Fiets Podcast 010: Silos in Warwickshire
This content is made available free of charge and without adverts - but it needs your help to keep it that way! If you are able to help out, any donations are gratefully received! Thank you!
Welcome Back to The Fiets Podcast! This time: a minor works project ignores the impact on cycling and helps highlight the silos present in Warwickshire County Council that hold back active travel. You can support this podcast through Ko-Fi.com/BicycleBen – Thank you!
- WCC: Puffin Crossing documents and Council session minutes
- Blog: Cycling fail for junction redesign (Ansty, Rugby District)
- Blog: Junction redesign omits cycling (Greenmoor Road, Heath End Road, Bull Ring)
- WCC: Cllr Redford comments on active travel
- Blog: Ill-informed cycling comments from councillors
The Fiets Podcast is available through popular podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and others. Remember to subscribe in your favourite podcast app to make sure you don’t miss an edition of this irregularly released series!
[0:10] Hello and Welcome
Hello and welcome along to the latest edition of the Fiets Podcast, the occasional series looking at cycling and advocacy primarily in the Nuneaton and Warwickshire area of the UK. My name is Ben, I’m an everyday cyclist and advocate for better infrastructure from Nuneaton. You can find me on the web at fiets.uk, and on social media – mas.to/@BicycleBen on Mastodon; @BicycleBenUK on Twitter; on Facebook, facebook.com/BicycleBenUK.
Good to have you along for the first edition of 2023. It has been a while, but my own activities on the bike continue to be limited for various reasons, though as the weather improves fingers crossed I can get out and about a bit more often!
Today though is just a quick recording to comment on how Warwickshire County Council treats cycling alongside road projects, whether they are minor schemes or bigger.
[01:11] Lack of consideration for cycling in a minor project
In Bedworth, the neighbouring town to Nuneaton, there is a minor, very small project to install a puffin crossing on Coventry Road. This provides a signalised crossing for pedestrians and in principle is something I’m happy to see. However, when this scheme was originally published back at the end of 2021 and had a very brief window for consultation and comment, I (along with others) put in comments about the impact that this crossing has on people cycling on Coventry Road itself.
The plans showed a replacement central reservation for pedestrians, but that for people cycling on the road presents as a pinch point – i.e., a place where drivers trying to overtake should be forced to wait behind due to limited space, but where poor drivers might still make the attempt, being forced closer to the nearside, and the cyclist, resulting in (at best) a close pass. There already is a traffic island near to the location, but the plans would extend it.
Comments submitted in response to this suggested that the plans be revised to better consider on-road cycling. In my case, I suggested the removal of the island entirely to eliminate the pinch point and therefore an element of danger. Failing that, the carriageway width should be narrowed as much as possible to minimise the chance of people trying to force their way through.
More than a year on, the scheme recently went to Council for a decision, with a recommendation that it be approved, but with no amendments to the plans in response to given objections, and some very weak counterpoints given by the engineers responsible when responding to those objections. The scheme was approved at the Council session, with the Council Leader, Cllr Seccombe, saying that she was not in favour of redesigning the scheme, that funding was not available to change the scheme, did not want to delay the crossing, and planned to approve it . My interpretation from those comments is that cycling safety is secondary to time and cost.
So, we’re going to get the puffin crossing installed pretty much as published, and the feeling on my part is very much that cycling safety on road has not been considered and also that objections to the design – and remember, that’s the design, not the scheme overall – have essentially been ignored.
Of course, this is a tiny scheme and in the bigger picture makes little difference to the attractiveness of cycling in Bedworth and on this main road in particular. There are a number of pinch points and traffic can be heavy; the removal of this one island is not going to make a notable difference. But that’s not the point. The point is that when changing the road network, whether it be a tiny adjustment like this, or a bigger project, cycling should be considered and incorporated into the designs by default, but it is not.
[03:50] Cycling and active travel not considered by default
If the road is being dug up and changed, highways engineers should make sure those changes are also improving things for people on cycles. But it seems that as a rule, they don’t.
There is more evidence of this. A junction was recently redesigned just outside of Ansty, on the edge of the Rugby District, but absolutely no consideration has been given to people who cycle. Not even so much as some painted lanes and advance stop lines (not that those would be acceptable, mind). This is a rural junction, but it forms part of the best route between Nuneaton and Bulkington to Coombe Abbey Country Park on the east side of Coventry. A quick look at the Strava heatmap shows it to be well used. But no-one responsible for creating the design seems to have thought about whether what they are doing improves that junction for people on cycles. The return journey towards Bulkington and Nuneaton involves a significant climb through the junction, where also turning right puts slow-moving riders in the middle of a right-turn lane with the potential for vehicles on both sides. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, unattractive, unsafe, and hard work! Surely a little bit of thought could have gone in for this junction to provide people on cycles a protected space and their own light phase, at least on the climb if not on the descent.
I wrote about the Ansty junction over on the website where there is also a before and after video showing how the junction has changed. The article will be linked in this podcast’s show notes. If you want to take a look, head over to fiets.uk/podcast.
