Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Cambridge Local Election Survey - Conservatives

I've no idea if the regular name I see on the Tory party line in our ward is even a real person. Never met her. Never seen her. Never heard from her. 

Regarding being a cyclist?
I do not cycle. I have never owned a bike. I have no family living with me or anywhere in Cambridgeshire. I am always meaning to get a bike but somehow never get round to it. I would be nervous about cycling on road
Well thats at least honest. And I'm not surprised, its a bleeding awful place to live if you ride a bike.  

And the barriers to cycling in the ward?
My division has some new cycling facilities and is due to get others some time in the future. There is certainly demand for more facilities. I am working on trying to get forward funding if at all possible. There are also safety concerns for Girton residents accessing the University primary school and other residents will need improved crossing facilities when Sainsbury opens and they also wish to access community facilities that will be available on the NWCD. I am working with residents, the university and county officers to find a resolution.
Hang about a minute, what?  You're talking about Bar Hill? Effectively an island cut off from civilisation by the A14, a motorway in all but name and one so terrifying that if someone rides a bike on it its actually a newsworthy occurrence? Where if you want to ride a bike anywhere else there's one route that isn't deadly and thats muddy, gravelly and chicaned? There's an elephant in this room...

She supports greenways for commuting, fair enough. And she'd like more cycle routes.

Well, she's not hostile to cycling. But this is thoroughly underwhelming. 

I've struggled to find another Tory who's answered, but one called Heather Williams out in Gamlingay has

So does she ride, does her family and what would help?
Unfortunately due to surgery that I have had on my back I can no longer cycle. My mother and father in law cycle locally for short journeys within our village and have not come across any problems.
Well if she can't ride I'm of course not holding that against her. But mother and father in law ride bikes, only in the village, and haven't come across any problems? I dunno. This looks like a warning light to me. 

Regarding challenges people face cycling, especially those with mobility problems...
The Gamlingay division is a very rural division and most cyclists are using country lanes. I have raised concerns about the paths that connect our villages for example guilden to steeple, litlington to bassingbourn with particular concern to these as they are roads that children take to get to school. Many parents drive their children to school because they do not think there is adequate facilities to walk or cycle. I do believe that if the inter village links were improved with particular priority put on where local facilities are shared (e.g. Schools, post offices) then we would see more people walking and cycling.
Interesting. Because when I ride a bike in rural Cambridgeshire the challenges I encounter are, well, drivers going too fast on country roads. And the obvious solution to that is that the routes connecting places need segregated cycling infrastructure. But this reply also betrays another sad truth about that environment - people aren't even walking to the post office or to the school. The car is king - and we're not seeing much imagination here to combat that.

Its the next answer (regarding City Deal) that really makes me want to just give up. 
I welcome many of the proposals made from the city deal in particularly those related to housing as this is an area of key concern in south Cambridgeshire. I agree that congestion in Cambridge is a challenge that needs to be tackled and I believe that this requires a combination of approaches. With the Gamlingay division bordering both Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire I believe that from this areas perspective improved rail links are vital, along with improving pedestrian/cyclist routes to the stations. I believe that it is a cultural shift that is required to reduce traffic long term. If children are used to traveling in cars alone, they will then continue this practice as adults. I believe that if the city deal looked at improving cycle paths or footpaths on school routes then this would make parents more comfortable in their children cycling to school. Those children will be used to cycling/walking and the cultural shift changes from always being in a car to a mixed method of transport. I also think that part of the city deal funds could be spent on cycling classes for children in schools so that they are confident and safe while cycling.
...what? Like... What? Well, yes, ok, getting kids on bikes is good. Tackling congestion is good. But with respect, cycling isn't only to be encouraged among children. And if you're seriously saying you want to spend City Deal money on cycle training for Children then firstly, go back to the County and demand that they invest in this anyway and, secondly, you've not really got a grasp on what infrastructure spending is about. 

As for junctions, here she completely loses the plot. 
There are no particular junctions that I believe stand out as a cycling concern, tho many are an issue for motorists such as the tadlow junction in the b1042 and the odsey junction on the a505. I would however welcome a cycle path along the a505, a603,a1198 and b1042 such as the one proposed for the a10. These roads are main roads to cambridge and many other villages, they are the quickest routes but many would feel uncomfortable cycling on such busy main roads and I believe a separate cycle path alongside these roads would make people feel more comfortable.
Hang on, there are no junctions that stand out as a concern for cycling? I beg to differ. And you don't fix a junction by putting a cycle path alongside a road - you fix it by taming the junction itself and resolving priority to make it safer. 

