Active Travel Becomes Weird Lounging, And The Questions That Still Need Answers
September 3rd 2022
Sun LoungersLincolnshire County Council installed parklets, including sun loungers, in Mercer Row as part of the controversial Active Travel Scheme. It's fair to say they've inspired a lot of talk around town, with a lot of people commenting on how they look, and more negative comments about their placement on Mercer Row on the side of the road, where they sit amongst the traffic creating a potential hazard for those brave enough to make use of them. They are also exactly where cars used to park briefly to stop at the shops, and where yellow lines were imposed as part of this scheme, not too far from where those lines were partly removed to allow for the restoration of a couple of disabled parking bays.
A petition sprung up against the parklets soon after they were installed. There is also another petition in favour of retaining the so-called "Café Culture" seating in the Cornmarket. That seating scheme was introduced during the pandemic, in order to help out the nearby food cafés with extra seating that was more hygienic because it was in the fresh air, with positive results during good weather. Unfortunately this has had the effect of restricting parking for people who want to visit the shops who aren't able to walk long distances, at a time that the parking restrictions and parklets on Mercer Row also reduced parking availability.
Town Council SurveyNeedless to say, the Active Travel Scheme has been extremely contentious.
As well as organising a public meeting about the Active Travel Scheme on Tuesday 13th September at the British Legion Hall on Northgate, Louth Town Council is carrying out a survey about the scheme. The questions revolve around the suitability of the parklet seating and where it should go, Café Culture in the Cornmarket and how long it should be there for, and any other compromises with the scheme.
It's hard to fault the town council for taking this approach with their survey. The parklets and the scheme in general have created a huge stir, and many businesses in the town centre will be profoundly affected by whether things stay as they are, or change radically. In particular, passing trade is considerably down for shops along Mercer Row, to the extent that there is doubt about the future of several of them.
The high street of Louth is considerably interdependent: if a number of shops or town centre businesses are forced to close, then the town centre as a whole will suffer. This is because each thriving business plays its part in attracting people to Louth, through advertising, and in creating a package of experiences and choices that people visiting from further afield can enjoy, recommend to others, and return to. If a number of shops close on one of Louth's busiest streets, it risks creating a vicious cycle of closures.
Businesses are already dealing with high fuel bills and the effects of the pandemic. So it's vital that the County Council makes the right choices to ensure that businesses don't suffer further losses. The Town Council's consultation work is a step in the right direction.
Cycling and walking surveyWhat has been lost in all of this is that the Active Travel was a government scheme to promote more walking and cycling.
What went wrong from the outset was the way the initial consultation was designed. It took a proposal which had been imposed from above, and asked people whether they wanted it. It was too much of a yes-or-no deal. The results have been predictably flawed.
The questions that the council should have asked need to answer this question: what are the biggest challenges that otherwise healthy people face to getting out and walking or cycling more? Drilling down to more specific questions, we need to know:
- Are some roads too busy, and if so which ones are most in need of cycle lanes?
- Do people have enough places to store bikes, and are they secure enough?
- Are road surfaces smooth enough to make cycling viable?
- Is bike ownership a barrier, and if so to what extent?
- Are bike repairs a problem, and if so would people benefit from repair lessons or help to pay for repairs?
- Do people have enough road confidence, or would cycling proficiency lessons be of benefit?
- How many people would cycle more if they had somewhere to shower and change afterwards?
- What else gets in the way of more bike use?
- How many people would benefit from physiotherapy to improve their ability to be active?
A proper consultation will help the council create the right policies for Louth. We don't need policies that work for cities, or that address problems we don't have. But we do need answers, because each potential challenge can be addressed with the right approach to infrastructure, and some of this infrastructure is expensive.
Trigger warning for animal deathsMy cat died this June. Smudge (aka Jacob) was 13 and very healthy and playful, and a keen hunter of laser pointers, until he was run over by a vehicle. It broke our hearts.
Soon after, we used to watch a squirrel who used to visit the garden bird feeder, and named him Gus. He was an acrobatic, chunky character who came to the feeder every day and made us laugh with his antics. He, too, was run over this year by a vehicle, on the same road, close to a school.
I don't want to see any more animal deaths. While it's impossible to prevent them all, bicycles don't do anything near as much damage as cars do to pets and wildlife. They're quieter, cleaner, and they promote health, and use far less energy, which is going to be vital as we try to get through the current energy crisis.
The county council needs to go back to the drawing board and create a scheme that will genuinely increase walking and cycling in and around Louth, and that won't happen until people are asked the right questions. They need to do another in-depth survey, and not assume they already know what people need.