Portsmouth Cycle Forum Open Meeting, 14th November 2013
Last Thursday Portsmouth Cycle Forum held one of its best attended meetings yet. The venue was the University of Portsmouth Students Union and the theme was to describe how the Dutch method of designing and building cycle routes could be used in Portsmouth.
Portsmouth resident David Brown has great experience of cycling in both the UK and the Netherlands - although as to be expected cycling in Holland is much easier, safer and so more attractive. David showed a film about the city of Groningen which, like Portsmouth is historically a military town with a network of narrow streets housing about 200,000 people.
The people of Groningen, which has gone on to become one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, radically redesigned their roads in the 1970s using a revolutionary planning approach. The result is that today over 50 per cent of all trips made in Groningen are made by bike - commuting, school trips, shopping and social outings. The people of Groningen benefit from low air and noise pollution, better health and a pleasant, liveable city. As a result, cycling is the preferred mode of travel for most people.
David went on to describe how, like us, the Dutch rebuilt their cities around the private car in the aftermath of world war two. However, by the 1970s many Dutch people were upset about their city squares being given over to car parking, attractive avenues being bulldozed to become multi-lane highways and the high level of death on the roads. Their demands for change led to the cycle-oriented cities we see today.
The Dutch approach to transport does not aim to actively discourage car use, but it does aim to promote sustainable transport such as the bicycle and public transport. Their road network is now designed with this in mind with all users of the road considered. Cyclists and pedestrians are not abandoned to their fate at busy junctions. Residents are free to use their cars when they need to but the equivalent journey by bike is inevitably shorter and faster.
Councillor Ken Ellcome (Drayton & Farlington, Con) explained the political challenges of adopting such an approach in Portsmouth. He was joined by Simon Moon and Simon Brownlie from PCC’s Transport and Environment team who generously gave up their time to discuss the practical planning and design issues.
Cllr Ellcome and his officers acknowledged that Portsmouth is already saturated with motor vehicles and any future economic growth could be hamstrung by transport and parking difficulties. There was lively debate around these issues, with residents calling for the city council to stop living in fear of a public backlash and take leadership to resolve the chronic transport issues that beset the city.
Portsmouth Cycle Forum chair Jon Spencer said
“Cycling in Portsmouth benefits everyone. Every cyclist means one less car on our gridlocked streets. It means less pollution and less danger on the roads as well as bringing health and happiness benefits to the individual cyclist. The city council needs to show leadership on this issue and create an infrastructure that makes cycling pleasant and attractive. Cycling is one of the few viable transport solutions in a compact city like Portsmouth.”
The Dutch transport revolution has created pleasant, liveable cities with thriving local businesses. Citizens are able to navigate their city safely and without being regularly trapped in the gridlock that so often befalls the people of Portsmouth. Groningen itself has gone on to become one of the most prosperous cities in Europe.