I will try to be brief1.
Today was the closing date for the consultation on Swindon’s Local Transport Plan 3 – I must correct my previously calling it the local “travel” plan, this is incorrect. I’ve written about this plan before here and, more recently, here.
I started to read the full LTP3 documentation a few weeks back but gave up as it’s a very long document and not particularly interesting reading – even for a budding local transport bore like me! But today, in order to put some kind of response together, I read the consultation paper (hopefully still online here) to get an overview – this is a much more readable document of just 6 pages that sums things up nicely.
I know that I am…I really really am turning into a transport nerd, but I DID reply and I wanted to say a little here about what I said.
A Note on My Perspective
Before we begin, I’m a cyclist, cycle campaigner and someone who begins this process in support of sustainable transport in general. I wish I could see this consultation through impartial eyes, but I don’t have impartial eyes. My views are biased, but I think (hope?) that they’re biased in favour of common sense.
A Summary of my Thoughts
In summary, I feel that Swindon’s LTP3 is a poor response to the transport challenges that Swindon faces. The policies put forward do not seem to be natural solutions to the problems posed – more, they seem to be solutions to other problems.
It feels like a safe travel plan that keeps the status quo and tries to please eveyrone.
It feels like a standard travel plan. There’s nothing of surprise in there. If there was a random travel plan generator on the internet then this is the kind of thing that it would churn out.
It feels like a plan that lacks any clear leadership on any of the issues presented. It’s not challenging or controversial or forward thinking.
And given that this is a FIFTEEN-YEAR plan to carry us to 2026, I’m highly disappointed.
I’m not going to write much about The Mission. It’s impossible to sum up the next fifteen-years’ travel needs of a large and growing town in a single paragraph. Any attempt to do so will only ever result in a paragraph of management speak that doesn’t mean very much. Suffice to say, this is what we got. I guess it does well as a summary of the plan – it’s everything you’d expect.
I wonder what sort of mission statement would have pleased me? Perhaps something like:
Swindon needs a sustainable, secure, reliable and fast transport system that serves its businesses, visitors and residents; supports the local economy; and contributes to quality of life. This can only be achieved by striving to become the UK’s leading town for sustainable transport. While Swindon will continue to need infrastructure for motor vehicles, this plan will prioritise and invest in public and sustainable transport for local journeys and envisages economic, health, social and business benefits as a result.
Yeah, now THAT’s a mission statement!
So, what are the “challenges” Swindon faces. In short:
- Swindon is congested
- Swindon needs to grow “in an environmentally sustainable manner”
- Swindon needs to contribute to carbon reduction targets
- There are barriers that prevent traffic moving around easily
- Swindon needs to support the town centre regeneration by making town easy to get to
- Swindon’s travel needs to be “sympathetic to the local environment” and “not adversely affect quality of life”
- Swindon needs to improve road safety.
OK. Cool. This is good stuff. I like it. I’d would rather have travel that “actively contributes to quality of life” but I’ll settle for not adversely affecting it.
So I agree with these challenges. Good so far!
Here’s the things they’re going to measure, then, to show that the challenges have been met:
- Journey time
- Road Safety
- Mode share for public and sustainable transport
- Reduced need to travel and reduced dependance on private cars
- Local environment and quality of life
- Access to town centre
OK, these are good too.I think we should be measuring those things and looking for improvement in them. Hey, this is looking like a good plan right. Lots of sustainability in there. Sounds like the council wants to get people out of motor vehicles and into town in the cleanest greenest, healthiest way.
So what are we going to do to make all this happen? Increase investment in buses and cycle/pedestrian infrastructure? Make it inconvenient to drive a car for short trips?
Well…err…a little bit yes.
But first, here’s Policy A (I’m assuming there’s no order as such, but it’s interesting that this stuff is listed first).
Optimise the capacity of the highway network and improve journey time reliability for all modes.
Hmm. OK. Well, that doesn’t sound much like it’s going to achieve too much of your measures. Why are we doing that?
Increasing levels of congestion affect both the efficient operation of the main road network and journey time reliability.
The “main road network”? I thought this was about ALL modes?
OK, so there’s congestion. Options must be to either expand the road network or encourage people out of cars, right? And the former doesn’t meet any of the environmental, quality-of-life-type measures does it? So what you gonna do?
use the latest traffic signal control technology and other traffic management techniques…provide of up to date and accurate information to allow people to make informed decisions about their travel choices
You’re going to spend a fortune on new traffic lights and websites. Seriously? Let me see, you’ve got a load of engineers who go to the “Transport Management Show” at Earls Court each year and they’ve got some fancy new toys they want to buy?
