Does the new Bedworth Physical Activity Hub properly enable sustainable travel?

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In the town of Bedworth, plans are well underway to replace its aging leisure centre with a new Physical Activity Hub, a new centre that will offer enhanced services with greater integration into its site on the edge of the Miners’ Welfare Park. With the design comes a stated objective to enable sustainable travel choices – walking/wheeling, cycling, and public transport – but there’s a problem.

As part of the planning application, external consultants Hexa Consulting were commissioned to create a Framework Travel Plan that would look at the designs and the surrounding area and make an evaluation on aspects such as accessibility by foot, cycle, and public transport. Unfortunately, that document was flawed in many ways but especially with regard to cycling.

Coventry Road, Bedworth captured at a quiet time from a handlebar mounted action camera. A black car has just passed on the right and parked cars line the left of the road.
Coventry Road, Bedworth at a quieter time.

The Framework Travel Plan section on accessibility by cycling states that the site “is accessible by bicycle”, while completely disregarding the fact that the primary road to the main site entrance (Coventry Road) is a busy 30mph main corridor with no cycle infrastructure, one that is lined with parked cars and pedestrian guard rails, features pinch points, is on an incline in its northbound direction, and is used by a variety of motor traffic including cars, vans, buses, and lorries. Despite all this, the plan states that “cyclists can cycle within the carriageway around the site without undue safety concerns and across all ability levels”. The FTP further suggests that the National Cycle Network is accessible, despite it terminating roughly a kilometre away at an inaccessible modal filter, and therefore requiring riders to again use busy main roads to cover the gap.

The report also notes that given a 30 minute travel time, a significant proportion of the wider borough even stretching into north Coventry is accessible by cycle, yet it ignores the fact that there is no cycling infrastructure to enable these journeys. The nearby village of Bulkington for example is only accessible via a 50mph rural road with no cycle lanes. The distance isn’t far and would be achievable by many, but the road is hostile to all but the most confident riders.

It seem obvious that this report has been written with the perspective of a fit, confident, adult, male rider, who is perhaps at least somewhat happy to mix with motor traffic and to assert their position in the lane despite how intimidating that can be with traffic behind. Yet it ignores a broader demographic of people, those who may be less confident, less experienced, or more vulnerable – potentially including families, women, disabled people, older people, children, people who are less fit, etc.

The full Framework Travel Plan can be viewed along with my own comments submitted to Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council which will go into more details about the problems and errors. There are more flaws with the plans which need to be ironed out to ensure this site really does ENABLE active and sustainable travel, and that it’s not just paid lipservice. Other issues include an increase in parking provision, questions over inclusive cycle parking, a lack of e-cycle charging, poorly integrated and inaccessible public transport, and wider issues beyond the site boundary regarding accessible and inclusive cycle routes to the Hub that don’t put cyclists and pedestrians into conflict.

It’s still early days in the development of this new facility, and these issues shouldn’t detract from what will be a very welcome addition to the Miners’ Welfare Park. However, with a new facility comes new opportunities to really integrate and enable sustainable travel, to re-evaluate how people should access the site. This is a stated objective in the travel plan, to not only “reduce the levels of anticipated car use”, but to “increase the proportion of journeys to and from the site by sustainable modes of transport”. The car must not be encouraged; it needs to be made more difficult to drive to the site, not easier. By adding friction to driving, whilst at the same time removing obstacles to active travel, it is then an easier choice to switch modes for those who want to. It also makes the site more compelling to those who do not have access to a car, who might otherwise feel cut-off from the leisure facility.

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