Getting the most out of Rights of Way

The STACC public meeting this Thursday 25th May will feature a presentation by Phil Escritt titled “Getting the most out of Rights of Way” in which he will talk about methods for achieving rights of way improvements for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders. The meeting will take place at 19:30  in the Marlborough Road Methodist Church, AL1 3XG

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Update to “Ownership of Cycle Routes” Document

On our website there is a link to a table showing the body responsible for maintenance of various cycle routes. For the Cole Green Way the table showed “HCC Rights of Way Team” but that turns out to have been incorrect. Bob Fenton at Rights of Way explained that the Cole Green Way is not a recorded public highway or right of way, but the land is within the ownership of HCC and is maintained by the Rural Estates team as a permissive route. In wet weather sections of the route become wet and muddy and Rural Estates is aware of the problem but they do not currently have the money to fix it.

I asked Bob Fenton to review the document for other similar errors and he came up with three corrections:

  • Jersey Lane was listed as “HCC as highway authority” but that is just the tarmac bits, there rest is maintained by the rights of way team.
  • Ayot Greenway (like the Cole Green Way) was listed as “HCC rights of way team” but again it is actually under rural estates.
  • Finally there is Keyfield Terrace in St Albans which was listed as “HCC as highway authority due to right of way being hard surfaced”. Keyfield Terrace itself is public highway so it is maintained by HCC as highway authority. There is an adjacent right of way through the car park but it is just a footpath (St Albans City 19/HCC 67). Since it is not a cycle route Keyfield Terrace was removed from the table.

AGM on 1st November

At our last meeting (see Minutes) it was agreed that our next meeting on Tuesday 1st November will be our AGM and it will be held at 7pm at Hatfield Fire Station.

Sorry about the lack of activity on this blog, here are a couple of useful links:

Hertfordshire’s Transport Vision 2050 consultation is open until 23:59 on Wednesday 14th December 2016.

Hertfordshire Road Casualty Facts 2016 (based on 2015 data) is available online.

Cycle path maintenance

It’s a great shame that an article about cycle paths in Hertfordshire has to be negative and critical, but that, sadly, is a reflection of their current state.

At issue seems to be the lack of a maintenance program and a lack of pre- or post-work inspection. Which is perhaps because our Highways Panel don’t understand the benefits of allocating budget to encouraging the bike as a means of transport. Instead cyclists get advice to wear helmets and high viz vests: http://m.hertsdirect.org/mediareleases/highways/PR_19582/ .

In early 2015 the County Council announced they were budgeting £40 million for highways improvements.

I was prompted by this announcement to see which cycle paths could be improved. Many of the cycle paths are the responsibility of Highways so it would be reasonable to expect them to be included in the budgeted works.

I visited some local paths armed with a spade and secateurs to expose the extent of any vegetation problems.

Below are some images and descriptions of what I found. Where they are doesn’t matter as this post is about the general state of paths, not reporting specific issues.

In this photo you can see that the available width of the combined pedestrian and cycle path is less than half what it should be. Note the spade at left which shows the hidden edge of the path. I would be very surprised if this section of path has seen any attention in the last two yearscyclepaths01

The red line in the next photo shows the approximate left hand edge of the path. How old is that shrub overhanging the path?cyclepaths02

This is an example of sweeping (or not) of a cycle path. What’s not very clear from the photo is that a good deal of that debris is broken glass – the cyclist’s friend.cyclepaths03

The next photo shows tree root damage. I reported this on the Highways fault reporting website about two years ago, their response was that it was not a trip hazard for pedestrians as it was below the height for pedestrian trip hazards and they would therefore be taking no action.

About the only sort of bike capable of riding over this at any normal speed without severe shock to bike and rider is a full suspension mountain bike. A fault like this is a significant safety hazard and could result in the rider of a regular bike falling off. This is quite a good example of the low priority the Council accords to those who wish to travel by bicycle – there is a standard for hazards on facilities for pedestrians but not apparently for bike routes.cyclepaths04

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the ribbed tiles are but they do a good job of damming the path and providing a place for debris to land on and for vegetation overgrowth. This wouldn’t be an issue if the Council were doing proper monitoring and maintenance.cyclepaths05

This is a typical example of the state of the cycle paths. Clearing back the vegetation shows the proper width of the path. The turf is quite thick here so it’s hard to believe it’s been cleared in the last couple of years. The available width is not much more than half the surfaced width. Someone is going to have to go into the verge if two people meet. This is creating conflict, a situation that would be unthinkable and unacceptable on a motor traffic route.cyclepaths06

This is a footway not a cycle path. It shows the Council’s commitment to people who walk. That is a small tree growing out of the footway. It’s obviously been growing there for some years.cyclepaths07

Blackthorn is the bush which produces white blossom in the hedgerows in early spring, and at the end of summer, sloes, the bitter berries used in making sloe gin. It also has vicious spikes which could easily take an eye out. Here is some growing at face height over the cycle path. Not nice to run into at night.cyclepaths08

Here are some more photos of the typical state of cycle paths between towns and which show the low priority HCC give to those wanting to travel by bike.cyclepaths09

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There are other hazards for non-motorised travellers too. This one is a matter of police priorities.cyclepaths13

And for contrast here is how it could be done. Why this 200m stretch is in this relatively well maintained state is a mystery.cyclepaths20

Hertfordshire is characterised by small centres of population within cycling distance of each other. Occasionally, as Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City or Hatfield and St Albans, they are connected by quite respectable cycle paths. In other examples, such as Harpenden and St Albans, there is a legal route along the footway but it is of poor quality.

