Dear RCC members,
To Boldly Go
I have lived for 40-odd years near the hospital and university and have cycled into town on countless occasions, but as far as I can remember, I had never gone via Sidmouth Street. So now that the council has converted the southbound lane into a dedicated and segregated two-way cycle path, I felt I had to try it out and tell our loyal campaign members what I have discovered.
So on a sunny morning this February half-term, I set off to see what I had been missing. The ride started badly with two full width sleeping police-men to cross right alongside my house and it got worse as I cycled down Redlands Road past the hospital. I was maintaining my place on the road carefully riding where the cycle logos on the road were painted.
The car immediately behind me was following at a sensible distance, but obviously I was too slow for a big black Mercedes taxi, who overtook both the car behind and myself by driving past the wrong side of the central island and then speeding off at considerably more than the 20mph limit.
This was just by a main entrance to the hospital where ambulances and other vehicles are always coming in and out. But at least the central island protected me from him – small mercies indeed.
London Road was quiet, and I was able to move across to the far side easily, which is not always the case for this very busy road. The traffic lights changed just as I approached the back of the queue of cars, and I was able to turn into Sidmouth Street and appreciate the full beauty of what the Council has provided.
A smooth recently re-laid surface, with lots of bollards separating from the northbound traffic lane, carefully painted logos on the tarmac and lots of informative or warning signs for the benefit of all users.
So getting onto the route was no problem from the South and it was a very smooth and pleasant ride down the hill until I got to the sign at the bottom that proclaimed ‘END OF ROUTE’.
What was I to do then? There was no indication as to how to proceed. Do I join the main traffic again but if so, where do I do it? Do I become a pedestrian and wait to cross at the crossing? HELP!
I really wanted to get across the Queen’s Road and get down to Kennetside, but there was no way other than getting off my bike and using the traffic light controlled crossings, which I did.
Having gazed at the river and said ‘hello’ to a couple of passing swans, I decided to tackle the reverse journey, but again – How?
There is a multi-coloured barrier of plastic things blocking the entry with a small track leading from the bus lane. This entry was only partially blocked with a few tree branches, although earlier in the year it was impassable due to the accumulation of leaves at the pinch point.
But was I really supposed to go to the end of the central reservation and cross two lanes of traffic to get to it? There were no helpful cycle route signs anywhere to be seen, so I retraced my footsteps – yes I got off the bike again – and went via the pedestrian crossings.
A nice leisurely ride took me back to the top of the road past the inevitable ‘END OF ROUTE’ sign and another telling me that I had to ‘STOP WHEN RED LIGHT SHOWS’. Now I may be being a bit picky, but I have noticed that one car always goes through on red at most traffic lights in town and no-one, least of all the police, seems to care.
So why do we cyclists have to be reminded? As the London Road was clear when I got to the top, I ignored the message and sped across into Crown Place and back home.
So what did I learn?
First – I was the only cyclist using it while I was there. My wife tells me she saw another later on that day and I have seen three cyclists using it in total.
Second – it is of reasonably high-quality construction.
Third – it is absolutely useless.
So how did it come about? I have emailed Councillors Page and Gittings for information about the genesis of the scheme, but as yet have had no response from either.
Transport planners for RBC could not enlighten me further. I know that it was funded from the government’s Active Travel Fund – Tranche 1 allocation, but I cannot see what led the Council to choose this particular scheme.
I asked Councillor White, leader of the Green Party Council Group, the same questions and here is his reply.
“As far as I can tell the scheme was generated by the Council Transport Planners – or the Transport Consultants the Council uses.
“I don’t have the cost of the scheme to hand, but I would guess design and implementation was in the tens of thousands of pounds. Not value for money in my opinion.
“We asked for the schemes to be consulted on – at the very least with key stakeholders – but were told no.
“I don’t think the Council will have any evidence that it met any need. I think disappointingly they just looked at where they could introduce something easily.
“I haven’t heard that any follow-up studies have been done and if they were they would show that no one uses it – which is probably why they won’t do one.”
I think this reply says it all. As a fairly experienced and confident cyclist, I felt very exposed at the Queen’s Road junction, and I would have been happier actually cycling with the traffic stream rather than having to negotiate the crossings.
I think there is a serious message here for the Council Planners with regard to the Shinfield Road scheme, that the problems for most cyclists come at the junctions and the access to wherever they intend to go and not the road in between.
I do hope that we are not going to find ourselves with another expensive white elephant of a scheme.