Friday, 21 April 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane and Hedge - Unmitigated Ecological Failure.

The story so far.

Then there was another one and no one knew about it, and much of it was ludicrous. But the cycle lane bit seemed like a good idea as far as it went, while actually entirely avoiding the dangerous and frightening fast, straight bit of the road that has parked cars parked on both sides. You know, the bit that puts people off riding because its terrifying.

Suggestions to improve the scheme and deliver something far better for far less money were ignored - because obiviously its not really for cycling its a way of paying to re-surface the road while also squandering good will towards cyclists.

Eventually the first stage was done during a school holiday. In itself not bad, but so ludicrously disconnected from any other safe cycling as to be beyond a joke. Yaay, a hundred yards of relative safety. Its the one fat kid waving happily at journalists being bussed past a shop full of wax fruit in North Korea. The presence of one good bit to ride on seemed mostly all about masking the fact that they're not going to give us safe journeys.

Arbury Road changes were then re-branded as part of a County Council/City Deal 'Cross City Cycling Route'. By cynically rebranding disparate schemes already in the pipeline, the City Deal managed to create a positive headline with the pretence of it being cross-city cycling. It isn't - its assorted individual infrastructural projects linked in no physical or design sense, varying from good to bloody awful

Then the wheels really fell off. Bright coloured paint appeared all over the road. Questions were asked at Council Area Committee meetings. No one knew why. So I called the guys at the County and yes, they were going to do the next phase in Autumn. I'd been asking questions about this during the winter, with a hope that I could start some restorative planting of an area of hedgerow that failed after being badly ripped up and re-planted in 2014, but plans for the road were all up in the air. So I started engaging to try to get the hedge we had (which looked like it might be extensively cut) restored. I pitched that as an opportunity, as a chance to do something for local ecology AND cycling. 

But with each further contact it became apparent that the City Deal people didn't give a rats ass about any of this. They didn't answer any detailed questions on any part of the hedge removal and replanting scheme - because despite acting like this was something they would consult on and get right they'd already bout replacement shrubs (the wrong ones) and they were in a desperate rush to rip out a hedge that already had birds nesting in it (before any MORE came along).

The process for complaining to the City Deal was slow, there was no avenue available to improve the scheme. Including phoning the city deal Chief Exec. Providing detailed information on local flora influenced them in no way.

What do we have now? A less diverse mix of mature shrubs containing multiple species with no history in local hedging culture has replaced a much more diverse, mature hedgerow supporting dozens of other species of native wild plants, and to make absolutely sure none of those plants can recover they're in the process of heavily mulching the site which will impact on soil structure, pH and basically prevent any resurgence in native wildlife. They now plan to re-seed in autumn - which of course you can't do through a wood-chip mulch. Its going to be effectively dead (or in a dreadful ecological state) for years because of this.

By rushing to do this badly we've got the wrong hedging plants, no chance of recovering diverse flora for years and likely enough the permanent loss of dozens of species from the site. We've lost cultivars of particular local historic importance. Are we going to get a good cycle facility? We still don't know, detailed plans we'd have to see have still not been released. But from what we're seeing in Green End Road, provision of quality facilities is not a priority for City Deal. To say the least. The shrubs they've put in? Well with watering two or three times a week through summer they'll survive. Well done, guys, you've blandscaped.

We're not looking at a hedgerow that was a national treasure - but in a part of Cambridge called Kings Hedges you'd think there might have been some will to get this right. Within a local context picking the wrong trees, failing to take any measures to restore the under-story of the hedge, and then actively suppressing the re-growth of anything that might recover is an un-mitigated ecological disaster. There are no positives to take from this. None. Not one.

The moral? Don't trust the City Deal, in any way, for any part of any of their projects. Require every last shrub, every last blade of grass to be specified in all plans BEFORE consultation because they'll screw you over otherwise. They have no concern other than tarmac and concrete. And the end result? It'll be cyclists who are blamed anyway. This reduces the chance of getting good facilities approved elsewhere, locals will entirely reasonably weaponise this issue against cycle facilities being built.

Thanks for nothing, City Deal. Thanks a heap.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cycling is Good For You. Grass is Green. Ocean is Moist.

I mean, seriously. We know this, or we should do. Still, I suppose that turning it into a simple message like this is worthwhile, and I'm always in favour of good, solid data over just expressing the bleeding obvious.