Her thoughts on facilitating bikes on trains to get people in and out of Cambridge would be great if she also acknowledged the need to allow bikes to be taken on to peak time trains. But I dunno, there's a general 'people don't ride here, thats for city folk' feel to what she's answered all the way through.

Now I don't want to be harsh, these Tory folk aren't actively hostile towards cycling here. But they're not particularly facilitating either. Not impressed if I'm honest. And the fact that I've got to go to far-flung parts of the county to find anyone who has answered the survey either tells us the Tories don't take cycling seriously or they don't see any point bothering with Cambridge. Or both.

Cambridge Local Election Survey - Liberal Democrats

So the other big political force in Cambridge is the LibDems. Its a big ask for them to take too many wards in the City but I've a feeling they'll do better this time round than they have previously.

Up for the LibDems in Kings Hedges is Jamie Dalzell, and he's responded to the survey. He's also one of the candidates who've responded to me reaching out to talk to me.

Does he ride, what needs doing for other folk (kids, older folk) to help them ride?

I myself cycle to and from work and currently ride a recumbent tricycle along Milton Road most days. Trikes are bit wider than normal bikes and therefore it has highlighted access issues to me (discussed later) and some hazards on routes such as the narrow bike lanes by the Golden Hind pub.
My partner commutes between Suffolk, but has a conventional bike for evenings and weekends around Cambridge.
Although we do not have kids, I am a school governor and Cheney is a teacher and therefore we are both acutely aware of the scrapes younger cyclists can get themselves into. Young cyclists can lack experience and, sometimes, consideration. It is therefore very important that we have safe cycle paths along key routes to schools.
Ok, fair enough. Hard to get into the mind of a 'cumbent rider at the best of times, but this seems pukka. I've seen the bike, its quite a fun looking thing. I can't disagree that its important to get kids to school.

What challenges are there and how do we address them?
We do have some significant gaps and obstacles in the King’s Hedges cycle network which I believe do discourage more vulnerable potential cyclists.
As noted by other local campaigners, the current plans to improve the cycle way along Arbury Road is limited by the narrow sections closest to Milton Road. I understand that plans are being developed to link this into the rest of the cycle network along Milton Road by a different route, but a cycle route should always be judged by its most hazardous sections.
This has recently been illustrated on Green End Road (documented online by Richard Taylor) where the recent cycle lane additions do not make sufficient room for buses and appear to be regularly
We also have a number of tight chicanes and awkward bollards (such as the ‘pram arms’ on the route between Ramsden Square and Campkin Road) which make it difficult/impossible for trikes and children’s trailers. I have raised this with officers and I am pushing for review and improvements (which would be a lot easier if elected as a Councillor).

This is good stuff. I'd add in that there are other roads where segregation is needed, and I'd signpost routes through Kings Hedges better - but I can't add much to this.

City deal, what its doing, what else it could do?
The City Deal has pledged to deliver some great projects. Focussing on cycling, an example would be the Chisholm Trail, which should provide a fantastic connection to the new train station and an alternative and highly accessible cycle route across the whole city.
However there are some considerable weaknesses in projects (for example, recent replanting of hedgerows on Arbury Road) that have been highlighted by campaigners but exacerbated by the accountability deficit of the City Deal, with key policy documents not being subject to consultation or public discussion. These situations undermine the credibility of the City Deal and often create conflict between different community groups (e.g. on the doorstep, poorly implemented cycle routes are often partly blamed on cyclists).
From my experiences, many of the best ideas (one noted above) come from the local community. Similarly the worst mistakes could often be avoided by better community engagement (especially as we are lucky to live in a city with so many highly-engaged groups).
Therefore, as a Councillor, my focus would be ensuring that City Deal continues to look for ideas from across our community and conducts meaningful consultations when finalising plans. Extending this, I also believe that any proposals should include a detailed review of opportunities to engage local children.
For example, when designing the ‘planting’ sections for Milton Road, could local schools run projects to help decide which trees and hedges should be incorporated into final designs? I think this could be a fantastic way to develop future stewardship of our area.
I find that to maintain my usual level of cynicism I have to raise the bar here a bit. Its a great response (and I think based in part on discussing such issues with him). There are other barriers to cycling in Kings Hedges, primarily the lack of good cycle facilities on some of the other roads, but there's also a bit of a problem with some actually very good through routes being hard to navigate because they're not sign posted at all. And getting kids involved in re-planting schemes for roadsides? Well, yes. Absolutely. Excellent idea.

