Last week City of York Council Executive decided to shelve all of the major Department for Transport funded active travel schemes, but approved spending £800,000 of council funds to build segregated cycle lanes along the relatively safe and well-used Hospital Fields Road (that’s £2000 per metre). How on earth did we end up in this situation?
The answer can be found in the council’s ‘strategic cycle scheme prioritisation’ which starts on page 54 of the draft scoping report for the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP). Back in 2016 officers identified gaps in York’s cycle network and used a scoring system to determine which sections should be prioritised. Hospital Fields Road ranks at number 33 out of 128.
Presumably it was then chosen as one of the schemes to go forward because of its relatively low cost score, and because it was judged to be one of the few remaining links needed to complete a strategic route.
Back in 2018 York Cycle Campaign identified some questionable biases in the way routes are ranked, with heavy weightings given to routes that already carry a lot of cyclists, those that are considered to be most useful for commuters, and those that are one of the few remaining links in a strategic route.
Using the same scoring system we experimented with altering the weightings, to see how much difference it would make to the ranking of the schemes. In an attempt to reflect the guidelines given in the Government’s Walking the Cycling Plan – Gear Change – we increased the weighting for other kinds of essential journeys (such as the school run and shopping) so that it wasn’t so biased towards commuting journeys, reduced the weighting for routes that are already well used (so as to favour routes that have the potential to encourage new cyclists) and reduced the weighting associated with routes that complete a strategic route. Applying our new weightings resulted in a big shift in the rankings, with Hospital Fields Road falling 38 places to become number 71 out of 128.
Routes that rise up the rankings include many of those that link to outlying villages such as York Road in Dunnington and Strensall Road, along with key cycling black-spots like the Fishergate gyratory. However, York Cycle Campaign believes there are still many flaws with this ‘shopping list’ approach to prioritising cycle schemes. The scoring of each route has been done in a subjective way, the list itself isn’t comprehensive and the scoring criteria don’t relate to the Department for Transport guidance tools such as the ‘Propensity to Cycle’ tool, the ‘Junction Assessment tool’ etc.
We feel that a ranking system like this could have some value, particularly for identifying quick wins, but we don’t believe that this is anywhere close to its claim of being ‘strategic’. It is essential that the LCWIP identifies a skeleton ‘strategic cycle network’ and that this is prioritised, much like the ‘Quickways’ that Oxford has developed using their Active Travel Funding. We also believe that York needs to move to a ‘Decide and Provide’ model – designing for the traffic they want to see – rather than the current ‘Predict and Provide’ model, which designs for ever increasing volumes of vehicle traffic. A ‘Decide and Provide’ model would allow designers to create space for cycling by narrowing the carriageway and reducing speed limits for example – solutions which would be far less expensive than the extensive engineering necessitated by the ‘Predict and Provide’ approach.
But right now we ask the council to reconsider their choice of active travel schemes they intend to deliver, and instead draw up a list of schemes based on recommendations from the LCWIP (currently scheduled to be completed by the end of February 2023). Whilst high quality cycle infrastructure along Hospital Fields Road would be very nice, it’s clear that this is far from the most effective way of spending the very scarce funds available for active travel.