Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The City That Never Walks

In The City That Never Walks, Robert Sullivan discusses the changes that some American cities are making to encourage their residents to walk or cycle, rather than taking the car:

places like downtown Albuquerque, where one-way streets have become more pedestrian-friendly two-way streets, and car lanes are replaced by bike lanes, with bike racks everywhere

Some of the schemes listed are already taking place in Darlington, but lots are not.

* a walkable town centre
* purposely limited parking
* a new bus plaza that is part of a mass transit renaissance
* an urban walking and biking trail [linking] neighbourhoods
* charges drivers a fee to enter the core business area
* police sting operations arrest speeding drivers
* replaced parking spaces near a subway station with rows of bike racks
* some traffic lights are programmed to change for approaching buses

We have the Pedestrian Heart, but what of some of the other schemes?

Someone needing to travel between Bishop Auckland or Newton Aycliffe and Darlington for work or education has very little choice but to drive. Should Darlington not be pushing for changes to the train timetable?

Any new scheme in the centre of town seems to need more car parking. When the TK Maxx building was built on the Crown Street car park, why did it need the car park addition? When the Commercial Street development takes place, will the multi-storey car park built near Gladstone Street increase traffic in that area? What will this do to the residents' health and lifestyles?

Some work is being done to increase the number of off-road walking and cycling tracks around the town, but could more be done? I can almost get from my house to the town centre without touching a main road. Almost. Whatever way I go, I end up having to make the last part of the journey on North Road or Haughton Road. We need these last missing links putting into place.

We could go even further than that, it is possible to link Hurworth village into the Riverside Path/McMullen Road cycle path that gives an off-road link to the town centre and both Further Education colleges, but part of the route is along a muddy bridleway. Imagine being able to ride from Hurworth to the town centre without having to use a main road. It's possible.

I've seen speed cameras on North Road recently, but not as often as I've seen speeding cars. I've seen traffic wardens, but I see a lot more illegally parked cars, vans and trucks. I see buses sat in queues of traffic, and cyclists on the pavement because they've been hounded off the roads by bad driving and too many cars. I hear of people driving to Northallerton, Teesside or Tesco to shop, because it's so hard and unpleasant to get into the town centre.

Anything put forward as an idea to kerb car use is "branded as anti-car, and thus anti-personal freedom". Increasing parking charges or a bringing in a congestion charge or road toll is seen as yet another tax on the motorist.

But as matters now stand, the pedestrian [and cyclist] is taxed every day: by delays and emissions [...]. Though we think of it as a luxury, the car taxes us, and with it we tax others.

So, let's see some of the car parking spaces in Abbots Yard or Skinnergate replaced with bike racks. Let's see some pressure on the train operators to make their timetable useable and useful. Let's see a crackdown on irresponsible driving before a crackdown on irresponsible cycling. Let's see buses given more priority at more junctions. Let's see some effort put in to try and create the missing last sections of the cycle network. Let's see a blanket 20MPH speed limit across the town.

Let's stop 'taxing' our pedestrians and cyclists and let's make Darlington a real Sustainable Transport Town.


richardgrassick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
richardgrassick said...

Great post, Mike. Puts into perspective what can be done, even in a car-loving country like the USA. I'm sure we can find hundreds of similar initiatives across Europe, albeit on web sites in Dutch, Danish or German.

I think your comments about a mass transit system are absolutely vital. I was accused of being "old Labour" when I challenged the efficiency of the privatised bus system in Darlington (at the last Transport Forum. This is not 20 years ago, I was told). Well, indeed this is not 20 years ago, when Thatcher introduced privatised buses to the town.

This New Labour love in with the "modern" is in fact now "old". We badly need some progressive political thinking on public transport. London and Scotland are attempting to introduce improved public transport services through their devolved powers, but more needs to be done to help towns like ours.

There are proposals for a metro train/tram service to replace the old Saltburn trains, but other than a desire to divert the track closer to Teesside Airport's terminal building (will the Airport want that, having just built a huge new carpark?), there are no new routes for Darlington. I seem to recall one vision was a tram that was diverted into Darlo town centre a few years ago..

Congestion charges should become the norm in order to finance better public transport, better cycling facilities, and get people out of their cars. Which of the political parties will advocate THAT at the coming election?

richardgrassick said...

By the way, congrats. This is post no.200.

Anonymous said...

I haven’t read all of the different comments regarding the cycle routes that have been created within the town.

But as a frequent user of Macmullen Road. I often find it’s more of an obstacle course than a cycle route.

Not only do you find yourself crossing the road several times, (which is heart stopping at the best of times). But now you have to try and avoid workmen opening van doors while parked on the footpath and cycle route. Bollards, fences and tape around the many excavations for the alleged eastern bypass corridor.

But if you survive all of those, you then need to try and avoid the many car transporters, blocking the routes while unloading.

Did any of the CYCLE PLANNING team every ride a bike before they designed any of the cycle routes?
(cos I don’t think they've rode one since)

miketually said...

Thanks for your comments anonymous. We've passed on concerns about the design of this route to the Council before, and I'll pass on your views again.

I've not been up McMullen Road recently, but will pass on your concerns to the Council Cycling Officer. The cycling team are actually based just off McMullen Road now, I believe, so they're probably already aware of the problems.

miketually said...

The Council are aware of the problems on McMullen Road as a number of their staff members use the cycle route everyday.

With regard to the car transporters parking outside of the garage they have contacted the Planning Enforcement Officer on a couple of occasions and the garage has denied causing a problem. They are collecting evidence about this at the moment.