Fiets Podcast 009: What’s in store for 2023?

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Welcome Back to The Fiets Podcast! This time: a quiet end to the year for my own cycling activities, and looking forward to 2023. Will we see the Longshoot cycle scheme break ground? Will other local schemes continue to develop? And planning to explore new infrastructure in Coventry. You can support this podcast through Ko-Fi.com/BicycleBen – Thank you!

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Transcript and timings

[00:06] Welcome

Hello, and welcome along to another edition of The Fiets Podcast, the podcast that’s focused on the everyday cycling advocacy and activities that I am doing. My name is Ben. I’m from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, in the West Midlands, and I’m an active travel advocate; someone who wants to see better active travel support and provision in the local area and in the slightly wider West Midlands region, but also across the whole of the United Kingdom as well. I’m someone that gets about by bike as my primary form of local transport, but like so many people in the UK, struggle with inadequate infrastructure and want to see something better.

This is an ad-hoc podcast. It’s not a regular release. It’s something that comes along every now and again when I feel like I need to grab that microphone and have a little chat. I haven’t done that for a little while and I thought I should check in, say hello, and let you know that this is still here. This podcast is still active. But me, well I’ve not been quite so active over the last couple of months. So, reasons to go on here and talk to you and maybe to write articles on the website have just dwindled over the last couple of months. So, things have been a bit quiet from my perspective.

But as we get to the end of 2022, I did want to check in, say hi, let you know what’s been going on with me, and maybe run through some hopes for what maybe we’ll see at some point in the next twelve months.

[01:36] How to support the podcast

Before I get start though, if you like what you hear in the podcast, either in previous editions or in this one, and you want to support what I do, then do please feel free to send me a Christmas tip, if you like, over at Ko-Fi – ko-fi.com/BicycleBen – or you can go over to the website, fiets.uk/podcast, where you’ll find all links and information relevant to this podcast and previous editions all there for you.

Fiets, by the way, is the Dutch word for bike, for cycling, and it’s appropriate because that’s what I want to see, the Dutch standard over here in the UK. So, if you do feel like doing that – and you don’t have to; please don’t feel obliged; I know times are tough – if you do want to send a few pounds my way to say thank you, a little Christmas tip, and to help me keep these things going, then any help is appreciated. But if you can’t or you don’t want to, that’s fine, but if you can spread the word about the podcast, tell people that this is going on, then maybe that will help as well. So, tell your friends, share it on social media, and thanks very much for your support.

[02:46] Not much cycling for me

As I say, over the last few months, it’s been a pretty quiet time for cycling for me unfortunately. I’m well short of my annual target. I do set myself targets. I know I say I’m a casual cyclist, but I do like to set myself mileage targets to actually motivate me to go out on the bike, cycle the local area, and get out into the country lanes and all that. I don’t do anything fast, but I do like to clock up the miles if I can. But thanks to a really, really poor November, and actually going back into October now, the target for the year of trying to equal last year’s mileage, which I think was – well, I should have checked before coming on here, but I think it was in the region of 2,100 miles – is way out of the window, and so is 2,000 miles unfortunately. I’m not going to hit even that.

So, it has been a very, very quiet few months. Part of that is down to finally catching the blasted COVID. That knocked me for six for a little while, so that stopped me going out. And then just general work gets in the way, and weather gets in the way at this time of year as well. I don’t mind being out in the rain and a little bit of the cold but I don’t actively choose to go out if it’s raining. So, that’s knocked time out as well. So, it’s been a really tough time for me for cycling.

I enjoy going out on the bike. It’s a good way for me to clear my head, not having to have any other commitments, it just be me and the bike and the road, and just getting out and getting some fresh air. It’s an important thing that I enjoy doing and to not be able to do it is very noticeable for me. Just last Sunday, thinking to myself, “a nice Sunday ride would be good”, but my goodness the temperatures have been low at the moment and the risk of ice and slipping and all that puts me on edge and I’m just really not keen on going out in that sort of environment. So, again, with the cold weather or the wet weather, it just puts me off riding.

So, it has been quiet, but I am still here, and I am still thinking about active travel, even if I’m not here on the microphone talking to you, or if I’m not writing articles on the website. It’s still going on. I’m still paying half an eye as to what’s going on with active travel. But also, we’re coming to the end of the year. Things are quiet. Things aren’t really happening.

