Once upon a time Great Britain was a green and pleasant archipelago criss-crossed with a rich lattice work of highways and byways, footpaths and bridleways. However, successive car-centric policies over the decades in the name of progress has led not only to a massive expansion of highways, but the creation of environments extremely hostile to any other mode of transport.
Carriageways were widened, then ‘upgraded’ to dual carriageways becoming motorways in all but name. Not only did they start to bypass the communities the original roads were meant to serve but severed the byways, bridleways and footpaths that would have continued to link communities, in turn leading to greater car-dependency. In the Worthing District of Sompting, close to where I live, the A27 has been so wonderfully ‘upgraded’ that to get to the houses, church and the South Downs to the north you can either run like Usain Bolt (which rules out a few parishioners) or drive a longer circuitous route. No bridge or underpass was provided.
Nowadays, Trunk Roads and Motorways are overseen by the Highways Agency. Whereas Cycling England was a Quango, the Highways Agency is ‘An Executive Agency of the Department for Transport’. They have a big shiny website, with updates on closures either due to road works, incompetent driving or genuine accidents. They have Regional Control Centres resembling Cape Canaveral (except instead of directing man to the moon, they’re directing mankind around Swindon) and people looking very smart and knowledgeable in suits and High Visibility tabards – essential wear if you want to look official.
They have a vision too:
‘We have a vision for our Agency to be:
‘The world’s leading road operator’
We have set five goals which will indicate progress to achieving this vision:
- We provide a service that our customers can trust
- We set the standard for delivery
- We deliver sustainable solutions
- Our roads are the safest in the world
- Our network is a dynamic and resilient asset
To realise this stretching vision, and to guarantee continued service delivery in tougher times, we are developing our organisation to meet the significant challenges that we face. At the Highways Agency we are proud of the progress that we have made to increase our commercial awareness, develop and deliver innovative solutions, and build the capability of our workforce. Moving forward, we will demonstrate a broader range of skills, and be flexible to satisfy our customers’ and stakeholders’ range of expectations.’
Brings a tear to the eye doesn’t it?
One problem is that the Highways Agency (and Traffic Police) really believes the hype and Management Speak. Calling it a ‘Strategic Road Network’ with its ‘Innovative Solutions’ really gives all that use it and work on it that wonderful warm glow of overblown self importance – and yet more chances to wear high-viz tabards.
In the section of their website dedicated to cycling, walking and equestrians, they set their mission statement out as follows (and I’ve provided a few links to articles within which might be of interest):
- Considering the needs of cyclists at all stages of trunk road scheme development, in consultation and collaboration with other parties.
- Developing assessment criteria against which the needs of cycle safety, personal security and convenience can be judged, again in partnership with others.
- Working to ensure good access arrangements for cyclists in and around developments affecting trunk roads.
- Ensuring that maintenance is carried out regularly to the benefit of cyclists, and building upon such maintenance to provide enhanced facilities for cyclists.
- Considering how provision for cycling along the trunk road can be made outside the highway boundary, in collaboration with other bodies.
- Encouraging use of cycle lanes and cycle tracks, and cycle-friendly junctions.
- Providing new and improved signing of cycle routes.
- Where possible, working to provide more direct routes for cycling between key destinations.
I know. It’s bringing a tear to the other eye isn’t it?
In reality, if you are a cycle campaigner, you will rarely encounter the Highways Agency unless a major new road scheme or ‘upgrade’ is planned. Their remit covers Motorways and Trunk Roads – not all ‘A’ Roads. When you do however, they will regard you with even greater contempt (from experience) than Council Highways Engineers as they have an even greater desire to get you off their roads and onto infrastructure, however crappy and dangerous. As cyclists, you don’t fit into Big Strategic Road Networks For Rapid Big Vehicles And Executives On Big Business. Like encounters with local Highway Departments cycling doesn’t fit into computer generated models.
Even if everone was driving happily within the speed limit, Trunk Roads are simply not that pleasant to cycle on with their pollution, noise, overpriced refreshment stops and proximity to fast moving traffic. There could have been separate parallel cycle provision such as in the Netherlands. It could have linked up now cessated Bridleways and Byways and keeping vital, pleasant quieter links between cities, towns and villages.
A problem resulting from Trunk Roads and Motorways that you will encounter as a campaigner is that other road options for pedestrians & cyclists become less pleasant too. When road building projects occur (such as the A34 Newbury Bypass) they are justified by claiming that they relieve congestion elsewhere. More often than not, the reverse happens but by the time a report has come out (if you get to see it) the local surrounding roads have become more dangerous and the trunk road is perceived as inaccessible to all but the most dedicated club cyclists and time triallists.
As Noel Coward might have elegantly warbled, ‘Only Mad Dogs and Clubmen go out on a Trunk Road Run’
SPENDING REVIEW UPDATE! It looks as though the A11 ‘Upgrade’ in East Anglia is to go ahead. This £134m scheme (up from £115m) will apparently save 3 minutes on off peak journeys! Upgrade of course means conversion to dual carriageway making it really unpleasant for anything other than a motor vehicle.
As someone has quipped on the CTC Forum,
‘Personally I think £115 million to save three minutes of my time is well worth it – my time is valuable. And in case anyone is worried about the stress and lack of exercise-related illnesses likely to arise from the new road, the government has also announced that the NHS budget is to be ring fenced. So good news all round.’
It’s like Thatcher never left!