Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Feedback on Southampton City Council Budget Proposals

Dear Southampton City Council,

I’d like to provide feedback on the budget proposals but the questionnaire steers me to answer questions I am not particularly interested in and fails to address the issues that I and many people like me passionately care about.

So first I should say that in general the council seems to be doing a good job in rebuilding Southampton city centre from the empty unloved city it was 30 years ago into something that is beginning to look cared for and inhabited. I know that budgets are very tight and I understand all about the difficulties and compromises of making change happen in such an environment. So generally, in most respects I am a happy citizen.

But there is one area that worries me enormously.

We are poisoning the air, the world and ourselves (the people of Southampton) with pollution. The evidence I have shows that this is the biggest new threat to the health of the population of Southampton - even bigger than type B diabetes. (Poor air quality in urban areas costs the English economy between £4.5 to £10.6 billion a year at 2009 prices and values. Road transport is likely to be responsible for about half of the deaths attributed to air pollution in the 34 OECD countries. Every year in the UK, outdoor pollution is linked to around 40,000 deaths.)

Southampton City Council is responsible for this. So you are responsible for the illegal levels of pollution and the 100’s of deaths that can be directly attributed to air quality issues locally. The government (the Tory government - normally inclined to deny such science) have required Southampton to implement a Clean Air Zone by 2020.  The evidence says that we are about as bad as it gets in the UK. 

And yet you have done very little about it and this budget consultation makes no mention of dealing with the air quality issues, or the investment required to ensure we meet government's clean air zone requirements.

I appreciate that this is not a simple matter - decades of shortsighted mismanagement of the transport policy in Southampton have carved our city up with major roads encouraging HGVs to drive through the centre of our town and made it almost impossible to get around greater Southampton without a car. Changing these deep dependencies on motor transport will be a long term project.

But there is one thing that could be done now, could be done reasonably cheaply and would contribute to making Southampton an even  better place to live….. make Southampton Cycle Friendly, and make a step change in the number of short journeys done by bike, and at the same time enhance the city for all of those not encased in motorised vehicles.

This year Southampton City Council produced a draft Cycle Plan.  This plan is very encouraging and makes all the right sort of noises, yet there is no serious budget for it!  Certainly not its fair share.

At present just over 2% of journeys around Southampton are made by bike.  This is very low by most city standards - The best cities in Europe get to 50% of journeys, and even Portsmouth down the road from us puts us to shame.

The Southampton Cycle Plan suggests the modest and completely achievable target of getting the bike share to to 10% of all journeys.  

There is no question about how to do this.  It will not be achieved by publicity and encouragement. It requires investment and change in transport infrastructure. In every city where proper, *safe*, commuter cycle infrastructure has been built the mode share moves to 10% easily.  Build it and they will come.

So, any reasonable person might suggest that if the council is serious about this they would ensure that cycle infrastructure gets 10% of the transport budget.  Actually, given the serious underinvestment in cycle infrastructure for so many years it would be the right time to do somewhat better than this.  And of course the taxes collected form the Clean Air Zone could supplement this and make a step change to Southampton and provide the opportunity for the city to become a beacon for innovative good practice -  A city that turned itself around and invested in its citizens.  At present the council spends nearly all its transport budget on improving motorised access (much of it to the benefit of visitors, rather than residents). This spending actually induces *more* traffic, rather than on attempting to reduce the traffic flows through the city.

And because there is so much traffic, 15% of all accidents in Southampton involve cycles (who make up just 2% of the traffic)! How many people have to die or be seriously injured before the council will take the safety of this portion of its citizens seriously? 

Southampton’s failure to budget properly for air quality and for changing the transport priorities in the city are costing our health and in the extreme, our lives.

On the other hand a sensible re-allocation of the transport budget could:
  • Improve our air quality - at least to make it legal.
  • Improve public health by improving citizen activity
  • Improve citizen happiness by allowing the the freedom of safe and enjoyable mobility around the city
  • Allow children the independence of getting to school on their own.
  • Improve commerce in shopping ares by allowing greater footfall and pedestrian access
  • Improve accessibility for those who travel by wheel chair, or by bike as walking is difficult for them.
Please would Southampton City Council devote an appropriate amount of its budget to reducing traffic (and its pollution) in the city and increasing the number of journeys made by cycle.  This would entirely align with your objectives to ensure
  • People in Southampton live safe, healthy and independent lives
  • Southampton is an attractive and modern city, where people are proud to live and work
Thank you,

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Strategic Road Network and the Redbridge Roundabout

A post from Liz Batten on the "I would Cycle in Southampton if.." Facebook Group on 09/01/17 alerted me to the existence of the wonderful document "INTERIM ADVICE NOTE 195/16:  CYCLE TRAFFIC AND THE STRATEGIC ROAD NETWORK" from Highways England.  Even more exciting was the offer of some associated e-learning.  What could be more fun? The opportunity to understand more about the rules and advice that traffic engineers work to, along with the opportunity to evaluate someone else's efforts at teaching on-line!

