distance and only half a mile more than I cycle every day to the station.  It undulates a bit, but quite within the capabilities of a decent Shimano or Sturmey hub gear.  In fact, why stop at commuting, why not pootle into town for a coffee or to collect your newspaper or a pint of milk, the sort of trip where a bicycle could actually be quicker and be more convenient than driving and hunting for an empty parking space?

Now take a look at the road you have to take – you can link to Google Streetview and move along it to get a fuller picture. (If anyone knows how, if it is possible, you can do an animation of driving/riding along a Streetview route, please let me know).



View Untitled in a larger map


It is not always possible to find a Streetview which has no cars in it, and this road is not exactly a high density route, but that of course is largely why it is so fast, and you can see that it is rich with hazards for a pedestrian or cyclist.   During the peak hours for commuting you can reasonably expect there to be quite a few vehicles travelling along here.

Would you be persuaded to take up cycling as a novice if this was the route you were asked to follow?  Would you not sympathise at all with anyone who were to say, “thanks, but no thanks, I’ll stick to my car”?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Stonecutter Street update


The picture below, taken this morning with my Blackberry in a mizzle so apologies for the gloominess of the image, shows how the opening of Stonecutter Street to Farringdon Street now looks following the advertised works to close the rat-run. 
 


It is better than I had expected, in that I had assumed they would copy what they did in the adjacent St Bride Street, ie build up the footway and instal drop kerbs for cyclists to ride over.  Cyclists would then have to take their chances getting across the road to take Farringdon St southbound, just as they now have to do between St Brides St and the Evans cycle shop opposite.

But no, it appears that the single-lane road has been left in place as a two-lane cycle track, with traffic lights still functioning to provide a green phase for cyclists emerging in both directions.

I have asked the City whether they intend to install some of those nice black bollards with a white stripe and red stars, which have grown like mushrooms all over the city in recent years, between the two cycle lanes – for example, at the junction where you can currently see a traffic cone and a couple of plastic road dividers - and they have confirmed that they will be installing a "suitable array".

This would  provide physical as well as legal restraint on any cheeky drivers who decide to ignore the “No entry except cyclists” signs and drive through anyway, especially as the absence of buses and trucks coming down could encourage bad boys to turn in off Farringdon Street and avoid the lengthy detour which they must currently make to access Shoe Lane from south of Fleet Street.
 

You will see that the works have included an expansion of the hire bike docking station here, with what looks like the same number of docks installed on the right had side of picture as were already there on the left hand side.  Mind you, there is never any shortage of bikes here as Serco uses the wide pavement, just out of shot to the left, as its depot for distributing bikes to empty docks around the area – you can see a couple of their guys in high-vis jackets to left of frame.
Somehow I suspect that once Goldman Sachs has built its new headquarters on the site to left of shot, the reservoir of spare bikes will disappear!
 


Friday, 15 February 2013

Stonecutter rat-run to be closed


I got this letter the other day from the City’s department of Built Environment (planning and highways)
 


A year or so ago, I was asked, as I dare say were a number of others, to write to TfL to urge them to agree to a plan by the City to open up a cycle contraflow on Stonecutter Street, which would have required some steps to facilitate right turns by cyclists, coming south down Farringdon Street across the northbound traffic at the traffic lights here.

Stonecutter St is one-way eastbound at its far eastern end, that is vehicles can exit onto Farringdon Street but they cannot enter it.  The rest of the street is two way, to permit delivery vehicles to come back the way they came in.  The cycle contraflow would have used the broad footway there to get from Farringdon St to the main two-way section of Stonecutter St.

TfL declined this invitation so the plan didn’t proceed.

This new plan is rather more radical (except that it still doesn’t envisage southbound cyclist right-turns, presumably because the traffic lights here will not now be needed for motor vehicle movements) in that it turns Stonecutter Street into a cul-de-sac at the point marked by the blue pin on the satellite shot below. 


