Archive for the 'Transport' Category

Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lane safety audit

For those who have been asking about the safety audits undertaken on the Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lanes I thought it would be useful to post a direct quote from one of the key recommendations of the Stage 3 audit:

Location: various throughout the scheme

Summary: cyclists obscured from traffic by parked vehicles leads to conflict at crossovers and junctions.

Detail: Parked vehicles on the offside of the cycle lane obscure drivers view of cyclists and vice versa. It was observed on site that drivers turning left at junctions and private accesses are not aware of the presence of cyclists (and vice versa) and perform manoeuvres which lead to conflict. This problem is exacerbated in the southern direction where cyclists are travelling at speed downhill.

Recommendation: Remove the splitter islands (the raised kerbs separating the cycle lane from the parked cars) , relocate the parking to the near side kerb and provide a cycle lane with a buffer zone on the offside of the parked cars.

This is taken from the stage 3 independent safety audit carried out in July 2009. This is what I mean by there being a fundamental problem with the cycle lane which can’t be addressed by minor tweaks as some are suggesting. Removing parking spaces wholesale is not an option as it would be completely unfair on residents and visitors and would simply cause more parking problems.

Further comments on the Grand Avenue/Drive cycle lane

There has been an awful lot of interest generated by my Administration’s proposal to remove the Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lane and I would just like to take this opportunity to explain more fully the reasoning behind it and to put a few facts straight:

  • The cycle lane was not agreed by my Administration and the Conservative Group has never supported it. The decision to go ahead with it was taken in March 2007 by the previous Labour Administration. It is, therefore, not true to say that we are proposing to spend money undoing something which we put in.
  • The cycle lane is not well used and it is certainly not attracting lots of young, new and inexperienced cyclists, as it was originally intended to do. As Adam Trimingham so rightly said in the Argus this week – it is ‘the wrong lane in the wrong place’. No amount of tinkering with access, parking places or driveways will change that.
  • There remain serious safety concerns with the cycle lane. Thankfully, the number of accidents have dropped slightly over the last couple of years but there were still 42 casualties between 2008 and 2010. For what was originally sold as being a safe segregated space for cyclists, to me this is completely unacceptable. Indeed, the cycling campaign group, Bricycles, have continued to raise concerns about the safety aspects of the cycle lane and successive safety audits have backed this up. Bricycles conclude that these issues can be addressed by relatively small alterations to the layout of the lane but I’m afraid I disagree. I think that the problems are of a more fundamental nature, particularly on the downhill section, where cyclists are travelling at considerable speed.
  • I can understand people’s concerns about the cost of removing the cycle lanes. As a Conservative, I am acutely aware that this is residents’ money which we are proposing to spend and my philosophy since taking over the administration of the Council in 2007 has always been to seek maximum value for taxpayers’ money at all times. However, I don’t expect removal of the lane to cost anything like the £1.1 million which has been budgeted for. This figure includes funding for seeking a safer alternative south-north route from the seafront and also includes provision for paying back £300k to Cycling England, who partially funded the scheme in the first instance. As this quango is shortly to be abolished, I don’t expect this to happen.
  • It is also worth pointing out that the proposed funding for the removal is from our transport capital allocation for next year, which incidentally is significantly higher than it was last year. So, it is not a simple question of choosing to either spend it on removing the cycle lane or on, for example, funding children’s services. As opposition councillors well know, capital and revenue funding are two entirely separate things and can’t be used interchangeably. To give some context, we are also proposing to spend significant amounts of this transport capital funding on our vision for a new ‘Brighton Station Gateway’ which we believe will bring enormous benefits to the City.

All of these issues beg the question as to why the cycle lane was installed in the first place. Bricycles stated in their submission to the consultation at the time that ‘Grand Avenue is currently not a difficult road to cycle in for people with average cycling skills.’ And cyclists have told me that this complete segregation is actually counter-productive as it makes both drivers and cyclists less aware of each other, particularly at the road junctions and where driveways cross over.

I am not anti-cycling by any means – I think that the seafront cycle route is a fantastic resource for example and is used by thousands every day. We are also actively looking into the possibility of a ‘Boris Bikes’ type cycle hire scheme here in Brighton & Hove as we fully recognise the health and environmental benefits that cycling can bring.

