Response to draft West Sussex Cycling Strategy

The Forum has sent the following response to WSCC on the draft Walking and Cycling Strategy.

Support for the work done

We welcome the work done so far in developing a much-needed cycling strategy, in particular:

  • The development of a mechanism to identify and prioritise schemes for investment.
  • Recognition of “cycling and walking as a key part of the transport mix”.
  • The support for road space reallocation, segregated tracks alongside fast roads, filtered permeability, cycle contraflows, parking management, speed reduction, together with cycle and walking priority at junctions.
  • Recognition of the compelling financial and health benefits of investing in cycling.
  • Recognition of the need to develop more schemes to a stage where they are ready for funding.

Recommendation to adopt as Interim Strategy and continue development

We would like to see this developing work formally recognised by WSCC, but it is vital that this is not seen as ‘job done’. We believe that, in order to succeed, the strategy needs further work. We suggest that WSCC adopts the current draft as an “Interim Strategy” with a commitment to continue work on it leading to a complete strategy to be adopted in, say, one year’s time.

Clearly this will require continuing officer time – but delivering meaningful change on the ground will require this kind of commitment anyway.

Many local authorities around the country are now starting to reap the benefit of investing in cycling and most of the people who benefit aren’t cyclists. Strengthening the strategy now will lead to more effective and efficient delivery over its lifetime.

The reasons we believe that more work is needed on the strategy are explained below.

Objectives

The objectives are positive but rather vague. For example:

  • There are no measurable targets either here or under ‘Delivery’, this reduces the ability to monitor and achieve progress.
  • The objective to ensure that cycling is “part of” the transport mix is less ambitious than the existing legal requirement within NPPF to give cycling “priority”.
  • One objective should be to implement the strategy by the progressive development of a high quality, safe and comprehensive network of cycle routes suitable for users of all ages and all abilities.

The key factor is leadership

We believe that there is a need to have a single person with the responsibility to lead and deliver the cycling strategy (in contrast to the current proposals for West Sussex to spread responsibility across a number of departments). Recent experience (on the LSTF schemes and with unsuccessful bids for outside funding) indicates that the value gained from this should dwarf the additional overhead cost.

WSCC (like many other local authorities) has previously issued strategies intended to increase cycling but which have had no real effect on the numbers cycling. Local authorities which have succeeded have done so by having a strong leader with a high level of political backing, the responsibility to deliver and the drive to get things done despite inevitable opposition. For WSCC, as a non-unitary authority, there is the additional challenge of also needing to coordinate work with the local planning authorities.

Andrew Gilligan recently looked back on his (strikingly successful) time as ‘cycling tsar’ in London and said:

“Meaningful cycling schemes almost always have clear majority support, but seldom unanimous support. They will usually inconvenience or upset somebody”.

“The key factor is political leadership.”

Better infrastructure is needed to achieve real change

There is overwhelming evidence that the key factor which enables cycling is a safe, connected, high quality network that goes where people want to go. The current road conditions deter the majority of people and many of those who would potentially cycle the most (such as children, women and the elderly) tend to be those who are most easily put off by fast and heavy traffic, dangerous junctions, poor surfaces, poor legibility, frequent dismounts, slow and tortuous routes and gaps in the network.

The continuing programme of behavioural change measures can support the strategy, but to achieve a significant and lasting change in the number of people cycling for everyday transport and leisure, there needs to be investment in the infrastructure.

Solely relying on external funding is not enough

External funding specifically for cycling is limited, erratically available and has tended to go to local authorities that have already proven their commitment, have a record of investing in cycling and have a pipeline of projects in development. There are restrictions on where and how developer money (s106 and CIL) can be used. In both cases, match funding is generally needed.

