The council has just published its transport and clean air green paper and is seeking comments from all of us on some of the ideas it is putting forward.
A far cry from the frankly dismal Economic green paper we’ve already talked about, this document has some genuinely interesting ideas for how we can change Cardiff for the better.
When we talk about some of the biggest killers out there, we are primarily focussed on the killers we can see –cancer, heart disease, severe trauma. What we are not so good with is the killers we can’t see –mental health problems; the collapse of ecosystems and the extinction of species lower down in the food chain…oh, and air pollution.
The council estimates that around 225 deaths in Cardiff and the Vale can be attributed to air pollution. Across the UK, 30,000 deaths per year is a number you often hear thrown about. We can’t see air pollution unless it happens to loom above us in the form of a yellowy smog, but because it builds up in our bodies over time we tend to pretend it isn’t there. Instead we focus on the more pressing issues –like why it takes an hour to travel 6 miles on the bus and why a household can’t park its four cars.
We all know Cardiff’s transport network needs to change. Too many of us have been stuck in traffic trying to drop off our children, or late for work because the bus didn’t turn up, and whilst a growing number want to walk or cycle, the facilities to do so are often inadequate.
Right off the bat, the green paper gives us some more homework to do. Dr Sharon Hopkins, Director of Public Health, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board has published her annual report, ‘Moving forwards: healthy travel for all in Cardiff & the Vale‘. This is next on our reading list, but in her foreword she states that:
We are at a crucial moment – high levels of illness in our area are caused or made worse by how we travel and the air we breathe; but there are also once-in-a-generation opportunities open to us to solve this… – Dr Sharon Hopkins, Director of Public Health, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board
Its these opportunities that the green paper aims to set out. However, they are opportunities that are going to divide opinion, particularly between those who want change to happen and those who want to continue driving everywhere, even trips they could easily walk or cycle. So, let’s take a look at them.
The future of the Metro and Buses
We know the Metro is coming. What isn’t quite so clear is what form that Metro will take and where. A mixture of buses and light and heavy rail seems to be on the cards, but where, we don’t yet know.
As a regular user of the 132 bus, there are a few challenges the Metro will need to overcome. Firstly it takes an hour to get from Tongwynlais to the city centre on a typical morning. It’s a trip of a little over 6 miles. Also, as someone with a monthly pass, once in Cardiff an additional ticket needs to be bought to travel on a Cardiff Bus or NAT service.
It is with little surprise that bus passenger numbers are said to be falling. A recent ticket price rise across most of the networks, as well as Stagecoach opting to skip Tongwynlais for its 26 service, has been attributed to Cardiff’s congestion problem.
Of the three options put forward for the bus network, there is a suggestion of realigning the bus network, perhaps to include radial routes as well as ones that head into the centre; integrated ticketing and a zero carbon bus fleet.
Whilst the first two options are much needed, just getting the buses moving through the city is a bigger priority.
An Active Health City
Of course, we have an interest here. We firmly believe that the bicycle is the answer to most of the world’s problems. Not only does it get people moving under their own steam, helping to stave off obesity and the many hazards of inactivity, it doesn’t pollute and is a far more efficient mover of people than cars ever will be.
Encouragingly, there are 65% more of us now than there was in 2002. This is without anything really happening to encourage or even facilitate cycling. This number should start to grow, especially now we have some very affordable hire bikes on the scene. It has been suggested that these hire bikes can be integrated into the Metro ticketing system –a move that sounds like a no-brainer to us. One of the first five Nextbike docks is at Central Station. Being able to jump off the train, onto a bike without paying another penny. Yes please.
Another idea put forward in the green paper is “Active Travel Zones”. We’re not sure, but they sound like mini-Holland schemes to us. An active travel zone is said to be an “area designated as a place where walking, cycling and non-motorised transport take priority”. This rather vague description is one we would want to describe Cardiff in its entirety, not just selected zones. Otherwise, would you be creating an expectation that outside these zones walking and cycling would be frowned upon?
Reading between the lines, they could be places like Station Road in Llanishen, Whitchurch Village or Llandaff North that could be closed off to through-traffic and made far more pleasant places to walk and cycle.
