I have recently been commenting on blogs and forums about the need for better separated cycle paths. I am totally committed to the cycling strategies that have actually worked in Holland and Denmark. I want to live in a quiet, clean and safe town and removing a large proportion of cars is the only way to achieve this. Blogs from Copenhaganize and David Hembrow show how high quality separated cycle paths and other traffic calming measures can increase cycle use by massive amounts and so actually make the difference. Most people I talk to including cyclists think this is a crazy idea and “Can’t see it working over here”.
So here goes, let’s see if it might be possible to change Taunton from a car nightmare to a cycling heaven.
- Taunton is flat. There are a few bumps but nothing to worry about. So we can get people on their bikes a for around town journeys without any worry about hills.
- Taunton is compact. Half all journeys by car are less than 5 miles and a quarter less than 2 miles. Anyone who lives in Taunton will travel less than 5 miles to shop or work within the town. This means they could easily replace the car with the bike.
- Taunton has good weather. As Taunton is located in the south west of the UK the weather here is good. It is certainly milder than in Denmark!
- Taunton nearly has a good network of cycle paths. The town is compact and so a few paths can make a huge difference. There are some good paths, that, with some resurfacing and a little care to join them up would provide the basis for a great network. There are some dangerous paths, but these could be removed and some of the worst offenders would go if the whole town centre was made car free. This could easily be done and would allow the safe linking of all the major separated paths currently in use. There is much to be done but the problems are not insurmountable and the network could be transformed in a very short time if only the will was there to do it.
- Changing priorities is simple. It would not be difficult to give bikes on bike paths the right of way at all junctions. Adopting the Dutch system for paths would require some redesign but the roads are big enough and we could lay the curbs and paint the lines IF WE WANTED TOO.
- 20 MPH works. Some parts of Taunton already have 20mph limits and a town wide scheme would calm traffic down, saving life and limb, and making walking and cycling more attractive. It would not change journey times much as the town is compact and journeys are short.
- Much less on street parking is possible. Many streets could be improved if on street parking was totally banned. There needs to be a commitment to reducing on street parking and if we make a start, even small reductions, could make a huge difference.
Taunton could with relatively little cost become the best cycling town in the UK. If spending was moved from car infrastructure to bicycle we could make many of the changes in a very short time, maybe just a year or two. Will this happen? Probably not, because the council lacks vision, and most people are selfish when it comes to their car use. The main thing is it would not be impossible or a far distant dream, all we need is the will from people to stop driving the short, flat journeys they make around town and to get on two wheels.
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Riding my folding bike into work on Thursday I was thrilled to see a council stand on the High Street promoting cycling. A lovely young lady stood behind a table containing a couple of leaflets and three maps. To her side was a bike and behind her the poster you see at the top of this post. It turned out she didn’t really know much about cycling (this was not her department) and apart from entering people who cycle for 10 minutes during the next two weeks into a prize draw, Somerset is not actually doing much else to promote cycling.
So I complemented her on the fact that the people in the poster were dressed normally, but lamented that they and indeed everyone else on every leaflet was wearing a helmet. Well this is where it got interesting, apparently in the original poster they had no helmets, but the council bosses (car drivers?) had insisted the helmets were added. In case you are new to the helmet debate here is a website with all the scientific evidence for and against there use,
Well I went on to talk about how actually putting in new cycle paths and JOINING UP EXISTING PATHS might be a good way to promote cycling in Taunton. It has worked in Copenhagen. I also noted that the bicycle which was to be the prize in the draw was a men’s bike with narrow tyres, no mudguards and a ‘sports’ riding position, all of which are not good for cycle commuting or attracting women to ride more.
When I got home I checked the Moving Somerset Forward website to see if there was anything else going on I might have missed. The website is… well… rubbish! It has no real information of any consequence and it really doesn’t get down to any detail and help people to become everyday cyclists. It would not be difficult to do a better job and get it right, they have managed to do a pretty good job in London.
The lady in the London poster looks a little more comfortable on a bike than the helmeted nutters in the Somerset one!
So is there any good news? I managed to get three free cycle route maps. It is just a shame that there are no new paths actually being built and there are no plans to join up the existing ones to make them usable… or remove the dangerous ones… or resurface the potholed ones. Somerset is standing still not moving forward.
Postscript: While cycling to work on Friday I was greeted by a large group (six or seven) of ‘never been seen before’ commuters puffing away on racing and mountain bikes. They were wearing those little laminated neck tags that showed them to be council workers on their way to County Hall. They were riding illegally across the pedestrian crossing and then proceeding along the pavements towards their offices. I assume they were breaking the law to avoid the dangerous and copious amount of motor cars on the road. They were like me probably thinking that there should be a cycle path, unfortunately they will probably have forgotten about it in a couple of weeks when they will once again be in their cars. They may even be wondering why the bloke on his little folding bike is riding down the High Street again; there is after all a by-law against that!
After a little bit of discussion (read the comments) about being positive with the nice chap over at Ecovelo, I should perhaps say that there is a website where we can monitor ‘live’ the cycling progress of the Workplace Challange. I do hope it is a success and the sheer weight of numbers of commutors will shame the council into improving the cycle paths in Taunton and elsewhere across Somerset.
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