So cycling regularly (like, to work) confers a massive health bonus, reducing the likelihood of cancer or heart disease to an astonishing degree. Of course getting some exercised is good - you'll be less fat, you'll be healthier, you'll he more resilient. And the best way to get exercise regularly is to design it into your day. Cycling creates less noise, no pollution, takes less space, tends to be much faster, uses up calories... Its got a lot going for it, and when we compare the pros to the cons facilitating mass cycling for transport is a no-brainer.

Shall we look at how this news story was received? Ok. Lets. Buckle up.

Going to just stick with the responses to this tweet here (and the almost identical BBC one):

 I'm going to pick tweets that cover each of the major criticism we're seeing. Lets start with...

I chose that one because its less graphic or even chilling as some of them. Lots of people are responding with the assumption that yes, it might save you from cancer but you're going to die under the wheels of a lorry. Well thats nice isn't it? What a positive bunch we are.

No, you're not. Well you might, but you probably won't. Very few people get killed riding bikes - some do, and its a tragedy, but its not fundamentally dangerous in any meaningful sense. Seriously. Its about 1 death per 29 million miles cycled. Get a sense of perspective. But yes, I do agree that we need to make cycling feel safer, we need to get the hostility and aggression off our roads. The solution is really simple - high quality cycle lanes feel and are safer, and reduce the kind of road conflict that is so awful that it discourages cycling.

Well... I guess. I mean I suppose for some that might be an argument. The average commuting trip in the UK is 15km. Thats, what, 9.3 miles? The average time that takes is 54 minutes. Or in other words the average commuter speed is 10.3mph, or thereabouts. Thats slower than a geriatric curate on an old ladies bike. You're seriously telling me its completely impractical and that it'll make peoples days much longer? No, for a whole load of people, it won't. Bluntly if you're 'average', get a bike.

Well, yes and no. Air pollution is a killer.  Being exposed to air pollution does you no good. But you're exposed to it whether you're walking, driving or on a bike - its worst of all inside a car. Study after study has shown this. But I sort of think this is missing the point - air pollution being a killer isn't a reason NOT to encourage people to cycle, it is precisely the opposite. Want to be exposed to less air pollution? Ride a bike. Want to contribute less to air pollution? Ride a bike. Want there to be much less air pollution? Campaign to facilitate safe cycling routes.

Look, its not rocket science - designing for active transpot makes for cleaner, greener, healthier cities, it saves money on health spending, on fuel, on vehicles, and on roads (bikes do way less road damage). But because people identify based on how they travel they come up with all sorts of crazy justifications not to be one of 'them'. The responses I've picked out are flimsy justifications from people who know they should be more active, who know that cycling is the right thing to do, the responsible way to travel, but they don't want to. So the bar for reasoning to justify that is set very low.

Do we want an active, healthy population living in cleaner cities? Then we need to make cycling the best way to travel. Isn't it just that simple?

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Green End Road - City Deal Wheels Falling Off

Green End Road was always one of those routes that should have been nice to ride a bike on. Its a suburban route, not a 'main road' by design, following an old curve that has been the one that winds up through Chesterton towards Kings Hedges Road for hundreds of years, but of course the colossal growth in road traffic of the last half century or so has turned it into yet another urban rat-run, blighted and dirty, dominated by the same incessant noise as every other urban rat run. Pick a suburban road where you can neither think nor breathe for the fumes and sound of cars - you know Green End Road. 

It should be a handy route to cycle, but it isn't. There's space between the houses for decent quality bike lanes, of course. Here, have a look at it, wander up and down on google street view:

Now obviously traffic congestion on this road is a problem that slows buses and cars down, and encouraging people to ride bikes on this route (especially now we're about to have the cities second railway station at the top end of Chesterton there) is a hugely important part of the solution. So obviously the Greater Cambridge City Deal, tasked with providing great solutions for the growing needs of Cambridge as an economic powerhouse, have decided to give us exactly the kind of high quality cycle lane we need? 


They've given us a crap painted line that encourages close overtaking. Its genuinely awful, look at Rads video of it.

