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.

November Update

Sorry about the lack of activity on this blog, the last entry was nearly four months ago ahead of our July 15 meeting. We have had another meeting since then on October 28 at Campus East in WGC, which was fairly well attended. The minutes for that meeting will be posted as soon as they are ready but I thought I would mention a few things that were discussed.

The government published a draft cycling delivery plan on October 16 and is conducting an informal consultation. There are now only three days before the consultation closes on November 15 but if you have time to comment then please do.

While not directly related to Hertfordshire another document mentioned was Transport for London’s December 2010 Analysis of Cycling Potential. By the way, a friend in the US sent me a link to a document called Getting the Wheels Rolling (A guide to using policy to create bicycle friendly communities) by an organisation called ChangeLab Solutions whose tagline is “Law & policy innovation for the common good”. They are focussed on “solutions for America’s most common and preventable diseases”, so like the Hertfordshire Year of Cycling they are coming at it from a health promotion angle. I only skimmed the document briefly but it may be worth taking a closer look for ideas we could use over here.

Speaking of the Hertfordshire Year of Cycling, if you use Twitter you might want to follow the official Twitter feed @hertscycling. There is also flickr group for uploading photos of cycling in Hertfordshire and the County Council will be awarding prizes for the best photos (closing date January 5 2015).

There is still time to register for the joint CTC-Cyclenation Annual Conference which will be hosted by the London Cycling Campaign. The event is sponsored by Lambeth Council and will take place at Lambeth Town Hall on Saturday November 22 from 09:30 to 18:00. A significant topic of discussion will be the possible integration of CTC and Cyclenation.

Someone mentioned Ride Social which is a sort of social network for cyclists run by British Cycling and Sky. It seems to be a way for cyclists to organise their own group rides rather than relying on Sky Ride. According to the stats there are 943 Ride Social groups with 3,266 rides listed – so it seems like it is working. I also came across another social network for cyclists called The Cycling Bug which appears to be more of a talking shop. It has features like the ability to log your own miles but does also allow you to search amongst over 3,500 upcoming events.

Finally a proper bit of local Hertfordshire cycling news. I rode from Hatfield to St Albans this morning along the Alban way and had to make a detour at the Station Road/Smallford Lane bridge. Apparently a lorry had crashed into the brick parapet and I could see where a section was missing, with loose bricks hanging precariously. The track was blocked off with metal fencing either side of the bridge and I had to go up and over the road.

Meeting Tonight

There was some confusion over the date and location of our third meeting of the year so if you are checking before setting out I can confirm that the meeting is taking place tonight at 19:30 in St Albans District Council Offices. Amongst other things we will be discussing the agenda for the HCC Cycle Forum on 31st July and CTC’s Space For Cycling campaign.

In other news, South Herts CTC has been listed as a member organisation of CycleHerts since December 2011 but in February this year they were elevated to “Formal Member Group” status in the CTC, which means they are now an independent group with their own organising committee.

Finally, there is a new “Contact” tab in the menu bar above, which leads to a form that people can use to contact CycleHerts (previously the only way to get our attention through this site was to comment on something).