View Stonecutter in a larger map



I responded to a consultation on this, and on an associated proposal to create a cul-de-sac at the eastern end of Little New St, where it meets Shoe Lane, so preventing a circulation of traffic anticlockwise around thus area and so making Shoe Lane also a cul-de-sac.  I was pleased with both ideas, as they would reduce the rat-running of taxis and vans through this area and make it a more civilised place.  Unfortunately, the Little New St aspect of the proposal apparently didn’t get enough support, or at any rate not from the right people.

Now I think I know what was driving this:  as disclosed in the minutes of the City’s Streets & Walkways subcommittee, the scheme was requested by Goldman Sachs, whose current offices are shown bordered by a red line in the overhead shot above, and they further offered to meet the costs of the works, a six-figure sum.

Why?  I can only speculate, but I imagine it is because Goldmans (or a property company acting on their behalf) are rumoured to have acquired the two redundant buildings shown bordered by a blue line above:  Fleet Place, an old BT building, and Plumtree Court, once home of the accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand.  When they have redeveloped the site, they would move from their current offices on Fleet st.

I believe Goldmans also requested, and paid for, the closure and pedestrianisation of the southern end of Shoe Lane, which passes between their two buildings down to Fleet St.  I don’t know whether Goldmans had anything to do with it but the star-point between Shoe Lane and Stonecutter St, Saint Bride St, has also been closed off at the Farringdon St end, allowing for two-way access for deliveries and a taxi rank.  I should imagine that doing the same with Stonecutter St provides Goldmans with the benefit, in the future, of a front access onto a traffic-free street with space for a taxi rank.

Plus it also hosts a sizeable docking station for hire bikes, which hopefully will survive these developments.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, a while ago, someone replied to a tweet suggesting that the big city institutions should be urging the City of London to raise its game on cycle infrastructure.  (To be fair, there are far worse boroughs in London on cycling matters – Westminster, for example).  If the big firms made clear what they expected, then it would be bound to happen.  After all, Money Talks.

Now, while the Stonecutter scheme does have marginal benefits for cyclists, I can’t imagine that cyclists were at the forefront of Goldmans’ minds when they requested this.  While I have absolutely no doubt that some serious heavy-hitters at Goldmans commute by bicycle, I doubt that cycling forms a central part of their public engagement strategy.

Much the same is true of my organisation.  We sponsor one of the major end-to-end events in the cycling calendar.  We have a thriving staff cycling cub – sports cycling, that is.  We have secure cycle storage for 8% of our London staff – well above average, much higher than the planning standards of the day and not far away from the new standards to be implemented in the Local development Framework from this year – plus lockers, showers, and even fresh towels for those prepared to pay a modest fee. Many senior figures in the organisation, including my own ultimate boss, are regular cycle commuters.
 
But, as I have been told, the firm does not get involved in “political” engagement outside the narrow confines of our professional service specialisms, ie company law and accounting, tax and financial regulatory law.  Cycling would be seen as political.
Also, quite clearly, while there are many senior figures who cycle, there are even more who don’t.  They might well be concerned that pro-cycle measures could have an adverse impact on the freedom of movement of London’s tax and hire-car fleet, of which we are a major customer.
Finally, there is the question of health and safety.  One of my colleagues, at the time in charge of our corporate social responsibility and sustainability programme, requested the board that they provide for staff’s annual subscriptions to the hire bike scheme.  They turned down this proposal, at least partly because of concerns about liability in the event that an employee suffered an accident and argued that they had been encouraged into the way of danger by this policy, and partly because of the third party liability risks.  If employees use their cars in the course of work, they are of course required to be insured and claims would be made against their own insurance. On a bicycle, there can be no automatic presumption that staff would be insured, so a claim might rebound on the firm as their employer if it were to be established that they were using a bike in the course of their work.
I have no idea whether commercial insurers provide “fleet” policies for cycling, the way they do for company car fleets.  I suppose there is always a first time for everything.  Also, this is something that perhaps British Cycling, CTC or LCC might consider as part of a corporate membership scheme?



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Good and bad examples of shared space


This is apparently a fine example of “shared space”, compared in some quarters to the “naked streets” concept of Hans Monderman.


