Dear RCC members,
What a strange period we are living through. Nothing seems quite as it should be from the weather – what happened to April showers? – to politics, local, national and international.
There have been high spots locally though. The two Kidical Mass rides that took place in April and May showed how much need there is for better cycle provision in the town and how much enthusiasm and goodwill is waiting to be tapped.
Kat Heath, who is the driving force behind these rides, has shown us what can be done with a good idea and a good deal of persistence.
The fact that the second ride had to be re-routed at the last minute when we found that Kennetside, one of the major cycle routes into the town centre, was closed for some kind of maintenance and no provision had been made to safely re-direct cyclists, has shown us the total disregard for cyclists by the authorities and the utility companies.
Improving cycling provision is a very difficult problem in any town and the underlying Victorian road system makes things worse. In my more generous moments, I do not doubt the goodwill that lies behind the various projects that are being undertaken and I certainly applaud the fact that substantial sums of money are being thrown at the problem.
What I do doubt is whether proper research and planning goes into these projects before they given the go ahead. The public consultation over the Shinfield Road scheme was certainly a very welcome step forward, but we are still waiting to see what, if any, changes are made to the plans as a result of this consultation.
In my more cynical moments (‘Cynical – surely not you!’, says my wife), I wonder if it is not much more than an opportunity for a bit of PR. The recent edition of ‘Your Reading’ which landed on my doormat a couple of days ago has a two-page spread on ‘Getting Active in Reading’.
The second paragraph incensed me no end. It reads ‘We’ve already improved access to routes on Redlands Road and Christchurch Road….’. I have lived and cycled in this area for over 40 years and painting a few white lines and cycle symbols on the road is no real improvement.
Putting in ill-considered traffic calming measures is in my view, and that of many others, potentially lethal. John Lee and I are in the process of preparing a report on the scheme, with a view to getting the whole scheme reviewed and the most dangerous bits taken out. Watch this space.
The other major cycle related item to be bubbling up to the boil is the proposed town centre cycle hub. After many months of deliberations and several meetings with interested parties RBC has announced that a suitable site has been found on West Street in the Primark building. The announcement reads:
Following extensive research into properties in the town centre the Council has chosen to locate the hub within a unit at 32-41 West Street, the site of the former Primark Store, which is still owned by the company. It will initially run for one year with funding from the Department for Transport (DfT), beyond which the continuation of the scheme will be subject to evaluation and the ability to secure a sustainable venue and further funding.
Reading cycle hub will be staffed and planned to be open 7 days a week, from 7:00am to 7:00pm and will open later this year.
The Cycle Campaign obviously welcomes any significant facilities for cycling in the area, but, as always, the devil will be in the detail. Some of us remain sceptical about how viable this is as a long-term proposition.
I for one welcome the proposal from Dr Emma Street of the University of Reading’s Department of Real Estate and Planning to recruit a research assistant to see how well this proposal is working out. Emma is a specialist in town centre regeneration and a keen cyclist herself and I will be very interested to see what she discovers.
Contained in the same email from RBC was this section:
Increasing Active Travel remains a top priority for the Council. The proposal to develop a town centre cycle hub sits alongside a range of other initiatives aimed at supporting a shift in travel behaviour to active modes, including:
- Free adult and family cycle training and cycle maintenance training, currently delivered by Avanti Cycling.
- Supporting schools with active travel planning and active travel challenges, such as The Big Walk and Wheel and Walk to School Week.
- Support for Reading Cycle Festival.
- Research to identify key barriers to encouraging walking and cycling in Reading.
- Creating new walking and cycling maps.
I am intrigued by the fourth point about research into barriers to cycling. I believe that much of the money that has been spent on cycling provision in the town may well have been misdirected due a lack of real understanding of precisely these barriers.
The Cycle Campaign is ideally placed to be a partner in this research. It is all very well protesting that the current provisions are inadequate, most of the Councillors know that already, but what we really need is a better understanding of just what would make it better.
In my view this can only come from talking to lots of people who either cycle now or would like to be able to cycle and find out the detail of what would really help.
As a first step in gathering this information and also at the same time making a bit of a protest, I am announcing my Chairman’s Challenge. I want all of you to go out and take some photos of the local cycle infrastructure and enter them into the challenge. We have called it:
‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’
I will be judging it later this year and there will be nice prizes in each category kindly sponsored by AW Cycles of Caversham.
You can enter via our website on RCC Cycling Infrastructure Competition and the competition runs until the end of August. So get out there on your bikes and get snapping.