Whilst we would love to talk about the installation of a grand, ambitious new cycle infrastructure project on the streets of Cardiff, in the context of an apparent neglect of cycling by the council, sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.
This week work started on repairing one of the worst stretches of “shared” infrastructure in Cardiff. The pock-marked path along Taff’s Mead Embankment has been crying out for some fresh asphalt for some time now, giving us cyclists a bone-shaking ride that often leads people to use the road instead (mind you, that isn’t much better).
However, the news that they were actually repairing this path generated quite a bit of excitement on social media. On balance, this probably isn’t a good thing. We have become so accustomed to the cycle infrastructure we have falling into disrepair; not being maintained or gritted in winter and hedges not being cut back that we take any kind of display of interest to be a big deal.
Unfortunately, it does raise the question of what would happen if dedicated infrastructure was installed in Cardiff. Would it be useable all year round? Would it be repaired in a timely fashion? Would we still end up using the roads after all? We don’t have a lot of infrastructure here in Cardiff, with much of what was installed under Enfys eroding away, only to be left with the two Sustrans routes –the Taff and Ely trails.
How would the council cope if there was an extensive, navigable network of dedicated infrastructure? Arguably, they should be prioritising investment in active travel infrastructure, especially where the Wellbeing of Future Generations is concerned, but we know this doesn’t happen.
The answer, as we will most likely find, is that they won’t, so they’re probably not going to install dedicated infrastructure that provides separation from traffic in the same way other cities are. It would create an additional maintenance burden, particularly in winter that they are unlikely to sign up to.
What they can do (and in some ways are doing) is make driving into the city centre more hostile than it already is, by constraining parking; increasing the cost of parking and increasing the number of bus lanes entering the city. Ultimately, motorists are likely to be aggravated into leaving their cars at home.
The big question is how effective that strategy is going to be. In some ways, congested traffic is easier to deal with because it is slower and you can filter through it (on the right, obviously). Quiet roads, on the other hand, are often places where people in cars put their foot down and where the risks to us can be higher.
The other big question is how motivated the council is going to be to do this. They are nursing a substantial budget deficit and motorists have proven to be a reliable income stream thanks to parking charges and their apparent inability to deal with bus lanes and yellow box junctions.
In the short-term, what do they replace that revenue with if not motorists? We know that long-term improvements to health will save money, but councils are probably not planning that far in advance, particularly when the savings aren’t guaranteed and are likely to be obfuscated by the complexity of NHS activity and budget changes.
A bit depressing, we know…