Friday, 27 July 2012

Coventry's hat-trick of Olympic cycling own goals

I have promised to put my Olympic cynicism to one side once the show starts, so here is my one and final blog rant on the subject:

From the conversations I've been having with Coventry City councillors over the last few weeks, it would seem that several of them are genuinely interested in backing more projects to encourage cycling and walking. We also have the new scheme to look forward to in the south-west of the city. So what on earth has gone wrong in the city centre, much of it associated directly with developments for really big games?

Route closures

Thankfully, the general trend in the UK and also elsewhere in Europe is towards providing better facilities for cyclists, so this makes it even more amazing that Coventry has decided to go against this trend by closing a couple of key routes in the city:

Hales Street contra-flow – this street previously had a contra-flow lane, providing easy navigation from the Coventry Transport Museum through to the start of Corporation Street. Now cyclists must take a much longer route round, and this includes an unnecessary hill climb.

Why was the contraflow removed? It seems that Coventry's powerful taxi lobby has taken precedence over cyclists, yet there must be numerous other places where taxis could wait for passengers, so why remove an existing lane?

Some might point out that taxi drivers are always going to be a powerful bunch in the city where their vehicles were assembled, but Coventry’s cycling history should not be forgotten either.

Starley statue -- for the ultimate symbolic insult, the cycle lane which runs past the statue of James Starley, widely credited as being the father of the modern bicycle, ends abruptly onto the newly paved streetscape, with no form of indication about just exactly where cyclists should go, or how they should join the lane if arriving from the other direction.

Broadgate confusion -- technically, according to the council engineer who co-ordinated the project, the lane that runs through Broadgate is actually still open for cyclists. Given that at one end the sign says "pedestrian zone" without mentioning cycling, and the other simply has no entry sign, why would anyone assume that cycling was permitted?

Worse still, when I asked about putting some signage to confirm that cycling was allowed, I was told "oh no, we wouldn't want to do that, the whole aim is to keep signage to a minimum -- less is more".

Unfortunately, this is a terrible case of style over substance, firstly because there is nothing in the shared space mantra that says signs should be removed completely, and secondly because the very stylistic concept of less is more went out of fashion in the early 1980s.

There simply is no excuse for not being able to put a simple blue circle to demonstrate that cycling is acceptable from either end. As signage is there anyway, this would have cost nothing to have implemented if it was done properly from the start.

Parking removed

You would have thought that when around £7,000,000 has been allocated towards improving the streetscape in city centre locations such as Broadgate and Bull Yard, there should at least be a moderate allocation to provide a few more cycle parking stands. After all, the city does want to encourage more cycling, doesn't it?

How much do standard Sheffield type cycle parking racks cost I hear you ask? An individual rack should cost around £30 plus VAT wholesale, but if the council really want to splash out and make it as easy as possible to park, they might want to buy 1000 or so, thus earning a good discount.

However, the installation cost is much more variable -- if done as part of an existing project, there is no reason why each stand should have taken more than a few minutes to install. I think the £70 per installed rack should be a reasonable guideline price, so even the seemingly large number of thousand of them would still only cost £70,000, or just 1% of the overall budget. Where on earth did the rest go? Given that the whole point of this project was to make the city environment more appealing, and that this was entirely about improving the environment for non-car users, the fact that such a tiny amount has not been made available really is completely inexcusable.

For a long time during construction work around Bull Yard, there were two temporary signs -- one for motorcycle parking and the other for cycle parking, yet both spaces were exactly the same -- marked off with a fence, but nothing to attach a bike to. This isn't a problem for a motorbike as they still need a key for the ignition, and they can be further immobilised with a chain. Providing just a space for bike parking with nothing else is utterly pointless, but I was assured at the time that this was just a temporary anomaly, and that I should quit being so facetious. So what has happened now that the work is finished? Motorcyclists now have a long rail they can attach their bikes to, but there is still no designated parking for pedal cycles. Surely there is someone in City Hall who checks always plans and asks why all the bike spaces have gone?

On the plus side, there have been a few extra stands installed in the Burgess next to KFC, but these far from compensate for the ones that have been removed in Broadgate and outside Bull Yard. Cycle parking should be one of the easiest wins, and more racks should be added as usage grows – so why have they been removed? For neatness perhaps – except that in the absence of more stands, people just chain their bikes to the benches, making the environment less pleasant for people who want to sit on them.

Godiva awakes sends the wrong message

Now maybe this is just me, but with the BBC banging on all week about Coventry's great “gift horse” to the Olympics, I can't help but think back to the ancient Greeks and the city of Troy. Lady Godiva was protesting about high taxes, so I'm not sure that if she was around today, she would really want £2 million spent in her name, especially when associated with an Olympic Games that is already 10 times over its original budget by some estimates. This money spent on simple measures like signage and 20mph zones would have gone a very long way indeed.

Let’s hope that with the Games now about to start, we can forget about all the security mishaps, and appreciate the coming together of so many nations. With Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour De France last Sunday, together with the Olympic events, cycling should be on the up.

So once the Games are finished, I trust that the powers that be in Coventry Council start to give a little bit more thought towards how we can deliver a transport network in the city that is as good for people who don’t want to use their cars as it is for those that do.

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