Saturday, 20 October 2012

In Praise of Liverpool City Council (sort of)

Last night I was heading to the Wavertree area of town from the city centre, I used to live in Wavertree when I was a student but I've not been back there walking or cycling in 10 or 12 years. I took the route that I used to stagger walk each day to and from the pub university, it involves going along Myrtle St, across Crown St Park and then down Smithdown Lane.

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Unfortunately I can't remember what Myrtle St used to look like but I think it must have been a typical side road, one lane each way, arrow straight, high kerbs, I got a hell of a surprise when I returned there. Just look at all the Dutchness in these pictures

A 20 mph zone, speed humps, those two are now recognisable on British Streets, but look what else there is, an advanced, protected traffic light for cycles with it's own sequence. A zigzagged road designed to naturally slow vehicles by not being completely straight.

The road leads to a residential area which has no access for cars to the main road on the other side so there is no rat running.

However a bit of filtered permeability later and we have a lovely dedicated cycle path (yes there does seem to be pedestrians walking in it in this photo from Google)

At the top of this path we meet Crown St running perpendicular to us, Crown St used to be busy with fast moving traffic, but LCC has installed quite broad cycle lanes and speed humps along its length. Best of all though is the traffic lights that cross Crown St from the cycle path into the park, ride up to them at a slowish pace and they change automatically so you never have to stop!

So why am I only sort of praising Liverpool City Council?

It's quite simple really, this little 200m stretch of path proves that somebody at LCC knows exactly how to implement the Dutch model, all the major principles are in evidence here.
  • Segregation in time and space
  • Reduced speed zones
  • Traffic calming road design
  • Reducing traffic through restricted access
  • Maintaining momentum and allowing cyclists to go the shortest most direct route while sending cars the long way and reducing their priority in the hierarchy.
So the simple question is if they can do it here, why not everywhere else?

It is also interesting that this is the only place in the city I have found with this standard of infrastructure, between the university and the residential area with the largest student population, it's as though the Council think only students want to cycle. Generally speaking they don't have kids, probably don't carry a lot of equipment or huge amounts of shopping and have fairly restricted travel needs. The mindset at the council must be that people with slightly greater needs or money than students won't want to cycle, if you have kids for example, but of course if you have kids and want to cycle segregated facilities are even more important.

Liverpool is not exactly a rich city either with some of the most deprived wards in the country, it's not just students who are too poor to drive. The poorest areas are in the north of the city, Bootle and Walton yet these are the areas with some of the worst cycling facilities. Meanwhile the leafy south of the city seems to have a few more cycle lanes. It was noticeable too that at the Liverpool Cycle Forum meetings most of the participants lived in the south of the city and were perhaps better educated and more affluent than the city average.

But what about the poor people in the north? Without decent cycle facilities many will be forced to scrape together just enough money to keep a car on the road, reducing the money they have to spend on other necessities and comforts, if they could cycle they may have more money to spend in their local areas rather than it going to multinational corporations, people on bicycles shop in their areas and spend more money in their towns, this is why cycling infrastructure is a good investment.

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