View Larger Map

(Curiously, the Google Streetview camera car which photographed this street must have been the deLorean driven by Michael J Fox in “Back to the Future” – see what happens when it goes a few yards further up the road.)

View Larger Map





Anyway, back to the future, as they say, I think there is a widely held view that Exhibition Road, as shared space, is a lamentable failure.  This despite the humungous cost - £20 million?  More? – and all those pretty granite setts and street furniture.  I gather that charities for sight-impaired people, notably the Guide Dogs Association, hate it.  The Streetview pictures are unfortunately not taken at the best time of day to illustrtare the point properly, but basically, come here at a busier time and you will see lots of cars on the street but not many pedestrians, who still stick well to the edges.

I have a couple of other examples of share space I would like to share with you which I submit work rather better.

The first is here, Roupell Street, which runs alongside the railway viaduct under Waterloo East railway station.


View Larger Map




Roupell Street isn’t actually shared space at all, at least it hasn’t been conceived as such by the highways engineers in Southwark or Lambeth, which share responsibility for this street.  It is primarily a residential street of Victorian terraces, a conservation area where modern abominations like uPVC window frames are forbidden, and as such it is quite popular as a film set for period dramas.

It has a smattering of commerce as well:  the King’s Arms pub, with its drinkers spilling out into the street on a fine evening;  an excellent confiserie/patisserie, Konditor & Cook; a barbershop, and a language school.

It is also, significantly, a major pedestrian route from Waterloo Station towards Blackfriars and the City.  Before I took up a bicycle, I used to walk along here and could rarely resist a visit to Konditor & Cook for a slice of one of their chocolate cakes.  The Streetview image unfortunately wasn’t taken at the right time of day for this, but in the morning and evening peaks, the entire street is taken over by people on foot.

Also, significantly, the street has been arranged so that vehicles cannot pass through.  A few years ago, this was a popular taxi rat-run from City to Waterloo, avoiding Stamford St and the Cut.  The cabbies used to come through here, accelerating and braking sharply as they passed each of the speed tables, belching fumes and making their diesel rattle.  It must have maddened the residents something awful, quite apart from disarranging the pedestrians.  Now however, a simple measure has put a stop to that.  After a short stretch of two-way, you come to an even shorter stretch of one-way eastbound – the no-entry signs in the picture above – followed by the remainder one-way westbound.  The entire street is accessible to vehicles either from the east or  from the west via two adjoining streets, Brad St to the south and Theed St or Whittlesey St to the north, depending on exactly where you want to go, but you can’t legally pass straight through.

The result is as good a piece of shared space as you are likely to see anywhere, even if it wasn’t designed as such.


The second is here, Godalming High Street, in Surrey.


View Larger Map



As with the previous photos, this wasn’t really taken at an ideal time to illustrate the position.  During shopping hours there would be far more pedestrians around, who would have parked in (paid) car parks around the periphery.  Just behind shot, there is a rising bollard which closes the road entirely to vehicles, apart from buses and permit holders - disabled drivers, those residents who have no other vehicle access to their properties and shops for deliveries - who get a key to lower it.    The bollard is in operation all day Saturday.

I assume this was actually designed as shared space, and although it is now quite old and getting a bit tatty, it works quite well.  All the through traffic now passes along “Flambard’s Way”, a kind of bypass just a hundred yards to the south, which required the flattening of dozens of terraced houses and was a nightmare probably largely forgotten now as it happened at least 20 years ago.  There will be some drivers, apart from Saturdays, too lazy to walk from the car parks, or too mean to pay the modest charges, or too impatient to retrace their steps and head out on the main road, who will pass through here, but traffic is calmed by a combination of speed tables, block paving, and solid steel bollards at either side to create a sense of narrowness in the street.

So, no surprises there.  Shared space can work, but not just by prettifying a street and trying to fool people into believing there is no distinction between sidewalk and street. The fact is that motor vehicles don’t do sharing, so it will only work if you  tame them.

