A recent meeting of the full B&NES Council found plenty of opposition groups vying for attention outside the Guildhall. One of them was a group of cyclists concerned that trader pressure for additional loading bay spaces was going to rob those on two wheels from a cycle track which provided them with some protection from the dangerous London Road.
Within the city is an organisation called CycleBath – a community of bike riders who campaign for making space for cyclists so that – according to their online website – ‘cycling – a truly democratic form of transport as well as exercise, sport and leisure – can be enjoyed by anyone, from 8 to 80+.’
The Chair of the organisation is Adam Reynolds who has kindly written a piece for Bath Newseum in which he states his concerns for the provision of cycling space, expensive and ineffective proposals to ease congestion and what he thinks is a lack of enthusiasm for doing anything new and invigorating on the transport scene.
His article can be read below. I am sure he would welcome your comments.
As Chair of CycleBath, you would think that I spend most of my time campaigning for cycle infrastructure and addressing cycling related issues. These days it’s more about fighting for segregated space for the most vulnerable road users. That means campaigning for separate space within schemes for walking, for cycling, and for driving. You do not share.
Spending years trying to understand this area has lead me to learning how you design road space within urban and rural environments to deliver good ‘livable’ streets that create cohesive, good community spaces. Primarily it’s keeping up with what does or does not work around the world and applying it to “what if” scenarios, primarily to the City of Bath.
The Political Void Bath suffers
With every, and I do mean EVERY successful scheme, it comes down to one thing. A political leader with a vision to push hard, really hard, against what people are comfortable with. A political leader supported by other politicians, able to push for what they want within the Council’s senior officers.
We live in a fantastic city. A city that is world renowned for its beautiful Georgian architecture, the fabulous Roman Baths, horrendous traffic, and poor air quality. A city dominated by, what can only be described as, a plague of cars.
A city measured by its Outstanding Universal Value that must be protected to retain its world heritage site status. A city that has been threatened with losing its world heritage status as the OUV degrades due to congestion. A city that needs a strong political class with a vision for what the city should be and prepared to protect and increase the OUV.
Yet, politically, the decisions we make are not for the city of Bath. They are made for Bath and North East Somerset, and of more concern, decisions about the city, the decisions that should protect and enhance the OUV of the city, are made by a council cabinet, where only one member lives within the city.
At a fundamental level we have a city, where decisions are made that cannot impact external wards negatively. A city that operates within a political void where the OUV of the city is sacrificed at the altar of votes.
So when 8 different working groups at the recent Transport consultation day proposed congestion charging, something proven worldwide to reduce congestion, we have a Council who will not act upon this proposal as this has a negative effect on external wards while increasing the OUV of the city.
They can, however, propose a £10million park and ride that would at most reduce the number of cars driving down London Road by 1 per minute. Politically that works with the rural wards but fails miserably for the city. In fact, it will reduce the OUV of the city.
We have a cabinet member for Transport living in Colerne stating that he wants to make it easier for cars to travel north to south through the city of Bath, something that would reduce the OUV of the city. A policy that encourages car use.
Something that is known in transport as “Induced Demand” where you end up with more congestion at the end of the day. Sustainable cities around the world are making it harder not easier, to get around cities by car. That’s not to say they make it impossible.
A cabinet member that has instructed council officers to consider walking and cycling a key part of schemes. Then cancels a pedestrian crossing 14 years in the making on Bathwick Hill, connecting Combe Down to the University, despite every objection being countered by officers stating how the large numbers pedestrians and cyclists showed the need for the crossing. A decision where car traffic flow was prioritised over walking and cycling. A decision that reduced the OUV of the city.
A decision where car traffic flow was prioritised over walking and cycling. A decision that reduced the OUV of the city.
We truly have a city with a political void. Where decisions are made that do not negatively impact wards outside of the city to preserve the power base of the Conservatives.
So how do we fix Bath politically? How do we move forward into a place where brave decisions can be made about Bath, and only Bath, without interference from councillors who need to pander to their wards outside of Bath. A decision process focused on increasing the OUV of the city.
The only way I can see this happening is to have each community forum have transport decisions devolved down to them, with ward councillors from each community heavily involved in the decision making.
Fixing Bath’s problems in other counties
A council likes playing in its own backyard. It’s known as Localism. It keeps things simple. So during the Transport consultation, many people proposed the idea of small satellite park and ride sites near to places like Corsham using existing bus services.
The advantages to this approach are that it significantly reducing road miles by discouraging people driving to the edge of the city. It’s also very cost effective and very quick to implement. In fact, it can be simply a case of identifying an existing underused car park/wasteland area and creating a new bus stop with special ticket prices.
B&NES is quite happy opening up Saltford train station, but a more effective station to open would be Corsham.
Talk to the council about any of these and the response is, “Oh but that is Wiltshire”.
