Pedal Power: Cycle lanes are ‘good investments’ as motorists feel frustrated

Cycle lanes in Warrington are of good investment for the town says the council, despite some opposition from critics who claim the paths are being under-used.

In its bid to encourage more residents to take up cycling and other ‘green’ modes of transport, Warrington Borough Council secured £4.65 million of funding from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The money will be spent on promoting sustainable and low carbon travel choices, including proposals for additional cycle lanes and paths in and around the town.

A Planning Focus Group discussion in late 2007 reported how only 3% of residents in Warrington used a bike to get to work, whilst cycle paths were described as “horrible” and “disjointed” leaving them with little use. Criticisms of the town approach to cycling and healthier lifestyles led to a town based campaign to encourage more people to cycle. Measures including introducing cycling lessons in to schools and improving paths, lanes and access around the area.

Councillor Dan Price, Labour, Great Sankey North said the money “is a good investment” but told me that “maybe it isn’t the most productive way to spend money.”

He added “getting people out of cars is safer to the community, more eco-friendly, and with the backdrop of rising obesity levels, healthier.”

There are no questions about the council trying to improve Warrington’s infamous traffic congestion problems, alongside making the town ‘greener; even some of the town’s buses are helping the environment. The investment in cycling in Warrington encourages healthier lifestyles, care for the environment and a more environmentally-friendly way of living, in a town that has been bottom of government commissioned quality of life surveys.

Some motorists I have been speaking to say there are “mighty questions” that need bringing up. Many, who regularly drive personal cars, said they support local council investment in cycling lanes, one anonymous person saying about cyclists “they cause too much of a hazard and they are dangerous”. The general sense I got from both group and individual discussion was that there is some frustration toward cyclists who insist on using the busy roads rather than designated paths. At the same time, from those who cycle, I have been told of continued “road rage” from motorists.

In order to find out what was happening on our roads, I spent some time along a busy stretch of road. Close by are schools, leisure facilities, several housing estates, a supermarket, offices and a warehouse. It was a stretch of approximately 1.5 miles of road next door to a refurbished and widened path with a newly created cycle lane. In the short distance I travelled, no fewer than 5 cyclists were cycling in the road, at rush hour, parallel to the council’s investment of safer cycle lanes and paths for them. Two of them wore dark clothing and had little lighting on their bicycles.

This astonished me. There have been many a TV programme where cyclists are shown as the victims of the road. Indeed in Warrington there are still many instances where cars, buses and lorries either purposefully or accidentally put cyclists lives in danger. However, it cannot be ignored that some cyclists are ignoring the purpose built tracks for them to keep them safe and off the roads.

Interestingly, there was little visible anger or ‘road rage’ from motorists. The majority gave adequate room to the road-using cyclist, others indicated. Perhaps rather disillusioned may say the cyclist and, judging by the following YouTube footage from a Warrington cyclist, it is clear to see why there is upset within the cycling community.

The footage is harrowing and some of the cycling charities and organisations I have been researching say that this is a regular occurrence for cyclists. The National Cycling Charity frequently upload videos and images from its users to the website and social media to highlight the problem. Their focus, they say, is to ensure the police conduct “high quality investigations” in to road traffic collisions, as well as ensuring severe sentences are given to offenders to discourage bad driving.

In the balance of the argument, motorists who I have spoken to say they are frustrated that cyclists do not pay to be on the roads and similarly do not have to take tests to use their bikes on their public highway. Whilst councils across the country may invest heavily in cycle lanes, there are some, not all, who do not want to use them.

A waste of investment? Warrington Borough Council, like many others across the country, say they are committed to encouraging more people to use bicycles and other ‘green’ modes of transport. At the same time some cyclists are not using designated safe areas whilst others are forced in to the paths of traffic because there is inadequate space for cyclists to go. Similarly, many drivers give way but others do not. It is clear to see why both cyclists and motorists are driven to frustration when it comes to sharing the same space.