His list of junctions that need improving is fair but a bit brief. And his thoughts for fixing bike parking problems in the city centre are fair enough (although I'm dubious about creating a new retail/community hub around the new railway station for various reasons). Nothing spectacular here but clear support for improvements. And a good simple answer regarding commuting routes into the city.
With recent news regarding local pollution levels and worsening congestion issues; I am keen to support the principles of Greenways proposal, with better cycling connections for orbital villages offering many benefits.
However, the success of this ambitious project will depend upon the quality of routes and, in particular, safety and avoidance of conflict with pedestrians and drivers.
Yep. No point building a cycle route thats crap.

And, likewise, his views on Milton Road are simple and succinct - but I'd personally like to hear a bit more about the importance of priority at side roads. I know thats implicit in backing the 'Do Optimum' stance but I tend to think it should still be said.

Well thats all good - pretty much a good approach for cycling there.

Sadly the Arbury candidate hasn't answered yet, but Ian Manning down in Chesterton has.

So does he ride, does his family etc.
I cycle to and from work every week day. I’m training for two triathlons this year so am starting to get experience of sports cycling for the first time.
For younger members it’s much more important that they are separated from motor traffic in particular, but pedestrian traffic as well. It’s also important for their routes to be as green and look as inviting as possible in order to encourage cycle at a young age.
That said, properly protected routes are important for cyclists of all ages – the real divide is between those who feel under-confident about cycling, regardless of age.
Fair enough and honest I think. And I think its true that protected routes are the key.

Regarding challenges for cycling, especially children and those who use a bike as a mobility aid, I kind of feel his list is a bit short. There's more than that wrong in his ward! But there's also nothing there I disagree with. He's not wrong about any of it.

And on City Deal:

 Overall the City Deal should be being far more radical. I have been pushing for it to use experimental techniques, modelled on the New York experience – since getting a motion through the County Council several years ago. 
Experimental schemes should be the default, not the exception. This would allow for far better, and more transparent, consultation. It would allow for more ideas to be tested. I do not accept that the City Deal needs to tow the line in order to reatain future money – it is only by taking residents with us and delivering quality that will see us get the remaining money allocated. 
The City Deal should be trying out extra revenue generating measures to subsidise the bus network before physical changes such as closing roads permanently.  
Finally, the City Deal should embrace (as it has begun to) SMART traffic management - ie demand led measures that can be altered as that demand changes.
You can almost feel the frustration - he's a guy who's keen to get things changed but he's finding that the City Deal is more of the same, only rather than giving us patchy provision with baffling consultation on one project at a time its hurling crap at us from multiple directions at once. I get it.

He's keen to get a lot of the junctions in Chesterton improved for cycling, which is fair enough. Regarding cycle parking in the City Centre, he likes the idea of some of that being on Mitchams Corner and also favours lots more little racks - I don't really get that but there you go. Mitchams isn't central enough really.

Regarding commuting in to Cambridge:
The City Deal Greenways idea I support, but I have serious doubts about how well the implementation will be done, based one the current Labour/Conservative administration current projects.
Bikes being allowed onto trains is a key thing, especially with the new train station –t hey should be allowed at peak times, with extra space allocated to allow this.
I fully support the Chisholm Trail and Vice Chair its liaison forum.
Where possible, road space should be reallocated to allow wide, fully segregated, cycle lanes.
Yeah, ok. I've only one gripe, and its a recurring one that just reached gripe overload. 

I don't want fully segregated cycle lanes 'where possible'. Its not an optional extra. If its not possible on a main route then that main route needs sufficient re-engineering to make it possible. Thats not negotiable - there IS road space.

I also quite like his experimental approach for Mitchams Corner - I can see a lot of merit in his suck it and see approach to experimenting on this junction, and it is somewhere that needs a lot of work. I seem to recall that there was a community newsletter there that had the subtitle 'a community, not a roundabout'. Well yes, it could be that. But it isn't.  