A good decade ago, the local Waverley Cycle Forum asked the council to approve a cycle contraflow on this one-way street.  It did appear to have been approved, but nothing has happened since.  The obstacle seems to be the local county councillor for Godalming, Steve Cosser, who apparently doesn’t want it.  This is a flaw I have recently noted in the workings of democracy in Surrey – the highways department expects residents to get the support of the local councillor for measures such as contraflows before it will work up proposals.  In principle, if the local councillor has his finger on the pulse and reflects the majority view of residents, then you would expect him to represent that view in the council.  Here I suspect that his hearing is a touch selective – we know about the objections of some residents, notably elderly pedestrians, but we never seem to hear about the petitions in support which certainly exist.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

So the Highways Agency ignores cycling? I hadn't noticed - much!


I see today’s Times cyclesafe pages feature an admission from the Mike Wilson of the Highways Agency, giving evidence at the All-Party Cycling Group’s hearings yesterday, that they don’t consider cycle safety  in their plans.

Well, that is not exactly news to me.  I wrote recently about the cycle path across Hindhead Common, and its provenance in the statutory obligations of the Agency when they prohibited cyclists, pedestrians, horse and horse-drawn vehicles etc from using the new Hindhead Tunnel.  As it seemed to me that they were wasting an opportunity here to do something more for cycling, I decided to write to them about one proposal I had dreamt up which fell within their purview, as agency responsible for trunk roads such as the A3 – other proposals would fall to Surrey as the local highway authority.

So, I wrote the email below to the information line quoted on the HA website, “HAIL”.



From: M, Paul (UK - London) [mailto:
Sent: 18 April 2011 16:10
To: HAIL
Subject: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Sirs

I am a resident of Haslemere, close to the A3 tunnel under Hindhead Common which is due to open this summer. 

I have been reading on your website here* about cycle path provision around the A3 Hindhead Tunnel development.  From this I note that there will be either dedicated off-road or kerb-protected cycle lanes or paths on prepared surfaces effectively alongside the entirety of the “retired” old A3 road after the tunnel opens:  from the Canadian War Memorial through to Hindhead village there will be an asphalt path adjoining the road, and from the National Trust Cafe down to Thursley there will be either a hard-surfaced bridleway or an access road largely free of traffic.

This connects a number of small villages (Hindhead, Grayshott and Thursley) together, but doesn’t connect them to either of the two local market towns, Godalming and Haslemere.   Do you have any plans to extend the link from Thursley to Godalming? 

I should imagine this is relatively easy to do:  cyclists coming down from Hindhead on the new access road on the northern verge of the A3 could cross the A3 at the Thursley road bridge and join a path alongside the road verge on the southern side of the A3, to join the slip road from Milford onto the A3 southbound.  Similar paths already exist alongside the A3 by Longmoor Camp to the west of Liphook, and by Liss/Petersfield from the Liss/Selborne roundabout.

It would be a real boost to local sustainable travel if these locations could be joined together by a continuous facility suitable for road or hybrid bicycles and cyclists of all ages, especially if the routing can be made as direct as possible by aligning with the A3 as it currently exists (pre-tunnel) in this area.

Yours,


*  This originally went to a link on their website.  Like everything else it seems to me, restructuring of the gov.uk website has buried information in an “archive” deeper than what is needed for Sellafield’s toxic waste.  You get led to a new page which links you back to the old page which takes you to the…..you get the picture


The initial response came from Paul Arnold, who had served for many years as the project manager for the tunnel project itself, and became something of a local celebrity in the process.  I believe that Mr Arnold is now enjoying a well-earned retirement, having delayed his retirement to see the tunnel through to opening in August 2011. 
I have redacted the email addresses and phone contact details for Mr Arnold, and his colleague Paul Benham (so many Pauls!) but not their names – after all, they are public servants, not private citizens in this respect.

From: Arnold, Paul [mailto:
Sent: 20 April 2011 16:30
To: M, Paul (UK - London)
Cc: Benham, Paul
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Mr M

The provision of the additional facility to Milford would fall under the responsibility of the A3 Route manager as it would not be part of the A3 Hindhead project.  Unfortunately there are two reasons why it may be not able to be provided.  One is that I believe the south verge between Lea Coach Road is part of a common and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Secondly  I doubt there are funds available in the near future.

