Monday, 11 July 2011

Car culture, my brief history

A random flashback I had recently:

"Ain't No Gettin' Round Gettin' Round". It's a song by Julian Cope, from the album Autogeddon which was in turn inspired by the mammoth poem (also a book) Autogeddon by Heathcote Williams. These eccentric characters were writing about car culture as it grew up in the 80's and 90's. The whole period came to a head in possibly the biggest anti-car demonstration that I can remember in my lifetime: The building of the Newbury Bypass.

Anti-road protestors were eventually crushed by new laws, and politicians told us that roads brought prosperity and they fueled economies.

End of flashback.

Looking back, the protesters and eccentrics were right about so many things but none more so than - if you build a road it gets filled with new traffic. Worse still we are now held ransom and imprisoned in our cars by random gridlock.

We have known that building even more roads doesn't work for the long term, and it is very costly too.

There's the Glasgow M74 extension that has just opened. 5 miles of road for £692 million. (£138 million per mile).

More locally, we can thank the recession for killing off the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade. 18 miles at £1.4 billion (77.7 million per mile).

The same corridor has seen the transport experiment that is the
Cambridgeshire Guided Bus which is about to open. 15.5 miles at 180 million (£11.6 million per mile). There is local outrage at the cost, but it seems quite cheap compared to the roads above.

The Busway vision in someways was right - you can't keep putting more cars on the A14 - but the Busway was not the reason the A14 upgrade project was killed, somebody wanted both, A14 for lorries, Busway to share the commuting load. Also, a freight only railway link will go west from Cambridge too. I don't understand why that one is freight only.

Transport infrastructure attracts big money in the UK.

Ah, hang on, that's unless you want something simple like a pedestrian crossing, or a cycle path. It seems that our local councils that look after our communities find it very difficult to get any money to do simple upgrades. The easiest source of funding is Section 106 money. You get money from developers when they build new housing. Existing communities are stuffed unless they are next door.

We got some new cycle paths in and around Cambridge. It was funded by Cycling England Money. £140 million across 18 towns. Cambridge got £500,000. At Guided Bus money rates, that's 75 yards of cycle routes for Cambridge.

Its a real shame those billions available for road transport cannot be spent on cycling and walking facilities. We have money, but we have no political will.

Maybe one day, politicians will join the dots between a lot of societies problems - pollution, asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, congestion, travel time, fear of traffic, loss of local shops - and help us fix our communities.

I wonder where we will be in another 30 years.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cambridgeshire Guided Bus TT

[Update - The Guided Buses are now running. See also my later posting: Went to see a Guided Bus running.]

The Guided Bus has been a local fiasco since about 2003, with no real buses running on it to date.  However, acccording the NoGuidedBus site, the final beam on the northern section was laid in June 2009.  Ever since, sneaky cyclists have been using the beams as an unofficial cycleway in preference to the unsurfaced track running to it. (Buses are now running on the concrete track. Keep Off!)

Smooth beams, will soon be taken over by buses.

The beams are seriously smooth and very fast running.  The trouble is that they are not very wide and require a lot of concentration - not great for long distance rides.  This didn't put us off, and public use grew as developers and council squabbled over contractual issues.  Cycle commuters used it in the week, families and dog walkers at the weekend, keep-fit cyclists on a weekend morning. It has been a very pleasant recreational facility enjoyed by many, even though it was officially still a construction site.

However, it looks like the Busway will open this year - 7th August 2011.  The current users will be disappointed when buses start running on it, spoiling our peace and quiet, but this was the whole reason it was built. Its popularity did not go unnoticed by the council and they made the smart move of spending a little extra money and surfacing the service track (a bridleway) as far as possible.

The track is now surfaced all the way from the Cambridge Science Park, all the way (NW) out to Swavesey. 14km or 8.7 miles of safe smooth cycle path. It is to be hard surfaced all the way to St Ives - its full length.

My 23mm road tyre against the very smooth tarmac.

Wide aspect views over fields along much of the route.

I'll miss this cyclists point of view

Two-abreast without horns.

The surfacing has now opened this route up to more cyclists [beware: its officially still a construction site], such as those with skinny tyres and those wanting to travel a little further at speed.  This route will become part of the National Cycle Network route 51 and it will be a fabulous welcome for visiting cyclists.

I used to cycle on the bus beams, but because you had to concentrate hard to not fall off, you could not look at the view.  While testing out the new path, I realised I had been past these interesting hangers at Oakington Airfield and had never noticed them before.

Hangers at the RAF Oakington Airfield.

The new town of Northstowe will eventually be built here. The Longstanton and District Heritage Society are trying to save the hangers used in WW2.

A glimpse of Over windmill.

I do like to push myself on a bicycle from time to time, and one of the ways I do this is to set a route and see how fast I can go along it, and then it gives something to aim at the next time.  I have also have like to beat-the-bus, a bit like a Top Gear Challenge.  I did this once running from the centre of Cambridge to Cottenham, and by bike if there is a bit of tail wind, I try to break inside 20 minutes from John Lewis to Cottenham Curry Palace (I measure cycling time, rather than elapsed).

So in my own silly way, I am celebrating and testing the brand spanking new tarmac on my road bike.  Without looking at the timetable first, I decided to see if I could beat the time a Guided Bus would take.

I cycled up to Swavesey station (or is that bus stop?) and hurled myself the 14km down to the Science Park.

The start point at Swavesey

Legs screaming all the way, except for the small respite at the road crossings, I initially held steady at 36km/h, but started to slow after about half way from going out too hard.  I was doing this about 10am Sunday and I passed a good stream of cyclists heading away from Cambridge. Dodging one smashed bottle, I arrived puncture free at the Science Park, taking just over 25 minutes.  I don't think I had much in the way of wind assistance, but if I did, it was very light wind.

The surface is fabulously smooth.  My typical average on the road is 29km/h but I was pushing a little harder than normal.  Still, at present, there are no potholes to avoid, and no motor traffic to worry about.  What a great route.

Just over 25 mins cycling from Swavesey to the Science Park

At home, I looked up the timetable for the Guided Bus to see how I compare and found disappointingly that the bus is scheduled to do this route in 15 minutes, beating me by 10 minutes.  Not having to stop every few hundred yards gives the bus quite an advantage. The Guided Bus stops are spaced like railway stations - did I hear somebody asking why they didn't build a railway ? Stop it!

Oh, but hang on, if only to save a little valour, the bus to the Science Park only runs every 20 minutes, and the average waiting time means ...  ok I amit it, I am well and truly beat.   Yesterday I watched the Tour de France team time trial, and in under 25 minutes, they were covering a 23km route in the same time it took me to cover the 14km. Perhaps they can do it.

Long term it will be interesting to see if the buses do run to 10 minute intervals, because in my experience of the Citi7 route, if you wait at 8:30am the bus comes 45 minutes later, not the advertised 10, and that is just one of the reasons I choose to cycle the 7 mile each way journey and keep my £5.40.

Next post on the Guided Bus: Went to see a Guided Bus running