** Update May 2022 – Recommended read**
We have now published our overall critique of the proposed cycleway from Stroud to Bishop’s Cleeve. This highlights that, even if the technical flaws could be addressed, the campaign remains concerned that a singular strategic corridor will not deliver the rapid improvements in cycling that are needed across the county.
** Campaign impact – Autumn 2021 update **
After criticism from multiple parties, including the cycling campaign, the Department for Transport mandated that GCC revisited their design for the scheme, and the final plans are substantially improved. Whilst we still strongly believe that focussing almost all investment on this one long distance route is the wrong approach, campaign contributions have ensured that what is being built has at least had a number of significant safety flaws addressed.
The campaign has provided strong criticism of Gloucestershire County Council’s ‘signature’ cycle route, highlighting multiple failings along its length that fall well short of government safety standards. The route, which will cost local residents £3.7 million, alongside more than £6 million from Highways England, and which is being pursued instead of multiple safety schemes across the districts of Gloucestershire. The scheme has previously been heavily criticised by the Department for Transport.
The latest designs, shared as part of public consultation on the scheme, show that major safety and usability flaws remain unaddressed along the route:
- The cycle tracks are at best 2 metres wide, whereas current guidance recommends 3 metres minimum to allow cyclists to pass each other, parents to cycle alongside their child, and for people with disability adapted cycles to have access to the route.
- Extensive use of areas shared between pedestrians and cyclists, particularly through Churchdown, will inevitably lead to conflicts between people moving at different speeds, and with different needs.
- The council’s choice to use footpath space to create the cycle path, rather than spare road width, means pedestrians are left to walk single file for significant sections, needing to step into the cycle path when passing others.
- Poor traffic visibility at junctions, and wide corners that allow cars to cross the route at speed, which increases the risk of collisions.
- Lack of adequate separation between the cycle path and the road, meaning that a cyclist heading towards Gloucester could be passed by a vehicle travelling at high speed at distances significantly under a metre, well below the recommended safe distance, and where there is risk of falling into the road after even a minor wobble.
Gloucestershire County Council has said that the route is aimed at people who fear traffic, but has ignored current design guidance, creating a route that is so far below government standards that it will either be used at significant risk to everyone, or not used at all. The Campaign has attempted to work with the council in recent years to consider the needs of all users, but this advice appears to have been ignored and it has been forced to take this position after seeing decades of expertise and national guidance ignored in favour of short-sighted developments that put local people at risk.
C&TCC is urging Gloucestershire County Council to abandon spending such a substantial amount of money on a sub-standard route that benefits very few people, and to instead work with local communities across Gloucestershire to prioritise local schemes that allow people to have the choice to cycle comfortably close to home.
The Campaign has recommended that the council prioritise changes on the B4063 to accident blackspots and safe speed limits, leaving money available for better schemes across the county.
“The pandemic has shown that, with the right conditions, many more people across Gloucestershire would love to cycle more. Research has shown that the most effective way to enable this is to tackle barriers to short journeys of under 3 miles. Gloucester to Cheltenham will only ever be cycled by a small number of people, most of whom are comfortable on the road.
At a time when people are looking for the council to help them keep cycling in their own community, using the vast majority of the county’s active travel budget on one project benefiting just a few people means many across Gloucestershire will miss out during a crucial year of recovery. This kind of project is simply not the development that we need for immediate use and benefit of local people across the county.”
B4063 Gloucester to Cheltenham Cycleway
“C&TCC supports schemes that could enable more people to cycle or which could improve conditions for those who already do so. That does not mean, however, that we can support any scheme regardless of its quality, suitability for purpose or safety. In the latter regard we have particular concern about the safety of new or less experienced cyclists who might be drawn to a route and who will necessarily be less able to detect hazards and to cope with them than people more experienced.
We believe that in order to make cycling more popular, cyclists must be treated with dignity and respect. We do not at all accept that ‘anything is better than nothing’ and that cycling should be accommodated with minimum standards. Experience nationally and internationally has shown beyond doubt that high standards are as essential for cycle traffic as for motor traffic.
We are disappointed with the B4063 proposals but we also believe that the principle of developing such a scheme is inappropriate at this stage in cycle use in Gloucester and Cheltenham. There is extensive evidence that the greatest potential for increasing cycle use is in enabling more people to make short, local journeys. In places where cycle use is high, the great majority of cycle journeys are less than 3 miles. Very few people ride or are ever likely to ride distances as far as Gloucester to Cheltenham, let alone cross-county as Gloucestershire’s county-wide network envisages. Most people who ride longer distances are necessarily keener, faster cyclists who are usually quite able to cope with current conditions along roads such as the B4063 and who will not appreciate facilities that slow them down or make cycling more difficult. We know of no evidence to the contrary. It is hard to see that any cycling scheme along most of the B4063 will make a significant contribution to more cycle use in Gloucestershire.