Cyclists with suitable cycles could go over the Thursley Bridge and use French Lane and then the bridleway which leads out onto Lea Coach Road near Witley Manor and thence onto the A286.

I have copied this to the route manager, Paul Benham, in case there is anything he wishes to add
 
Paul Arnold, Senior Project Manager
Highways Agency | Federated House | London Road | Dorking | RH4 1SZ
This prompted me to write to Mr Benham, following up on my email to Mr Arnold.  You will see that my request was not exactly hugely ambitious, quite modest really

From: M, Paul (UK - London)
Sent: 20 April 2011 17:00
To: Arnold, Paul
Cc: Benham, Paul
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Mr Arnold

Thankyou for your response.

In fact my next port of call is to the local National Trust estate manager.  Most of the land between Thursley bridge and Milford is National Trust land, as is all of the land which connects the old A3 near the National Trust Cafe and the nearest quiet road down to Haslemere, Farnham Lane, which is how I imagine that the link would be completed from Haslemere to Hindhead to Thursley to Milford.

Next might be Sustrans and Waverley council, to see if funding might be available from those sources.

My objective is to find a way that this link could be made either off road or on quiet roads but on surfaces which could be ridden by a conventional on-road bike – mudguards, panniers etc so ordinary clothing can be worn – and without specific off-road skills, which parts of the route certainly require at the moment.  I would imagine that a firmly compacted surface which does not get muddy in wet weather, and some signposting, would be all that is needed, rather than a major asphalt/tarmac construction.

At the moment some excellent (present or imminent) facilities exist but they don’t really connect anywhere to anywhere.  That is what I would like to see changed.

I would appreciate Mr Benham’s perspectives on this.

Kind regards

This is the response I received:
[                  ]
That’s right, nada.
A little later, I wrote again, as follows.
From: M, Paul (UK - London)
Sent: 09 May 2011 09:35
To: 'Arnold, Paul'
Cc: 'Benham, Paul'
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments
Dear Mr Benham
Further to my email below, I recently made my own informal survey of the feasible cycle links between Thursley and Milford/Godalming.  I found that there are indeed statutory or permissive bridleways which can take you all the way from the Thursley bridge to Milford through the NT land on Witley and Milford commons, however while these would be straightforward for leisure use on a suitable bike, they can be quite marginal for more road-oriented “utility” bikes, especially with panniers etc as the paths can in places be rather narrow and stony.
I also found that there is a footpath, or shared-use path, along the entire length of the A3 on its London-bound side between the Thursley slip road and opposite the Milford South access to the A3 southbound.  The total distance is almost exactly 3 kilometres and apart from perhaps 500 metres or so near the Milford end, it is all asphalt- surfaced.  Apart from this unsurfaced part, which is further from the road verge and up a bank, the path runs immediately alongside the road margin, separated by a fairly standard concrete kerb, and a narrow strip (60-80cm?) of grass except in a few places where  a surfaced slipway into/out of a side road puts more distance between road and path.
This path is however quite narrow – I would guess less than 1m wide for the most part, and its status as footpath or shared use is not always entirely clear.  In fact, there is a section which is clearly shared use but it ends, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere (a common characteristic for cycle paths in the UK, I’m afraid).  It is also rather overhung with gorse bushes which could do with a pruning.
You will no doubt be aware that cycle or shared-use paths border the A3 in a number of places:  along the southern verge at Longmoor between Liphook and Greatham, on the northern verge to the south-west of the Selborne/Liss roundabout and on the southern verge approaching the Petersfield North junction, and on the northern verge between Burpham and Ripley, for example.  I would not have thought that it would pose too much of a challenge to upgrade this path between Thursley and Milford:  trimming back the vegetation would be a start, then widening the path to 1.5-2m, and upgrading/surfacing the short unsurfaced section at the Milford end.
I have read that building a cycle path to the best international design standards costs around £250k per kilometre, including land purchase.  I would like to think that a sum representing less than 0.25% of the cost of the tunnel project could be found for this?
Kind regards


