Hot on the heels of the draft cycling strategy we now have the overall Transport strategy to digest and respond to. This time the focus is on all forms of transport used within Cardiff but it allows us to see where cycling fits into the grand scheme of things.
Reassuringly the cycling strategy is a major component of this over-arching transport strategy, so much of what you’ll see here has been repeated to a greater or lesser extent in the cycling strategy. However, it does give us an insight into the challenges across the board. It is also quite liberal with its use of interesting facts, such as:
If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated carbon dioxide at the rate we do in Cardiff, we would need three planets to support us. This is neither sustainable nor equitable to everyone we share our planet with.
In a nutshell, the transport strategy is to achieve this 50/50 modal split we keep hearing about and it does talk about the challenges that must be overcome to achieve that –poor public transport, poor cycle routes etc.
However, it then throws another 40,000 new homes into the mix, along with the 32% increase in road traffic that’ll come with them. This sounds like quite a big deal and should be met with swift, decisive measures that you would hope to see in this plan.
There is a pressing need to encourage healthy and active lifestyles, as only 25% of Cardiff residents meet physical activity guidelines and 53% are obese or overweight (Welsh Health Survey 2010 and 2011). Dependency on the car is widely regarded as a key contributor to declining levels of physical activity across the UK.
Annoyingly, we’re still looking for that swift, decisive action. There’s a lot of aims in this plan that should have been business-as-usual for a very long time. Making places walkable; investing in cycle infrastructure; rolling out 20mph zones etc are all things that should be in place already.
Yes, we know that the Active Travel Act 2013 had a timetable attached to it and we’re still waiting for the September 2017 deadline for the integrated network maps, but what have they been doing since 2013? If the current network maps are anything to go by, not very much.
Skirting around the issue
Here’s the thing. Even with a perfect public transport network and a perfect cycle route network the car is going to remain the first choice for most people. As we’ve discussed before in our Wants vs Needs post, people are not going to choose to exert energy; to pay a month’s salary for a season ticket; to brave the rain on their bike; to share a confined space with complete strangers and be at the mercy of lady luck when train after train is cancelled on the commute home on a cold January night.
Also, with the economy the way it is and with homes in and around Cardiff financially out of the reach of many, people are living further and further out into neighbouring counties and commuting in. This makes the bike unfeasible for all but the hardened Randonneurs; and buses decidedly difficult, especially where more than one is required.
Public transport will need to become significantly cheaper to use and more reliable than it is now, but that will probably require heavy subsidies and the ability to obtain more rolling stock when the situation demands. Current train services are far more intimate than is strictly necessary at peak times, but Arriva Trains Wales will not invest in more carriages. It’s a £5.50 return from the edge of Cardiff on a service that on some days you’ll be lucky to raise your hand to scratch your nose.
Much of this strategy is dependent on implementation of the Metro; the new central square development; electrification and re-tendering of the Valley Lines so that there is enough rolling stock for the people wanting to use it. Until that happens, we’re in a catch 22 situation. We need more capacity on public transport before we push people onto it and we need cycle lanes before people will take to their bikes.
It’s hard to imagine the situation improving measurably in the short-term. Funding will certainly be an issue, which is why we would argue for a congestion charge. It could be implemented fairly quickly, priced according to VED banding to deter people from bringing high-emission vehicles into the city centre, with all proceeds used to reinvest in public transport and cycle routes.
When the traffic thins out, particularly on Manor Way and Newport Road, there’ll be more room for continuous bus lanes.
As mentioned above, there are dependencies to be met before we see any real improvements in Cardiff. We need a new rail franchise; we need new rolling stock and we need for the cycling strategy and proposed new routes to be implemented sooner rather than later.
However, there is little to stop them installing more bus lanes now and implementing a congestion charge. There also little need to wait to start installing decent cycle lanes, especially considering the design guidance has been out since 2013 and is due to be refreshed again.