And Milton Road?
Priority over road junctions, both legal and physical.
The cutting back of bushes on blind corners, to allow visibility of incoming cars of cycles, and of cycles to see out coming cars.
Trailing of some of the Dutch style round about designs proposed by the cycle campaign.
More trees: green features have been shown to calm traffic and create a more pleasant environment for everyone.
Any improvements do need broad support – which is what was so pleasing about the work that the Cycle Campaign did with local Residents’ Associations.
Ok. I might have expected some support for the specific 'do max' proposal. But ok.

So from these LibDems I've got to say I've nothing much to grumble about. Positive responses, supportive of cycling and with some willingness to try to change things for the better. I've got to say, there's a lot to agree with here.

Camcycle Local Election Survey - The Labour Party

I'm not starting with Labour out of any sense of favouritism. Got to start somewhere so I'm picking the party that our current county councillor represents. She (councillor Fiona Onasanya) isn't standing again, but as luck would have it our local candidate has responded.

So does she ride and does she get that concerns for kids and old folks riding might not be the same as hers?

I don’t own a car, and my bike is my only mode of transport. I cycle to work every day and into the centre of the city several times a week. I’m a relatively slow cyclist. I can cycle from my house just off the top of King's Hedges Road to Cambridge railway station in half an hour and to Addenbrookes in 45 minutes (haven't timed myself on the new Cambridge North station yet).
I frequently cycle to Addenbrookes for medical appointments and my personal experience, as well as that of many North Cambridge residents I've spoken to, is that cycle parking facilities could definitely be better over at Addenbrookes. More dedicated space and safer covered facilities would help several people from my neck of the woods not feel put off at the thought of making the trip by bike.
Well... Ok, as far as it goes. 'Fully segregated high quality cycle routes facilitating safe, efficient riding by minmising conflict and prioritising healthy, green transport in a safer road environment would perhaps be a more complete view. Its a good answer but could go further.

So what are the challenges that stop people riding in the ward, especially those who otherwise struggle to get about, and how would you address that?

Cycle lanes along Milton Road, King’s Hedges Road and Green End Road are in very poor state of repair from years of underfunding by the Tory-led County Council.
Woah. Let me stop you there. It really doesn't matter that these facilities (especially on Milton Road) are in a poor state of repair - they're unrideable. Like the Kings Hedges Road one takes you on and off the road at every side junction, its narrower than people are in places, it swaps back and forward with parked cars and it is in every important sense inadequate. Tarmac breaking up is the problem? No, the problem is that the Kngs Hedges road route were devised by someone completely stupid. And Milton Road shared use facility? So notorious its got a phenomenon named for it.

But the rest of the answer is better. Depressing but better.

 If elected to the County Council I will work to ensure that more money is spent on maintenance of cycle paths and also pavements, as too often there are patched repairs that last only a short time before degrading again back to a very poor state. This isn't ideal when we think about encouraging the elderly, children, or first time cyclists on to the road. Several areas could do with looking specifically at improving cycle safety by prioritising cyclists, for example at the bend of Green End Road near the shops by the junction with Water Lane.
The City Deal needs to think longer term when implementing agreed schemes and take the chance to significantly improve the current state of roads and pavements. On Green End Road, they should strip back and completely resurface the roads (and pavements) rather than just paint over the current poor surface. Many residents are disappointed that new schemes don’t seem to include fixing existing problems with pavements and surfaces and are too superficial.
Sad but true. Fair.

And on the City Deal, what its doing and what else it should do?

Having attended most of the Local Liaison Forums conducted in my area, I am fully behind the resolutions that were passed for Milton Road and Histon Road.
In general, I would look most favourably upon any measures aimed at prioritisation of public transport, cycling, and walking. The Greenways proposals are very good. Segregated cycle lanes need to be put in wherever possible. Cycle parking facilities should be included in most public transport hubs.
Yeah, ok. Succinct but I agree.