WSCC needs a long-term investment plan for cycling infrastructure

The main continuing internal sources of funding for cycling infrastructure for our roads are likely to be the Highways Infrastructure Block Grant and the Maintenance Block Grant. Currently, the WSCC Highways programmes funded by these grants largely ignore cycling and, as a result, many of the schemes WSCC is actively developing have the effect of making our roads increasingly hostile to cycling. Unless there is a serious commitment to actively provide for cycling within the mainstream budgets, we will be going backwards.

The Government has said that local authorities should use the block grants for cycling and walking.  From 2018, 9% of the Maintenance Grant will depend on the amount of cycling infrastructure and footway in the county. The Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) refers to ‘typical’ capital spending on cycling of 11% of the Integrated Block Grant (plus a further 4% for walking).

In addition cycling infrastructure can be funded through the Local Growth Fund settlement as an integral part of growth schemes as well as via specific ‘sustainable transport’ pots. The latest Local Growth Fund settlement specifically includes (non-ring fenced) money for this.

Due to the potential public health benefits to be gained from increasing cycle journeys a proportion of the Public Health Department budgets could also be allocated to cycle infrastructure projects as has been done elsewhere in the country.

This February Robert Goodwill, Minister for Cycling in the DfT said “We need to trust the people in the local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and combined authorities to understand the importance of cycling… Long-term funding will be available from a wide range of sources, including the new access fund, the integrated transport block, the highways maintenance block and the local growth fund. That means that everywhere that wishes to invest £10 per head will be able to.”

Although we recognise that funding is squeezed, tighter budgets should logically lead to a higher proportion of expenditure on cycling schemes as they typically have higher benefit to cost ratios than existing roads projects.

Cycling infrastructure, even for ‘flagship’ schemes, is much cheaper than general roads infrastructure. Ironically, a persistent problem in UK authorities which have invested in cycling has been underspending of budgets (because it takes time to develop the technical and political capability to deliver). Relatively small initial budgets spent on meaningful projects could make significant improvements whilst building the capacity to deliver in the future.

If cycling investment is not considered important enough to be included as an integral part of the highways budget with a percentage of the capital and maintenance budgets specifically allocated for it, then there is doubt as to whether there is the political commitment required to back the whole strategy.

Current issues in delivery capability need to be addressed

The draft speaks of the LSTF cycling project as though it was a success whereas substantial sums of money were spent on interventions which almost entirely failed to deliver benefits to people who wish to cycle.

Other current projects (locally, for example, the Parsonage Road cycle lanes and the Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre) continue to show that the existing planning process does not deliver adequate cycling infrastructure.

Without acknowledging and understanding these problems and making the necessary changes to internal processes, future schemes will suffer a similar fate. Members of the Horsham forum are willing to meet officers or members to provide more information about the issues we have observed and which cause us concern.

There has been, and continues to be, rapid change in engineering regulation, guidance and best practice. The strategy should address the need for access to up-to-date technical experience and expertise (through training, recruitment of staff with the necessary skills and use of specialist consultants) and also ensure that it is more proactive in its support for local planning authorities which no longer have their own in-house expertise and therefore rely very heavily on WSCC (as the highways authority) to guide them.

We wish to see WSCC making active use of the maintenance programme to make cost-effective improvements to cycling infrastructure as a part of scheduled work.

West Sussex needs best practice design

We would like to see the strategy go beyond simply referring to DMRB (Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, which is for trunk roads and is not always appropriate for local roads) and Manual for Streets, and also make specific reference to the best recent guidance including the London Cycling Design Standards, and the recent changes in TSRGD (Traffic Signs Regulations and General Direction, 2016) which now include cycle zebras permitting the construction of roundabouts with segregated tracks.

Since best practice is evolving rapidly we would also like to see encouragement given to designers to take advantage of ongoing improved designs in the UK and, where appropriate, overseas. For example, the Government Cycle Proofing Working Group has been set up to assist and has started to publish a list of case studies.

In West Sussex as elsewhere money has been spent on cycling infrastructure which is barely used because it does not offer real improvements to safety or convenience. We would like WSCC to follow the lead given by London in adopting a policy where:

“Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.”

