Sunday, 1 October 2017

Talk on Ashby Canal at National Forest Youth Hostel

The National Forest area is rich in Industrial Heritage and the Ashby Canal played a significant role in the growth of those industries.

Vital to the industries in bygone days, the canal is now perhaps even more important to the area as an artery in the tourism infrastructure of the National Forest.  Where there are canals there are towpaths and where there are towpaths there are bicycles so the development of the canal is of great interest to us as a group.  The project to complete the canal is progressing but there are many challenges ahead.

A talk is taking place on Tuesday 17th October at the National Forest Youth Hostel to discuss the past, present and future of the canal.  Please see below poster with details if you are interested in attending.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Spreading the Word

Although Autumn has well and truly arrived we are still actively engaged in our activities.

As well as our work on the National Cycle Network we are always looking to spread the word of our work in the local area.

We have 2 events coming up on 7th and 8th of October in Stafford and Leicester which aim to engage with people on the work that Sustrans does and also gives volunteers the chance to do some networking.  For more information, see the below flyers.

 We are also looking to recruit new volunteers to help us in the National Forest area.  You don't have to be an avid cyclist a there are many skills that can be of use to the group.  Below is the recruitment leaflet that has been circulated throughout the National Forest area and includes contact details.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Closure of St Peters Bridge Burton

Anybody commuting into Burton by motorised means at the moment will be well aware that St Peters Bridge is currently closed and will be for 3 months in total.

A tranquil, traffic free St Peters Bridge.
The bridge carries traffic in and out of Burton via the A444 across the Trent Washlands via Stapenhill and is a vital artery in Burton's delicate traffic network.

Many of the bearings on the bridge which allow it to contract and expand are seizing up and need to be replaced otherwise the bridge will either have to have severe weight restrictions or face complete closure.  There has also been talk that the work may make the ill-conceived 3rd lane a possibility in the future.

Users were not given a lot of notice to make other plans.  Due to the funding process the grant awarded for the scheme needs to be spent within a certain time-frame so rather than more sensible measures like phasing the work over a longer time period or planning the works during the school holidays there has been a complete closure of the bridge forcing traffic over already busy alternative Burton Bridge or Walton bailey bridge.  Pedestrians are slightly less affected with the Stapenhill viaduct and Ferry Bridge being the alternative route.

The disappointing aspect from a sustainable travel point of view is that there was not a great deal of time to improve the cycling infrastructure or have a collaborative promotion of sustainable travel by the relevant authorities.

When initially reported it was stated that the reason for complete closure was due to the grant timeframe but more recently Staffordshire County Council have stated that the nature of the work means that the bridge can not be open even one-way through the works.

What is clear from the first few weeks is that businesses are struggling in Burton as people try alternative places such as Swadlincote, Ashby or Lichfield.  There will, no doubt, be discussions on compensation.  Bus companies have had to produce new timetables whilst emergency services have to plan around the closure.

The Stapenhill Viaduct is busier than normal though this
picture is from around 0730.
The positive side is that there are far more people using parts of the cycling infrastructure either by bike or on foot as reported in the Burton Mail although the article focuses mainly on walking but there has certainly been an increase in cyclists.

With the bridge closed, other than the sound of the works, the area is far more tranquil than usual!

With the extra amount of people on the Ferry Bridge and viaduct this does restrict the amount of space.  The cycle lane is already a narrow feature so care needs to be taken and there are some tips for those who are new to cycling and also for pedestrians.

  • Although the cycle lane is clearly marked there is no legal right for cyclists over pedestrians and tolerance of other users is important!
  • Cycle at a speed appropriate to the space available.  It is about the fine line between cycling assertively rather than aggressively.  Use the bell well in advance and slow down when near pedestrians, especially young children and those with dogs, whose movement can be unpredictable.
  •  Remember that a lot of people have headphones on and are unable to hear cyclists approach (and this carries on into the town centre).  Pedestrians also have a habit of walking close to the cycle lane so ensure there is space to pass and let them know you are there.
  • On windy days be aware that cross winds can have an effect on cyclists so give yourself more space when passing pedestrians.
  • Don't build up too much speed at the Stapenhill end as there are paths crossing beyond the Kiosk shop and due to lack of footpaths up the Dingle pedestrians are likely to be in the road.
  • Be courteous to other cyclists too especially when passing as one of you will have to give way and move out of the cycle lane.  My unwritten rule is to give way to those who have been on the bridge longer than you, and, of course, to ladies!
  • The National Cycle Network is designed to be a leisure route as opposed to a fast commuter route so please bear this in mind.

Cycling Laws to be subject of debate?

A prominent recent case involving the tragic death of a pedestrian knocked down by a cyclist has led to an increase in public and governmental scrutiny in cycling laws with the issue being raised in Prime Ministers Questions recently.