Oh, and people will be able to park in some of it too. Whats that you say, the highway code says you shouldn't park in cycle lanes unless its absolutely unavoidable and that can never mean just popping in for a hair cut? I know that. And you know that. But we also both know this is never enforced unless there's a double yellow line. And the City Deal, alongside the County Council, have decided that the parking next to a chippy and a barbers  is more important than cycle lanes being safe. I've asked the City Deal how I'm meant to object - they say object to TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) and I'll be able to read about that because it'll be posted on a lamp post. Yes, thats right. On a lamp post. Because just telling me would never work. I've got to wait for them to put it on a lamp post and I've presumably got to put my hat, gather up my cane and write a letter of complaint on vellum using a quill pen. Oi, you, serving boy, get me my complaining breeches I've got to communicate 19th century style. Thats how City Deal rolls, you know. I should probably also do it in Latin.

What did we need here? Real segregation, 2m or more wide, without parking in it. And it could have been achieved without much loss in parking at the shops there (parking outside the cycle lane with priority for 1 way traffic at a time on the main carriageway as a worst case scenario). This is worse than no cycle provision, its the classic example of a cycle lane that makes riding more hazardous by luring motorists into passing us within inches, assuming we're protected by a dashed white line. Its a scheme that will discourage, not encourage, cycling - and its failure will be pointed at by opponents of cycle provision as evidence that bike lanes don't work.

Add this to the failing re-hedging scheme on Arbury Road (see this blog, passim) and we're left with a City Deal thats gone beyond faltering and into failure. They're not delivering schemes that we need to increase cycling capacity or reduce the level of hazard we face nor even to divert motorised traffic to more appropriate routes to make streets more efficient and safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

Bad cycle lanes make cycling more hazardous, especially if there are parked cars in them. This facility makes cycling worse. Why, City Deal? Why?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Arbury Road Hedge - Continuing Saga

So we got the wrong mix of hedging plants put in with haste at the arse end of the planting season, which as  result will require lots of watering and will see, if most survive to maturity, a mix that isn't particularly better for wildlife than what we had, isn't really more diverse than what we had, and which doesn't really respect the history or culture of the site.

I've continued to be proactive and tried to get the unde-growth restored (the real, rich biodiversity of a mature hedgerow) but its not looking good. Its been a bodge job from the outset, and I'm worried that'll continue.

Most recent email I've sent them...

Hi ****,

Sounds like a standard 'native mix' and rather like the hedging mix chosen its not really appropriate - I would envisage that many of those species won't thrive (foxglove, red campion, cowslip) especially if the plan is to start this in autumn with, presumably, seed? They'll have no hope of establishing against the background re-growth that will be predominantly cow parsley, chickweed, etc. The site is bare now, if we hope to get things re-established it needs to be before the site is dominated by the most invasive, early colonists - the only way to achieve that would be by spraying in autumn, damaging what has already by that point started to come back. If this is going to be done without wrecking what little has survived, then this is not the way.

Its also not not adding back the species lost, which is a shame especially for those few that were unusual in Cambridge. Sweet cicely for example was an occasional plant in the Southern part of the hedge, and I've only ever found that growing wild in one other location in the City. I'm not anticipating that the whole list we've lost will be replaced but this is an off-the-shelf solution to a problem that can be better readdressed by replacing what we've lost more closely.

Moving some of the soil from the old line of the hedge to the new one won't hurt, thats a good idea. Less of an issue on the Southern end of the hedge I should think, but still worth doing. That will help restore some, but not all, of whats been lost.

Has there been any progress on bat habitat? Whereabouts in the hedge is Cambridge Gage, has it been put in now?


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

So what WOULD convince people we need cycle facilities?

I have occasionally mused here that when we talk to politicians (local and national) about cycling infrastructure what they hear is cyclists telling them what we want - another special interest group griping on. What they don't hear is people telling them what the UK needs as a nation is more people cycling because its clean, healthy, cheap, etc. and that many, many people want to ride but don't because its too damned terrifying.

Thats is a more profound point than you might think - that what they hear isn't what we're saying. And it probably sounds contentious. I know. Hear me out though.

How often have you been at a local political meeting, whether its a city or county council thing, or (such as we have here) a joint committee of both, and the subject of a cycle facility comes up. You stand up to say that its a great idea because you've talked to people in the area and they're in favour of making cycling easier, as its the hostile road traffic that currently makes the choice to ride so unappealing. And you've made your point eloquently, you've been clear, you've been fair... And then the next person gets up to speak.

