This is part two in a series of three posts about the Bedford turbo roundabout and the funding behind it (AKA “Turbogate”). You’ll find part one here, and part three here.
So what have we learned since Tuesday’s article about Bedford council spending £300,000 of Cycle Safety Fund money installing a design intended to speed motor traffic?
Well, David Hembrow got in touch with Sustrans to ask what the hell they were thinking to support such a scheme. Their reply was mealy-mouthed but also illuminating.
Paul Hilton of Sustrans is essentially saying “don’t blame us, we only recommended spending £300,000 on a turbo-roundabout.” But he did point the finger at various other individuals who apparently share responsibility for this decision.
You can read the full exchange here, in the comments of yesterday’s post.
For me, the most surprising thing was that John Franklin – yes, that John Franklin – is part of the team which decides on which schemes the DfT’s pot of Cycle Safety Fund money will be spent.
This is the John Franklin who wrote, amongst other things, that:
If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!
That’s right: a man who believes that you’re safest cycling while surrounded by cars, vans and lorries is making decisions about how to spend millions of pounds of Cycle Safety Fund money.
I was surprised at this because he is Cyclenation’s representative on that board, and I’d previously been told that John Franklin didn’t have anything to do with Cyclenation these days beyond looking after their website.
I mentioned this on Twitter and then the following short but hilarious conversation took place between Cyclenation and Mark Treasure:
Oh, that guy? He just speaks on our behalf when deciding where millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money will be spent. Apart from that, there’s no connection.
As Cyclenation is not just one body but a federation of local cycling campaigns across the country, it really does need to explain the reason for this bizarre situation to its members.
For a group which is a leading part of the national roll-out of the Space for Cycling campaign, it makes no sense to give such a position of influence (and thus power) to someone who believes that the only place for cycling is on the road mixed up with the cars and lorries.
Luckily, some conscientious Cyclenation members are already asking the right questions.
They Named Names!
Other members on the Cycle Safety Stakeholder Group include Chris Peck of CTC, Tony Russell of Sustrans, Ruth Jackson of British Cycling, Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Robert Semple of TfL.
Now I don’t know the views of everyone on this panel – I have no idea of Ralph Smyth’s stand on urban roundabouts, nor whether Robert Semple gets involved in decisions about places outside London – but I would suggest that members of CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling should contact these bodies and demand to know what their decision was, and their reasoning for it. (Indeed, it seems some CTC members understandably feel this way already.)
Update: Chris Peck of CTC has written an article explaining his side of the story. I think it was written before this one was published, as he refers to Patrick Lingwood’s explanation as if it’s a good one (see below). I appreciate that the whole funding situation is far from ideal, but I’m still not convinced that they took the best course of action by approving such projects. At least Chris Peck has taken the time to respond, however flawed it may be – but there has been word as yet from Cyclenation or British Cycling.
Out With The Old Rubbish, In With The New Rubbish
The more I find out about this turbo roundabout scheme, the less sense it makes that cycling organisations should support it.
One of the architects of this scheme, Patrick Lingwood, Cycling Officer for Bedford Borough Council, defended the turbo-roundabout on Mark Wagenbuur’s blog last year.
His main justification for it seems to be that what is currently there is awful, which he spends a lot of time explaining in detail. This may well be the case, but it’s irrelevant as nobody is suggesting that current layout is great. We’re criticising this specific new design, not defending the existing layout, so trying to re-frame the debate to be about old versus new is distracting and false.
He sounds like a dedicated believer in the supremacy of Vehicular Cycling, just like John Franklin and John Forester. His language is typical of those who see “cyclists” as some special breed which excludes most of the population. He believes in the failed “dual network” concept of providing for two classes of cyclist. He clearly sees his job as being to cater for the few existing cyclists rather than provide safe cycling transport conditions that everybody could use.
For someone who is a cycling officer, he has designed a scheme which increases motor vehicle capacity at this junction by 40%. Rather than create something which is suitable for all users, this is a design which only the confident few can use efficiently, and which will be slow and awkward for others. He’s taken a Dutch concept which is intended to speed large volumes of motor vehicles on trunk roads (and which cycle routes are intended to bypass altogether) and has applied it to an urban location with high pedestrian flows.
And the cycling lobby has waved it through in your name.
And There’s More…
Finally, for now, it seems that this isn’t the only dubious project that Cycle Safety Fund money has been spent on. Cycling campaigner Alex Ingram has begun to compile a spreadsheet of Cycle Safety Grants so we can see where the money has gone.
Pretty quickly, he found this £70,000 Cycle Safety Fund scheme in Hereford:
A bargain at only £8750 per cycle symbol painted on the road.
It seems that all a council planner has to do is drop a few cycle symbols into their latest design (or simply claim there’s something “Dutch” about it) and Sustrans will recommend that money intended for cycling will pay for your motor-centric scheme.
As Private Eye would say, trebles all round!