And things certainly aren’t really happening at the moment here in Warwickshire. We have plans and we have ideas and we have ambitions which I’ve spoken about before, about what’s intended for Nuneaton with regard to a scheme on the A47 Longshoot between Nuneaton and Hinckley for example, and a route between Nuneaton and Coventry via Bedworth. There are various schemes that are in the pipeline or have ambitions or ideas, but so far, we don’t have anything on the ground. And at this time of year, we’re not going to see anything on the ground. Things aren’t going to happen now. We’re going to be looking into next year.

[05:46] Looking to 2023

That really leads me on to what I’m hoping to see in 2023 – there’s a nice little rhyme for you!

Will we finally see ground being broken on the Longshoot scheme for the A47? The plan, I believe, is to see ground being broken finally, and to get that scheme underway. It’s been delayed; it was supposed to be underway last year, in 2021, it got delayed. It was supposed to be underway early this year, it got delayed again. It’s been on hold waiting for junction works to be finished for a new housing estate, for example, which are either done or near completion – I haven’t been down that way for a little while. So, will we finally start to see construction on this cycleway – an important cycleway – that will help with the link between Nuneaton and Hinckley and Nuneaton and the A5?

And it is an important cycle route. Speaking selfishly, it’s important for me because I do cycle to and around Hinckley from time to time and my primary route to do that is to use the A47 Longshoot. But this, at the moment, is a forty mile per hour road. It doesn’t have even good shared paths on it. There are some signs that say that paths are shared, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. It’s only the signs that will tell you that they’re there. So, most of the time I’m on the road. I’m not a fast cyclist but I’m too fast for these paths. So, I’m on the road, but there are pinch points, it has a forty mile per hour limit, you’ve got a mixture of different types of traffic including heavy goods vehicles at times. It’s not a pleasant place to ride. It’s certainly not a place that I would say to my nine year old son that he can ride. Absolutely not. No way.

So, it’s an important route and it will be an important link for improving the connection between Nuneaton and Hinckley.

Hinckley already does have a separated cycle path on the A47 as it goes around Hinckley. It’s not a great facility, absolutely not. It’s really old, it’s really narrow, but it is separated. And for a lot of it, it is separated between motor traffic and pedestrians on a stepped grade. So, it is there even though it’s very, very narrow. But the A47 in Nuneaton, what we call the Longshoot, doesn’t have this.

So, by putting in protected, separated cycle infrastructure on this route, we’re extending the ability to connect between Nuneaton and Hinckley completely traffic free. So, it is an important route. The current scheme doesn’t go all the way into the town centre, but eventually the idea is that this route will go all the way down to Nuneaton’s ring road. And when it does, we would have a route that I would be able to confidently say to my nine year old son, “hey, do you fancy cycling around to Hinckley?” because the infrastructure will be there and it will be safe enough for him to it.

So, I am looking forward to getting this route in place, not only for myself but for other people, for opening up the option to cycle between A and B for people who may look at a road at the moment and think, “there’s absolutely no way I am going on that road” or “there’s absolutely no way at the moment that I am letting my child go on that road”. So, hopefully 2023 will be the year that we see ground being broken on the Longshoot scheme.

How long will it take to be built? Well, I don’t know. It would be nice to think that the scheme will be underway sooner rather than later, but realistically, we haven’t heard about a specific timeframe for the scheme to start being developed. So, I’m not hopeful that it will be completed within next year. But if we can at least see it begin to be developed, that will be a good milestone.

But that is my big hope. I think that’s a realistic hope and we stop there, because yes, there are other schemes in place, but I don’t have any hope that the Nuneaton to Coventry route is going to be built any time soon. That might be another year or two before that gets underway. There are plans for other little schemes here and there, but they’re very early at the moment. So, it would be good to see these things develop and move through the process, but I think in terms of actually seeing something on the ground that will be useful to us, 2023 – maybe, touch wood, fingers crossed, everything – 2023 will be the year for the Longshoot scheme.

But I’m going to just temper my hopes ever so slightly because I’ve been disappointed so many times since this scheme was announced, since it went for consultation, with all of these delays upon delays upon delays. And now, of course, we can worry about inflation increasing the cost of the scheme. Is that going to have an impact on its viability or the scope of the scheme, the quality of the scheme, or how long it takes to be built? I don’t know. It’s all so up in the air. I just hope that things can actually move forward with this and we can see something actually be developed. Because it’s long overdue, in my books.