Response this time?
Nada, Nix, Nil, Diddly Squat.  Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.
Below is a Google maps extract to show where I mean.  An existing footpath, part of which is already shared use, could be upgraded at minimal cost, certainly the equivalent of the tea and coffee bill for the tunnel contractors, to connect three villages – Hindhead, Grayshott and Thursley – with the nearby town of Godalming, with its two big supermarkets, shops and restaurants, pubs, and railway station.  For Thursley residents at least, it would make cycling to Godalming (which has severe problems with car parking capacity for commuters) to pick up the train to work in London quite feasible.  It could permit easy sustainable travel by train and bike for visitors to the newly-reunited Hindhead Common which has already started to attract much larger visitor numbers.  It could open up a whole donut of commons – Hindhead, Hankley, Thursley, Witley, Milford, Rodborough, Bramshott – to more leisure visitors without the need for them to bring their cars (car parking is extremely limited anyway, especially on the MOD land at Hankley Common).


 

View Rodborough in a larger map



Part of the problem here may well be with the status of the land either side of the road, being owned by the National Trust as well as being common land or a SSSI.  A colleague is engaging with the local NT wardens – who have generally been fairly receptive and helpful – but it seems to me that at national level the NT’s enthusiasm for cycling only extends as far as inviting you to carry your bike on the back of your 4x4 as far as the car park in one of their properties, where they can guide you onto a bland pre-signed cycle route around in a circle.

More recently, I wrote to my local MP, Jeremy Hunt, on this and other matters.  He offered to contact the HA on my behalf to move things forward, an offer for which I am certainly grateful, although I have yet to take it up while I think through precisely what I want to say to them.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Hindhead Common Bicycle "bypass"


Below is a photograph I took this weekend of the beginning – or, depending which direction you’re heading, the end – of about 5 miles of mainly off-road cycle track around Hindhead, Surrey.  The pictures which follow show points on the route, starting from the south west and working north-east. (All pictures below their captions).
 

The route starts with a section of newly-constructed kerb separated, shared cycle/footpath, alongside what remains of the old A3 before the new Hindhead Tunnel and its approaches were opened in August 2011.  It is largely continuous although interrupted by a couple of junctions to the left.  You can see some of the A3 signage to the right and centre of frame.



Where the exit slip from the new dual carriageway meets the old road to take traffic into HIndhead Village, there is this cycle bypass of the roundabout – still shared with pedestrians – leading to the next section of the route, alongside the A333, again part of the old A3.  There used to be forests of "Cyclists Dismount" blue signs around here, but it looks like the protests of the Waverley Cycle Forum to have them removed have been successful.



The next section of the route is nothing more than the old footway alongside the road.  It has not been widened, modified or resurfaced since its previous existence as footway only.  Here you can see it is interrupted by entrance and exit to a petrol station – this photo took a little waiting, to get a window without cars blocking the path waiting to exit on to the road. (You can also see how impossible it would have been to construct a separate cycle track alongside this 30mph, local-access-only road - nowhere near wide enough).
 
 

We have now crossed the old Hindhead Crossroads into the village proper.  I didn't snap the scene near the old crossroads, now a curious double-mini-roundabout, because it is not a partiuclarly nice place to hang around.  On the other hand, with the A3 traffic diverted through the tunnel the volume and speed of traffic here is no fairly light most of the time. 

The double mini-roundabout attracted a fair bit of ire from local petrolheads - aparently it is a little confusing to negotiate.  I can't honestly see why, but it does at least make drivers approach the system fairly cautiously - otherwise the temptation for anyone crossing north-south along the Haslemere-Farnham road, the A287, would be to barrel through at speed in the expectation that there would be nothing coming from right or left along the old A3 axis, which is now purely local traffic.  Perhaps that is what those motorists are whining about, but tough - they are now driving through what local planners are determined to convert into a proper village centre.