The other big ideas in the green paper include a comprehensive cycle network, but we’ve talked about that at length already in our deep dive. However, these cycle networks take time and resources to build. What would help in the short term is a blanket 20mph zone, not just selected constituencies.
Making Cardiff 20mph by default could be done in one fell swoop –and it’s an idea put forward in the plan. It would involve setting the speed cameras we have to 20mph and changing a few signs, but once done it’ll take away much of the ambiguity of the current piecemeal arrangement.
Clean air city
If you’ve been reading the news lately you’ll no doubt have seen the idea of a congestion charge for Cardiff make the headlines once again. The green paper doesn’t call it a congestion charge, but a Clean Air Zone. Now we get to the crux of the whole paper –the threat of a legal direction from Welsh Government.
The legal direction received from Welsh Government means that by June 30th 2019, Cardiff Council must identify options for delivering compliance with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in the shortest possible time. Three cities in England (Bristol, Greater Manchester and Sheffield) have also received direction from the UK government to undertake feasibility studies of this nature but with different timeframes, whilst Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham have all been instructed to introduce Clean Air Zones.
So, by the end of June 2019 the council must come up with a plan for dealing with air pollution in the shortest possible time. They say that “a Clean Air Zone is something we might very well need to consider if, as we have been directed, we are to deliver compliance with legal limits for air quality in the shortest possible time.”
So, clean air zone isn’t a certainty. This is a shame because the proceeds from potentially charging people for bringing their dirty cars, vans and lorries into the city centre are ring-fenced for sustainable transport improvements. This means the money cannot be spent on making motoring easier, or for plugging gaps in other budgets.
However, all is not lost. The green paper also puts forward the idea of a workplace parking levy, similar to that of Nottingham. In Nottingham they charge businesses £387 for each parking space, raising between £8 million and £10 million per year to spend on sustainable transport.
The future of cars
It was all going so well, wasn’t it. Then they go and suggest cars have a future…
We’ve already spent a bit of time talking about why cars are not the future, regardless of the fuel used. They will still end lives prematurely, whether that is through trauma or from inactivity and community severance.
A clean air zone may well encourage more people to invest in an electric car, but an electric car will need to spend an inordinate amount of time being charged up, so charging points are needed –not least renewable power generation.
Just where do you think those charging points will be located? Ah yes, the pavement of course.
As if we haven’t already allowed cars infect enough of our public space, we will potentially be giving up even more of it for charging points. No thank you.
Whilst the green paper talks at length about zero carbon vehicles and a comprehensive network of charging points; car clubs and other “smart” technologies, they are a fools errand. It is not going to fix the fundamental problem with a city that plans for cars –the same problems we have in Cardiff today, just with with marginally less toxicity in the air.
Whilst this was merely a subheading in the green paper, it warrants a further discussion. A while ago we warned that we may have a problem with the robots. Now we really do have a problem with the robots, but it is not one we saw coming.
An autonomous vehicle has recently claimed its first pedestrian fatality. The fundamental problem, it seems, is that machines cannot cope with the unpredictable nature of people just being people.
When you learn to drive you are taught how to at least try to anticipate potential hazards at the side of the road –dogs and children running around, that sort of thing. You know, real life…
So, how do you imagine the industry sees as the way to get around this?
It is the goal of the “connected car” industry to make cyclists use sensors or beacons so they can be detected more easily. (Such sensors could be passive transponders or, even easier, signals from a smartphone.) Currently, “erratic” cyclists are hard to detect by autonomous vehicles. And pedestrians, too, are often not spotted by a plethora of detection devices on even the most tricked-out “driverless cars”.
If we think forcing people to wear a helmet will kill off cycling, what do you think forcing people to wear an electronic tag, like a criminal, is going to do?
We don’t think a future of having to wear a tag every time we leave the house is any future at all. If these vehicles arrive on the streets of Cardiff and we are all forced to wear tags just to coexist with them, this whole strategy will be for nothing. This whole website and its several hundred articles will be for nothing.