Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Lunatics are Running the Asylum

I am beginning to wonder at the intelligence of those that run the County Councils.

I live in the small town of Highcliffe which still comes under the term of "village", just outside the Town of Christchurch in the County of Dorset.

Highcliffe "proper" is approximately 75% of retirees (so I am told).  To the north and further into Christchurch there does exist a secondary school with the name of Highcliffe, not because there are many children living in Highcliffe but because the school is slightly closer to Highcliffe than Christchurch, although not part of Highcliffe.

A few months ago many hundreds of Highcliffe residence fought a hard battle with Dorset council to stop them tearing apart the conservation site of Chewton Bunny to build a bmx track that would not only have destroyed the habitat of the wild life but would have also torn apart the seafront and hills. 

 Chewton Bunny along with the beach and hills is a quiet dog walking, family cycling, and strollers area.  Hundreds of people a year take pleasure all year around from the beauty of this virtually untouched site.

This venture would have cost millions and the council were willing to spend these millions and destroy the conservation site for a handful of people that may or may not have come to use the new bmx track.  As luck would have it the border between Dorset and Hampshire runs through the middle of Chewton Bunny and Hampshire County Council were very quick to step in and say "No".  The bmx idea has now been shelved but not completely forgotten about by Dorset Council.

 Further into Christchurch the Council has also spent a great deal of "Cycling Allocated" money by taking some wild land near a council estate and threading a path for cyclists and walkers that weave in and around.  The left hand photo shows the recreational path through Mudeford woods.
The right hand photo shows recreational cycling through Stanpit.

I have yet to investigate these paths personally but I am told that these recreational areas are used by only a very small handful of the children that live on the council estate.

So it does seem as if Dorset County Council and Christchurch Town Council do have money for cycling.  But what are they doing about everyday safe cycling on our roads and trying to encourage people out of their cars and onto bikes?

Not a lot when one looks at my personal journey into the town of Christchurch.

From my home in Highcliffe to Christchurch town which is 4.5 miles, for 3.5 of those miles Christchurch Council have turned the pavement on one side of the road into shared pedestrian/cyclist use.

The whole journey, apart from the first quarter mile, for me is all very fast busy main road, leading into and through a fast 4 lane bypass.  For the first step of the journey, if I cycle legally, I have to share the road with the traffic until I can cross over and join the shared pavement.  This shared pavement is only wide enough for two people to walk side by side, in a poor state of repair and overhung in places with vegetation, along with having to continually watch out for people coming from driveways.  There is of course also the obligatory stopping for motorised vehicles on side roads, of which there are many; along with facing on coming traffic.

The second phase of this safe cycling takes one through a narrow, unlit, country lane where the speed limit for motorised vehicles is 60mph.

This lane by passes a part of the Christchurch bypass.   Reasonably comfortable to use during spring/summer daylight hours but most certainly not by a lone woman, children or the elderly during darkness.  Most groups of cyclists stay in single file because cars come up very quickly behind you when a car or farm vehicle does come along.

On coming to the end of the country lane one then joins the shared pedestrian/cyclists path again, which continues along side the Christchurch bypass.   As you can see the path is still narrow, and one is still facing fast on coming traffic with no barrier whatsoever.  Not very safe when moving to one side for pedestrians or another cyclist coming towards one, especially if one is riding a tricycle or pulling a child carrier or such, along with being dangerous for a family with young children riding their own bikes.

A short distance along one then has to cross left across this 5 way roundabout.  There are no give way signs for pedestrians or cyclists.  One simply has to wait for a break in the traffic and cross quickly taking each stage individually as and when the road might be clear.  Or one can continue around to the right until one will finally come across a pedestrian set of traffic lights, cross there, and cycle back down again.

Going into Christchurch town one only has to cross this one road of this 5 way roundabout.  To cycle to the Retail Park one has to cross 3 of these roads before turning off on a road that has no pavement for either cycles or pedestrians.   None of the other roads on this roundabout have a safe place for pedestrians or cyclists to cross.  This photo on the right is taken showing the vehicles joining the roundabout which is on the left.

Looking towards the roundabout from the other side of the road (courtesy of google), one can see just how wide the Christchurch bypass is.  I find it indecent that so much width can be devoted to just four lanes of motorised traffic, where there is land going to waste both in the centre and side.  This could easily be re-planned in the Dutch style.

Just before reaching the town centre the bike path comes to a full stop. Get off and walk.  For a trike, or God forbid a cargo bike this is an uncomfortable state of affairs.  From this point there is no way to join the traffic heading in the correct direction, but instead one has to walk through an underpass, which is between the two buildings at the far end, to get to the other side of the road.  Once again if one has to push a trike or cargo bike back up from the underpass walkway it's a difficult job.

I find it a very sad state of affairs that Dorset Council wanted to, and are still hoping to be able to, spend millions of pounds to create a bmx park in a town/village where approximately 75% of the residents are retired.   Yet they have spent peanuts on putting up a few cycle/pedestrian signs on pavements along a main bypass that people have to join from various parts of Christchurch to visit the town, commute, or simply visit friends and family.

The money exists, the roads are wide enough, so what on earth is going on in our planning departments.

No wonder parents drive their kids to school, no wonder people take the car to town or to the retail park, no wonder no one even contemplates leaving the car behind and cycle instead.  And no wonder pensioners like myself newly taking to bikes, families, and the few kids that do cycle to school, ride mostly on pavements now.  It seems that in my town pavement cycling is the first choice of the council and therefore we are tending to think if we are allowed to ride on this pavement, then we are going to ride on that pavement too; be it illegal or not.

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