At our Annual General Meeting in April, our members asked us to contact the main political parties so they could find out their position on improving cycling in the city, particularly given the opportunity that both central Government (through the Gear Change policy) and local council policies (including the Local Transport Plan 4 and Climate Change Emergency) are giving the opportunity to reset the active travel agenda.
We contacted the Group leader and Traffic and Transportation spokesperson for each party that has multiple candidates standing in the 2021 Portsmouth City Council elections - Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour and Green Parties - and asked them the same five questions. We set a deadline to receive their answers of 2nd May, and at the time of publication - 4th May - only two parties have shared their responses. If more are received, we’ll update this post accordingly. Responses are listed in alphabetical order.
In the author’s humble opinion, the responses received so far fall very short of the Government’s and the Council’s own published ambitions, and the massive shift that is needed to improve our streets for cycling for everyone. PCF fact check notes are at the bottom of each question section.
We hope this gives you a bit more information to make an informed decision for your vote on Thursday 6th May.
- In the last decade, the total number of miles driven by motor vehicles each year has increased by around 70 million miles. In the same time period, over 10,000 more vehicles have been registered in the city but there is no more road space for them all to be used. In addition, 40% of motor vehicle journeys that start and finish within the city boundary are less than 2 miles.
How does your party intend to stop gridlock on the city’s roads in the next decade?
The city is particularly vulnerable to potential gridlock because there are only three routes into and out of the city1. Commuting for work at the beginning and end of the normal working day already produces congestion. We might see some reduction here if, post the Covid pandemic, work patterns change and people can work from home more often for at least part of the week but we cannot rely on this. Shopping and leisure also produce congestion during holidays and at weekends.
To encourage people not to bring their cars into the city an extension of the park and ride is needed to expand capacity and also to serve more parts of the city people want to get to. Consideration should be given to using this also for supporters travelling in for Pompey home matches. The extension of residents parking zones around the football ground is pushing freely available parking further from the ground so this should become a more attractive option.
The Council should work with (particularly) larger public and private organisations and businesses whose staff commute to work on reviewing (at least every two years) and developing their active travel plans to see what progress is being made on reducing car journeys. The council can assess what is working and seek to replicate it. Sharing and publicising successful practice can be part of a programme to encourage travel behaviour change.
Joined up cycle commuter routes can encourage more people to cycle rather than take a car.
Improving the frequency of bus services in the city would also help but the commercial operation of the companies can prevent this so there will probably need to be some legislative change that allows more flexibility on how they can operate. The development of the South Hampshire Rapid Transit system will begin to have an impact too.
Increased frequency of train services, for example between Portsmouth and Southampton, could aid commuting. However, this is not under PCC control and although it is being promised there is no timetable for delivery.
1 There are three routes by car (one of which is inaccessible to cycles) - there are three more routes by cycle, one by train, four by ferry and hovercraft
There is no one simple answer to this. We need a range of solutions that mean that traffic can move safely and efficiently through the city. This is about encouraging a move away from journeys by private car into bus, cycle or walking. It’s about making residents who would prefer to walk or cycle feel safe during their journeys and when they want to park their bikes. It’s about making sure that traffic junctions work efficiently to reduce queues and air pollution. The National Bus Strategy is warmly welcomed by PCC and both First and Stagecoach with whom we have agreed a partnership more inclusive than the one we already have. This will involve putting in the schemes which were in our original bid to the Transforming Cities Fund for which we were only partly successful. This will include integrated bus ticketing and increased and improved bus services covering more areas and early mornings and late evenings all of which should encourage more people to use their cars less and the bus more.
2. In the summer of 2020 the UK Government released its ‘Gear Change’ vision in which the Prime Minister states: “ I am proud of this plan for unleashing our nation of cyclists – improving people’s health, the environment, and wider society along the way. This will mark a step change in how our towns and cities look, feel and operate for people across this country.”
How will your party use the document to ensure that Portsmouth matches the vision the Government wants to see?
The ‘Gear Change’ vision document makes clear that new cycle route provision must be physically separated and continuous (p16)2, that cyclists must be treated as vehicles not pedestrians (p17), and that funding will not be made available3 unless the provision meets these new principles and standards (p31). This has therefore got to be the basis on which any new cycling and walking infrastructure in the city is developed. All new proposals will have to be measured against this. This will involve looking at existing proposals in the LCWIP for commuter cycle routes and identifying how we can meet the principles. The last page of the document(p49) talks about the need to prepare the ground properly and thoroughly for changes and in view of some recent experience in the city this is vital if change is going to happen and be successful.