Then in addition to that, there’s the long-proposed junction redesign in Nuneaton, that connects Greenmoor Road, Heath End Road, and Bull Ring. This is not too far from the hospital. Again, the intention is to redesign to improve motor vehicle flow in a congested area, but published plans make no consideration for cycling. Again, I wrote about this one on the website, so head over to the show notes at fiets.uk/podcast if you want the details over that particular junction
[05:56] Warwickshire’s silos
But with all this, to me it feels like Warwickshire County Council is working in silos. We’ve got the Highways team responsible for general road projects whose focus is on motor traffic and only considers other users where those users are the remit for change – for example, the pedestrian crossing. Then we have cycling and active travel considered separate, which maybe then comes in after motor traffic has been considered. The active travel element is not embedded as a core and essential part of highways design. It’s ignored unless there is a specific and specified reason to think about it, and only then is it considered after driving.
Without getting into specifics, I have been involved in discussions about urban road layout changes and have heard the comments about the road having been designed in a way that works “for traffic” according to models, where that term “for traffic” categorically means driving. It does not mean walking, wheeling, or cycling. In this case, cycling schemes are designed into the plans after the main carriageway alterations have designed, not in conjunction with them. They’re an afterthought to be squeezed in and subject to significant compromise as a result.
Going back to the notion of silos within the county, we have other branches – communications, and teams specifically responsible for active travel. The County Council promotes active travel fairly frequently in its social media activities. They’ll suggest switching one journey a week to active travel, they’ll support things like the Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel event, they’ll speak about the physical and mental health benefits of riding a bike. This is all quite right and positive, of course, but it’s largely meaningless while other areas of the County Council are not doing their bit. If someone doesn’t ride a bike because they don’t feel safe doing it, or they are not happy allowing their child to do so because of the lack of infrastructure and safe space, these nice messages are not likely to change their mind.
The County Council has run consultations about where the issues are, what needs to be changed, the creation of a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP), and an updated Local Transport Plan (LTP). The latter two haven’t been published and adopted yet, but still, as a layperson completing all these surveys, consultations, and feedback opportunities, it all sounds really positive and exciting. But Highways remains stuck in a motor-centric, twentieth century mindset, and carries on as normal.
I’ve spoken about the extremely slow progress in developing cycling schemes. In Nuneaton, we have a number of plans outstanding – the Long Shoot, Hinckley Road, Weddington Road, the Ring Road, Nuneaton to Coventry – yet nothing is being built as of yet. I’ve spoken about this issue before, and hopefully we’ll see at least some movement on the Long Shoot scheme this year, if not its actual build, but that has been subject to numerous delays. The absence of the Nuneaton to Coventry scheme means it continues to be difficult to connect even between Nuneaton and Bedworth, two towns just a few miles apart.
[09:11] Councillors’ comments
Then we’ve got positive sounding comments from the Portfolio Holder for Transport, Cllr Redford. He’s said, for example, and I quote here, “We want to encourage and enable more people to choose to walk or cycle, particularly for short local trips, by providing the infrastructure and support that they need to take advantage of these low-cost, healthy and environmentally friendly ways of travelling” . He said this in a press release on 03 January this year, after the Council received government funding for active travel schemes. But the comment isn’t backed up by actual action on the ground.
We also have other councillors rubbishing the idea of enabling more active travel. Again, you can find details over on the website, but let’s have a listen to what Cllr Tromans had to say recently in a Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council session:
“I think on the modal shift point, this has been talked about a number of times in a number of different meetings at this Council. The whole ‘if you build it, they will come’ has turned out to be complete rubbish. You can build all the cycle lanes you like, but all over Europe they’re digging them up and converting them back to roads because people just don’t make that modal shift. They might walk, but we are not going to become a nation of people cycling to commute to Coventry. It just ain’t gonna happen. Twenty percent of the population aren’t going to be cycling. I know Holland is flat, but twenty percent of the population is not going to be commuting by bicycle. It’s as simple as that, and we can’t plan on that basis.”
And here’s Cllr Baxter-Payne in that same session:
“Modal shift sounds a wonderful concept. It sounds like a great idea. But it comes down to personal choice. We can put cycle lanes anywhere we want, but if the person doesn’t want to get on his pushbike and use it, they won’t use it. It’s personal choice. And there is a prime example just down the road in Coventry. I spend a lot of time driving around Coventry where they’ve put cycle lanes all through the city. And if you drive through Coventry at any point, you are very lucky to see a pushbike on the cycle lane. So, it’s a great idea and it’s something that we should all encourage, but we have to educate people. Because we can put cycle lanes everywhere, but if I don’t want to get on my bike and use a bike, I’m not going to get on my bike and use a bike. If I don’t want to go by bus, I’m not going to go by bus. And I think that we’ve got to be really careful here about trying to do things that we’ve got to educate people to do. Because it is a personal choice to use every single different form of transport. But we all get in the car, and we all drive the car.”
