Friday, July 07, 2006

Cycling in Darlington - Putting It In Perspective

Well, it's been over a year now since Darlington Borough Council was awarded £5.74m to develop new sustainable transport initiatives. What have we got for our tax money?

A fine cycle path along West Auckland Road was already being built anyway, and is spoilt by the fact that at every road crossing, cyclists must give way to cars. There is the Local Motion campaign, with lots of hype and PR and, more usefully, door-to-door visits of local people, trying to help them change their travel habits.

Then there is the Pedestrian Heart, a building site at the moment, but with the promise of??? Cyclists, already ignored by road engineers during the building phase (where do cyclists go, for god's sake?), will be given 6 months to prove that we are all angels, after which (since all humans are not angels) we will be banned from using our bikes there.

We are promised a number of new cycle paths, but there is no plan to join any of them up into a proper set of complete, safe, cycle routes. The nearest we have got to this is unsafe, on-road, "advised" routes.

The research that launched Town on the Move in 2004 stated clearly that cycling was the key to changing peoples' travel habits. Yet cyclists are still being treated like second or third class travellers.

The local authority's aims are both time and vision limited. There is a reluctance to engage with the real problem - that motorists have been given the freedom of town roads for too long - for fear of alienating potential voters. But this also reflects the meagre sums being allocated to cycling anyway, when compared to motoring. A recent article in Guardian Unlimited points out that the Department for Transport budget this year is £13.4 BILLION. Last month it made a great PR song and dance about doubling its grant to Cycling England - from £5 million to £10 million. Maybe you can figure out what that is as a percentage of its total budget.

Truth is, the level of government commitment to cycling is pathetic, and the level of ambition at local level reflects this. There has been much talk of using "soft measures", ie persuasion, to encourage more cycling, and indeed much money is being spent on PR by Local Motion. But the execution of this PR has been hijacked by the New Labour Spin Industry to sell a product that is devoid of substance. Of prime concern now are the "good stories" being pumped out to national media about the wonderful things that are happening in Darlington. Any dissent - or even critique - is strictly verboten.

The sad fact is, the council's own research repeatedly confirms Darlington Cycling Campaign's position - that many people would cycle more if only it was safer and more convenient. But as long as the motorist's "King of the Road" psychology is not openly and politically challenged, we'll all have to either continue Rambo Cycling to get through the traffic, or accept that we must break the law and share pavements with pedestrians. And cycling in Darlington will continue to be a minority sport.


Beatrix Wupperman said...

Yes, I agree with Richard's view. It is very sad, how the council and admin in Darlo act towards cyclists. I am always happy to go back to Germany and cycle there every day without being hassled by cars. German drivers in Bremen respect cyclists very much and pedestrians as well. But in Darlo I always feel like prey and there is obviously no intention from the administration to protect the weaker members of transport, to educate car drivers. Instead we have to give way to cars all the time like on West Auckland Road. As a result, car drivers and their "kings of the road" attitude is supported by the council. It is a joke to call Darlington a Cycling Demo Town. For what do they get the money?
Beatrix Wupperman, also a citizen of Darlington

Mike said...

I agree!

Many of the proposed schemes seem to involve moving riders off the road entirely. The proposed cycle path along the field between Mill Lane and Great Burdon is one of these; it's already possible to ride from Mill Lane to Great Burdon, avoiding Stockton Road, by going a little way up Mill Lane and then cutting through the housing estate. This could be made easier with a couple of dropped kerbs and some signage, rather than cutting up a strip along the very narrow field, a huge waste of time, money and resources.

The newly redesigned junction between North Road and Thompson Street is an example of a highways project ignoring bikes; no advance stop line, no filter lane.

richardgrassick said...

Once you get down to the details, as you do, Mike, it becomes obvious that these decisions are still being made without reference to experienced cyclists' views. We have tried - via our submission to the former Cycling Officer (see previous posts), by attending cycle forum meetings, and now with a proposal to produce a DVD with council support - to participate responsibly in decision making. But the feeling is sadly growing that the agenda is not pro-cycling but pro-spin. "Look we are a green council". The cycling campaign has been snubbed repeatedly. So there is only one place for us to go - on to the streets.

Mike said...

Mill Lane to Great Burdon:

proposed new bike path - a new track along a very narrow field, heavily used by dog walkers
current possible route - existing, quiet residential roads and footpaths

Now, which makes more sense?

Beatrix Wupperman said...

Well, I agree, street engineers, the planning department, does not take into account that cyclists exist and have needs (it is like kids were treated in the fifties). They rebuilt the scene around the main station - Parkgate - but they did not build any cycle paths, though there is enough space for that. But Darlo is a Cycle Demo Town! Obviously the message has not reached the planning department. Are they all asleep in the highways department? Chaps, how about talking to each other and even listening or did the highways department never hear about "Local motion". Don't tell London how you spend her money, Mummy will be very annoyed.
Beatrix Wupperman

Tom G said...

I have to say, although I am not an avid cycler myself, it does seem mad that the local council can ignore such things. I always think of how cyclers are hassled by people for cycling on walk paths, when there are no cycle paths... it makes me think how stupid the people 'in charge' can be. People should learn that cyclists should be respected more, instead of being shut out all together.

Mat said...

Mike, most of the cycle money will get used building footpaths suitable for cycling on, instead of developing the roading system to be suitable for the co-existence of cyclists and motorists. This fundamental flaw in approach will succeed in dirverting the funds from cycling to completing pedestrianisation objectives.

I suggest the town planners take a ride along McMullen road cyclepath (oh yeah-it's a footpath too) as if they were a commuter running late for work. Will they stop at every intersection and risk a bollocking from the boss, or keep pedalling across the dangerous intersections? Maybe they will take the safe and fast option and ride along the road like the cyclepath doesn't even exist.

Anonymous said...

Are any of the cycleways the council has provided worth it? The only one I've seen isa pointless stretch of painted pavement outside Cummins on Yarm Road, and that doesn't run any closer to town than the roundabout by homebase.

There should be an onroad lane either side of the A167 ring road and for a few miles out on each of the main roads.

At junctions, there is no reason that there should be one rule for drivers and another for cyclists.

Steve, from South Park

Mike said...

Agreed, I very rarely use the cycle paths around town for a variety of reasons.

For example, I could ride along the Riverside Path to get to work, instead I take a longer route along Thompson Street and North Road to avoid: the wet clay the path turns into after even the slightest rain; the dog walkers who let their dogs wander about uncontrolled or (worse) on those extendable leads; the pedestrians who are drawn to the red tarmac; and riding on unlit paths after dark.

On other paths, I'd have all that and giving way at every junction.

richardgrassick said...

I agree. Using cycle paths as currently being built is a real waste of time and money, and that, I think, is why many cyclists just want to see more priority for us on the roads.

Maybe it's because I have a lot of cycling experience abroad that I like to think that the use of paths could be better organised. Now I suspect that, whether cycle paths or on-road provision, the issue is basically the same - much more priority for cyclists and much less for cars.

Last week I cycled along a main road near the centre of Bremen that was made into a one-way street for cars so that enough space could be made for cyclists. The cycle "path" was in fact half the main road. Because of adjacent tramlines and trees it was the only solution.

Imagine if our Cycling Demonstration Town took this approach to making ALL of Yarm road quick and safe for cyclists. For one thing, it would be a helpful demonstration to the rest of the UK of what was needed. Darlo would be on the map! Instead, we get tiptoeing around every road junction and absolutely no disruption to the great Car God.

PS Videoed the above example for our campaign DVD which the council has refused to fund out of their £7m. Will let you know when and where it's up on the web.