The Challenge facing the Welsh Government proposals for national cycling and walking routes.
Last week the Welsh Assembly published it’s White Paper “Consultation on Active Travel (Wales) Bill” seeking input from interested parties and experts. Essentially Wales has become the first country to propose a new law placing a duty on local authorities to map the walking and cycling routes in their area, and make a plan and budget to improve them. What they want to do is make active travel between work, shops, hospitals, schools and leisure facilities a realistic alternative to the car and to quote Carl Sargeant the Minister for Local Government and Communities,
“I am clear about my ambitions for Wales. I want to
see a Wales where people are healthier and more
active. A Wales with lower greenhouse gas
emissions. A Wales where poverty and
disadvantage are tackled. I want to see a Wales
where businesses can flourish, the economy can
grow and where communities are strengthened. All
these reflect our commitment to sustainable
development in Wales.
One of the ways I am working to make this happen is enabling people to get out of their cars and travel in healthier and more sustainable ways. This Bill is aimed at tackling some of the major barriers that are preventing more people from walking and cycling.
This should be music to the ears of any right thinking cycle campaigner but let us not underestimate the challenges he faces in this ambition.
First he needs to get people out of cars. Down here on Carmarthen Bay there is a strong and vibrant tradition of leisure cycling. This is aided by the provision of some excellent cycle routes including The Millennium Coastal Route on NCN Route 4 and the Swiss Valley Trail – part of NCN 47. These routes are popular year round as can be evidenced by the number of people who drive their bikes to the car park, take them off the bike rack and go for a ride. Nice shiny people in nice shiny helmets riding nice shiny bikes around approximately 25 miles of traffic free paths. The challenge the minister faces is getting these people to leave the car in the drive. The minister wants people to walk and cycle so here is an example of what he faces:-
Saturday was a beautiful sunny day so we went to Burry Port beach which is about 1/2 mile walk from the nearby shops and cafes, it is however about a 2 mile round trip by road. I overheard a family discussing lunch (chips etc), the mother asked for the car keys so she could drive to the chippy. This meant a walk to the car park (about 1/3rd of the total walking distance) then the aforementioned 2 mile drive. She could see the shops from the car park! With this kind of attitude what chance is there of her cycling or walking anywhere? I’m sure that this isn’t unusual or limited to South West Wales but it is worrying.
Another challenge the minister faces is reversing decades of appalling, thoughtless planning. NCN Route 4 is almost literally on my doorstep – I cycle 300 hundred yards on traffic calmed roads and I’m on the traffic free path. I can cycle from Kidwelly to Lougher completely bypassing Llanelli town centre – and there’s the rub, bypassing Llanelli town centre!* In fact you don’t only bypass Llanelli, you avoid the out of town shops at Trostre and Pemberton and the Hospital at Dafen. There is a really good, fast road from Llanelli Town Centre to Trostre which avoids the alternative brutal climb, sadly it is horrible to cycle unless mixing it with 60 MPH traffic is your forte – cycle lanes would have been so easy to put in when it was built…..ah well. It’s not limited to cycling. Try walking between Trostre Park and Pemberton (about 300 yards). Frankly it’s safer to catch a bus!
This poor planning is still going on. Llanelli town centre is undergoing massive redevelopment in an effort to reverse the decline caused by the aforesaid out of town site. Eventually this will include planned cycle routes addressing my point above however, when I first saw the plans I noticed something missing – bike parking – yep, they want us to ride our bikes but don’t you dare think of getting off them to go shopping!
I’m lucky, Carmarthenshire Council recognise the value the cycling can bring to the county and they want to work with the various cycling bodies. I also have a strongly supportive MP in Nia Griffith however, I don’t believe that this is the case across Wales. In addition, the Welsh Ramblers, in an attempt to get their retaliation in first have also announced their opposition to any attempts to allow cyclists to share their paths.
Obviously far too many Welsh Ramblers are mown down by kids cycling to school or people riding to the shops and we must be supportive in stopping this carnage…….the fun begins. The Millennium Cycle Route is a shared path and I haven’t yet heard of any fatalities – most people – even Ramblers are considerate. However, to be honest, I’d rather not share cycle paths with pedestrians, footpath conversions are often a lazy cheap option favoured by highways departments. Then again, there are many places where the pedestrian usage is so light that it wouldn’t make any difference.
We are in a fantastic position to influence the active transport policy of an entire country, maybe we should be replying to the consultation suggesting that all Traffic Planners and Highways Engineers take a trip to The Netherlands to see how it should be done before they start!
*actually there is a route from NCN4 to the town centre but it is not well signposted – I’ve successfully missed it despite cycling up and down the path probably 60 times. It is not signed at all from the Discovery Centre the main stop off point on the path!