I’m normally pretty ambivalent when it comes to local politics (or is it just good old fashioned apathy? I can’t be bothered to decide), but having now had time to fully read and digest the two Transport Strategy reports in the April Billet (the official one by the Environment Department and the other Minority Report by Barry Brehaut & Yvonne Burford – confusingly also signatories to the Enviro Dept report), I will be utterly dismayed if the politicians of this island do anything other than adopt the Minority Report.
What is not up for discussion is that traffic congestion is a serious problem for Guernsey. Something needs to be done, and the current system of free parking, a second rate bus service and no cycling infrastructure isn’t going to get anyone out of their car and onto ‘alternative transport’ (I really hate that phrase – it makes cycling seem like something for hippies and social misfits. For me my car is my alternative transport).
Anyhow, my main reason for not supporting Enviro’s plan is that I don’t believe it goes far enough. They commendably want more people to cycle around the island, but they don’t want demonise car use so the suggestion is to make car use “marginally more expensive and less convenient”. I do not believe that this ‘tinkering around the edges’ will make one iota of difference to the level of car use on this island – people will just grumble about it on the Guernsey Press website and then carry on with their lives. There’s not even provision for paid parking as a disincentive for car use, just a lazy “stick another 5p on fuel duty and hope for the best” attitude.
By the report’s own admission, 66% of respondents either “lack the confidence to cycle in traffic” or “consider safety to be an issue”, but the report just doesn’t address this. Its main provisions for increasing cyclist safety is enforcing the already existing Ruettes Tranquilles recommended speed limit of 15mph, segregating them on coastal footpaths, and creating additional cycles lanes “where practical and desirable” (i.e., not on busy congested roads). The main cycling infrastructure projects highlighted are the installation of bikes stands, and a “review of Les Banques cycle path…to give cyclists more priority”. More priority? It’s a dedicated cycle path! I bloody well expect to have full priority when I’m using it!
If the Enviro report offers a carrot, the Minority Report is the stick. It goes so much further in trying to force a modal change in people’s travel habits – paid long term parking, benefit-in-kind tax on employer provided car parking, and the idea of compulsory travel plans for businesses with more than 20 employees (and highlights initiatives such as converting car parking into bike parking, providing bike purchase schemes and shower/changing facilities – which in my opinion, along with somewhere safe & dry to park my bike, is a necessity for all year round commuting).
It also recognises that a primary driver (no pun intended!) for encouraging people onto their bikes is sharing and inclusiveness, not separation and segregation – cycling on the roads should be seen as a normal activity for normal people, something I strongly agree with (it made me chuckle the other weekend when I was out and about with my 3 year old son in the pull along trailer and he complained that the horse we had just passed shouldn’t be in the road as they were for bicycles only!). It addresses peoples safety fears by proposing presumed liability in the event of an accident, and identifies hills as something else that puts people off cycling so suggests carrying bikes on (free) buses up hills and allowing cyclists to ride on pavements on long steep sections of road.
Nuts to my ambivalence, I think 5,000+ miles a year on a bike entitles you to an opinion!