[10:39] Plans to explore Coventry’s schemes

Also for 2023, personally speaking, I need to do a little bit of exploring because we have new schemes, new cycle routes in Coventry which isn’t too far away from me, and people who follow me on social media or have looked at the blog or even have listened to this podcast before, will know that I have a lot of interest in what goes on in Coventry. My big interest is in how we link Nuneaton to Coventry to make it easy to visit the city by bike, because frankly, it’s not that far away and even I, a relatedly slow cyclist – not the slowest, admittedly, but certainly not the fastest – can get to Coventry city centre in roughly an hour.

It’s not exceptionally far; it’s certainly a doable distance – for those who want to, and I know for plenty of people, an hour’s cycle ride to get somewhere is going to be too much, but we’re talking from Nuneaton here. People in Bedworth are obviously a lot closer as well, so they may well be able to do it in half-an-hour, forty-five minutes. But the option will then be there for those who want to do it.

But beyond the link between Nuneaton and Bedworth and Coventry is actually what is going on in Coventry itself. We’ve had the Coundon cycleway go in which I really, really enjoy riding. I haven’t found it absolutely perfect and at some point I will probably do an article on it and maybe a video following the route – I want to make sure I’m fair on the scheme though, and it is absolutely completely and utterly done, there are no snagging issues to have been resolved or fixed or anything like that, before I do that.

But riding the route, it’s so pleasant to move from cycling on the road to cycling on a piece of protected cycle infrastructure, even if it’s only about a mile, mile and a half long. When I’m cycling from Nuneaton to Coventry, if I want to use the Coundon route, I do have to divert slightly to do it, but it means that I get to experience that comfort, that safety, that feeling of relaxation. That’s the right way to put it. You suddenly feel like you can just breathe. You’re not on edge anymore about those cars that are whizzing up behind you really quickly, and what are they going to do? Suddenly you feel safe.

Of course, you still have to pay attention, there are intersections, junction mouths for example. You still have to pay attention to what’s going on. But it is such a fundamentally different experience cycling on a piece of protected infrastructure compared to cycling on the road, and it really highlights the difference when you’re doing it in the UK and a place like Coventry – it would do here in Nuneaton as well – where you’re cycling along, you’re on the road, you’re doing everything that you have to do to cycle on the road, constant awareness, shoulder checks all the time, hyper aware of what all the traffic is doing, having to deal with all the close passes, speeding, whatever it might be – it can be very, very stressful and unpleasant.

Obviously, this is one of the key things about putting in protected cycle infrastructure because we know that it puts people off having to deal with all this when they’re cycling, because you do feel incredibly vulnerable. Even as someone who’s now got five years of road riding experience and I’m pretty hardened to dealing with motor traffic, close passes and all that, you still feel vulnerable particularly when you’re cycling in a busy urban environment with a lot of traffic. You do become aware of the cars that are queuing up behind you who maybe can’t pass safely because there isn’t space to do it. Even if you’re perfectly entitled and fine to be riding where you’re riding, if there is a queue of traffic behind you, you’re aware of it. And for me at least, there is that little sense of guilt of, “yes, I know I’m here and I know I’m in your way and I know I’m going slowly, but you’re just going to have to put up with it because this is the way I’m going and this is the way I need to go to get to my destination”.

And then you suddenly come off that environment and you’re suddenly on to this piece of protected infrastructure, and like I say, it’s just that sense of relaxation, that sense of relief almost, that you can breathe, you can relax, you can go slowly, you don’t have to worry about the queue of people behind you who are getting impatient and trying to squeeze past. All of these fears just disappear.

That is the experience for me using the Coundon cycleway, and Coventry has its second scheme in and useable. I don’t think it’s finished yet, but it is usable. People are using it. And that is the Binley scheme. That’s in the south of the city, so a little bit out of the way for me, but I do want to do a bit of an explore, go and find the Binley scheme, and go and ride it. Because again, I think it’ll just be a really pleasant experience. That is my expectation. Based on Coundon, I can expect similar for Binley.

So, that’ll be something to do in 2023. That is one of my objectives, if you like, to go and see the Binley scheme, go and ride it – really excited to go and see what Coventry are doing with their Binley scheme.

