Last night I attended the Southampton Cycling Campaign (SCC) meeting on Ordnance Road in our small city. A more passionate group of cycle disciples you couldn’t hope to meet. And the broadest spectrum of interests, backgrounds and demographics were represented. In innovation team building you would wander if our good Lord Belbin had had a hand in the selection process. But the evidence is that these are people quickened by a common cause!
Last year, sadly, Mark Brummel, a member of the SCC was slain by a driver in a known accident hot spot in the city. And as the Times points out, it was another Southampton Man, David Irving on December 17th 2012 who was recorded as the final fatality in a year that saw a 5 year record in cycling fatalities, 122 in total in the UK. Just these 2 deaths demonstrate that Southampton has an unenviable and disproportionately bad record for cycle safety. And the SCC want to do something about it.
Technology, such as that in the Cycle Safety Alert system (GPS, smart phones and low energy Bluetooth) can alert drivers to blind-spot cyclists, contributing to safety. It is the more medium term infrastructural and behaviour change that the SCC want to see and was up for discussion on the night.
The meeting covered feedback from recent decisions made building developments and the provisions of and maintenance of new lanes for cycists. And in general these met approval.
I was given a few minutes to cover SplashMaps which sparked a number of suggestions for events, PR options (not sure I want to take my clothes off as with some of the recent cycle campaigns!), and a whole lot of pouring over maps of the Isle of Wight and the South Downs series. Our product was made possible by the Open Data initiatives from our local public authorities and Ordnance Survey plus the excellent volunteers at the OpenStreetMap. We seek to make dedicated event maps and would love to dedicate some to campaigns and events where SCC, Sustrans and the CTC have an involvement. (Please feel free to send me any details!)
Stupidly I’d left the New Forest Map behind, as the main event, Chris Gregory, Sustainability Manager from the New Forest was here to discuss cycling in the New Forest. Our map contains all the Forestry Commission approved cycle tracks. We have not had to collect this separate data in any other National Park so far (and we cover all of them!). So the New Forest is uniquely restricted for reasons you’ll see later…
There are so many brilliant projects underway integrating the transport system between Bus, Rail and Bike that displacement of cars from roads of the New Forest should soon be apparent. And the integration of local businesses into the plans must also be a boon for Cycle businesses in particular. But the SCC were able to identify a number of issues;
- New busses link the outer reaches of the Forest with the main areas and allow 4 bikes on board… That’s not a lot!
- Trains still don’t allow cycles on-board in sufficient numbers – where’s the old Guards Van?
- The main cycle tracks to the New Forest are badly maintained to the extent that you can’t use a road bike.
- Verderers block every sensible change to the off-raod network.
At this last point I was able to represent the NewForce mountain bike club. A number of proposed improvements were supported by the club and presented to the Forestry Commission. These would improve safety (keeping cycles and motorists on separate tracks) and improve the proposition for family and recreational cycling.
The Forestry commission work in concert with the Highways authority for such ideas, but ultimately this has to be approved by the Verderers of the Forest. Despite the safety, the broader sustainability, the recreational and health benefits every one of these suggestions has been rejected by the Verderers on lesser grounds such as disturbance of the peace.
And why do the Verderers matter?
- Their defence is under the 1970 New Forest Act. Within this each change creating new recreational areas and uses has to be proposed by the Forestry Commission and Approved by the Verderers.
- The head Verderer is appointed by the Queen
And becuase they are stalwart in their resolve, the use of 2/3 of the 300 miles of well graded tracks will remain prohibited.
So, despite Chris’s promise to take the significant points back for consideration, my personal fear is that the power of the Verderers will work to undermine the laudible work by the New Forest NPA and partners and that safety fears and a lack of “joined-up” routes will keep people in their cars, minimising the return on the significant and courageous investments made in these projects.