I spent every spare minute for the next couple of days working through the document and its e-learning - and I had also recently spent some time reading through Cycling UK's "Cycle-friendly design and planning" and Cyclenation's "Making Space for Cycling: A guide for new developments and street renewal" as I am currently preparing a blog post to discuss what would be the *minimum* acceptable standards of bike infrastructure that might kick start the expected Cycle Boom. So this was really interesting!

A screen from the Highways England e-learning module 4

As fas as the e-learning was concerned it was pretty amateur (although I am not sure I would be able to suggest how to do it better!).  The pedagogic strategy appeared to be "Read/watch/look at this, then we will ask you some questions to test your recall"  or occasionally "Here are some questions which will require you to go into the IAN document and find the answer".  But I admit that it did help me to find my way through some otherwise very tedious stuff.

I'll spare the reader the summary of the document (a later post)!), but its probably important to understand its context.  This "note" gives instructions to traffic engineers regarding the requirements for cycle infrastructure for ALL roads (the strategic road network) run by Highways England.  It uses vocabulary like "must" and "shall" - no options.  It does also contain some conditions under which engineers do not have to keep to these instructions. (Usually to do with "it would be impossible" or "we are too far down the implementation stage to change the plans now").  It would be interesting to do an FOI to find out how often these exceptions are used!

There is an issue of particular importance to Cycle Campaigners at the moment.

The Redbridge Roundabout (connecting Redbridge Road - A33 - A35,  to the M271) is part of the SRN.  Highways England, as we know form the recent Cycle Forum, is intending to try to increase traffic flow from the East (Southampton) onto the roundabout and north into the M271. To do this it will get rid of the lights, and it also wants to get rid of the pedestrian and cycle crossing across the feed roads.  See my possibly inaccurate sketch below...

Google Map scribbled on to show lights and Pedestrian / Cycle Crossing

Highways England have assured us that there is no problem as there is a subway under the South part of the Redbridge roundabout and a (cycle) bridge over the North-East part of the roundabout. You can just see them on the map above.

The pedestrian / cycle crossing is *much* used.  At present this does not effect traffic flow much as they can sync with the lights on the roundabout, but when these lights are taken away it will then be those nuisance pedestrians and cyclists (you know, the local residents who actually live here) who will slow down the progress of all that traffic that causes all the pollution in Southampton!        

Members of the of Southampton Cycle  Campaign present at the Southampton Cycle Forum were worried about these changes on many different levels but were presented with  a "fait acompli", and were told that there would be improvements to the underpass/bridge infrastructure.  When they attempted to question "what sort of improvements?" no answer was forthcoming ..

Now this is where IAN is important!  (Interim Advice Note 195/16), remember?  Section 2.5.1 and 2.5.2 cover the design requirements for "Underbridges" and Sections 2.5.3 - 2.5.7 cover the design requirements for "Overbridges".


The location and alignment of underbridges and their accesses shall be arrangedso that cyclists do not have long diversions from a direct line of travel. 
The length of the underbridge shall be minimised in order to maximise natural lightlevels, and the gradient of access ramps shall also be minimised (Figures 2.5.1and These design characteristics can help maximise forward visibilityand levels of natural light as well as the comfort (reference 2.2.1) of userstravelling through the underbridge. 

(so that's 3m + 1m margins at each wall- 5m wide as I understand it)

Overbridges for use by cycles and pedestrians only, are generally designed fortwo-way use and shall conform to the design parameters for cycle traffic, set outin Section 2.2. 
The width of a two-way cycle track shall be a minimum of 3.0m plus an additional0.5m margin clearance to each parapet (Table Where a footway isrequired, additional width shall be provided and the footway shall be separatedwith a kerb. 
(So thats 4m wide plus extra width if pedestrians are to be using it too)

Gradients on the approaches to underbridges and overbridges shall meet thecriteria set out in Section 2.2.9.
(This says stuff about trying to keep gradients under 3% and to keep the cycle route flowing.  It also says the maximum gradient should be 5% for 30m) 
The importance of helping the cycle design vehicle maintain momentum on rampsshall be considered and a ramp profile whereby the steepest gradient is at thebottom can reduce the effort needed to climb a ramp. 

So there you are! Thats the standards they are required to work to.  There are lots more things that may also apply (minimum radius of a cycle track might apply on the corner approaching the underbridge.

So the job of the Cycle Campaign and the Cycle Forum is to make sure that these standards (and the very laudable spirit of the IAN document) are adhered to.