That person is probably an older person (because the vast majority of people at all such meetings are old people) and the're conservative with a small 'c'. An ancient nimby. They start talking about roads and how much space is needed and how not everyone can cycle so cycle facilities are exclusionary for older people and disabled people, and then they'll talk about how cycle facilities aren't used by cyclists who'll all be on the road where they'll break the law so making more facilities for us is a bad thing and we don't pay our share anyway... Well, you've got a full bingo card, I'll grant you that, but you've also got a room full of ageing nimbys nodding in agreement - and you end up with a silly compromise between doing what cyclists need and, well, nothing at all, and yet another crap facility. At best. Or, in other words, they're projecting their own bias as a reason why cycling facilities aren't a good thing and we get nothing of value.

We make arguments about why cycle facilities are good, primarily based around removing barriers to cycling for those who don't ride. The objections to cycle facilities are never based on the people who don't cycle and they're not based on any analysis of what we say barriers to cycling are - the objections do not seek to refute points we make, or even address them. They're based on perceived injustice with regards to road space allocation, the perceived behaviour of people who currently cycle, on the identity of the objector as a 'motorist' or, at least, 'not cyclist' and they're based upon who current cyclists are seen to be. And they're also seen in light of how every other campaign group in local and national politics acts - in the interests of the people it already represents.

We try to advocate for those who are currently excluded from cycling by hostile roads. What they hear is us advocating for ourselves.

Our goal of getting better cycle facilities fails because we're not getting across the point that there's suppressed demand for cycling due to a lack thereof - it fails because we're seen to be asking for what we want for ourselves, in a manner identical to that of any other lobby group. They're not going in to what we're asking for in the kind of depth that would necessitate them seeing things from our point of view, or indeed from any point of view but the one they've already brought with them. We're cyclists and we say cycle facilities are good for people who don't yet cycle? Well we would, wouldn't we? Yeah, there are places like London and Cambridge where we do a little better, but there are many recalcitrant councillors in those cities whose dumb biases against cyclists are reassured by the codgers such that they'll never approve of genuinely safe cycle facilities on main roads, and more still who'll always favour storing cars in the road over cyclists having safe room to ride even on quiet routes.

This puts us in the unenviable position of being able to make really smart, well researched arguments about the cost benefit analysis of cycling facilities being massively more favourable than any other transport projects and no one gives a fuck. We can be right all we like, but unless what we're pitching for is what people already want it won't matter - a familiar refrain to any of us who've been talking about any of half a dozen different environmental issues for the last quarter of a century or more.

So how CAN we win over local and national politicians? How do we 'win'? How do we transform a 'correct' argument into a 'winning' argument?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Arbury Road Hedge - Undergrowth Planting

Another post about an obscure hedge on a suburban road in Cambridge, removed to give us a cycle lane (which we need) but in such a hurried, silly way that we've lost a lot of local biodiversity, and we're running to catch up and fix it. If we can get this right there's a chance for a better outcome all round. If this hyper-local issue isn't your bag, move on. Ta.

There have been some absurd tweets that the hedge replanting is giving us more biodiversity. Sadly this is going to have to be in part from memory - here's a list of species we lost such that replanting can be done...

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
White dead nettle (Lamium album)
Red dead nettle (Lamium purpureu)m)
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
White campion (Silene alba)
Upright hedge parsley (Torilis japonica)
Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Vetch (Vicia sativa)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Herb Bennet (Geum urbanum)
Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
Hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)
Three cornered leek (Allium triquetrum)
Crow garlic (Allium vineale)
Snow drop (Galanthus nivalis)
Bramble (Rubus fructicosus)
Dewberry (Rubus caesius)
Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Sweet violets (Viola odorata)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)

EDIT: Yes, I said it was from memory. Please allow me to have a crap, patchy memory that needs the occasional jogging. Some others that were there:

Smooth sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Queen Annes Lace (Dacus carota)
Curled leaved dock (Rumex crispus)
Ladies Bedstraw (Galium verum)
Burnet (Sanguisona minor) - I think it was this burnet, could have been another one
Burdock (Arctium minus)

To fix this we need representative species selected from above to be. Some (chickweed, dandelion, nettle) will be back of their own accord very quickly. Some (crow garlic, oxeye daisy, sweet violets, many others) really ought to be replaced. I'm not immediately sure which are the best to get in first and, again, getting locally sourced biodiversity back should be at the top of the priority list.

I can't do this alone, City Deal. When do you start with this and whats the plan please?