The draft strategy promotes shared space for cyclists and pedestrians. There needs to be greater clarity that this is only an acceptable solution where speeds and volumes of users are low (for example some rural routes, where there are few users, or home zones and pedestrianised areas where speeds are very low). In other situations sharing space is a poor solution for both user groups. Shared use footways are generally too narrow, with poor visibility at driveways and corners; users are required to give way at every minor exit and the surfaces are uneven with sloping driveways.

Outside of built-up areas or on public rights of way, the strategy is still based on providing unsealed (gravel) tracks for cycling. These deteriorate quickly, especially in the absence of maintenance and are not suitable for year-round commuting or utility trips where people cycle in everyday clothes and don’t want to arrive covered in mud. Sustrans advice is that sealed (tarmac) surfaces not only give a better riding experience, but cost less in the long run and are preferred, even for off-road general leisure routes. We would like to see the strategy adopt a presumption in favour of sealed surfaces on utility and high-use general leisure cycling routes.

Route prioritisation

The strategy prioritises inter-community utility routes. These routes are certainly important but it seems they are prioritised here largely because they are seen as the projects which are most likely to win current specific pots of money from the Coast to Capital LEP rather than because of taking a wider view of needs.

The majority of potential cycling trips are day to day short trips to school, work, shops and leisure activities, particularly in built-up areas. The strategy needs to place more emphasis on this kind of everyday transport cycling and the infrastructure needed to make it a realistic choice for ‘ordinary people’ who (far more than sports cyclists) are currently put off cycling because of the road conditions.

Although individual projects are likely to focus on “individual routes”, the strategy needs to be based around the progressive development of a coherent network of routes. This may mean that investment should initially be concentrated around a limited number of key locations to maximise impact – even though this will mean difficult political choices when one area is favoured over another.

Because there is very little supporting information for many of the routes in the RATE process, the true rankings could change significantly as more information is added. It is therefore important that there is further discussion and input from stakeholders before initial routes are selected for feasibility studies.

We would like to see more detail ensuring that the RATE list is maintained, updated and actively incorporated in the planning and other processes.

Lack of priority for new developments

A glaring omission in the draft strategy is a clear plan to ensure that all new developments incorporate appropriate layouts and high quality cycling infrastructure (including off-site improvements to overcome severance and to enable cycling to local shops, schools and services).

Routes for new developments are not adequately prioritised in the RATE list – for example cycling within the north of Horsham development and the routes connecting to it are not given high priority, which means there is a real risk that we will continue to build and lock in out-dated design for decades to come.

There are major housing developments taking place across West Sussex; this is a huge opportunity to design for cycling and walking with a significant proportion of the funding coming from the developers. Planning for good provision for walking and cycling from does not necessarily have a large impact on developers’ total costs and can help increase the attractiveness of developments. In order to achieve good design and maximise the benefit from s106 and CIL contributions WSCC needs to give stronger and clearer guidance to developers and to provide a higher level of support to local planning authorities and neighbourhood planning groups. Further development of the draft strategy could be part of this, as could help to develop local policies on cycling via supplementary planning documents (SPDs).

Better cycle parking standards are needed

The strategy should include a plan to review cycle parking strategy in the county. The current WSCC guidance has numerical standards for cycle parking (which are a useful tool in the planning process) but has little to say about design standards for cycle parking. This leads to new housing largely providing cycle parking in garages or back garden sheds, which is often inadequate and inaccessible.

The strategy should include an action to review current guidance on residential, commercial and public cycle parking to include design guidance for developers, based on the principle that “cycle parking should be at least as convenient as car parking”.

This would mean secure, covered cycle parking at the front of homes, step-free internal access to cycle parking for flats, on-street lockable cycle hangars, convenient space for visitor parking and provision for non-standard cycles including tandems and cargo bikes and mobility buggies. For shops, offices and public places, cycle parking should be as close as possible to the entrance, covered and well-overlooked.  Good example documents include Cycle Parking Guide for New Residential Developments by Cambridge City Council, the LCDS and a briefing note from the Horsham forum.

