Wednesday 15 November 2017

Greater Cambridge and the County - Local Government at their Worst.

The trouble with Greater Cambridge is that it is, in effect, a wing of Cambridgeshire County Council, a more than typically car-obsessed local council you'll encounter and also one of the most officiously obstructive organisation you'll ever encounter. Their entire customer service ethos is one of messing the public around to a point where it takes an Herculean act of sheer will to get anywhere rather than be sidetracked into complaining about how they're not handling your query. its a 'the customer isn't always wrong but if we bugger about enough they'll go away' that has been so taken to heart by Greater Cambridge that it could be their motto. 

So I've made my complaint regarding Arbury Road (see here, links therein, and then here, and here - or just search the blog for Arbury Road) formal with the County Council now. I asked (again) to talk to their Chief Exec on the 3rd, received no response, so I phoned them again last Thursday. They still hadn't responded so I phoned yesterday, and again today started getting a bit more direct. They've agreed to treat the complaint formally, but I've not the slightest confidence that they'll do the slightest thing about this - why would they, they've no need to. Oh, they're also telling me to maybe (but not definitely) expect a response within 10 working days - not from when I complained, not from when I hassled for the complaint to be treated formally, but from when I repeatedly badgered them to take it seriously. Its like they couldn't put off dealing with it any more so they're putting the start day back as far as they can in the hope I go away.

I talked to the chap who's in charge of the scheme again, and he's still, in my view, recalcitrant. In my opinion we should be past accepting second best - an improvement on Arbury Road or anywhere else in Cambridge that is not to a gold-standard facility is not good enough, and campaigners should not stop demanding better. As for the hedging, I still maintain that many of the plants are the wrong species, planted after a woefully in adequate ecological survey, at the wrong time of year, with no plan in place to restore the habitat. They still think they're going to hand weed the bindweed in winter. They aren't, because its just root by the middle of November, they won't find it and it will therefore be choking the whole site again by next Summer - they've missed their window of opportunity. So re-planting with plug plants of native species is (even if they can get them now, which at this stage of the year is unlikely) probably going to fail. They've put this off so long, I think, because they don't want to do anything restorative - I think they've intentionally delayed until they can present the cost of doing the work as higher than it would have been otherwise.

At this stage I'd be happy for the whole of City Deal to fail. We're getting a succession of poor cycle lanes (really, look at this thread here), ill considered road re-designs that offer neither a boost for cycling nor the wider environment. From their perspective cycling isn't a real form of transport so they don't even include us in their modelling while, perplexingly, claiming that they're delivering 'cross city cycling' (they aren't). While the facilities they make for cyclists are usually inherently flawed (even absurdly favouring parking over cyclist safety) they cave every time to the first bit of pressure from motorists. 

When it comes down to it, Greater Cambridge is a shady, secretive body with no effective public oversight, in a rush to spend a vast sum of money to secure more central government funding to continue with more of the same. They'll continue wrecking whatever they need to so they can spread cash thick on facilities that least upset motorists - their expenditure will not betray the car-sick nature of the County Council at any time. It isn't a sensible agency seeking to make improvements, its a self-serving gang of rogue council officers looking to make a career by spending as fast as they can on the wrong facilities, in whichever way causes the least fuss. And as it's car dependent ancient NIMBY's make most fuss, we can expect ample more sub-standard cycle facilities delivered in environmentally destructive ways wherever they think can get away with it.

I think perhaps the next thing to consider is steps towards active resistance. How can we scupper the whole thing, and if we can't, how do we tie them up so much on each poor scheme that they finally think providing better ones is easier?

Friday 3 November 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane (again)

So after badgering, and badgering, and FOI'ing, we've finally got the plans for part 2A (like, the bit they're already building) of the cycle lane scheme in Arbury Road. Here's a PDF file

A 1.9m cycle lane, not wide enough really, it should be 2m+ to conform to recommended standards. Rubbish.

We didn't get this plan at consultation time, nor when the project was approved, nor even prior to it being commenced. They're building it now - in fact here I am videoing them building it a couple of days ago before they released details about how wide it would be. 

Look, that can't be ok. My response to the initial consultation was 'yes if its wide enough' - this isn't wide enough, it should be 2m+. The one key thing you need to know about a cycle lane before deciding to support it is whether it'll be good enough to be worth the disruption and, crucially, worth abandoning all hope of getting a good facility any time in the next couple of decades - this one is close, but no cigar. And because there's still no reason to think we'll get a cycle lane on the Southern stretch of the road, the bit with the parked cars and close overtakes, I'd have sooner not bothered with this. What kind of mockery of openness is this? Detailed plans not released until after they started building it? You need to ask people about this during the consultation, not after the bulldozers turn up.

And as for all of the other concerns? Nope. Still nothing on re-planting native species under and around the hedges to fix the damage done when the wrong shrubs were put in, at the wrong time. This could have been such a boon for local ecology, but it is instead a complete failure.

