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Letter: New Walking and Cycle Routes Might Not Be the Hoped-for Panacea

Published on: 16 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 26 Jul, 2023

From: Pat Gallagher

In response to: If the London Road Naysayers Have Better Ideas Let’s Hear Them

A “Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan” (LCWIP) for Guildford borough is in early stages of development and ideas on the local issues or barriers which make it difficult to walk or cycle to nearby destinations are being sought via Discover Surrey LCWIP – Have Your Say – Commonplace.

Cllr Howard Smith’s (Lab, Westborough) original letter challenged naysayers to offer better ideas for the London Road cycle scheme, and perhaps this could be one way to answer his challenge. However, although identification of problems may be thought straightforward, the LCWIP asks for ideas that affect only pedestrians and cyclists, no other road users, and as always there needs to be a quid pro quo.

There is an unsubstantiated statement that it would be a “short-term inconvenience (that) is worth the long-term benefits of having more (safe) cycling in our town.” Just to put a bit more definition on the use of the phrase “short-term”; the original proposal was that the work on the Burpham stretch of London Road would last five months.

Now under consideration is the major modification of Boxgrove roundabout and construction of cycle lanes for the remainder of London Road into town. Without tripling the contractor’s workforce, it would be more realistic to estimate that “short-term” could result in at least another two similar terms, or 15 months in total. [As an aside, costs of the first Dutch-style roundabout in Cambridge were estimated as £800,000, but ended up being £2.3 million.]

Let’s move on to the point about the provision of “safe” cycling. Guildford traffic, at peak hours, is permanently on the cusp of being gridlocked. It takes very little in the way of external interference (roadworks, accidents, broken down vehicles, etc.) for the already congested roads and junctions to slow even further.

There are myriads of studies that have indicated that slower average speeds reduce accidents and pollution, but the dominant research is that if tailbacks occur, stop-start motoring heavily increases emissions.

Guildford is a hub for onward commuting, as well as a business, commercial, education and leisure centre. However, it is also a bottleneck for transit traffic to and from all points of the compass.

Much of the vehicular traffic associated with this transit, as well as out-of-town access, could not be replaced by active travel means, because distances militate against them. Continued housing developments in out-of-town locations (Dunsfold, Send, Gosden Hill), in the absence of a frequent and reliable public transport system, will continue to increase pressure on congestion.

Walking and cycling amidst the exhaust fumes, along these crowded roads, even with ideal segregated paths, is not a healthy option. So, to make cycling “safe” the conundrum is:

  • is there a way to reduce the number of vehicles to allow a smoother flow and lessen tailbacks with associated pollution;
  • or could there be equally effective walking and cycling routes away from polluted zones?

Arguments in favour of walking and cycling routes alongside vehicular traffic, with multiple pedestrian-initiated-control crossings, would be valid if there was space to incorporate complete dedicated paths, without impeding and slowing traffic.

Unfortunately, Guildford’s historic road structure lacks the continuous lateral width on all of the arterial feeder roads to enable this walking, cycling and driving harmony.

An allocation of higher priority access for active travellers, within the available highway space on the major link roads, is often claimed to be the solution to reducing congestion. It is asserted that traffic (and associated pollution) will reduce when better active travel facilities exist.

However, simplified calculations of the potential switch from present vehicle usage, to walking and cycling, indicate that the effect is of the order of just one per cent. This is based on Surrey County Council’s measured traffic counts on London Road in Burpham, and their predicted increase in cycling (pedestrian figures remaining unchanged).

It would appear that options for alleviating Guildford’s traffic and pollution woes are, therefore, extremely limited by space and potentially ineffectual in scale.

Some extreme punitive measures could be introduced, as has been, and is, happening in London, to persuade motorists to avoid the town. But that could have highly adverse outcomes in sustaining Guildford as a desirable location to work, live and play, unless and until there is an acceptable public transport infrastructure such as exists in London.

The suggestion of providing alternative walking and cycling routes, by enhancing existing off-road paths and/or utilising and improving equally-direct, parallel, urban streets has been mooted, but has been discarded by Surrey County Council.

These would offer much healthier options, away from traffic fumes. The catch? This suggestion would not qualify for central government funding. With Woking finances in a parlous condition, and reports that Guildford is also having to tighten its belt, the last thing SCC would want is having to fund another highway infrastructure scheme, even though they already receive three-quarters of council tax.

Thus, constricting the arteries of Guildford’s traffic flow by parallel cycle lanes may not be quite as “safe” as hoped for, nor achieve the promised improvements of cleaner air and faster access for all travellers, nor take quite such a “short-term” to create.

So, when offering helpful suggestions about making walking and cycling better, be careful what you wish for and think very carefully about the possible ramifications.

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Responses to Letter: New Walking and Cycle Routes Might Not Be the Hoped-for Panacea

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 16, 2023 at 7:55 pm

    An excellent, well-written dissertation on the foibles of the world economic forums’ inverted triangle of transport.

  2. Helen Skinner Reply

    July 19, 2023 at 12:19 pm

    It is often said that most of Guildford’s traffic is not local and you won’t solve it by encouraging active travel. At the same time I’m often told how much nicer it is to commute during the school holidays because all the school run traffic isn’t around.

    I agree that the LCWIP doesn’t stretch far enough, it doesn’t let me say there should be a Park & Ride on the Aldershot Road (the one at Artington seems to be well used…) Nor does it let me suggest new bus lanes that could go with them.

    It has taken generations for us to sleepwalk into thinking that using the car for all journeys is the answer, hopefully we can use our brains, learn from other towns and see that change is needed both strongly and urgently. Preferably before I have to buy a car to do the school run safely.

  3. Bethan Moore Reply

    July 19, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Ideally yes, I would agree that it is preferable to have cycle lanes and quiet ways away from traffic fumes. But in the Burpham/Merrow area that is difficult.

    1. You would need two cycleways to serve either side of London Road. This would require more investment.

    2. The residential areas either side of London Road are labyrinthine in structure. It’s near impossible to travel in anything remotely reassembling a straight line. Pedestrian paths are narrow. For it to be useable, you might have to knock down a few houses and I think people would object to that quite strongly.

    Guildford has very high levels of pollution. London Road has a single lane of traffic and will do so after the cycle lane is introduced. The road’s capacity will increase but the pollution levels will not rise and in time may even fall.

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