I visited the Harpenden to St Albans route recently. There are some ok sections but mainly it is overgrown and the surface is very rough. In some stretches the width is reduced to 6 inches by grass and weed overgrowth.

Harpenden to St Albans is not a great distance to travel by bike so it’s a shame that we are not encouraged to do so.

The route from Redbourn to St Albans is rather similar. It also has a footway alongside which is narrow, bumpy and overgrown. In this case it is not a legal cycle path so you must share a narrow road with fast traffic – even if you are primary school age.

Many cyclists are not happy with the state of cycle paths in the county, particularly paths between centres of population so I asked Councillor Terry Douris, the chair of the Highways Panel, how much of that £40m was earmarked specifically for maintenance of cycle routes.

Councillor Douris initially replied to say “If there are any maintenance concerns with any cycle path, then this can be reported via Hertsdirect.”

I was unhappy with this response for two reasons,

  • it is true you can report issues but often no action is taken.
  • my request for information was about maintenance over the County not about specific issues.

As I understand it the Highways Department presents a program of works to the Highways Panel for approval. It must therefore be the Panel which is responsible for allocation of the budget and the decision on whether to maintain cycle paths.

On a positive note Councillor Douris said “HCC are investing over £1.7m in either designing or delivering cycle schemes in 2015/16”. I look forward to the results of this welcome investment.

A second response from Councillor Douris said “In the case of maintenance works, cycle facilities are integrated either with roads or pavements (as appropriate) rather than being separately identified as almost all highway cycle facilities share a surface either with a road or a pavement and we would usually maintain the whole surface at once not just one part of it. They therefore do not appear separately on the programme.”

Again this is an unsatisfactory answer.

  • It tells us there is no specific budget for maintenance of cycle paths, maintenance that benefits cyclists only occurs by happy chance on the back of road or footway maintenance.
  • It also tells us that if any monitoring is done it is not done from the perspective of cyclists’ needs.
  • And many of the roads around the County are simply unsuitable for sharing between people on bikes and people in cars.

There is an enormous amount of evidence from around the world showing the positive effects and economic benefits of funding for cycling. The DfT says “targeted investment into cycling can bring very strong returns to society.” (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/348943/vfm-assessment-of-cycling-grants.pdf)

Unfortunately this evidence doesn’t seem to have reached our own County Council. Utility and commuting cycling remains a very low priority and the Council continues to believe that to get people moving you need to get motor vehicles moving.

Hertfordshire is due to massively increase it’s population as required new housing is built. If nothing is done to change modes of travel away from private car and towards active travel and public transport, traffic jams and delays will become the costly norm, with working hours lost and greater highway maintenance costs, not to mention negative health effects of poor air quality, obesity and other effects of lack of excercise.

We need funding for utility and commuting cycling now and we can start by getting the infrastructure we already have into good order. Even 1% of that £40 million would go a long way towards investing for the future of a sustainable transport network.

Comments from other people who travel by bike, or by members of the Highways panel or department are welcome. If you have a favourite poorly maintained, or well maintained stretch of cycle path please let us know in the comments.

Traffic and Transport Data Report

Hertfordshire’s Traffic and Transport Data Report 2015 is now available. The report brings together the main findings of a variety of transport surveys carried out across the county in 2014. The document includes information on traffic flow, congestion, cycling, walking, bus, car sharing, rail and many other aspects of transport in Hertfordshire.

There is an interactive version which is a much bigger file and may not work on all platforms and a non-interactive version. Both can be accessed from this page on hertsdirect.

There is a lot of data to plough through but a couple of highlighted cycling related statistics are:

  • Cycling mode share for journeys up to 3 miles is currently 2.7% in Hertfordshire (though that seems to be from a 2012 survey)
  • Cycling in 2014 dropped slightly compared to 2013 levels, however there was still a 35% growth compared to the 2004 base year

A link to this report has also been added to the Campaigning Toolkit on the CycleHerts website.

Website Changes

Up until yesterday this wordpress.com site was the CycleHerts website/blog and it could be accessed either as cycleherts.wordpress.com or, thanks to domain mapping, as cycleherts.org.uk. It worked OK but although wordpress.com is great for blogs it is not ideal for websites, and the domain mapping cost $13 per year (which CycleHerts has paid for three years).

I have my own hosting account at Mythic Beasts and I recently realised that I could host cycleherts.org.uk there at no extra cost. So I extracted the website stuff from the wordpress.com site and used it to build a static website, cancelled the wordpress.com domain mapping, and set up the new CycleHerts website on Mythic Beasts. I then deleted everything from this wordpress.com site apart from the blog and changed its title to “CycleHerts Blog”. While I was doing all that I checked the website content, fixed some broken links, and did some minor updates.

Meeting on Tuesday

The next CycleHerts meeting is at 7pm on Tuesday February 3rd at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council offices, Campus East. Due to access restrictions we meet outside ten minutes beforehand to be let in to the building. Minutes of the October meeting have now been uploaded to the website (member organisations should have received the minutes and agenda by email).

The following Tuesday STACC are having a film night at St Albans District Council offices, showing Michael B Clifford’s film “Bicycle”. The event is free but donations towards costs can be made. Doors open at 7.15pm

The Hertfordshire Year of Cycling photo competition was won by Adam Edwards with this photo taken at the start of a Welhat Cycling ride to Wheathampstead Village Day.