The case in question saw Kim Briggs knocked over and killed by a cyclist who was riding a fixed gear bike with no front brake.  The speed at which the cyclist was travelling was cited as a factor in the incident.

Upon determining the outcome of the case, the judge cleared the cyclist Charlie Alliston of manslaughter but convicted him of a 19th century charge of "wanton or furious driving" as it was the most logical charge.  He has now been sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders institute.

Calls have been made to update cycling laws as a result of this case perhaps unsurprisingly.  Most of the cycling laws still in force today came into force when there were very few cars on the road and do seem at times to be archaic.  If a serious review of cycling laws is to come into play then, in my opinion, they need to be used to protect both cyclists and pedestrians.

This article is not a protest by a cyclist on behalf of cyclists. I believe Kim Briggs tragic death was avoidable and I feel desperately sad for her family. I also have admiration for the way her husband has campaigned with great dignity.

The BBC Breakfast news headlines were "Tougher punishments for cyclists" whereas the aim of Matt Briggs' campaign is to address the gap in the law to find a more appropriate punishment and ultimately resolve the case in a more timely and less harrowing manner.  Such headlines are sensationalist and promote divisive opinions.  The aim of this article is to consider, with sensitivity, all sides of the issues and subsequent implications of the case.

From my brief experience of cycling in central London it is a melting pot of all types of transport and pedestrians trying to achieve their journeys in a very restricted and busy space - just like many towns and cities across the U.K.

There are clearly lessons to learn.  Although not a factor in the case mentioned, there are far too many people cycling on pavements in built up areas.  A 10 year old child on a pavement cycling slowly is very much different to an adult cycling down a narrow pavement at much more than walking pace.  Some do it because of lack of confidence and knowledge and fear of being on busy roads, often in areas where infrastructure is poor.

Due to the increase in traffic over recent decades and some poorly designed and often incomplete infrastructure, this does put cyclists and pedestrians in some positions which have the potential to increase the likelihood of issues.  Again, this was not a particular factor in this case.

The above points lead into a counter argument in the debate and cyclists do need to be considered in the law making process.  There were many good points made prior to the judgement by those angered that a cyclist was facing manslaughter charges at all.  Several cases of cyclists being killed by cars were referred to on a number of social media posts and comment made regarding the subsequent punishments for the drivers which were not as severe as manslaughter charges.

Cyclists can be an easy group to target as can be seen in the tweet below in Greater Manchester.  Cycling Tsar and Olympic Gold Medallist Chris Boardman recently responded as below to a tweet by Greater Manchester Police:

If there is a serious issue with "anti-social cycling" then the police are to be applauded for their approach but as Chris suggests there are more important issues to address and he, in particular, has good reason for his stance.

Chris Boardman's mother Carol was an extremely competent and experienced cyclist who was killed when knocked off her bike by a vehicle - another very personal and tragic side to the debate and why cyclists need to be protected. It took over a year for prosecutions to be made subsequent to this article.  A person was only recently charged with causing death by dangerous driving and perverting the course of justice.

In cases of bad driving / speeding this initiative is falling more to the community.  A recent blog item on 20mph zones and monitoring speeding vehicles can be found by clicking this link.  This shows that considerable effort needs to be made in order to combat speeding / bad driving.

In the case of Charlie Alliston the media focused on the fact that the cyclist had insufficient means to stop as he was riding a fixed gear bike with no brake.  In theory a bike without brakes should not be on the road but imagine a scenario where a cyclist (child or adult) is involved in a collision and is found to have defective brakes.  What would the court decision be in this case and what are the implications?  Would poor infrastructure be considered?

Such questions and scenarios can be debated over and over.  The deaths of victims including Kim Briggs and Carol Boardman must not be in vain.  In both cases there were unsavoury actions in the aftermath - comments on social media in one case and perversion of the course of justice in the other.

Whatever Parliament decides to do going forward needs to consider all sides but there needs to be understanding that the relationship between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians must be one of courtesy and tolerance and not of confrontation and anger.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Community Speedwatch on Castleton Park

Although not strictly cycling related, an initiative has started on the Castleton Park area of Church Gresley.  We have noted issues with the cycling infrastructure in the area (see previous article) and calming traffic will help improve safety for cyclists and walkers alike.

The Castleton Park community group, which has a sizeable and active social media following from it's residents, has recently started a Community Speedwatch group.

Residents have concerns over several issues including parking, inconsiderate driving and also speeding.  There are aspirations of making the estate a 20mph zone in an attempt to make it safer.

As nothing in life is simple the creation of a 20mph zone will involve a lot of lobbying the highways authority (Derbyshire County Council).  Recent history of engagement suggests this will not be easy - despite the best efforts of the previous County Councillor, essential double yellow lines on the Brunel Way / Westminster Drive roundabout have still not been installed.