What junctions need fixing to ride and how?
From talking to residents, the junctions of King’s Hedges Road, Milton Road and Green End Road have been of particular concern recently but all junctions shared with other motorised vehicles could do with looking at. Advanced green lights for cyclists improve cycling safety at controlled junctions and I'd quite like to see a few of those being introduced, as they would be very useful in helping regulate traffic to the advantage of cyclists, for example at the Union Lane junction with Milton Road.
Fine, its a start, but awfully unambitious. We're digging up Milton Road for the city deal and you want advance lines and lights for cycling? We can be more ambitious than that, you also say you support 'do max' options for Milton Road and that surely has better in it. This is a huge opportunity to REALLY fix the Arbury/Union/Milton junction. Likewise the junction with Green End Road.

City centre bike parking is the next question and the answer is reasonable. As for Milton Road:

 According to the plans that the Residents have submitted to the City Deal, I’d like to see segregated cycle lanes safe for people to use to cycle into the city regardless of experience or level of confidence on a bike.
We need segregated cycle lanes in both directions with some shared use areas where they are needed, for example around schools.
Can we not have this clearer? High quality, segregated cycle routes of a sufficient width to be safe in (2m+), with priority over side roads and re-design of roundabouts and junctions to prioritise pedestrian and cyclist safety? I mean thats what we need. Why not say that?

So thus far, at least our Kings Hedges candidate, she's not bad. Hasn't come across as the best Labour candidate ever in one of these surveys but she's supportive of cycling and not bad at all.

Ok, lets go further afield and maybe head in to Arbury. Jocelynne Scutt is the candidate there.

Does she ride and concerns for lass able (older, younger) riders?
I have cycled since a child, learning in a country town in Western Australia with my elder sister. I cycled to and from home to the Australian Institute of Criminology and the High Court of Australia in Canberra, ACT, daily in summer (wonderful) and winter (freezing) months and the between seasons. In Cambridge I cycled daily when up at Girton in the 1970s, and when Visiting Fellow at Lucy Cavendish (2010-2011) also ... although less frequently in recent times as I travel by X5 three/four times a week which means (because of location) walking to and from the bus stop is dictated. My siblings have all cycled although not as regularly as I due to location (USA, London, etc for example), similarly with other relatives.
Sorry like but thats just bizarre. No one asked for name-dropping institutions she worked with.. This isn't meant as an opportunity to casually drop parts of her CV into the response. I find that I don't much know about her experience of cycling in or around Cambridge from this answer.

So what stops folk riding, especially kids and folk who need a bike as a mobility aid? She's given us perhaps the most expansive answer I've ever seen to a survey question. I'd like to pick out some highlights but there aren't any - there's mroe from her CV here, and some ideas that yeah, we should facilitate cycling for everyone, of all abilities, but I can't help but feel that for the most part what she's saying is fiddling around at the edges. High quality cycle facilities are the only answer, we know that, we've known that for years, lets stop even discussing paint on shared use paths. Its a distraction.

On City Deal (what are they doing and what should they do) she's clear, succinct and fair:

The 'Do Optimum' for Milton Road - endorsed as Resolution 1 and incorporated in other resolutions of Milton Road Local Liaison Forum, and 'Do everything' - endorsed in the Histon Road LLF resolutions incorporate proposals for ensuring cycling and pedestrian safety along these two major roadways. As Chair of Milton Road LLF I have supported 'Do Optimum' and all the resolutions of the LLF and continue to do so. I have worked to ensure that they are taken into account and modelled by officers. I support the resolutions of Histon Road LLF and will work to have them taken into account as I have worked vis-à-vis the Milton Road resolutions.

One idea raised by a resident during canvassing and which I consider has merit is that of Park & Cycle - establishing secure parking for cycles at Park & Ride sites, so that these sites can be used by cyclists coming from villages, leaving their cycles safe and secure (say parking 'sheds' accessible by electronic access cards) and taking the bus into Cambridge and back. This is an idea worth exploring.
I like a bit of thinking aloud. The cycle and bus idea, well, maybe. Its worth asking. And I like someone saying precisely what they want too - and with regard to those two schemes she's done so. One would have thought commenting on Arbury Road here would have been apt too.  I'm beginning to think that this is going to be a question that few candidates can contribute much to though - is that ALL you can think of you want for cycling from City Deal, on top of a couple of roads being fiddle with?