It must also include measures to improve the attractiveness of alternatives to driving alone, particularly at peak periods.
Ah…you NEARLY forgot, but you got in there with a little “it must also”.
Gosh, I’m turning into Freewheeler 2
Basically they’re going to invest loads in making traffic get around the existing roads more easily. The double whammy of solving congestion without actually building any new roads! I, personally, don’t believe it’s possible.
Policy B, the road safety section, is pretty non-descript. I note that it contains no acknowledgement that a key way to improve safety is actually to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and reclaim road space back to pedestrians. It also seems to reinforce the notion that cyclists and pedestrians should get all the training about how they can be made safer, while not educating drivers about the danger that they pose to more vulnerable road users.
I’d also like to see a more specific policy on 20mph speed limits in residential areas.
Policy C is about maintenance. Maintenance of the…err…major roads, minor roads, rural roads, “the network”, lighting, highway structures and drainage. So…do pavements and cycle paths get any maintenence then? Seems not. That’ll get people out of their cars and onto their feet and bikes then won’t it?
Policy D is about new developments and contains a particular favourite of mine: “higher density housing developments”. Yes, cram as many people into as small an area as possible, creating huge traffic and parking issues, removing gardens and green spaces that are safe for children to play in. Have kids play football on jam-packed roads. That’ll improve transport, safety and quality of life!
This policy does include a nod to “design of developments to encourage walking, cycling, and public transport”, but the Wichelstowe development was supposed to do all that and the reality is that there’s one bus service that doesn’t run on Sundays and not a single bicycle parking space in sight. I believe this policy when I see it!
Policy E is Public Transport. It basically says “we ought to do something about the buses”. The ideas are good, but don’t go nearly far enough and certainly don’t include any notion of prioritising public transport. In Leeds, there’s a free…a FREE bus that circles the city centre and connects with the train station. Something like that would be on a decent public transport policy!
Finally…again, I’m assuming no order and that the fact that this is the last policy has no bearing on its importance…Policy F:
Encourage behavioural change in transport by promoting alternatives to driving alone, and develop supporting infrastructure where appropriate
Now we’re talking. This kind of stuff will help you meet outcomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 all in one go. The plan even acknowledges this…look:
Encouraging and making it easier for people to choose to walk, cycle or use public transport for everyday journeys offers a range of benefits for individuals and the transport network generally. By building increased physical activity, such as walking and cycling, into daily routines there are significant health benefits. An increased share of journeys undertaken by walking, cycling and public transport will reduce congestion and pollution on the road network, improving air quality and reducing accidents.
Yes, they have, indeed, seen the light!
So….I’m excited now. What amazing things are they going to do:
- Lift sharing schemes
- Improved cycle parking
- More off-road cycle routes
- Marekting and promotion of travel choices
- Better signs
- Improved routes in rural areas
- Improved public transport
Yes, a lot of what I’d like to see is in here, but, well, I was just expecting it to be something more. More prioritisation of alternative transport. More on-road cycle routes too, or a promise that the off-road routes would be world-class. A policy of taking space from motorists and giving it to cyclists.
It was looking like an exciting end, but it left me wanting.
It’s lame isn’t it? This plan is signing up to fifteen years of more-of-the-same. Are these the best solutions our planners could come up with? Do they really meet the goals? Or are they just a ticket to keep doing what we’re doing now? I see lots of words but very little substance or leadership. Heck, there’s not even anything about electric car infrastructure in there, and our government think that electric cars are the way to beat congestion.
Maybe I’m being harsh. Traffic planners have a hard job and you can’t please everyone. But that’s kind-of the point. Doing the right thing isn’t the same as doing the popular thing, or doing the easy thing.
I wanted people in 2036 to be able to say:
“Hey, Swindon, isn’t that like the cycling capital of the UK? Didn’t they build some amazing segregated infrastructure, put a really awkward one way system in for cars and take all the road-building money and make their buses cheaper? Don’t they see 50% of journeys under two miles being made on foot or by bike? Is that the place where only 1% of primary school kids are driven to school and where child obesity and accident rates have fallen? That place is a model for how to do transport. We should learn from them!”
Instead they’ll say:
Oh, look, another magic roundabout…with integrated traffic lights.