Chairman’s Letter, June 2018

Dear RCC members,

I missed the Environmental hustings organised by GREN just before the May elections.

I wanted to go, but as the deputy leader of the Council was going I lost interest. He’s been before, he isn’t a candidate this time round (it was supposed to be for candidates), and his track record is so poor it would only make me cross to hear him claim he was doing a good job.

I can only rely on the feedback I have from those that were there, but it sounds pretty disappointing. The people who will be in a position to resolve some of the problems our society faces in the future simply have no idea how to tackle them.

One thing is clear to anyone, even to the most ardent petrol head. The roads have too many cars on them. They cause too much pollution, the more important users of the road are delayed by congestion, and the whole driving community is getting steadily less fit.

Add in the external impact on the population, or rather those people not actually driving, so walking cycling, using a mobility aid, and it is high time we, and especially people who manage our public domain, looked at the problem much more imaginatively.

As a cycle campaign we exist for one purpose: “To make Reading a cycle-friendly town”. That is somewhere that cycling is easy and pleasant. Something most people could easily choose to do.

It’s obvious really, to anyone with something between their ears, that this would be a good thing. Many of the problems we face (not just in Reading, but globally) could be tackled ever so easily, much more easily than catering for an increase in any other road user, and people riding bikes is the most obvious solution to a future blighted by more and more cars.

Government statistics show that 75% of ALL journeys are under 5 miles. My own eyes show me that most cars have only one person in them. The luxury to drive short distances on your own, and be subsidised and almost feted for doing so is a luxury we cannot afford any longer.

The increase in public transport only tackles one of those problems, congestion. Don’t believe the spin, buses are not environmentally benign. They might have a different level of exhaust emission, they still run on tyres that wear away leaving a residue of rubber and plastic, they have oil in their engines, they have plastic in their fabric. Tons of it.

Buses don’t grow on trees, they emerge from factories where I bet lots of people drive to work. Stand in Station Road and watch the buses as they move around in Station Road or in front of the station, how is that ever a friendly environment?

Of course bus drivers could be careful around cyclists, it would be in their interest if they were, but repeatedly I get hassle from them as they try and muscle past. I normally report them, the bus company were quite good at dealing with it, now though I no longer even get a response.

They are good though at letting the world know via Twitter that their buses are late. On the day I wrote this there were 16 tweets of heavy traffic causing delays to buses. That wasn’t bicycle riders holding them up, that was vehicle congestion.

Why don’t bus drivers muscle past queues of cars? For the head of Planning and Transport to criticise the campaign for focusing on cycling shows and alarming lack of hope for the town.

He is in charge, he makes sure his own agenda is delivered; if he thinks cycling has to play second or third or even fourth fiddle to all other forms of transport we don’t have much to look forward to. You can kind of guess he was behind the local Labour manifesto.

Cycling is a very egalitarian mode of transport. You would think a party founded on socialist ideals would champion something that a lot of people can afford. Yet their manifesto has the bizarre pledge to introduce speed limits for cyclists in pedestrianised areas.

Nothing about creating high quality facilities to get people on to bikes, but measures to curb the effectiveness of those already on them. This, from the man who thinks HS2 is a good idea (saving time to get to Manchester at vast expense and huge damage to the countryside).

They also pledge to protect open space, whilst at the same time planning to wreck one of the town’s most iconic places with a flyover, the East Reading MRT (see page 11).

They have attempted to sweeten the deal with a cycle and pedestrian facility on it. At present that proposal is a shared facility, but even if it was a fully segregated one who would use it?

It starts east of Reading, so it won’t appeal to people in Reading, who, if they want to get on to it to ride into town will have to head out of town, turn around and ride in via the new cycle facility.

And when they get into town they will be faced with the notorious Vastern Road roundabout (see our last newsletter). There are no plans to make this junction any safer, and it is the most dangerous junction in Reading.

Not only are there no plans, RCC told RBC before the thing was redesigned that it would be dangerous. Before that we submitted a proposal to make it a bit safer with cycle lanes on the bridge coming over the river, but they were scrapped by the same lead councillor who came to the GREN hustings as it might reduce the capacity of the bridge to carry cars.

This was factually incorrect and was more to do with him currying favour from drivers. And there lies the rub. The people in charge of our transport system are worried about reducing capacity for people to carry on driving as they do now.

In towns and cities, and even villages all over the country, political leaders with vision and courage have come to the conclusion that getting people on a bike for some of their journeys isn’t just good for the person on the bike.

Sadly we don’t have that vision in Reading. Well, we do, but people who have power and influence don’t. Their heads are either in the sand or up somewhere dark.

Adrian Lawson, RCC Chairman

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