Why North Road Matters – for Public Health, Social Justice and the Climate Emergency

Bath and North East Somerset Council during the pandemic was asked by the Dept for Transport (DfT) to put in measures that enabled those using public transport to take active travel alternatives.  The Dept for Transport gave specific guidance about how this money could be spent. The scheme’s locations were selected, due to the DfT criteria for routes where there had been high bus use.  They were also chosen because of the information put into the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Program (LCWIP).

Officers at the Council have been putting together a master cycle plan map of Bath. The schemes chosen to be on the Dept for Transport Active Travel Schemes were selected from this master plan.

The two routes progressed to the DfT for funding were the Upper Bristol Road and North Road with Beckford Road.  As the Joint Cabinet for Transport at B&NES during the decision process, I realised the importance that these two schemes offered residents of all ages for accessing the city of Bath.  The schemes offered safe routes for cycling, they helped people to keep well, they delivered on the climate emergency and they also provide a space for many with low incomes as an alternative to the private car and expensive and sometimes unreliable bus service.

In March of last year the local Liberal Democrats held an internal election on who was to be the new Leader of the group and de facto Leader of Council.  Cllr Kevin Guy was chosen by the Liberal Democrat group. In his new role as Leader, Cllr Guy sent me an email which stated that he wanted a “full review of the Active Travel Schemes as a matter of urgency”, going on to say “We haven’t got time to make this a long drawn out process. I think we may have to modify or dump the current plans. We need an alternative and I favour switching all our effort into the Riverline Project”.

I impressed upon Cllr Guy that this funding was from the Dept for Transport and had to be used following the DfT criteria.  The DfT have gone on to put in place, under the leadership of Chris Boardman, Active Travel England who are now using these schemes as a way to prove councils can be accountable and deliver key cycle infrastructure before giving out further funding. So how B&NES Council delivers these schemes is important not just for active travel today but for future funding from the government on possibly many other highway schemes.

It is interesting to note that under the new direction in Cabinet of Cllr Sarah Warren, a Citizens Panel has been used to take forward the North Road Bus Gate at a cost of £30,000. This was not necessary, as a consultation had already taken place in which 51% of respondents supported this active travel scheme. The council have recently released a new “call for evidence” https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/citizens-panel-active-travel which runs until the 4th May 2022.  

My view is that this is endless procrastination, on a scheme that could already been in place and positively delivering for many across our community – it would have given the safe route to the University, to schools, to key employers in the area including Wessex Water, BMI Bath clinic and to friends and relatives; it would allow many to make a sustainable change in their mode of transport because they feel safe; it would have given many a cheaper way to move around the city when the price of living is rising; it would have given many a way to stop using oil at a time when it is clear that not only is it polluting our planet but is paying for wars.

North Road and Beckford Road are an important link to the east and south of Bath. North Road has the lowest gradient of the 3 hills that reach the the top of Claverton Down. They are North Road, Bathwick and WidcombeHill.  North Road has the least number of residents living on it, with the majority at the top end, who can easily get to and from their homes using Bathwick Hill. Bathwick Hill has a great deal of buses on it and therefore makes it a challenge for cyclists and e-scooters.

North Road out of the 3 hills has the least amount of traffic on it and the least number of accidents.  North Road was selected as it offered a safe route which did not affect many residents who had other options who wished to use a private vehicle or bus. It served many in the community in providing a route from the valley floor to the southern plateau in Bath.

Creating a dedicated hill that links the valley floor to the plateau is a good way of connecting the 4000 students who presently live in halls at the University to the city centre as well as the many staff and students who do not live on campus.  The area in Bathwick is in the Clean Air Zone and therefore has serious pollution issues.

Psychologists have shown that people can make behaviour changes at key moments in their lives, when they move house, school, work, go to uni.  The city of Bath does have a large number of students whose travel behaviour can be changed to make an active travel their new choice of travel and providing them with a safe route is an important part of this process.

North Road also connects through the Avenue to Bath Cats and Dogs Home and the American Museum, both clear destination points for many in Bath.  This route can also be continued to Warleigh Weir and the canal.

North Road connects at the top to Rainbow Woods, which has a cycle path across it, which again leads to Ralph Allen, Wessex Water Works and the BMI Bath Clinic.  Many young people who live particularly on the east and centre of Bath will be able to make a safe route to school and build active travel into their daily commute which will stay with them through their lifetime,making them healthy, giving them an alternative to the limited bus service and saving pounds in many families limited budgets.

The e-scooter company VOI who the Council have been working with to test e-scooters have said that they will geofence (stop the e-scooters from working) on Widcombe Hill, due to safety concerns thus making Widcombe Hill a less optimal route. Widcombe Hill is particularly steep and it is rarely the choice for any cyclist however experienced. It would also require a bus gate and there are far more residents who would be affected by this change.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, who is Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, who is based at the University of Bath has said: “ the IPCC report confirms we are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and we need urgent and far more wide-ranging action. The progress we have made so far has largely been down to changing energy supply towards more renewable sources, but what’s now needed is to radically reduce demand for energy – and this involves behavioural as well as technological change.”

Delivering a bus gate on North Road allows for that much needed behavioural change, which in turn radically reduces demand for energy. It is a win win for health, well being and the planet.

Political power is about doing things, not just for the present, or to be re-elected, but more importantly for those in the future who will benefit from the really tough decisions that we made for them now.

Some argue against the value of cycling and find reasons not to support this important method of transport that supports health, well being and the planet. My experience in the last 2 years is that North Road is a clear example of how politicians use predatory delay and avoid making tough decisions because politically making change in a community of any size is challenging and requires steadfast and determined leadership.

Changes to the space on roads is going to be a necessary conversation that everyone of us has to take part in. Roads are a public space that all sections of the community should have access to and how we organise these spaces needs to put people first. For so long these public spaces have put large tin boxes as the only priority. The real threat of climate change does require everyone in our community, whatever the age or ability to think about sustainable accessibility to locations across the city. Securing North Road as a safe cycle route using a bus gate would enable thousands of journeys everyday to be made safely by people of all ages and abilities whilst still giving ample opportunity for private cars and buses to use other routes to also access the city of Bath.

Please take part in the “call for evidence”  at https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/citizens-panel-active-travel which runs until the 4th May 2022.  

3 thoughts on “Why North Road Matters – for Public Health, Social Justice and the Climate Emergency”

  1. While I agree we should encourage cycling and more sustainable forms of transport, closing North Road to traffic will not persuade a single additional person to cycle up the 1.06 mile hill, with an average pitch of 7.1%, rising to 13% in places. Bath’s problems stem not from a lack of investment in infrastructure, but from its topography. Closing roads to cars will only make other roads more busy, but which will only serve to deter cyclists from those routes. It is our money you are advocating spending on this massive waste of time, money and energy, when the focus should be on encouraging cycling and sustainable transports for the masses. All you are doing is making cycling the demon in the minds of many people and ultimately making most other roads far less safe for those people that do want to cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

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