Most traffic calming measures will only be installed where there is a history of accidents but as Castleton Park is still relatively new this data set is small.  In industry the methodology around safety measures is based on near misses but this is not the case with public highways.

Interestingly in Scotland, there is currently a consultation on all urban roads becoming 20mph zones as can be read here.  In England it seems that there is a lot more red tape to get through.

The Community Speedwatch is being run by volunteers in conjunction with members of the Swadlincote Safer Neighbourhoods Team (SNT).  Members, including myself, have been given training by the SNT before they can start the speedwatch.  The training includes where the speedwatch can be done and when and also how to set up signage and, most importantly, how to use the equipment and record details.

The SNT also support the groups on the first sessions and provide the equipment.  The first session focused on 2 different areas.  There were a significant number of motorists caught speeding in one of the locations.  The next step for these drivers will be a letter informing them of the speeding, meanwhile the data showing the amount of speeding will hopefully be significant in the groups aims at making the area safer in terms of reducing speed.

The initiative has already drawn attention from several sources.  Notably, local social media sites alerted drivers to the presence of the dedicated members of the team on an early session, whilst more positively there are other groups wanting to start schemes in other local areas.

We are grateful to the Castleton Park Community group leaders for getting this initiative off the ground and to the Swadlincote SNT team (especially the local PCSO's) for their support.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A trip further afield: The Manifold Trail

With Spring well in progress we decided to try a new cycling experience a few weeks ago.  Having done the Monsal Trail a couple of times we decided to try the Manifold Trail.

The trail starts north of Ashbourne at either Waterhouses or Hulme End.  Waterhouses is on the road between Ashbourne and Leek (A523) whilst Hulme End can be accessed via the Ashbourne to Buxton road (A515).

Thor's Cave overlooking the trail
We decided to start from Waterhouses and found the car park with ease.  There is a good amount of space at the car park which is on the site of the old station.  There are toilets there but the cycle hire centre was closed when we visited.  The cost of the car park for over 4 hours is £4.50 so ensure you have the change with you as the owner of the local shop doesn't like giving change and as it is remote, there are not a large number of options for change.
The information at Hulme End was useful

Alternatively, if you don't have any bikes there is a farm hiring bikes that offers free parking for customers in the village.

The Manifold trail (also known as track or way) follows an old railway line.  Unlike the Monsal Trail which is an old mainline carried high through tunnels and over viaducts, the Manifold follows the rivers at the bottom of a valley.  The light railway was the Leek and Manifold Valley railway which did not prosper.  The route follows the river Hamps and then the Manifold, hugging the river as it curves it way through the scenic valley.  Find out more via Wikipedia.

The joys of Spring
The length of the route is just under 9 miles (8 miles and 8 chains in old railway language) and is mainly level, perhaps slightly uphill going north.  There are brief on road sections though these are 20mph roads and as the route is part of NCN549 the signing is clear throughout thanks to our friends in the White Peak rangers group.

Don't worry - we'll go around the hill!
It is slightly narrower than some trails which may cause an issue when it is busy.  However, we visited on a brisk Sunday and had few problems between us even with the tag along.

There are a few food outlets on the route as well as toilets.  The cafe at Wetton Mill looks very popular as did the cafe at the station at Hulme End.  These are both easily accessible by car whereas the farm cafe we stopped at on the way back to Waterhouses was a bit more remote.  Wetton Mill is a pleasant spot at the side of the river slightly more than half way along.

Hulme End Station - Time for packed lunch
Being at the bottom of the valley you are not exposed to the wind too much, although it wasn't very windy.  We cycled on a fine Spring day and the field were full of young lambs which was nice for my daughters.

We managed the whole 18 miles in around 4 hours including a few stops for food.  I would have liked to have locked the bikes up and discovered one of the caves by foot but will do that next time.  The station at Hulme End has some good information on the area and the trail including some very useful Geological and Geographical information.  This facility may not be open on Mondays.

With stunning scenery, plenty of facilities and a nice steady gradient, this is a great family cycling experience and within an hour of Swadlincote.

New National Forest Group is looking for volunteers

Are you interested in becoming a Sustrans Volunteer Ranger?  We are actively seeking new rangers following a review of the ranger group.

Our group is commonly known as the West Leicestershire group but we cover parts of South Derbyshire, Warwickshire and are going to incorporate Burton-on-Trent, hence Staffordshire too.  With the combination of counties and area it has been decided to rename the group the National Forest ranger group.

Burton on Trent falls between the Derby Rangers to the north and the Lichfield group to the south.  Burton is a large town and is a key destination on the National Cycle Network so it makes sense to ensure the town is covered by a group.

The area covered by the National Forest is similar to the area covered by the ranger group, albeit not exact but it gives the group a name that people may be able to more easily identify with.

If you are interested in joining Sustrans as a ranger in this area click on this link.  To find out more about volunteering for Sustrans in general click here.