On junctions her answer is simply excellent, I have to agree with most of what she's said. And for getting people in to Cambridge... Again, pretty good. But lets be honest, its not much to ask for candidates to just 'get' that the only answer is safe, segregated facilities along routes people can see and get to. Two candidates in and no one has said the bleeding obvious yet.

Regarding Mitchams Corner? OK. She agrees it needs sorting. And she's blessedly brief on Milton Road after having gone into it in an earlier answer.

So we've got two Labour candidates here - and they're both ok. I mean I'm not looking at them thinking they hate cyclists,they're giving very measured responses - nothing particularly earth-shaking, nothing especially radical. But nothing especially bad. And thats a step on from some earlier Labour candidates. A big step on.

So far so good, I just wonder why they're not a little more forthright. Cycling is a huge equaliser. Its a great leveller. If facilitating the cheapest, greenest, cleanest, healthiest, least divisive form of transit isn't core Labour then I din't know what is. And I'm left wondering why they don't get that there's one game in town - good infrastructure. Thats the only proven solution.

Camcycle Local Election Survey 2017

One of the things Cambridge Cycling Campaign do well is their regular questionnaire. They might not ask the questions that are most on your mind in your own ward, but they do get responses on a lot of key cycling issues from election candidates. Sometimes it exposes the fact that a party has a lot of extremely well drilled candidates saying things that are suspiciously similar, sometimes it shows us a candidate is an idiot, it gives good candidates a chance to shine, and once in a while Burkinshaw down in Cottenham answers the questionnaire and we get comedy gold. 

As ever I'll go through party by party, picking out candidates as close to where I live as I can (so if not Kings Hedges I'll go to Chesterton, Arbury or further) for each party and give my views on their responses. Strap in, its usually a silly, silly ride.

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.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The continuing saga of Arbury Road.

So I met with the chap from the County Council.

There's still not much can be done to fix things, but. I've made some suggestions, in addition to procedural ones I'e already made. If you're not interested in the specific ecology of an obscure hedge on the outskirts of Cambridge, read no further...

Still with me?



Suggestions for rescuing as much as possible from this:

(1) When the rather horrid leylandii hedge along part of Arbury Road was cut and replaced (badly) in 2014 we lost a site where bats roosted in Summer. Pippistrelle I think. The consultation that ought to have been required (asking people who live more than 20 yards from the site) didn't happen. As the entirely botched re-planting is being replaced, can we look at doing something for bats? Might that include putting roosting boxes for them up on the flats nearby or selecting trees that give the kind of habitat required? I approached Councillor Price about this at the time, but nothing came of it.

(2) A hedge isn't just a row of shrubs or trees. A hedgerow is an ecosystem, a continuity of growth that outlasts any of the individual plants, able to persist for hundreds of years. To remove a hedge completely and then replant shrubs and trees isn't replanting the hedge - its simply putting the scaffolding back up. As it happens much of the hedgerow had been badly managed for years anyway, so I was keen to view this as an opportunity to allow some of the hedge biodiversity to recover. But thats best done when you plant the hedge, so we're running to catch up with that. Does the hedge management plan allow that if we specify some under-planting, some native plants that can thrive there providing habitats, that they won't be regularly sprayed with weed killer? Will you support an undertaking to source and replace some native flora under and around the shrubs?

(3) Its heartening to hear that suggestions for trees to incorporate haven't been entirely ignored - especially Cambridge gage and Chivers delight apple. But the point of suggesting that they be replanted in the hedgerow rather than as specimen trees is that hedgerow planting can allow a tree to thrive for decades - the greengages that were removed from the hedge were most likely there since before the housing estate here was first built. I rather fear we've played a game of Chinese whispers and what was suggested for the hedge is now being specified for other planting instead. I'm glad to hear that we're getting new trees planted as well, but planting more gage or plum trees would seem a poor fit with the City Council tree strategy, which is to broaden out the range of species planted. Can we please get these trees into the hedge and look at the goal of broadening the range of species planted elsewhere? 

(4) There is still a lot to be said for local biodiversity. If we can take cuttings of local cultivars of dog rose, bramble etc. will you facilitate planting of those into any gaps that may emerge or be made in the hedge?

If we can make positive steps on these points I'll be happy that the scheme hasn't been entirely insensitive to local ecological concerns. Ball is in City Deals court now...

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - Completely at a loss now

So they've started replanting. For reference, see this post. And then this one.

