Monday, 21 January 2013

Walsgrave Hospital Access

Walsgrave Hospital Access for Cyclists and Pedestrians

Walsgrave Hospital has just confirmed its plans to open up a second entrance onto Brade Drive, which will be used by emergency services and a select number of key staff. This is part of a long-term plan to create a better access onto the hospital site, which would also eventually include an access road leading directly onto the A46 dual carriageway. Unfortunately, it looks like the trust has failed to seriously consider the root cause of the access and parking problems the hospital suffers from.


This is the same problem that applies to many industrial estates, business parks and housing developments across the country, namely that local authorities seek to limit car use by restricting the number of car parking spaces which are available, without providing a sufficiently high-quality range of alternative transport options. Thus, from day one, car drivers are complaining that access is insufficient, and the inevitable complaints about car parking charges soon follow suit, as there is little reason to justify dropping prices if the car park is already overflowing.


Whilst hospital mandarins may be able to boast that the Walsgrave site currently has a speed limit of just 15 mph and that cycle parking provision for patients and visitors outside the main entrance is currently adequate, such a statement would miss the key point that speed limits alone are not enough to create a more cycle friendly environment, especially given the extremely high volumes of traffic coming in and out of the hospital. Additionally, the hospital main entrance junction is thoroughly dangerous from a cycling perspective, and the Homebase roundabout is even worse (arguably the second worst in the city after Allesley Village / Holyhead Road).


Meanwhile, despite hundreds of thousands of pounds being provided for a planning agreement to contribute towards bus lanes on the Binley Road, there is only one hourly bus service between the hospital and the city centre which uses this route. Most of the other buses to/from the city centre go via the strangle point of Ball Hill, guaranteeing the car will always win on speed, for those who have the option.

Worse still, from where I live to the west of the city centre, there used to be three direct buses going to either Walsgrave hospital or the nearby Walsgrave church, and now there are none!


First and foremost, the transport priority of a hospital should be to provide safe and fast access for emergency vehicles – but that should be taken as a given. Once such corridors have been provided, planning should revolve around creating the highest quality access for the pedestrian and the cyclist first, then for bus users and finally for the private car.

Access for people with restricted mobility is also a natural part of transport design, but this isn't just about creating disabled parking bays – all transport modes may include people with limited mobility, including cycling. Meanwhile, pedestrian paths should follow natural desire lines, rather than forcing people to make shortcuts through verges, as is the case in several places around the site.

Provision of a more people friendly environment usually also means that far more pleasant open spaces in which to dwell are created. This perhaps is the real disappointment of the new Walsgrave Hospital – despite being designed and built by Swedish company Skanska, it does not resemble a Swedish Hospital in terms of design. Unless you are unfortunate enough to be an inpatient in the Caludon Centre, there really is nowhere to go on the hospital site to just spend some time being outdoors in a pleasant, landscaped environment.

With regards to catering for the car, arterial roads are regularly clogged, and car parking provision is naturally over-subscribed, as almost all of it is in flat surface car parks, which are a waste of land. There is a suggestion that the new designs will feature a multi-storey car park, which would be welcome, but the new car park adjacent to the Caludon Centre is just another sprawling surface facility, squandering land which might have been much better designated for clinical use, especially as mental health provision in the region continues to be grossly inadequate.
I strongly urge the trust to take a look at some of the more enlightened designs for hospital campuses in cities such as Utrecht. This particular Dutch city has a very similar geography to Coventry in terms of both size and population, yet around two thirds of traffic to and from this campus is either on foot or by bicycle.

Suggestions for improvements:

·                     The hospital trust should make a firm commitment that it will lead by example when it comes to active transport (walking and cycling) provision, and that this is vital in order to get the best return on health promotion efforts.
·                     A huge opportunity exists to improve access to the hospital with the proposed Cycle Coventry route along the Sowe Valley from the Homebase roundabout to Bell Green and beyond. However, this proposal must not be viewed as a substitute for a high-quality direct route to and from the city centre, as to use this route and to turn at Henley College would be a very long way round.
·                     Any new route on the Sowe Valley would need to be supplemented by suitable junction upgrades at the Homebase roundabout.
·                     The access road between the Caludon centre and School Lane should be designated as an official cycle route, with appropriate signage provided.
·                     In the medium term, funding for a continuation of the Sowe Valley route may be provided from the Coventry Gateway scheme. Space for an interconnection between these two sections of the Sowe Valley route should be safeguarded.
·                     Farren Road is an ideal quiet road on which to encourage cycling towards the city centre and other destinations. However, if using this road to approach the hospital, it is impossible for cyclists to make a safe right turn without using the pavement and then doubling back across the main entrance junction. This whole junction area should be upgraded to enable easier crossing for both pedestrians and cyclists.
·                     Cycle parking should be upgraded in anticipation of increased demand, especially outside the medical school, which is already extremely busy.

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