There are also things like the temporary cycleways that were put in for the pandemic being made permanent. I need to go and experience them again, once those changes have been made permanent, to see how will they work with proper infrastructure in mind. For example, the link between the city centre the Coventry Canal Basin. At the height of the pandemic, a piece of separated infrastructure was put in on a slip road to the ring road, which enabled bidirectional cycling down to a crossing point. It was vastly better than having to walk a bike up, across a footbridge. But it was only separated by bollards, bollards that kept getting knocked over, you could see they were missing, knocked over, or out of alignment where drivers have hit them, and that made it very obvious that while yes, you’re allowed to cycle here, and yes you do have a degree of physical separation with those bollards, it’s not strong physical separation. Therefore, you’re not entirely safe on this piece of infrastructure.

So, it ‘ll be interesting, if and when that gets made permanent, to go and have a look and see how it feels as a piece of permanent infrastructure, and to do a bit of a comparison. I’ve got the video for what it was like as a pop-up cycle lane, so let’s see what it’ll be like as a piece of permanent infrastructure and how well it will integrate with the broader network and the road network as well, where that pop-up piece of infrastructure was not perfect by a long way. There’s an article on the blog about the Coventry pop-up cycleway between the Canal Basin and the city centre.

[17:18] Wrapping up

So, there are bits and pieces to look forward to in 2023 and I do look forward to going to ride these things and maybe seeing the development of new schemes in Nuneaton, where we see construction begin hopefully, of Nuneaton’s first high quality cycleway, and we continue to see the furthering of developments of other schemes through the process that they need to go through before they get to breaking ground.

In other things, I look forward to seeing things like Warwickshire County Council’s LCWIP – the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which went out for consultation a few months ago. That should hopefully be published as a final document, and it’ll be interesting to see what that looks like as a final document. Similarly, the Local Transport Plan. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops into a final document. The consultation on that has only just closed in the last month or two. It’ll be interesting to see that develop because that changes the whole hierarchy of transport in the county. It puts people at the top, it puts active travel first, and then it puts public transport, and then it puts motor transport. So, it’ll be interesting to see that formally adopted, assuming it is formally adopted of course.

So, bits and pieces coming up. The podcast here is going to continue. It’s always been an ad-hoc podcast and it’ll continue to be an ad-hoc podcast, so it will disappear for a month or two or three. If I don’t have anything to report on or to talk about, then I don’t really see much point in releasing one of these and effectively wasting everyone’s time! But it’s still here, it’s still going. My interest in active travel has not stopped. I am still very much interested in active travel and developments of cycling infrastructure, and walking of course as well, and public transport. Anything that can help reduce the dependency on motor transport. That’s the key thing for me.

So, I’m going to sign-off there. There’s nothing really to report. It was very much a check-in for me, to say hi, still here, still doing what I’m doing. Just a very quiet time of the year at the moment. But I look forward to 2023 and increasing the cycling activity that I do on a personal level, to get out and about again, exploring the Leicestershire country lanes which are becoming so very family to me now. Maybe trying to get a few more explorer squares in Veloviewer, that’s always a bit of fun, although they’re getting a bit far away from me now and it’s getting a bit more of a struggle to try and get more of those squares, but I’ll try and get some more of those squares if I can.

Every now and again, I like to try and do a little bit of a game that I dubbed, “ride all the roads” – which is not a good name – using the Wandrer.earth website, where that calculates a percentage of all the roads ridden in a particular area. I’m at about a third of all the roads in Nuneaton that I have ridden my bike on at least once. Maybe I’ll try and up that a little bit over the next year, I don’t know.

So, there are few bits and pieces for me to try as the weather warms up and maybe there’s a dry spell here and there, and as we get into the nicer weather in the Spring as well. So, I’ll be looking forward to that.

In the meantime, don’t forget you can give me a follow over on social media if you’re not doing so already. I’m over at Mastodon primarily now as my main focus for social media, so you can find me over there, @BicycleBen. However, I am still about on Twitter, vastly reduced in terms of what I’m posting over there at the moment, but if you want to follow me over on Twitter, it’s @BicycleBenUK, and you can also find me on Facebook, facebook.com/BicycleBenUK.

All of the links to the social media accounts are over on the website, as well as show notes and a transcript of this podcast. Just head over to fiets.uk/podcast.

That just leaves me to say, have a very good Christmas and a very happy new year, and I hope you can join me again on The Fiets Podcast in 2023!


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