Its been done that quickly. Because it has to be, its a desperate mad dash at the end of the season for replanting. Past the end, really - its a crazy time to be doing this.

It seems like every time I post about this I'm posting with 'whats done is done' and then coming up with more suggestions to fix things. I've done that all the way through but its not changed a damn thing. And I don't know what to do now.

The thing about Kings Hedges, the thing with this part of North Cambridge, is that generally speaking its a lot more relaxed than much of the rest of Cambridge. How shall I put it... The resident demographic here isn't entirely dominated by aged NIMBYS. Seriously, the pester power of Kings Hedges residents is a fraction of that of Milton Road residents - we've seen a battle royale down there over a few relatively bland specimen trees rather than a constructive discussion on how to get a better planting scheme. So for the most part Kings Hedges doesn't get the same attention as elsewhere, because it hasn't got the same 'pester power' as other parts of the city. Its the closest thing Cambridge has to a working class ward - people for the most part tut and move on rather than get involved in local projects.

So here I am, following my own advice and engaging constructively to get a better planting scheme, and I think I've been taken for a complete mug. The replanting has been done with extraordinary haste, apparently with what they could get rather than what they'd choose to order locally, because its being rushed at the wrong time of the year. And not clearly within the remit of the consultation, without real sensitivity to the ecology or history of the site. 

And now? A good chap at the County/City Deal who's phoned me to say lets meet and talk about what to do? Now? NOW? I just don't get it. What do you want to do now? Are we really going to discuss what kind of fence you're installing as a temporary measure to keep people from trampling it down? Sorry, like, I don't care what kind of fence. Why would anyone care about that? I mean, we could discuss whether there's any scope in specifying under-planting, but I just don't trust them to do it. At all. Why would I? They were discussing options for replanting the hedge having already bought plants to put in, why would I believe them now? Does such even make sense until we see the replanting scheme?

I can't any longer see a compromise position between what they've done, how they've done it, and getting a planting scheme that fits culturally, historically and ecologically. 

The folk at City Deal seem to assume that this is about me wanting to be heard. It isn't. Its about getting the best outcome such that in future I can, hand on heart, tell other people in the Greater Cambridge area to trust them to deliver high quality infrastructural improvements while taking local concerns into account. After this? Don't trust them. Get every facet, every detail, every last bit, on paper before even agreeing to fill out the consultation forms. You can't trust them. Don't even think about it.


EDIT: Text of email just sent to Chief Exec of City Deal. She emailed to say that one of the cycling folk there would ring me and ask to meet. I just can't see whats left to discuss.

Thanks Rachel. xxxx did call me, but what is there left to discuss? The complete removal of old hedging following a road line over 200 years old (precisely whether these sections were among those straightened in the 1700s is hard to ascertain) really needed to be explicit in the consultation, and it wasn't. Then the farce of pretending that what plants might be ordered could still be influenced AFTER the plants were already ordered, that order being for a mixture that isn't sensitive to local ecology or the history of the site. And thats at the very tail end of the planting season so the order is from a nursery hundreds of miles away (so unlikely to be local cultivars of the plants) - this scheme seems to be about what plants could still be bought, not whats good for the site.

xxxx is a good guy, but I just can't see a compromise position between where we are now and a solution that fixes the replanting scheme. I'm open to suggestions, but I see little left to be positive about here. With the scheme where it is now I'm not immediately able to think of any way to restore faith in the City Deal being sensitive to such concerns in the future. Right from the start I was asking about under-planting so establish a more diverse hedgerow and I did suggest various trees of particular relevance to the history of the site - it seems awfully late in the day to talk about that after the hedge has been planted, and unless the management plan is sensitive to such (which I doubt) then thats also unlikely to be successful.

Sorry to be so negative, but I'm really at a loss to see what engagement with City Deal has achieved here,


Monday, 27 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - What Next?

Well I rang, and emailed, to complain about this.

Response was lacklustre - they wanted to sort of talk me out of complaining by simply repeating themselves, there seemed to be some idea that maybe if someone else told me I'd understand (rather than accepting I understand and just don't agree). There are some good folk there, but they're in such a rush to get this done and replanted that there's really been no wiggle room. I think they've had to take what native-species mix they could get, with little choice right at the end of the season (I know that Elveden had sold out so they've had to go to another compay up in Yorkshire), and the result seems to have been a hurried order for, what I believe, to be the wrong mix of plants. Farcical - this needed to be planned in Autumn to do over Winter.

