23 February 2011

Joining the Dots

“Personalised Travel Planning (PTP) seeks to challenge habitual use of the car, enabling more journeys to be made on foot, bike, bus, train or in shared cars. This is achieved through the provision of information, incentives, and motivation directly to individuals to help them voluntarily make more informed travel choices. PTP forms an important part of national, regional and local transport policy contributing to the suite of tools promoted under the general heading of Smarter Choices.”
I noted this news story recently from WAG, which heralds the award of a contract to Sustrans for rolling out a programme of personalised travel planning, helping people make more informed decisions about their regular journeys. I think this is a brilliant idea – my favourite public transport factoid is that when people who don’t use buses are asked about their local bus services, they don’t rate them highly, but when people who do use the buses are asked the same question, they tend to think there is a good service. So opening up people’s minds to alternatives seems like a sensible way to achieve modal shift.

I do worry however that when it comes to encouraging cycling, this travel planning exercise will fail to achieve any permanent change, even though it is a vital cog in the machine for achieving a widescale take-up of cycling as an alternative to car use. For all the discoveries of back routes and quiet roads, people will eventually look for a safe, convenient and direct route, probably from the suburbs into the town centre. When they realise there is, at some point in their journey, no alternative but to mix it with the cars, initial enthusiasm will wither in the face of a heartfelt perception of danger.

I firmly believe that segregation in the form of purpose designed separated infrastructure for bikes is what will make urban cycling a mainstream and accepted mode of transport, but I equally don’t see this as some kind of blanket solution with total nationwide coverage as an alternative to every road in the land.

It is clear to me that the separated infrastructure bit needs to be applied to key strategic routes within and between cities, acting as a collector for all the local quiet routes and cut-throughs, which eventually have to be joined up – it is, after all, how the efficient dendritic pattern of a highway hierarchy tends to work. This is where the segregation idea will pay off, but only as part of a wider, and deeper set of principles.

The wider and deeper set of principes needs to cover all the different strands leading towards developing a cycling culture – cycle chic, fashion, bikeability, travel planning, strict liability, cycle to work schemes, improved parking facilities, bike access through one-way road closures, 20mph zones, shared use streets, ride to right, child safety, stakeholder cycling groups commenting on local plans etc etc etc. But, without the separated infrastructure on key strategic routes to physically and metaphorically “join the dots”, it will all be for nothing.

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