However, my primary concern as Council Leader has to be ensuring the safety of residents. In my view it was a costly mistake by the previous Administration to agree this cycle lane in the first place. I truly believe that the only responsible option now is for us to remove it and to explore an alternative, safer route in consultation with residents and all stakeholders. Of course, opposition councillors may take a different view at the Budget Council meeting on 3rd March and that is their prerogative, but I believe we need to take action on this now.

Brighton & Hove’s local economy – reasons to be optimistic

Last week at our Full Council meeting we had a very interesting debate on the possible effects of reductions in public spending on the local economy. The Green Party, who put forward the motion for debate argued strongly that cuts to the public sector will have a damaging effect.

For my part, I argued that we have good reason to be optimistic here in Brighton & Hove and that talking the economy down in this way does nobody any good. By and large the driver for local (and national) economic growth is the private sector and in Brighton & Hove there are very encouraging signs:

  1. The Centre for Cities have once again singled Brighton & Hove out as performing strongly post-recession. One quote from their report explains why: “Cities with strong private sector economies and limited public spending cuts, such as Brighton and Cambridge, will be well placed to drive the UK’s economic recovery.”
  2. Just last week the Argus highlighted that recruitment specialists are reporting a surge in vacancies with firms returning to pre-recession staff levels. They also reported that the number of young people starting apprenticeships is rising faster in Brighton and Hove than anywhere else in the South East. Both very welcome pieces of news.
  3. Amex announced last week that they are looking to expand still further in Brighton by relocating a significant number of jobs from their Madrid office.
  4. And developers are still looking to invest in Brighton & Hove. For example, the exciting proposals for a new hotel on the old ice rink site in Queen’s Square.

So, although clearly there are going to be tough times ahead, particularly for us in the public sector, I do retain a sense of optimism about our future prospects.

And I have to say that what would really damage the local economy is the massive increases in taxes on business that the Greens advocate. Just last month, Caroline Lucas put forward proposals to introduce a new ‘business education tax’ on companies – supposedly to pay for free higher education. I’m sure that businesses would be delighted to have this extra burden imposed on them at this time. It would certainly ensure that there would be far fewer jobs for all the new graduates to go into!

And just think what the effect on local businesses would be if the Greens ever got to introduce their cherished congestion charge? As we have seen in London, a Green candidate for the Mayoral elections – Jenny Jones – wants it extended to cover the whole City and the charge to be raised to £50! This really would kill the economic recovery stone dead and I think it would be extremely bad for this City if they ever got the chance to bring it in.

UPDATE: Further good news yesterday on the jobs front. According to a survey by BrightonandHoveJobs.com, more than a third (36%) of local employers plan to create new jobs and take on new staff over the next 12 months, while 17% said they expected higher than average growth which could lead to new jobs. A mere 4.3% said they were looking to reduce staffing. Very encouraging.

Scaremongering over number 37 bus

Here is the full text of a letter I sent into the Argus to set the facts straight over the number 37 bus:

I am more than happy to confirm to the East Brighton Ward Labour councillors that the 37 bus will continue to receive a subsidy from local taxpayers to enable it to continue operating (Argus letters 18th January).

Perhaps they would now like to take the opportunity to publicly apologise to residents for circulating deliberately misleading leaflets in their ward suggesting that the service would be cut?

We currently invest £1.4 million a year in supporting commercially unprofitable bus routes in the City and we will continue to do so as we recognise that they are a lifeline for many communities. And the majority of the £600,000 savings referred to by the councillors in their letter are for services which are now being run by the bus company on a commercial basis – something which should surely be welcomed.

For Labour councillors to indulge in deliberate scaremongering of this sort does nothing for the reputation of politicians as a whole in this City and they clearly haven’t learnt the lessons from the court judgement against the disgraced ex-Labour MP, Phil Woolas. I’m more than happy to defend the record of the Conservative Administration of Brighton & Hove City Council over the last 4 years but please let’s have a debate based on the facts.

Councillor Mary Mears – Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council

Roadworks will not ruin Christmas!