I was of course told that the Chief Exec of the City Deal would only say the same thing and that I had to go through the County Council complaints process (which MIGHT give me an initial response within 10 days - well after the planting will have been done), which was a load of crap really - its urgent NOW. Total removal of the hedging wasn't made clear in the in the consultation, I cannot describe the difference between the consultation and reality as anything short of a massive democratic deficit. To be directed to a complaints procedure only tangentially related and almost suspiciously designed to allow a response so slow as to make the process meaningless? Well, thanks but no thanks.

So I phoned and asked or the chief exec. And was told that this wouldn't be possible and re-directed again, and again, to the same 10 day + complaints process. And I persisted and eventually was given chief execs email address, and she also phoned me back later on. I expressed my concerns, and the urgency of the situation.

The hedge has now gone, except for one very short section where presumably they found a birds nest? Although if that nest hasn't been abandoned it would be a bleeding miracle, with the raging sound of the saws and shredders nearby. Both sections of hedge are gone, there is effectively nothing remaining. It has been totally destroyed. There is a (bad) replanting plan for the hedge itself but no plan that I'm aware of for under-planting. A hedge isn't a row of shrubs, its an ecosystem with multiple levels of growth, with different plants thriving in different ways, and this was an opportunity to create that in a space that had been badly managed. Looks like that opportunity is rapidly slipping away.

We still haven't seen plans for the cycle lanes - I know that in my own initial feedback I advocated for a different approach which would have provided a genuinely huge amount of space for world-class cycle provision, and I'm concerned that we've got as far as digging over before even knowing what we're going to get out of the project. Junction improvements are needed - but the longer we go without seeing the plans the more I think this is going to be a bargain-basement cycle lane barely wider than I am. If I were in their position and planning a really good facility I'd be singing it from the rooftops, but they're not.

Right, that enough 'told you so', and fretting. I don't like being critical without providing at least some thoughts for improvement. Lets get this straight - the project, even with the wrong plants, is saveable. Just about. Here's what I'd like to see:

(1) Can we have, in black and white, a statement as to the minimum standard of the cycle lane along its width? Not between (x) and (y) widths, but a plan showing how wide in each location with, crucially, a minimum standard of 2m? That is, after all, the width recommended in pretty much all documentation. In the alternative plan I put forward such wouldn't even be a challenge - so lets have that same standard please.

(2) Dogwood isn't a good hedging plant near primary schools - it is both emetic and parts of the plant can induce a rash. Neither spindle or alder-buckthorn thrive in this part of the City. If we really must have these plants can we have the hedging replanted as a staggered double row with the dogwood on the road side and alder-buckthorn and spindle staggered with strains that are locally more vigorous, such as blackthorn and hawthorn? When we (inevitably) risk gaps emerging when a short term establishment care plan ends, we'll at least have a barrier this way.

(3) We've lost greengage from the hedge when it was ripped out - we can still re-plant with Cambridge gage (which was previously growing pretty well there) and, and with the apple 'Chivers delight', both of which are excellent fits historically for this part of the city. They'll thrive in a hedge - and actually do so in other hedges in North Cambridge.

(4) Can we have clear guidance going forward on consultations in similar scenarios - plans really must include the quality of pavement and cycle lane provision, accurate and honest account of how much of a hedge or how many (and which) trees will be removed, and an appreciation of the species they'll be replaced with (and age of plants to be replaced). Lets have that up front, alongside an estimate of timing - I would certainly have voiced a very serious concern about dashing to do this with hastily bought shrubs at the arse end of the planting season, had it for even a heartbeat occurred to me that this might happen.

Maintaining biodiversity isn't about picking out a hedging mix broadly representative of an entire nation, its about understanding what grows well where you are and getting your schemes right within that context. We can still save this intended botch job from being the embarrassment that calls into question all other City Deal road schemes, which is pointed at as a reason why City Deal must not be trusted, but it requires at least a modicum of engagement from City Deal in restoring trust. 

Come on guys, work with us here. Fix this. Its not too late, if you actually give a damn. 

If not, go right ahead. To me, it looks like you're drawing your battle lines.