So, we have Cllr Baxter-Payne there saying that we all drive a car and it’s personal choice as to what transport mode we use, but we evidently don’t all drive a car. There’s a significant number of us who cannot drive or do not want to drive for whatever reason, or maybe don’t have ready access to a vehicle. And we don’t all have the choice to make our journeys by cycle because we may not find it safe to do so. Even if I personally will tolerate riding on the roads for particular journeys, it doesn’t mean that I will find it safe enough for me to make that same journey with my nine year old. So, we don’t have the personal choice to cycle at the moment.
And then to say that cycle lanes in Coventry aren’t being used – well, we have data that suggests the Binley scheme is being used before it’s even been completed and formally opened. You cannot use your anecdotal experience of what you see when you drive around at specific times, in specific areas of the city, as evidence as to whether a particular cycle network is being used or not. And Coventry doesn’t have cycle lanes spread out across the city; it’s got two good quality cycle lanes, Coundon and Binley. So, we’ve got these incorrect assertations from Cllr Baxter-Payne here, and then we’ve also got, as we heard, those strange comments from Cllr Tromans that are frankly worse than what Cllr Baxter-Payne has said, firstly focusing solely on commuting between Nuneaton and Coventry and completely ignoring all the local journeys that could be enabled by cycling – trips to the station, trips to school, trips to local amenities, to see friends and family, connecting between Nuneaton and Bedworth which is only a few miles – all of this was ignored to focus entirely on commuting to Coventry. And then this bizarre assertation that cycle lanes are being ripped up all over the place and converted back to roads.
So, on one hand we’ve got councillors like Cllr Tromans and Cllr Baxter-Payne who are pulling in one direction, this anti-cycling direction, and on the other hand you’ve got the public statements from the likes of Cllr Redford, the Portfolio Holder for Transport, who is saying we need to get more people cycling. Two different directions just at the councillor level.
As a little bit of an aside, to the best of my knowledge, neither Cllr Tromans nor Cllr Baxter-Payne have corrected the record on what they’ve said. And yes, I did write and point out where they’d gone, and asked them to correct the record. I never received a response and to the best of my knowledge that record has not been corrected.
Again, you can find out more about this including the video from the council session. Just head over to the website, fiets.uk/podcast, and the link will be in the show notes.
[14:30] A council pulling in different directions
So, it feels like very much this is a county council that is pulling in different directions. You’ve got the people that are doing things as they’ve always done them, and you’ve got other people and some teams that are pulling in the correct direction, trying to further active travel, and make the county better for active travel. But until all parts come together and start work together in a united direction, I think improvements to active travel in Warwickshire would seem destined to remain piecemeal and substandard, with cycling in particular continuing to be ignored, or not given proper prominence as an important mode of local transport.
Maybe things will change once the LCWIP and LTP4 are formally published, but it shouldn’t wait. Warwickshire is being left behind in its active travel network. It needs to sort its game out right now and realise that roads are for everyone, not just the subset of people who can drive, who want to drive, and who have ready access to cars.
[15:30] Wrapping up
That is pretty much all I’ve got for this very short edition of the Fiets Podcast.
It does feel like another rant, and it is another rant, and I do feel like I’m constantly being down on Warwickshire County Council. But sadly I don’t feel like I’m given too many opportunities to celebrate at the moment. In the five-plus years that I’ve considered myself an advocate for better cycling infrastructure, there’s been very little in the way of meaningful improvements. We’ve had promises and slow-moving developments, as I said earlier, but there’s nothing I can point to and say, “look at this! Warwickshire have done a great job here”, or any evidence that I can show up as showing that the County Council is really putting a big focus on enabling active travel.
I look forward to the day that happens, when I’ll be only too happy to come on here and shout praises. And I will do that, if it comes about. Hopefully, if and when the Long Shoot scheme is finally finished, I’ll have at least a few positive things to say about having a safer route that maybe enables more journeys with my nine-year-old, although I know there’ll be a couple of issues that I won’t be able to ignore due to the way the scheme has come about.
So, I hope you’ll forgive the critical nature of this podcast, but it reflects my continual and ongoing frustrations. All I want is a safe environment to travel by cycle, both alone and with the family. It shouldn’t be too much to ask, yet it remains a constant battle, a constant push for the local authority to do better, a fight that always feels in vain and without result but that somehow must be continued. Thank you for listening. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and fancy sending a few pounds my way in appreciation, your contributions are gratefully received – head over to fiets.uk/podcast where you’ll find a link to my Ko-Fi page. But I know that times are tough, so there’s no obligation. I don’t do this to make money; I do it because I believe in it and I think it is important.
Please remember to stay subscribed in your podcast apps – search for “fiets cycle” if you’re not already. These episodes are infrequent and irregular and subscribing will help make sure you don’t miss one. If you want to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on social media – mas.to/@BicycleBen on Mastodon, @BicycleBenUK on Twitter, or Facebook.com/BicycleBenUK.
Thanks again for joining me and I hope to catch you again on the Fiets Podcast!
Have you found this content interesting or useful? If so, can you help support the site, podcast and active travel advocacy work? This content is made available free of charge, but if you can help out then any contribution is greatly appreciated!