The plans have been available online now for a few weeks and the public consultation events are well under way. On the 23rd February Cardiff Cycle City arranged a consultation event in Cardiff City Hall, attended by representatives from the council’s planning department.
The event was well attended, particularly people who follow local online cycling groups such as ourselves and Cardiff by Bike. Expectations were high and people were optimistic about seeing some real tangible change planned for the streets of Cardiff. There were plenty of positive responses along with constructive criticism, all of which will be fed back to the council and used to influence the next stage of development.
Cardiff’s Cycling Strategy
The Cycling Strategy itself is a very well written document, containing all the information and data needed to construct a successful cycling network: segregation on main roads; continuous tracks across side roads; direct routes using modal filters etc. The authors have clearly done their homework and laid out a vision for a cohesive, connected network that anyone can use regardless of age or ability.
The Integrated Network Maps should be based on the ideas in the Cycling Strategy document. At first glance it is difficult to understand the layout of the maps, to see if the proposed network matches what is promised. The council have provided a lot of maps containing a lot of information, some of which seems good and some not so good.
To try to understand we need to look at an overview of the plans, then break them down into sections. Essentially they can be split into two distinct parts, which should be examined and judged separately from each other:
1. Primary Routes (green)
These are the flagship routes which will form the backbone of the new cycling network. These should be a kind of motorway for bikes on which cycling should be safe and direct, bringing the rider quickly into the city from the suburbs.
On examining the plans for the primary routes we are confronted with descriptions of two-way cycle tracks, light segregation and priority over side roads. Yes, there are some dodgy bits but overall it looks like an attempt is being made to create what are known in London as Cycle Superhighways.
There has been some debate as to the source of the funding for these routes; the fact that they connect the city centre with sites due to have major residential developments built as part of the Local Development Plan (LDP) suggests that at least part of the funding is coming from this. It is fair then to assume there is money to spend on these routes.
2. Wider Network Upgrades (purple)
The official description of these routes is “to identify additional measures to address missing links and improve the cohesion, directness, safety, comfort and attractiveness of the [existing] routes.”
These routes then are designed to join up and create consistency in the rest of the city. Without the investment from the LDP it is no surprise that the plans are less ambitious than the primary routes.
These can be described simply as ‘business as usual’, meaning shared pavements, toucan crossings, and advanced stop lines. Anyone casually flicking through the network maps might be dismayed if they think this is best that the council can offer, but it’s worth keeping these in context.
The bigger picture
One concern is that not enough is being done to reallocate road space currently dedicated to motor traffic. During the public consultation event it was made clear that the planners have the ability to change aspects of streets not necessarily connected to cycling – making some roads one-way for motors, or calming residential areas by the use of modal filters for example. Any changes that are made will be monitored for effectiveness and adapted if necessary. All this, however, is connected to the council’s overarching Transport Strategy, which has to consider the impact any changes will make on other modes, particularly public transport.
Returning to the Cycling Strategy, there is a proposed ten-year action plan within which these plans sit. The good news is that the primary routes are planned to be finished as early as 2020, with an additional aim to “develop a city wide network of all ages and abilities primary routes” by 2026. The action plan also outlines timescales for other developments outlined within the cycling strategy.
The next step is for the council planners to take the network map and all the public feedback and turn them in to scaled drawings of streets and junctions, containing the proposed changes. We will then again have a chance to submit comments and suggestions.
It is important that the council get this correct from the outset, which they have every opportunity to do. The danger is that if a compromised network of routes is produced then it simply won’t be used. This could then be used as a reason to not continue with the project, or even give up altogether.
The council’s proposals on the future of cycling in Cardiff have been long awaited and it’s good to see the Active Travel Act coming into effect. The Cycling Strategy is an ambitious document which needs to be successfully translated into the physical infrastructure that it promises. The initial plans for primary routes in the Integrated Network Map documents show a move in the right direction, however, these are currently in their infancy and will need constant revising based on data and feedback rather than conjecture and hearsay.
Something else to consider is that, if done properly, creating genuine space for cycling will create significant controversy, particularly amongst the many car-centric residents of the city. In fact this very controversy would be an indication that the plans are good, as people realise that it will be more difficult for them to use their cars for short local trips.
There is no doubt that dedicated cycling infrastructure will be built in the next few years – it’s our job to help ensure that it is done to the highest possible standard, and that it is not compromised by unsubstantiated objections from a minority of the public still addicted to driving.