Here below you can see where the old A3’s roadbed abruptly ends.  The entire road was dug out and replaced with soil at the insistence of the National Trust, as part of the deal for them to provide access land for the tunnel.  (Only two years ago this was a fume-filled hell, of nose-to-tail motor vehicles.  Crossing the road here was nigh on impossible, especially for horse riders.  One can question the wisdom of the tunnel, and it is already evident that it has just moved the congestion further along to the next bottleneck, but the re-unification of the two halves of the common and the removal of the traffic have been hugely beneficial.)  To the right of frame you can see the entrance to a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) which runs on down around the side of the Devil’s Punchbowl.



“BOAT 500”, as it is designated, is a narrow, tarmac lane running through the trees.  It is a “Quiet Lane” which merely means a BOAT which the local highways authority has assumed responsibility for maintaining.  Here you can see that the Quiet Lane ends, with the remainder of the BOAT being a rough unsurfaced track leading down the hill.  This is fortunate, because it renders the route unsuitable for motor vehicles apart from 4x4s and trail bikes, and so discourages ordinary motorists from using it.

Here you can see, a few yards further on, where the road forks.  The BOAT to the right, and to the left a new, tarmac path for pedestrians/cyclists only.  I don’t know whether the sections of felled tree trunk are just coincidence, or were placed there deliberately to prevent 4x4s gaining access.  From what I have seen of the surrounding BOATs and bridle paths, some such measures are probably necessary to prevent illegal incursion.

Looking back over my shoulder, the white van is one of the very few motor vehicles you actually see on the BOAT, notwithstanding that it is technically open to motors.  In fact the volume of pedestrian, equestrian and cycle traffic here, especially at a weekend, would likely reduce any motorist to a walking pace.  The van belongs to a group of downhill MTB enthusiasts.  This is a paradise for fans of downhill cycling, and you will see them puffing and sweating as they push their sophisticated full-sus MTBs back up the steep slope afterwards!

This view, looking out over the Sailor’s Stone towards the Punchbowl, shows how the old A3 road has been entirely obliterated.  The strip of what looks like garden weed-suppressing matting is more or less that, on an industrial scale. It is there to permit thousands of young heather plants to take hold to re-seed the hillside.  The old road bed was broken up so that it didn’t prevent drainage, and then the pieces were left in place and buried under, in places, more than 10 metres of soil.  Much of the soil removed to dig the tunnel was saved for this purpose, just so that the road could be buried.  Again, this was done at the insistence of the National Trust.

The Sailor’s Stone is a monument to an uknown sailor who was set upon by thieves and killed near this spot as he walked up the Old Portsmouth Road in the late 18th century.  The thieves were discovered drinking their spoils in a local pub, and were hauled off to gaol, tried and summarily executed on gibbets erected on the hill above, hence its name of Gibbet Hill.  The sailor’s grave is in the cemetery at the parish Church of Thursley, down the hill.

Below the end of the bollarded foot/cycle path pictured above, the old A3 road was not buried, but a narrow strip was left behind to form “Punchbowl Lane”, a statutory bridle path leading down towards Thursley.  This picture looks at the other, north-eastern, end of the lane, looking south west.   While the lane is a bridle path and so not open to motor vehicles, an exception is made for access to a couple of houses and the Youth Hostel which nestle deep in the Punchbowl and have no other access.  There is a standard farm gate at either end.  These were installed as a precaution against stroppy motorists who might be tempted to use the BOAT 500 Quiet Lane and Punchbowl Lane as a rat-run to avoid the appalling prospect of having to drive a half-mile in the opposite direction to get to the slip-road for the tunnel and the new A3.  The idea is that if this occurs, the gates will be locked and the residents will just have to get out and open them each time they want to pass through.  There is enough room at the side for walkers/cyclists/horse riders to pass, but not cars.

The next pic looks down the next section of the route.  We are now back on public highway – a lane which continues under the A3 and meanders around to the village of Brook, 5 or so miles away. (This photo is looking in the other direction, north east towards Thursley) It does get some, purely local traffic, but it is single track and in very poor shape in places on the other side of the A3.  This section is fine because it is new, having been built as a works access road for the tunnel construction. Here you can see, in this rather shaky shot, two roadies puffing up the modest incline.  This route has become popular with road cyclists as its surface, although a bit grubby in places, is firm smooth tarmac.