Speed reduction and roads policing

The strategy mentions speed reduction, but underestimates its importance (in both urban and rural situations). There should be a plan to review the existing policy on speed limits and zones with a particular focus on improving safety for people cycling and walking.

We also wish to see WSCC working with the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership to increase enforcement against the kinds of poor driving which put people on bikes at particular risk, for example: close overtakes, use of mobile devices and aggressive driving.

Economic benefits for town centres

We propose that one objective of the strategy should be to work with districts across the county to develop schemes aimed at attracting more people to cycle to local town and village centres.

There is now strong evidence that increasing levels of cycling has a significant benefit to the local economy. The recent DfT commissioned report ‘The Value of Cycling’ found the following:

  • Cyclists visit local shops more regularly, spending more than users of most other modes of transport.
  • Per square metre, cycle parking delivers 5 times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking.
  • A compact town optimised for walking and cycling can have a “retail density” (spend per square metre) 2.5 times higher than a typical urban centre.
  • Public realm improvements, including those that cater for cycling, have been shown to result in increased trade at local businesses.

Walking

As a cycle forum, we support the position of pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy of users and feel there is a case for a stronger pedestrian element (with especial consideration to the more vulnerable and those with disabilities) within the strategy.

One area where pedestrian and cycling interests overlap strongly is limiting vehicle access in residential areas to prevent rat-running. This type of ‘filtered permeability’ scheme tends to be very popular once implemented and many, probably the majority, of the benefits (quieter, less polluted, safer streets with more space for walking, playing and social interaction) are to people who do not cycle. However, initial introduction of new schemes can be contentious so it is important to work to gain active support from the wider community, not just existing cyclists.

Presentation of the strategy

We think that including more photographs will help demonstrate the aspirations of the strategy and improve understanding and communication with local planning authorities, contractors and developers. We are happy to help provide some photographs.

Photographs could include:

  • People old and young using bikes, disability adapted cycles, e-bikes, cargo bikes, child-carrying bikes and also mobility scooters.
  • People cycling to work, school, the shops and leisure activities in everyday clothes without the need for hi vis and protective clothing.
  • Independent trips by children, people having fun, cycling at a leisurely pace with enjoyment  and social interaction
  • Examples of excellent cycling infrastructure including cycleways alongside main roads; filtering to create quiet streets for residents and for walking and cycling, smooth, sealed off-road leisure routes; busy junctions with protection for cycling; cycle contraflows; cycle-priority crossings (cycle-zebras) and cycle phases on traffic signals; continuous foot and cycleways across side roads; exemplary cycle parking for homes and destinations; space for cycling replacing parking to improve access to town centre shops etc.

Similarly, we would like to see a clear summary of the economic, health and social benefits for investing in cycling. See for example Benefits of Investing in Cycling and The Value of Cycling.

HDCF, 20 June 2016

Comments

  1. Michael Gimber says:

    The RATE tables seem to have a certain amount of duplication. I hope the first task is to reduce this confusing duplication.

  2. geoffrey bragg says:

    I support Horsham District Cycle Forums excellent response to the Draft West Sussex Cycling and Walking Stratagy.It would seem to me that the only way that the County Council will ever achieve even an”adequate”Cycle and Walking Strategy is to have a single officer expert in his field with responsibilty to lead and deliver the Strategy against the inevitable opposition.To do otherwise is going to lead to more inefficient use of public funds and lost opportunities and in so doing let down future generations for years to come.

  3. Anthony Cartmell says:

    An excellent response to the draft Walking and Cycling Strategy document, that I fully support.

    The question is, do WSCC really want to improve conditions for people using bicycles for transport, or is the Walking and Cycling Strategy document designed to be ignored? Is there a genuine wish to invest in sustainable transport, or is the whole process just “going through the motions”?

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