The fear for any road user is that cyclists are being put in danger. All factors including weather, poor driving, lack of cycle lanes, clothing and street lighting are at some level to blame. Examples like the above should strike fear in to council chiefs. Are their segregated lanes working? Are there enough suitable paths? There are many studies which show what should work and what shouldn’t. The Buchanan Report of 1963, Traffic in Towns, highlights how segregation of traffic and pedestrians alike should improve the flow, whilst the Shared Space study from Hans Monderman suggests there should be no rules and that all road users should naturally interact with one another to improve traffic flow.

When I put the question to Cllr Price about motorists and cyclists disregard for each other, he said “without a comprehensive cycle network with specific lanes, you will never solve that problem.”

For years there have been comical instances involving cycle lanes. From those that last less than 50 yards to those that are impassable. But this is a serious issue. The increase in traffic on the roads should not be leading to cyclists competing for space and putting their own lives in danger. Whilst I can praise the council for its work on encouraging safer cycling, it is difficult to understand why some choose to ignore it.

Figures of Rospa (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) say at least 19,000 cyclists are involved in accidents on Britain’s roads. That figure has continued to rise given the increase of cyclists in recent years. With the rising and long-lasting population, the future of our roads seems certain to get busier and busier. And so the steps to safer road use today could save lives for generations.

Have your say
Whether a cyclist or motorist, tell us what your experiences are. What could be done to improve road safety? Could councils better spend their money elsewhere?

YouTube video source: PeowPeowPeowLasers

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Is Warrington really that “crap” ?

Think of a “crap” town. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty you can think of. Whether it’s a hometown you’re bored of, an area where you’ve had a bad night out or a location with a poor reputation, all of these add to the passionate argument of bad towns. Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK, edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, is a rather humorous approach to towns which are as the definition suggests, “crap”. Now a second edition is underway and amongst the top one hundred worst towns is Warrington. I live there. So is there any real evidence to suggest that the town is worthy of the crap town title?

Before we go any further, we really have to consider the meaning of “crap”. A trusty visit to Etymology Online reveals what the majority know already: “act of defecation” is the 1898 meaning. More widely, The Oxford English Dictionary refers the term as being “something of extremely poor quality.” Therefore, for the purpose of this post, we shall refer to Warrington as supposedly being something of poor quality and not an act of defecation. So, the definition is clear. Now what is exactly “crap” about Warrington?

A comprehensive government survey ranked the town bottom when considering quality of life. Taken into consideration included high unemployment rates, relatively low life expectancy and a failure to safeguard children properly. Poor aspirations also contributed to the results. A sad consequence considering the investment into local training and education for young people and adults alike. In response to the survey, Warrington Borough Council branded it a “shambles” suggesting there was no reality between what the inspectors found and the feelings of residents.

Every town will have its poorer sides. Warrington has hit the headlines over its nightlife. Violence on the streets and cheap prices of alcohol have tarnished the once fairly positive reputation. Staying with the town centre and the apparent high unemployment rate is a direct cause of the recession and down turn. The once thriving Bridge Street area, today, stands only as a gateway of closed shops. Warrington Market, advertised as “Award Winning”, feels more like a deflated arena of stalls compared to the former glory of original market. The new build, according to residents and stall owners, drove regular customers away; today, the hustle of the market is long gone. In fact the hustle of almost all of the previous thriving town centre shopping areas has disappeared.

But it’s not all bad. Where some areas of the town centre struggle others boast with success. The most recent redevelopment of Warrington town centre was the complete overhaul of the tired 1980’s feel of the shopping mall. Refurbished and modernised, the arcade now boasts some of the best high street retailers in a modern and attractive environment. A new bus station, glass fronted and airy, was constructed nearly seven years ago, replacing the dingy environment of the former gateway. Infact, whilst the survey of life quality may have placed Warrington at the bottom, there was praise for transport links.