Always happy to look at documents from the Government, but we also have to be aware that their warm words are not often connected to reality on the ground. I understand London still receives 11 times the subsidy per person that Portsmouth gets to encourage use of public transport, walking and cycling.4
2 This depends on the type of street, but on the whole is the case
3 By the Department for Transport
4 No evidence has been provided to support this assertion
3. Last summer also saw a number of Portsmouth roads either closed or have access restricted to allow social distancing or for businesses to trade utilising outside dining areas. Many of these were introduced under Experimental or Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders which allow trial schemes to test theories on the ground and be altered before committing money to make them permanent.
Is this a process you agree with in order to demonstrate to the public that change can be made for positive effect, and do you have any ideas for projects that could be trialled using these processes?
The short answer is yes. I do agree with the process of trialling proposals with TTRO’s. There has to be some better consultation about their introduction but also making it clear that after trialling a full formal consultation takes place before it is made permanent. We should do more to publicise the idea and principles behind low traffic neighbourhoods and seek suggestions from residents about where they would like them to be. Some residents in St Jude Ward have started a discussion about a proposal they have.
Some of these schemes worked and some didn’t. The extra money from Government was useful but having a system that bypassed the public was not.
4. This summer the Council is expected to adopt both a new local transport plan until 2035 and the first Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan.
What specific actions will your party undertake to create safer cycling conditions in the city and to enable more people to consider it as a regular part of their transport choices?
I think the priority here is safety and the accident rate among cyclists which is still too high compared to other cities.
I would want to ask for all the locations of accidents involving cyclists and their frequency and then to identify what measures can be introduced to prevent further accidents at these locations in particular. Learning from the experience of similar urban local authorities in reducing cycle casualties will be necessary too.
Overall, the city council needs to continue to publicise the need for change and highlight examples of good practice in the city and elsewhere.
We have invested in closing some roads to motor vehicles to make transport more attractive to walkers and cyclists.5 We would expect this to continue. We are investing in making the commuter cycle way on the Eastern Road wider at its narrowest points (by the caravan park) to make it safer and more attractive to cyclists.6 We will review the bike hanger scheme to see if there is demand for more. We will bring in a seafront cycle route as part of the new sea defences. Some of the roads we closed such as Castle and Palmerston Road South have proved to be successful so there’s every possibility that when they go out for public consultation under a TRO that people will want to see them remain closed to motorised traffic. But this has to be democratically decided on. If there is any possibility of doing the same in other roads, we will investigate and consult.
We are already putting in a cross-city safe and quiet cycle route linking Eastern Road with Lake Road and the city centre. There will be improved lighting, signage and greenery put in along the route to make it as safe and pleasant as possible. As funding becomes available or we are able to obtain funding, we will be looking at creating similar routes across the city to create a safe cycling network, connecting as many parts of the city as possible.
Because of Portsmouth’s narrow roads and the fact that there are only 3 main roads, on and off the island, it’s difficult to create safe and continuous cycle lanes which is why we aim to develop as many safe cycle routes on tertiary roads to keep cyclists safer.7
5 PCF has been advised that these schemes were paid for by the Emergency Active Travel Fund issued by Department for Transport
6 PCF has been advised that this scheme will be paid for in part by the Active Travel Fund issued by Department for Transport
7 As above, there are several other routes out of the city by other modes. Also to note, the DfT guidance ranks convenience and continuity at the same level of importance as safety. No evidence has been provided that tertiary routes are safer than segregated facilities on primary routes
5. Do you have any other thoughts or ideas that you wish to bring to the notice of our members in the area of traffic, travel and transportation?
The City Council has already passed a motion for a strategic plan for the management of residential and non-residential parking (in July 2019) to be published but nothing has been produced so far. This would address what the parking policy is intended to achieve beyond just raising revenue and restricting parking in some areas at certain times in favour of residents.
We are also aiming to create safe and pleasant walking routes with planters, parklets and safe cycle locks and we will respond to the overwhelmingly positive response to the bike hangar trial we recently introduced. We have enough further interest in at least 24 more! These should enable more people to get cycles as few Portsmouth homes have suitable and safe cycle storage.8
We will also respond positively to requests for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods but again this will depend on funding as it costs between £10K and £20K per scheme.
Finally we will put in contraflow cycling on new one way streets9 as this makes cycling much safer.10
8 PCF supports the cycle hangar trial for homes without suitable storage but would suggest that any home with a garage and/or off road parking (e.g. many homes in the forgotten north of the city) already have this, and the barrier is therefore a lack of suitable infrastructure.
9 The Council has been committed to a review of all existing one-way streets many, many years ago, with the aim of permitting contraflow cycling. It is our understanding that this has not been progressed.
10 Whilst we support the use of contraflow routes to improve convenience for cycling, no evidence was provided that they increase safety for cycling.