I can only now state the obvious - Greater Cambridge as Cambridge City Deal are now known are an undemocratic, unaccountable body of County Council officers largely gone rogue in an effort to get enough money spent to secure the next slice. And they're willing to trample over anything necessary to achieve that - consultation processes, local ecology, wildlife, anything. They're building the Arbury Road scheme because its a relatively non-controversial place to spend money - they're not depriving people of on-street parking and they're mostly digging up hedges, but without continuous cycle lanes all down the length of Arbury Road the whole thing is conceptually flawed. 

We'd be better off if City Deal was stopped, but I really don't know how.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

How do you stop the Police breaking the law?

So this happened.

So when I walked past the cop car, with the parked cars protruding from the bays behind it, you couldn't walk down the pavement. That isn't ok - there's plenty of room to park on the road, even if there's an emergency to attend. In fact that'd be quicker - park on the road, dash off to whatever policing stuff they had to do.

This is the web-chat of trying to report it:

Operator : Hello, you are now chatting with a Police Control Room Operator, how may we help you today?
CAB_Davidson : Police car and Taxi are parked on the pavement in Roxburgh Road, Cambridge. Pavement is blocked, its impassable. Especially a problem for anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.
CAB_Davidson : Image here.
CAB_Davidson : I'd like to report this, I'd like the officers responsible to be told that this isn't ok, and I'd like the taxi owner to be talked to. Its not picking up or dropping off, its parked.
CAB_Davidson : Hello? Are you there?
CAB_Davidson : HELLO?
Operator : Hello my apologies, this is a very busy time being the emergency services. Bare with me and I will look into this for you.
Operator : I am looking at this photo you can't tell how wide the road is.
Operator : police attend to incidents of crime and emergencies I am sorry but we will not ask them to move their vehicle.
CAB_Davidson : It doesn't matter how wide the road is - its a normally suburban back street. The pavement is -entirely- blocked, andthat is illegal.
CAB_Davidson : In an emergency it would be quicker to park on the road than on the pavement. I require an incident number for this illegal police parking.
Operator : we do not think about parking when attend emergencies.
Operator : what you are suggesting is unreasonable
CAB_Davidson : There is no flashing light, there is no evidence of an emergency, what I am suggesting is not unreasonable, it is compliant with the law.
CAB_Davidson : YOU are excusing police officers breaking the law. Can I have your badge number please?
CAB_Davidson : And I need that incident number.
Operator : no I will not be raising an incident number.
CAB_Davidson : I want your badge number and to speak to your superior now please.
Operator : I can look into why the officer is there but I can't advise you.
CAB_Davidson : Badge number now please.
Operator : its not dangerous its down a residential street they are attending an incident.
CAB_Davidson : You have refused to give me an incident number for a police car parked dangerously and illegally blocking the whole path. I want your badge number to complain about that.
CAB_Davidson : It is dangerous if you're a pedestrian and have to walk in the road, and there is no evidence that there is an 'incident'.
CAB_Davidson : Badge number please.
Operator : one moment please
CAB_Davidson : How long does it take to type a badge number? I'm raising a complaint that you're a police officer or staff member refusing to accept a report of someone breaking the law. I need your number.
Operator : I have consulted with my superior, given you the correct advice. Police officers are not going to think about where they are parking when their are life and death situations to attend which is none of your concern.
Operator : this chat is recorded so my details should be seen
CAB_Davidson : There are -two- illegally parked vehicles. You're refusing to accept a report about -either-.
Operator : ok **** i cannot see what I am displayed as.
CAB_Davidson : Your only visible detail is 'operator'. You are avoiding giving me your number because you don't want a complaint.
CAB_Davidson : It would be -faster- to park on the road, not blocking the pavement, if attending any incident. The police officer has -chosen- to break the law. For the last time of asking will you give me an incident number and follow up please?
Operator : I am happy to give out my details but I am ensuring that I give you the correct details first with regards police cars parking which is what I did talking to my superior then I got back to you
CAB_Davidson : I'll be filing a complaint. Good day.
Operator : Ok that is your opinion which is fine but there is nothing more to say on this matter. It is an emergency vehicle would you say the same about an Ambulance that parked to save someones life?
Operator : and it was a matter of urgency. They would not think about where they are parking
CAB_Davidson : It takes -more- time and effort to safely mount the pavement than park on the road. You're speaking nonsense. I am terminating this discussion and will initiate a complaint

Look, you don't get a free pass to act like a douche because you're the Police. It might indeed be an emergency - but even if it is you STILL need not to endanger people by making them walk in the road, unless you absolutely must. Here you didn't have to, you chose to. And then you chose to make getting you to take that seriously into a fight.

I put it to you, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, that you can't be trusted to police our roads because you're among our most prolific offenders. Every time I see a parked police car, its parked illegally. And on each occasion it would be safer and faster to park on the road - your officers choose to entirely block pavements rather than risk the slightest inconvenience to motorists. How do you expect to have any credibility as a police authority when you're abusers of the law yourselves?