I’ve just been queuing out of town along Uttoxeter New Road. Actually that’s not quite true. I was on my bicycle, so when there was space between the queuing vehicles and the kerb I moved up in ‘my’ lane on the inside.
When I was in London yesterday, there were many more cyclists; indeed maybe as many cyclists as motor vehicles in some areas. The cyclists flowed through the traffic in a way that the motor vehicles didn’t. It was also easier for me to stop to consult my A to Z safely without blocking the road than if I’d been driving…
In some places cyclists often out-number motor vehicles: Think The Netherlands or, nearer home, Cambridge. In such places arriving by bicycle is seen as the norm. The MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, is a regular cyclist. He says that one of the advantages is that the journey times for meetings and appointments are more predictable. In such places air pollution is also reduced, peak time queuing is far better than it would otherwise be, less space has to be given over to car parks and people stay fitter.
That’s not to say that everyone should cycle. But for day to day journeys if people can leave the car at home it means that every day there is more space for everyone. Although adult cycle use grew by an amazing 29% in between 2005 -2009 in Derby – at the height of Derby’s Cycle Demonstration Town activity – buses, walking, car sharing and taxis can also be solutions. Even roller blades and skateboards speed some people’s journeys.
So what makes people change from driving a car to some other mode of travel?
People are creatures of habit: If something works, why change? So a good time for people to consider changing is when something else is changing, and habits will have to shift for other reasons anyway; a new job, new house, new school, new friends…
Also if the existing solution becomes less satisfactory it can be a reason for change; fuel costs become a burden, the car needs repairing, queues get longer and longer, parking charges increase…
To change, people also need to know the alternatives – and not to rule them out automatically. If main roads don’t feel safe for cycling, is there a safer route? Where do the buses go, and must I have the right change? What if I need a car occasionally for a work journey?
Now is a good time to think about this. The council is consulting on its preferred option for the new Local Plan. This will include 1000s of extra houses to be built over the next 10-20 years. More houses mean more people, more journeys… Unless we plan differently, that will mean more cars and more queues.
The planners’ usual solution is to assess the congestion levels and build a minimum of new roads to make new space for the new residents from the new homes to drive along, so that the overall impact is about neutral. Developers would also be expected to provide some cycle routes and bus stops. Building roads is very costly, and they are also expensive to maintain in future years. If they are needed because of new housing it is ultimately the people who buy the new homes who are paying for them.
The alternative would be for Derby’s current residents to need less road space, so there is space for more journeys without the congestion getting any worse than it already is.
Could we make Derby a friendlier place to walk, cycle or take the bus? Could we make it easier to switch between these modes for different parts of even the same journey? Say, walk the kids to school, jump on a bus, cycle to the final destination – and even have a car available once in a while for that work journey…
How can we do it in Derby? If this were possible for more people now, then by the time the new homes are being occupied we wouldn’t need the new major roads, so either the homes could be cheaper or the money could be used for something else like other transport improvements, better parks or better schools.
And there’d be less pollution, healthier lifestyles – and lower bills for road maintenance.
How many ‘wins’ is that?!
Getting the priorities right now can make all the difference. Putting in good walking/cycle facilities, like those on the new sections of inner ring road, routes like the riverside path and even cycle contraflows in one-way streets like Babington Lane all help. But they don’t happen by chance. If we want better integrated transport, pleasant places to wait for the bus and decent cycle parking we need to ask. The way to ask now is through responding to the Local Plan consultation - so please take the time to do this. Don’t worry too much about the website form – the words will be read by a person not a computer. So put your thoughts down and make your hopes clear!