Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Brighton and Hove: Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad?

English local government authorities have very few real powers, even when they administer quite large populations like Brighton and Hove's 250 000 inhabitants. Most of what they do is directed and funded by central government and local authorities must simply do as they are told.

One of the few areas where they do have some power is in relation to local transport. If they are lucky, they also have funding for transport-related ventures from parking fees and fines. In Brighton and Hove, they are very lucky.

So the political parties puff up their importance by dividing over Transport Policy: the Conservatives are pro-Car; Labour is pro-Bus; and the Greens - who run B&H - are pro-Cycle. No one is pro-Feet and the pavements are a disaster zone but leave that aside.

So whereas in many European cities cars, buses (more likely, trams), cycles have been accommodated side-by-side over decades, here it's all new and ideologically-conflicted. Cyclist Fundamentalism (like Dog Lover Fundamentalism) is quite a force and the Greens reckon to pick up the Fundamentalist vote.

So we get Cycle Lanes. (And Dog Friendly Beaches. No Child Friendly beaches here!) But the pot of money is so big we get other things too.

Basically, we get Minor Road Works. First off, we get more Street Signs cluttering the pavements. Then we get "improvements" to traffic junctions which have a fifty-fifty chance of increasing congestion or making life more hazardous for pedestrians.

That's not off the top of my head: one of the junctions I regularly use has been converted from a "Merge in Turn" junction to a "Strict Filtering" junction. Not many cars use one of the Filters but on the other traffic is heavy so that queues build up, adding to the pollution of local front gardens. The old system got rid of the cars more quickly and with less pollution. Chances of this change being reversed? NIL

At a couple of other junctions, money which had to be spent somewhere has been spent on new Green Man lights to guide pedestrians. Unfortunately, they are out of phase causing problems for foreign students and tourists who dutifully wait for the lights to change only to find that they change back when they are half way across the road. Chances of this being corrected? NIL.

Why? It's all about getting rid of the money in the pot, not about improving traffic flows or road safety. And since everything has to be turned around on an annual basis, the chances of getting anything MAJOR done are also NIL.

For example, this city of 250 000 people has a prolific bus service but no bus station. Instead, the main shopping centre (Churchill Square) has become the de facto bus station where people both disgorge into the shopping area and change buses and so on. Now, I like to think myself fairly indifferent to HelfnSafety concerns but I have to say as a pedestrian that I find crossing the road at Churchill Square scary, scary. Maybe because fatal accidents in the city centre habitually involve large buses and small pedestrians.

The Green Council is probably the least worst we can have. The Tories were brain dead and New Labour gave a good impression of being crooks. The Greens are probably nice people. Only time will tell if they will avoid the Fundamentalist embrace of the Cyclists and the Dog Lovers.

Postscript: I don't usually Comment on Comments, but in response to the "Buy a Bike" below: I bought myself a bike, a really nice one, for my 63rd birthday. On my second outing, on a quiet Sunday morning along the seafront cycle lane, I was knocked off by a cyclist hurtling out of a side path. Fortunately not into an oncoming car, there being no cars about. But still quite a lot of cuts and bruises. It has deterred me.


  1. Buy a bike. Then you'll understand the importance of cycle lanes.

  2. If you look at bit into British social history as Michael Gove wants us to do, the invention of the bicycle and subsequent cheap sales were completley revolutionary in that poorer people were able to become independently mobile without relying on horses or the new fangled motor cars which were only available to the more privilaged classes.

    This independent mobility movement may be analagous to the internet free-for-all movement today, except that if a stranger knocks on my my door today after having cycled 40 miles I am more likely to be required to report him as a 'terrorist' than offering him (or her) a glass of water.