Cycling campaigners say council "wasting" £750,000 on cycle path

No-one wants Colchester's pavement cycle routes and no-one will use them, but council won't listen to alternatives, say campaigners...

Frustrated campaigners say £750,000 is being wasted on a shared use cycling and walking pavement that cyclists didn’t ask for and won’t use.

Freedom of Information requests by Colchester Cycling Campaign (CCC) on Essex County Council plans to introduce a 3m wide shared use pavement on Mile End Road reveal there was no request for the route, or research data collected on cycling levels. The council says “trees, lighting columns, bus stops and deviation of route at side roads” will reduce cyclists' speeds while riding downhill on the pavement.

William Bramhill, CCC founder, says he’s hit a “brick wall” in attempts to influence designs of the cycle route, and says without clear design policies local councils will continue to build what he calls 1970s style infrastructure that cyclists won’t want to use.

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Bramhill told road.cc: “We have got severe concerns about this route because of the proximity of the car parking [to the pavement], and the potential for being doored."

He said because the road is on a hill there is the potential for collisions at speed between cyclists and pedestrians, as well as dangers posed by cars exiting driveways, and 3m won’t be enough to mitigate these risks.

An FOI response from Essex County Council states: “The facility will have features which will naturally check the speed of cyclists; these include road signs, trees, lighting columns and deviation of route at side roads.”

However, Bramhill points out this decision is against government guidelines on shared use paths, which state "suitable on-carriageway solutions are sometimes ignored in favour of inappropriate conversion of footways".

He says: “It would be far better to put the cycle route on the road. Mile End Road doesn’t even have 3,500 cars a day, and in the middle of the day you can stand there in the road and wait two minutes to be knocked over. Reduce traffic speeds to 20mph and stagger traffic instead."

He says he has attempted to suggest this but claims “we were told there’s different departments and different budgets for 20mph speed limits, and we’d have to apply for that separately.”

Last month Cycling Minister, Robert Goodwill, told road.cc it is the responsibility of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) to deliver cycle infrastructure locally and LEPs are given funding to deliver this. Colchester Cycle Campaign says it has tried a number of times to engage with the South East LEP, which provides the project funding, but has not yet received a response.

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Meanwhile, Bramhill believes this type of infrastructure could set a dangerous precedent and says we need design policies to prevent the scenario being played out across the country.

He said: “Cyclists aren’t going to use the routes, and motorists are going to say ‘get on the cycle path’, while local authorities are going to say ‘there’s no point in investing in cycle routes because people don’t use them’.”

“It shows how much we need a national policy, not just national design standards, because the officers on the scheme have turned around several times and said ‘they are only guidelines and we are providing for a different type of cyclist’.

"There are different types of motorist and they don’t put rainforest on the motorway.

“Essex Council is saying they are putting it in for economic reasons, there has been no count of cyclists, so what metrics are they going to use to assess its success?”

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He says those responsible for spending taxpayers’ money on bike routes should visit cycle-friendly countries before designing schemes, in the same way Goodwill visited Copenhagen last year.

Last week, Chris Boardman told road.cc there needs to be central government leadership to ensure local councils are building cycling infrastructure, so that “doing nothing is not an option”.

Essex County Council and the South East Local Enterprise Partership were both contacted for comment. 

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