Monday 2 July 2018

Gilligan and Cambridge Transport - What does it mean?

I've a lot of time for Andrew Gilligan. I don't agree with him on everything but he usually speaks a lot of sense on transport, so it is always worth listening to him. And today he's lit the fuse on a stick of dynamite and hurled it into the Cambridge transport debate. What fun.

Now to explain this we have to go into a little background. The delivery of transport infrastructure in Cambridge isn't so much fractured as fucked up beyond all sense. Much of the City itself is run by the City Council - so, for example, many of the the cycle routes through Kings Hedges are on routes that are not 'adopted', so not maintained by the highways authority. They're maintained and operated by the City. But the highways authority is the County Council, they're the ones who make decisions about the roads (cycle lanes etc.) 

But then there is Greater Cambridge, formerly known as Cambridge City Deal but re-branded after that title became associated with the toxic legacy of some of their earlier projects. They've got the devolved authority to spend money from Central government. But City Deal is overseen by chosen representatives from industry, the University, and councillors from South Cambs (libdems), Cambridgeshire (conservatives) and Cambridge (Labour). It is slow, it is inefficient, it creates projects that are great if you're a committee but bad if you're actually any kind of user. 

And then there's the Mayors office. By offering a big pile of social housing money (which won't happen) outlandishly gullible Labour City councillors were duped into accepting an overall directly elected Mayoral authority with a wider diaspora than just the City. So wide in fact that it seems almost infeasible that it won't be forever dominated by the blue-rinsed swivel eyed loony Tories if the fens. And the Mayor, a chap by the name James Palmer, is an unashamed representative of those loonies - the City didn't vote for him, they did.

So here's where we are - its an open secret that the Mayor doesn't like where City Deal are going. He's been so much opposed to it that the whole scheme is now on the verge of collapse, and it wouldn't be too tin-foil-hat to suggest he might just be ok with that. Like we're looking at the thick end of half a billion pounds being withdrawn here.

The Mayor wants an underground or Metro or some such and he's (quite erroneously) convinced that building wider roads fixes things. He doesn't trust the officers employed by the County but working with City Deal to deliver projects. And if you don't think the way he managed to avoid scrutiny of his positions looks suspicious I've got to ask you what its like having been born just yesterday. City Deal wanted to extend the Guided Bus and are adamant that their cycle provision schemes are great (brief version: they vary from terriyfing and crap through to better than mediocre, but mostly are a mishmash that aren't linked together in any meaningful sense so don't encourage anyone to ride) and they've got a range of other schemes that they have subsequently had to put on hold while they sort their differences with the Mayor out. The District council don't like extending the Guided Bus route any more because they're no longer Tories and have suddenly become Liberal Democrats. And the City are, well, who even has the energy to keep following...

And with all this going on, in comes Gilligan. And with almost laser like precision sights the nail and smacks it firmly on the head. Invest in cycling, stupid.

Look, we might get an underground one day but I'm old enough to remember the Tyneside Metro opening - and that kind of build is long, slow, disruptive and astonishingly expensive. Going under the city is difficult and it isn't going to solve anything soon. Building wider roads isn't going to get people to anywhere other than the next bottleneck slightly sooner, it won't make journeys better or shorter. But there's a simple, quick, cost effective, clean, healthy answer that only fails in one way - it doesn't provide the phallic support that big-ticket infrastructure does. 

Gilligan is right - if you want to free up road space and facilitate faster, better transport for everyone then the low-hanging fruit is cycle provision. And not two-thirds of Arbury Road here and a wide, out of the way Eponymous trail connecting goodness knows where with somewhere else via nowhere anyone wants to be. Safe, high quality, visible, on-road direct and radial routes within and to the outside of the City. 

If what you want is an improved transport network for everyone in Cambridge then what you want is a genuine, complete cycle network here. If you think you want transport improvements but don't want that, then you're wrong. Its that simple.