Here is that text of a letter I sent into the Argus newspaper in response to an article they wrote claiming roadworks in the City could ‘ruin Christmas’:

I am baffled by the elaborate speculation in the Argus about whether roadworks will cause ‘gridlock’ in Brighton and Hove city centre this Christmas (‘Roadworks would ruin our Christmas’, October 5).

You see, the council has banned all planned roadworks from the central shopping area for a month from December 3.

This is the third year we have taken this step to eradicate the impact of road works on pre-Christmas trading.

Your reporter, Nigel Freedman, highlights two ‘key’ work sites to support these doom-laden predictions – resurfacing at Western Road and cabling by EDF in Grand Parade. Yet, both will be finished this week (by October 8), hardly a threat to festive trade. Had Mr Freedman told us he was planning this article (he did not), we could have directed him to this information, which is displayed prominently on our website.

We could also have reminded him that the Western Road works have only been taking place at night. Again, this is a measure being taken specifically to minimise disruption to the local economy.

There are several other successful steps we take in our efforts to reduce congestion caused by roadworks. One, for example, is encouraging utilities firms to co-ordinate maintenance so two or more jobs can be done together in the same hole at the same time.

Another is talking to traders’ representatives when big jobs are planned, like the North Laine Southern Water road works mentioned in your article. In this case, we involved Suzi Campbell, the city centre business representative, in the planning of the work.

Yet, none of these significant facts were allowed to ‘spoil’ the article with a little balance and common sense.

This sort of ill-informed scare-mongering has far greater potential to damage Christmas trade than anything reported in your article.

Free bus passes are safe with the Conservatives

I would like to reassure residents that, contrary to the completely misleading literature being pedalled by the Labour Party locally, the Conservatives would not scrap free bus passes for pensioners should they form the next Government after May 6th. This has been made perfectly clear, and put on public record, by David Cameron in his ‘Pensioner Pledge’ which can be found on the party website. And I was delighted that he took Gordon Brown to task over this during last Thursday’s Leaders’ Debate. This sort of scaremongering is grossly irresponsible and does absolutely nothing for the reputation of politics at a time when it can ill-afford to lose any more credibility.

Their claims become even more ridiculous, coming in the week we learn that more than three million older people will now be forced to wait up to five years longer for their free bus pass after the Government changed the rules in order to comply with new EU regulations. Talk about hypocrisy! I bet this hasn’t been included in their leaflets.

And as if this wasn’t enough, we learn that they are now sending alarmist leaflets about Conservative health policy to cancer sufferers. How low can the Labour Party sink in their general election campaigning tactics? If this is all that they now have to offer the British people then quite clearly it is time for a change.

Electric vehicle charging points

electric vehicle charging Great news for electric car fans yesterday as we gave the go-ahead for a network of charging points to be installed across the City – the first council outside of London to do this.

We will be installing four charging points over the coming weeks – two each in Bartholomews, central Brighton and Ditchling Road, near the Level – with more following by the end of the year.

This is very much the beginning of a big push we are going to have on encouraging the use of electric vehicles in Brighton & Hove which will hopefully eventually make a big contribution towards our goal of achieving a low carbon city. This technology is an excellent way of combining sustainable transport whilst retaining people’s freedom to drive cars. They are also very cheap for people to run and cost prices are starting to come down.

One criticism which is often levelled at electric vehicles is that they are not carbon neutral because of the electricity which is generated in order to power them. However overall, emissions are still much lower than for normal cars (they are carbon-neutral at the point of use) and it also improves local air quality because there are no exhaust fumes. And also, the scheme we are introducing uses electricity which is generated from renewable sources (this is stipulated in our contracts), so the overall result is much lower carbon emission.

I am also pleased that the company who are doing this for us – Electromotive – are a local Sussex company based at the Sussex Innovation Centre so this all fits in very well with our Be Local Buy Local campaign.

Boris Johnson has led the way in London by establishing an Electric Vehicle Partnership to try to bring about a dramatic increase in electric car ownership and use in the capital. There is no reason why we shouldn’t work towards a similar revolution here in Brighton & Hove.


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