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

The survey stated that the public transport system demonstrated “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.” It’s a true story. Despite some negativity towards the local bus company, drivers being rude and buses being late, the links across town and beyond are very good indeed. The prices…well that’s for another day. The two main train stations, Bank Quay and Central are a key railway links. Bank Quay provides residents with the links to the North and South within a short period of time. Central Station is used more often by commuters and shoppers, travelling to either Liverpool or Manchester. But the line does extend further, placing Warrington firmly on the map in a connected Britain. All of this adds to a business boost for the town.

Ranked 16th in The Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking’s UK Town and City Index, Warrington has been praised for its above average business start-ups and satisfaction amongst employees across the town. Whether it be pubs in the suburbs or small ventures in the town centre, it is clear that businesses are successful. Furthermore, the local retail parks boast some of the biggest stores in the town. At Gemini Retail Park, the second largest Marks and Spencer outside London is a real success story, whilst the first IKEA to be built in the UK is next door. Across the town, retail parks are shining examples of businesses with an optimistic outlook despite the gloomy figures. The future looks bright as well. Building work on the Omega site has begun with warehouses and roads taking shape. It may take nearly thirty years to complete, but the plan is for Warrington to be an international hub as one of Europe’s largest business parks.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

A key tool in unifying town folk shelves any resemblance to Warrington being “crap”. The history and culture of the town is one that brings pride. There is plenty of history, whether it be the Roman crossing point for the River Mersey, Oliver Cromwell’s residence during the Civil War or the scars at RAF Burtonwood. The key “wire” industry of years gone-by has placed Warrington on the history timeline, whilst strong links still remain to the industrial past. There’s plenty of culture too. The Parr Hall has boasted some the UK’s best known comedians including Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay, whilst The Pyramid arts centre and museum boast much about the pride of the town and also a showcase of what the town can achieve, through projects and links with local schools. Warrington Walking Day, an annual event, sees churches walk together through the streets, whilst carnivals and events all year round see the thriving community spirit.

In sport, the iconic Warrington Wolves team have grown with history to become a force in the Rugby League world. Rugby followers and those who don’t follow alike hold one thing in common – support for their town team. Rowing, Athletics and Rugby Union are also represented in the town strongly, whilst the Warrington Town football team are currently in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

There is one event that unifies people like no other. The IRA bombing of 1993 in Warrington town centre left two young children dead and countless more injured. In the wake of the atrocity, schools, students, parents, teachers, churches, politicians and many more stood shoulder to shoulder to support the families, friends and loved ones of the victims; The Peace Centre was set up in memory of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball. The centre continues to offer learning services to young people with opportunities to connect and express. Annual events in the town which mark the solemn anniversary unite town people, whether it be children at school, parents at work, shoppers or social network users. United in grief, hundreds mourn the victims but admire the work and progress that has been achieved by the families to reach peace. The events of the past twenty years are held with pride and affection towards those involved and the legacy achieved.

Warrington extends much further from the negative stereotypes of a gloomy suburban town. Yes, there are some divisions between living conditions, housing conditions and even road conditions, but Warrington does bridge that gap with its community involvement to create one unified town. When the survey outlined how aspirations were low, there are two factors. Yes, the environment you live in, but also the person themselves. Anybody can achieve regardless as to how “crap” their town is. Look at Chris Evans, from Warrington. Pete Waterman, from Warrington. Sue Johnston, from Warrington. The list goes on.

The Omega project is a promising development. Warrington Borough Council recently gave the go ahead for a new regeneration project of the town centre. Proposals include a new cinema, new eateries and an improvement of town centre leisure and recreational activities.

The original question was about whether Warrington or any town for that matter is “crap”. Stereotypes will always be present as will divisions. But if you strip to the reality of where you live and see what is actually happening, I’d say Warrington was better than “crap”.

Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK will be available from online retailers.
For more information on what to do in Warrington, visit http://www.warrington.gov.uk