We do believe, however, that there is potential to grow cycle use over limited sections of the B4063, particularly between Gloucester and Churchdown and excellent route quality will be essential in doing that. But east of Churchdown we do not feel that any off-road route will be much used. This route has been inappropriately prioritised favouring a spurious belief it will enable longer distance cycling over micro mobility which has a much stronger demand and evidence base.
The current proposals do not comprise a high quality scheme but one which struggles to meet minimum standards most of the time. No section of the entire route meets the minimum standards for cycle track widths, and the shared path areas are only compliant assuming low pedestrian and cycle usage (under 300 per hour).
Contrary to Gloucestershire’s assertion, most of the route does not meet the guidelines set out in LTN1/20, Cycle Infrastructure Design, certainly not beyond absolute minimum standards. For example:
- Cycle track widths: LTN1/20 (Table 5.2) advocates a desirable minimum width for cycle tracks of 3 metres, with an absolute minimum of 2 metres at constraints. A substantial proportion of the B4063 route would be less than 3 metres wide and that is not because of isolated local constraints. 2 metres is much too narrow for a two-way path, particular one to be used by novice riders who are less able to maintain a direct course and who want to keep further from traffic. It is especially not suitable for faster cyclists (which includes children), electric bikes or e-scooters.
- Segregation: LTN1/20 recommends that routes should segregate cyclists from pedestrians as much as possible, especially through urban areas. However, this route has extensive sections of shared use in Churchdown and elsewhere where space is constrained and often where there are premises adjacent that limit the ability of users to keep apart. Safety in all these places is highly problematic and almost certainly worse than using the road. Generally LTN1/20 (6.5.4) notes:
In urban areas, the conversion of a footway to shared use should be regarded as a last resort. Shared use facilities are generally not favoured by either pedestrians or cyclists …
Also LTN1/20 (5.5.3) states:
Conversion of existing footways to shared use should only be considered when options that reuse carriageway or other (e.g. verge) space have been rejected as unworkable.
- Sightlines: Criteria for sightlines are set out in LTN1/20 (5.8). These will not be met along the B4063 where the cycle route runs adjacent to property accesses or where some side roads are crossed. Ramped crossings may be useful, but cyclists still need to be able to see traffic that might conflict with them if safety is not to depend upon luck or the willingness of other drivers to yield. Nowhere along the B4063 can cyclists adequately see traffic approaching from behind.
- Crossings of side roads: LTN1/20 (10.5.16) states that where junctions are set back, the give-way markings for general traffic should be set at least 5.0 metres back from the major road kerbline. Tight corner radii should be used, preferably no more than 4 metres, 6 metres absolute maximum. At the Pirton Fields development that radius is about 10 metres; at Brickhampton Court it is about 13 metres; and at Hayden Lane it is about 9 metres. None of these will lead to comfortable or safe crossing environments for cycle track users. There are two partially set back junctions. At Snowdon Gardens the x-distance of 2.4 metres for cycle traffic just meets the absolute minimum acceptable – LTN1/20 (Table 5-6) – the preferred distance being a much greater 4.5 metres. At the entrance to Saffron, the x-distance is outside the acceptable range at about 2.0 metres. At some side road crossings there is no set back. According to LTN1/20 (10.5.24) drivers must give way to cyclists when leaving the minor road but there is no priority for cyclists over traffic turning in. LTN1/20 states that the design is only suitable for one-way cycle tracks travelling in the same direction as the adjacent traffic lane. We disagree. It is not safe under any circumstances as cyclists cannot know the intentions of following drivers without stopping and turning (itself a very difficult thing for most people to do) and if there is continuous traffic it may be a long time before it is safe for them to proceed.
- Verges: Along most of the B4063 there is either no verge or buffer (with the cycle track running adjacent to the kerb) or a buffer of only 0.5 metre. LTN1/20 (Table 6-1) requires a minimum buffer of 0.5 metre where the speed limit is 30 mph, 1.0 metre where the speed limit is 40 mph and 2.0 metres where the speed limit is 50 mph (absolute min 1.5m). Most of the B4063 east of Elmbridge has a 50 mph speed limit. No section of this route has a 2.0 metre verge. On the other hand, the generous carriageway width this scheme maintains will continue to encourage vehicles to exceed the speed limit along these sections.
- Lamp columns, etc: The original plans showed many places where lamp columns, sign posts, utility cabinets and similar were situated within or immediately adjacent to the cycle path. LTN1/20 requires a minimum clearance of 0.5 metres from all furniture. It is not clear that this will be realised.