Finally, this is where the route comes back to the normal road system, on the exit slip road from the A3 to the village of Thursley.

On the OS 50,000 scale the old road is still shown but the tatest 25,000 scale has been updated and shows the old road as a thin dotted line.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Fred's Girl on a bicycle


The Guardian newspaper has published an on-line map which shows, for all 34,753 “output areas” in England & Wales, the percentages of principal mode of travel to work as reported in the 2011 Census.  An output area appears to correspond roughly to a council ward.  I have linked here to a zoom of that map covering the Gosport and Portsmouth areas.  Unfortunately I can’t figure how to embed an image of the map here, and the link doesn’t take you, as I would have liked, to the data for cycle commuting, but you can select that, or indeed several other options, from a drop-down menu just above the map.

Update With thanks and acknowledgements to Schrodinger's Cat, over at the Alternative Department for transport Blog (referenced aside) I can now capture a screen short, so here is the image I wanted you to see.  I have left the original link so you can go to the Guardian tool and play around with it for yourself.

 

The data used for the map is the percentage reporting each mode of travel to work as a percentage of all respondents.  If you exclude people who don’t travel to work either because they are not in work, or because they work from home so don’t have to travel, who together account for more than a third of the population in Gosport – not an unusually high or low figure by the way – the percentages would of course increase by nearly half in terms of percentages of total commuters.

By clicking on an individual output area, you can get a more detailed table of stats for all modes of travel for that individual area.  It can be seen that some areas reach close to 10% cycling, ie close to 15% if you were to assume that the adjustment for non-commuting residents was fairly uniform across the borough.

Looking at the map pictorially, it accentuates the fact that Gosport is a serious cycling borough by UK standards. The colour representing 5-10% (of total adult population) almost exactly matches the borough’s geographical boundaries.  Two of the four <5% areas inside Gosport’s boundary can probably be explained as areas of high retired populations – whether people cycle here or not won’t be captured by a question about cycling to work.

As soon as you step outside the borough boundary, you see the percentage drop back.  With the notable exception of one ward in Hill Head, the borough of Fareham is a relative cycling desert.  The headquarters of the Office for National Statistics, which provides the data used in this map, is based not far away in Titchfield, in an area with not only the lowest scale of cycle use shown here, but also in an area with the second highest car use, and neighbouring onto an area (Whiteley) with the highest (60-75%) car use.

Just as in comparing London boroughs such as Hackney with Islington or Westminster, the contrast can largely though not of course entirely be explained by cycling policies.  Gosport has a comparatively extensive network of mediocre (I use the term here as a compliment – we are, after all, not in the Netherlands now) cycle paths, and the shortest/fastest access to Portsmouth, across the harbour, is on the harbour foot ferry which permits cycles but not – obviously – cars.

Gosport’s new local plan (currently in draft) has all the obligatory supportive noises about cycling which such documents, hundreds of pages full of statements of the bleedin’ obvious, ecofluff etc, usually contain, but it does actually sound like it might mean it, and it does contain some specific intentions about new cycle facilities in specific areas, such as the Lee-on-Solent seafront.

Now, I would have thought that the local MP for Gosport, Caroline Dinenage, would have been proud of this fact.  It is after all quite remarkable – her constituency rates as number 6 local authority in the country for cycle mode share ahead of more famous names like Bristol, and only a smidgen behind York.  Indeed the only area in the neighbouring borough which lifts itself off the floor on cycling rates is also in her constituency.

But, although I have brought the information to her attention by tweeting her a link, she has not so far had anything to say on the subject as far as I can tell.  Caroline Dinenage is not, as far I can see, everyone’s cup of tea, but what cannot be denied is that she radiates enthusiasm for and pride in her constituency, she works very hard for it, and she is a local girl at least insofar as any MP these days is local – she hails from within ten miles or so.

So, why is she not more interested in this unique quality of her constituency?