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Covid, climate and wands.

September 23, 2020 1:38 PM
By Tim Lockington

The Covid-19 crisis has massively transformed our human world, but it will pass. The climate emergency, linked to rapid release of carbon, buried, as fossil fuels, for millennia, will affect much more than human health, social and economic activity. The whole structure and security of life on our planet is at risk.

One effect of the Covid-19 lockdown was the dramatic reduction in car use, better air quality and a significant fall in CO2 emissions. Except for essential workers, people were required to stay/work at home only leaving home, once a day, for outdoor exercise, including cycling and walking.

Three months ago, the Government gave County Councils a lot of money to do something to make more cycling and walking the "new normal" for local journeys.

This money had to be spent within 8 weeks and what was done with it had to be highly visible. It couldnot be spent on Highways education to help cyclists and drivers get around together in greater safety, nor by creating more cycle-friendly road surfaces to make cycling beside major roads, more attractive.

In Ipswich, the County Council's solution was to install "wands" to prevent cars and lorries from encroaching onto cycle lanes and in this way to make cycling safer. The wands, tick the Government's box for high visibility butare they really the way to change behaviour and make cycling safe?

About 20 years ago some may remember the Valley Road/Tuddenham Road "green roundabout". A green tarmac ring was installed around the edge of the roundabout for cyclists. This had to be removed as too many accidents occurred. Drivers turning off the roundabout were not used to giving way tocyclists going round in front of them.

Sadly, the same thing may be happening again. We have learned that there have been accidents and near misses, involving cyclists, particularly on or close to the Westerfield Road roundabout.

Normally, in the UK, cyclists wishing to turn right move to the middle of the road and drive round the inside of the roundabout signalling their intentions. The wands make this very difficult as they direct cyclists, "green roundabout style", around the outside, instead.

The wands are meant to separate cyclists from cars/lorries to improve cycle safety. However, most of the wanded Valley Road stretch between Westerfield Road and the Colchester Road railway bridge is sandwiched between the main road and parallel slip roads with multiple access points. These access points create a hazard for cyclists, speeding down the main road's cycle lane, believing that they are protected by the wands. We are aware of at least one accident that has resulted from this.

The Government has spent a great deal of money, in a hurry, on Covid testing kits that didn't work, testing stations that people couldn't get to and personal protection equipment for care workers that didn't protect. Whether the road wands have been money well spent can only be determined if many more people cycle and use the lanes and, at the same time, accidents involving cyclists are reduced.

At present many cyclists are voting, with their pedals, and cycling on the pavement. They are clearly not finding the cycle lane a safe or attractive alternative but creating, instead, a hazard for pedestrians.

We believe that things the Government didn't invest in, such as Highways education and clearly marked, well-maintained lane surfaces that protect cyclists without boxing them in to uneven poorly maintained strips of road, containing manholes, drains and (after resurfacing) loose gravel, are very important for safe road travel and an attractive cycling experience. Safer surfaces and fewer wands would also ensure that emergency vehicles, for which all other vehicles, including cyclists, should give way, are not impeded.

During the Covid crisis, the normal checks and balances that enable plans to be worked through with the people and communities they most affect, have not happened. We have had a frustrating summer trying to deal with the consequences of changes being made, especially by the County Council, in a hurry, without local consultation with affected residents or informing local Councillors.

These include the very unpopular pavement reconstruction in the Westerfield Road Conservation area and the sudden removal of a valuable Bus service, enjoyed for decades by people in the Cemetery Road/ Suffolk Road/ Tuddenham Avenue area. Affected Residents tell us that the bus change will make them more likely to use a car to get around, if they have one - not a good outcome for greener, cleaner travel!

As things are not being done in the right order or right way we must make sure that the unintended consequences are fixed as quickly as possible.

Ways need to be found to reduce the need for car journeys and at the same time to make it easier for people to get across Town and visit the Town Centre for shopping, work or leisure. Cycling and walking should be a major part of this, as well as supporting (not cutting) public transport.

This can only happen if County and Borough Planners listen more and connect better with local communities and their representatives.

Please let us know your thoughts and experiences about the cycle lanes and the wands. Let us know where they are working and where they are causing problems. Let us know, too, about other travel ideas that may help improve safety and reduce the need for car journeys in and around Ipswich. We can then help the Council make changes that most people would support, that are safe and work for all of us.

Councillor Tim Lockington may be contacted by email tim.lockington@ipswichlibdems.org.uk or phone 01473 213444