Trunk-road separated cycleways to be paid for from the roads budget, not cycling funds, could get more people on bikes.

Cycle-proofing of A-roads could boost bike use

Some of your customers no doubt use the local A-roads to go-faster on their time-trial bikes. Many people would consider this need for speed on butter-smooth asphalt (ha! in our dreams!) to be pretty close to lunacy. Why risk life and limb just to get a PB thanks to the backdraft from an HGV or two? Thing is, and I’ve even written a book about it, roads do not belong to motorists – cyclists have every right to use Britain’s trunk-road network.

In some places, as I mentioned in the magazine last month, A-roads are often vital links for everyday transportation cyclists, too, but the Government wants some of the more major of the A-roads to be turned into Expressways, motorways in everything else but name. Cyclists will be excluded from these roads just as they are already banned from a great many A-roads. Now, of course, the presence of fast motor traffic means A-roads are awful places to cycle and even hardened cyclists already avoid them when they can but sometimes there’s little choice but to use what, since the 1920s, have been labelled as “motoring roads”.

And from the 1920s onwards motorists – and the powers-that-be – have wanted cyclists off these roads. When new trunk roads were built in the 1930s many were outfitted with ok-for-a-few-months cycle tracks. Some still exist but most were grubbed up to make more room for motorists. Now however there’s to be a concerted push to “cycle proof” some of our A-roads, with cycle-specific crossings and even some protected cycleways.

Significantly, the new cycleways won’t be paid for out of the small pot of cash cycling announced in the Chancellor’s recent spending review; they will be paid for out of the road construction budget.

Let’s examine just one of these new-builds, a £221m five-mile link road in the Tatton parliamentary constituency. The A556 “improvement scheme” near Knutsford in Cheshire was given the nod in 2014 despite fierce local and national opposition. However, the local MP supported the scheme. Quite what influence the MP for Tatton was able to bring to bear on the Department for Transport may never be known but as the MP for Tatton controls the nation’s pursestrings it’s likely that this is one road scheme that was destined to be built no matter how high the costs. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Tatton, even helped to cut the road’s first sod.

As road schemes have been known to go over budget it’s possible that the five-mile dual carriageway in Osborne’s constituency may eventually cost £300m. It just so happens that Osborne’s small pot of cash for cycling, to be eked out over five years, is also £300m.

But, looking on the bright side, that £300m cycling budget won’t be used to build the cycleways being planned to run beside or close to the trunk roads in the £15.2bn road building programme. It’s not yet clear how many of these new-builds will be “cycle proofed” to high standards by Highways England but perhaps if the A556 “improvement” is anything to go by cyclists can look forward to some decently separated routes.

When the old A556 is downgraded following the opening of the new version there will be a separated and protected route for cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians. This will be four metres wide, part of a “roadspace reallocation” scheme. The four-lane dual carriageway will be “de-trunked” and split in three. There will be two lanes for motorised use, a central protective grass berm, and a route for “non-motorised users”.

There are three “NMU track” treatments planned for the route – one is separated with wooden fencing, two others will be separated by a grassed-over berm, one of which is more substantial than the other. Nearly two-thirds of the route will get the most substantial of the protective treatments.

OK, so this is just one short stretch of road and unless your shop is in Cheshire’s chianti-belt it won’t have direct impact on your bottom line. But this is just the start, many more A-roads will be getting similar treatments, perhaps boosting cycle use in your area. There’s usually little to cheer when the words “George”, “Osborne” and “cycling” are in the same sentence but, for once, there’s now a faint glimmer of hope (unless you’re a time trialler).

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