Suggest sorting out the Gorse Lane/Freezing Hill dog leg with two mini-roundabouts, with better signage up by the M4 to direct people to the Lansdown Park and Ride.
Talk to the council about doing this, “Oh but that is South Glos. We don’t give money away”.
Bath has many transport issues, but let’s be clear, a hell of a lot of the problems are solved in other counties. A council unable to see beyond this because of a pigheaded “We only play in B&NES” attitude will never get to grips with Bath’s transport problems. This results in proposals like the East Park and Ride. A sub-par solution that negatively impacts the OUV of the city. Let’s not forget it’s also a vote winner with external wards.
Focusing on real congestion solutions
It’s all well and good me criticising but you should also be prepared to offer solutions.
The title of Bath’s Transport Strategy “Getting around Bath” implies making it easier to travel around Bath for all modes of transport. We are at peak car. Nothing we can do to our road system will help get more cars around Bath without paving over the river.
Even the proposed A36/A46 bypass completely ignores the big congestion issues on the western side of Bath, particularly, the A4 to A36 city through traffic.
Bath’s Transport Strategy should be renamed “Getting Bath Active” with a focus on walking, cycling and public transport. A focus on reducing car use in the city and reduction of through traffic. A focus on protecting and increasing the OUV of the city. A strategy that sets targets. A strategy that asks of the council “What type of city do we want to live in?”
The current focus within the council chambers and council departments is around managing the current volumes of traffic and making the roads more efficient. They are trying to build dams inch by inch while the flood waters rise foot by foot.
We should be open to solutions that have worked around the world and adopt them. When you look around the world at what has truly worked at reducing congestion, there are really only three ideas that make significant in-roads into congestion.
When Bristol introduces the RPZ in Clifton, P&R use shot up 20%. Nottingham is using the Workplace Parking Levy to deliver its £9m tram system. Zurich set a legal cap on car parking in the city, then built underground car parks, forcing the removal of much of the on-street parking in central districts.
A radical solution would be to introduce Bath wide parking control with 90% discounted resident permits, commuter permits, and use of the workplace parking levy. Providing a phone app to enable residents to police their own roads and summon a parking officer as needed. This recognises the inherent value of on-street parking and encourages people to use park and ride facilities.
A A36/A46 bypass would reduce traffic on London Road by about 30% and cost £90m. The introduction of congestion charging in London, reduced congestion by 20%. Introducing congestion charging in Bath could reduce congestion by similar levels. This may not sound much, but consider that the school run is considered to be 23% of rush hour traffic. A more intelligent approach to congestion charging, say by only implementing a “congestion through charge” could also be considered where driving through the city in under an hour would result in a charge.
Making a city livable
When we look at a city, we need to understand how we make it more livable. How we tame the streets. How we remove the dominance of the car on our streets. This is why Lower Borough Walls works so well, but Seven Dials fails so miserably. LBW uses filtered priority (bollards) to restrict car access while Seven Dials is a through road. Businesses on LBW objected to the filtered priority during the consultation process, now they complain if the bollards are down. Making a city livable is profitable.
Closing residential roads using bollards can completely and utterly change a community. Many of these roads are rat runs. Many are roads where parents do not let their kids play. By making access to homes more convoluted for vehicles, it changes the space into “living streets”. It makes it a quiet street. A place where children can play safely. A place where walking in the road is possible. Where popping over the road to chat with your neighbour feels like running the gauntlet.
Show me the money
As with anything done within the council, it comes down to money. Congestion charging and parking control are profitable. By ring-fencing money generated to transport, in particular supporting better cheaper public transport links, we encourage people to switch from car to public transport. Even making streets liveable is indirectly profitable.
During the recent transport consultation, 8 different working groups proposed the same solution to Bath’s traffic. A congestion charge to discount public transport and deliver more walking and cycling infrastructure. It’s cheap and immediately effective and provides a revenue stream that enables the council to deliver better transport solutions.
However, a Cabinet of councillors mostly living in wards external to Bath will never act in the best interests of the city of Bath. It would impact their voter base too much. Bath operates within a political void where the residents are not in control of their own destiny. Where decisions are made to try and increase the conservative vote in the city while preserving the votes in the external wards.
We have senior council officers who will not consider what’s best for the city if it means paying another council to deliver the solution. Officers wed to the principles of maximising traffic flow when the evidence backed solutions from other cities around the world are focused on modal equality (providing segregated walking, cycling and driving space) and reducing traffic flow in cities).
We need a Bathxit. We need devolved decision makers that can make the brave decisions that will deliver a sustainable, beautiful city, and not the car-choked city it currently is. Decisions that are politically hard but are proven to work. We need to protect and increase the Outstanding Universal Value that makes this city a world-renowned heritage site.
We need to protect and increase the Outstanding Universal Value that makes this city a world-renowned heritage site.
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