The cycle route should also be compatible with Inclusive Mobility guidance;
Closeness of traffic: A reason for providing the cycle route is said to be to cater for more nervous people who fear riding in traffic. But riding westbound next to the road on a 2 metre path, these cyclists will be closer to oncoming motor traffic than would ever be the case riding on the road. And they will be particularly vulnerable to deviation into the road should anything unexpected happen (such as someone else passing them closely). It is a contradiction to provide paths such as this in order to encourage less confident people to cycle; much greater separation from traffic is needed to achieve that aim.
Pedestrian conflict: We fear that there is much potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians and between either and electric scooters, which can maintain a higher speed where a cyclist would ease off. Gloucestershire has said that it expects the route to be suitable for scooters. The widths of cycle track and footway are such that it is inevitable that each user will stray into the other’s space. The situation is particular critical through Churchdown, such as in the vicinity of Tesco.
Cycle track level: It is not clear whether the cycle track is to be installed at footway or carriageway level. Footway level would not be safe where the track runs close to the kerb as overrunning into the road by cyclists would be much more likely to happen, perhaps when cyclists attempt to pass on the narrow path. Another reason for accommodating cyclists at carriageway level is that visually impaired people prefer a level difference between a cycle track and a footway as this is the most easily detectable form of separation.
Access across road: The cycle route appears to have been designed on the premise that cyclists will access it at one end and then continue to the other end. There is no provision for cyclists to access or leave the route anywhere else and to do so will often require unusual manoeuvres across traffic which could be dangerous. Inter-alia, access/egress is required at: Pirton Road, Parton Road, Tesco, Meteor Business Park, Airport, Bamfurlong Lane (Staverton), Staverton Business Park, and Bamfurlong Lane (Arle Court).
Available space: A key constraint along most of the B4063 is the lack of width available for any kind of cycling-specific infrastructure. Through Churchdown and into Gloucester adjacent properties preclude space for a safe, segregated cycle route. At some places along the route, it is intended to gain more space for the cycle track through carriageway narrowing. However, this could be to the disadvantage of people cycling on the road, especially less confident riders. Given the wider limitations of the proposed route we have no confidence that the net benefit will be positive.
C&TCC cannot support this scheme; indeed, we feel that we have no choice but to oppose it for the harm that it could do to cycling. The scheme does not address any of the principal requirements to encourage significant modal shift to cycling in Gloucestershire, whilst its cost will deny funds to more useful and effective schemes that could make much more difference. Indeed, this scheme would consume the vast majority of the EATF Phase 2 funding and most of Gloucestershire’s Active Travel budget for the year.
Of particular concern to us is the failure of the scheme to meet the quite moderate requirements of LTN1/20 and the lack of sufficient attention to the safety of potential users, particularly those lacking the experience necessary to identify the hazards that will be present. We note that aside from our judgement, the scheme has attracted strong criticism from people on Twitter.
In our view the proposed scheme should be abandoned. Instead some of the money available should be used for other actions along the B4063 which would bring greater benefits to cyclists and potential cyclists. These include:
- Removal of Estcourt roundabout: Probably the key priority if cycling is to be encouraged in any way on this side of Gloucester. The roundabout has a poor safety record for cyclists and it is a major deterrent to cycling for anyone who does not have advanced road sharing skills. Changes already made as part of the Gloucester to Cheltenham route have made conditions more difficult, not better. There is no cycle facility solution to roundabouts such as this apart from grade separation. The preferred solution at Estcourt Road is to replace the roundabout with a signal-controlled junction.
- Speed limits; Through Churchdown in particular there is insufficient space to accommodate cycling safely off the road. The alternative is to impose a 20 mph speed limit through the village and to introduce changes to the road design that enforce this. Most of the remainder of the B4063 has a speed limit of 50 mph. This is too high for a principal cycling corridor, particularly when the parallel A40 offers an unrestricted alternative. The speed limit should be reduced to 40 mph maximum.
- Elmbridge and Arle Court roundabouts: The existing underpasses here enable cyclists to avoid riding around the roundabouts, but access to and from the underpasses is unsatisfactory. The underpass cycle tracks need to be better integrated with the roads at either end and attention should be given to surfacing standards.
- Centre islands: Centre islands can create ‘squeeze’ points for cyclists and are hostile places for people who are unable to hold their ground (and generally unpleasant even for those who can). They should be removed. Where there is a need to assist pedestrians to cross the road, zebra or controlled crossings have advantages not only for cyclists but also by giving better protection to pedestrians. Examples along the B4063 include: Gloucester North fire station; either side Pirton Fields development; Anson Business Park; Briarsfield; west of Arle Court.
C&TCC and other cycling organisations struggled over several years to see the plans for this route. Both Highways England and Gloucestershire County Council refused to divulge the proposals for a considerable time, finally consenting to an inadequate presentation at a closed meeting with no materials that could be shared more widely. The current proposals were not the subject of any meaningful engagement prior to formal public consultation. There was no opportunity for the plans or their prioritisation to be influenced by people with knowledge of cycling or cycle planning.