EDIT: I don't see any real need to replace plants that'll find their own way back very quickly. Its a roadside in Cambridge, we'll see fat hen, chickweed, goose grass, nettle and dandelion in no time at all. But we had other plants there that will struggle to re-establish, variously because they're quite shy growers here to begin with or because the conditions on a modern roadside aren't the same as they were when the hedge was established. I've talked to the BTCV and Cambridgeshire Wildife Trust and they're both tearing their hair out about this - its really hard to re-establish undergrowth like this, especially after the hedge has gone in.

The best plan from those discussions seems to be to select some 'winners' and work to re-establish them in the hedge, and then hopefully they can spread from there while other plants re-seed over time. Can I suggest that we should maybe pick a dozen species that will struggle on their own and get those in at various points? I'm going to suggest, as a starting point, ladies bedstraw,  white campion, upright hedge parsley, sweet cicely (one of only two places I've found this wild in Cambridge, really worth restoring), snowdrop, dewberry, common hogweed, oxeye daisy, sweet violets, burdock, herb robert and garlic mustard? I don't anticipate the whole hedge be re-planted thus, and I'm entirely open to alternate suggestions for plants to restore the undergrowth.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Arbury Road Hedge and Cycle Lane - A little more promising

Here's what it was looking like yesterday...

So the planting isn't being done badly as far as I can tell - they need a good watering though, and soon, if they're not to suffer. 

There's lots of space for a high quality cycle lane to follow - I'm still disappointed that the plans for this haven't emerged. I get that there could be a colossal unknown gas main down there and maybe the plan might have to be subject to change for unforeseen circumstances, but I still maintain that a blueprint of the plan should be available before we're asked to decide whether we approve or not. Surely its fair to base my willingness to surrender space from use (a) to use (b) can reasonably impinge upon the quality of provision afforded to (b)?

But I think I've otherwise got better news. Some things that City Deal have agreed on. Now I don't as a rule blog up anything emailed to me verbatim (seems rude) but I will this time, because I can't really see why not. Here's what they've agreed to (and my thoughts in italic next to it)

-          A post and wire fence to be installed to support the hedging, and to stop people trying to walk through it. We inevitably need at least a temporary fence - ugly but necessary and, frankly, I don't care about the specific details. This is better than a roll-up chestnut fence in that it produces less shade
-          80 metres of additional hedging (11 metres near Albermarle Way and 70 metres replacing the City Council planted section that largely failed). Good news also - necessary to replace the complete pigs ear the City Council made of replanting last year
-          A new American Lime tree on the wide verge section. Not a bad choice, it'll sit well with the hybrid limes nearby - not my first choice in that spot but an entirely decent idea
-          Some Cambridge Gage trees planted within the new hedge. This is a huge win, if it happens - great tree for wildlife and replaces the gage trees lost therein - its a matter of principle that we maintain at least some of the agricultural history of the site
-          A Spanish Oak tree planted in Arbury Town Park. 
-          An unhealthy tree to be felled in Arbury Town Park, to give more room and light for the nearby trees to flourish. These are both appropriate tree management strategies in the location specified - Spanish oak will do ok in this spot, and some thinning of the trees referred to here is necessary
-          Under planting within the new hedge. Species to be determined, but likely to include Dogrose and Hogweed, as per your suggestion. Another win - hard to get this up and running this season, and a daunting task to get it right, but a hedge is more than just the trees and unless we replace them 
-          A ‘no spray’ management regime to ensure the under planting can grow. Essential. We can't re-establish a proper hedge without this
-          Consideration given to bat boxes, but this will depend on how feasible it is to site these on buildings and taller trees. Running to catch up with the last hedge removal scheme which was so horribly botched - good news

So where are we now? Well, I think that the point of getting a consultation on hedge/tree removal right to facilitate cycle lane construction has hit home. Its been, from my perspective, a pigs ear of a process (as detailed in earlier posts). 

The shrubs going in are wrong. Its that simple - I defy anyone to show a hedge of any decent age made up thus in and around this part of Cambridge. Yes, there are a few species there that weren't in the original hedge, but there were species in the original hedge that aren't in this - getting greengage back was a fight, we've lost elder, ash seedlings, flowering currant, bullace and others. 

What I really hope from this is that next time we do better - if we cock these schemes up we'll see nothing but opposition to further improvements in cycling facilities.

Maybe we've saved this now. Maybe. We'll see.