A cycle route saved! But an opportunity lost!

Ian (our Chair) and John (our Right-to-Ride Officer) attended a meeting of Northamptonshire County Council’s Cabinet for discussion of the re-opening of Abington Street in Northampton town centre to traffic.  Ian writes:
I went to County Hall yesterday afternoon silently supporting our Right-to-Ride Officer who was going to exercise his right, as a member of the public, to address the Cabinet.  (An individual is entitled to up to three minutes to make his or her points.  This happens at the start of an agenda item before the Cabinet Member with responsibility for the item speaks.)
We met in Reception and parked our bikes in the 18th-century Courthouse Room before being invited into the Blue Room to attend the meeting.  Seven members of the Cabinet were meeting and the room was packed with other councillors.  I was a little surprised at this but a journalist from the Chronicle & Echo to whom I got chatting said that our item was the one which had attracted them.  I’d wrongly assumed it would be the item after ours – about HS2!
In the absence of Cllr Jim Harker, the Council Leader, the meeting was chaired by Cllr Heather Smith, the Deputy Leader.  She took the meeting briskly through the first five items, all procedural ones.  Item 6 was a review of Special Educational Needs Units (which I sort of found interesting as a retired teacher).  And then it was Item 7 and John’s turn to speak.
John was very good.  He opened with our objection to the making of St Giles Terrace one-way for all vehicles (severing the west-east cycle route from the Railway Station to Billing Road), following up with observations on the opportunity to make the town centre more cycle-friendly (this time by allowing two-way cycling in Abington Street) in preparation for the re-location of the university to the town centre.
He reminded Cabinet that they had adopted a Cycling Strategy in 2013 to encourage cycling in all schemes – and yet here was the Highways Department entirely forgetting this.
Very soon John’s three minutes were up and, from the floor, he received a loud round of applause!  We were both surprised and delighted at this.  Later, however, it became clearer that the applause – from opposition party Councillors – was politically motivated and may not have helped our case with the ruling party on Cabinet.
Another member of the public – an Abington Street trader – used his three minutes to suggest reducing the use of disabled parking bays in the proposed scheme.
Cllr Michael Clarke then introduced his report.  He made one concession: St Giles Terrace will remain two-way south of The Ridings (hence preserving the current cycle route).  But he then spoke against two-way cycling in Abington Street (missing, in our opinion, an opportunity to enhance provision).  Nevertheless, a concession gained – and gained, I feel, thanks to the number of CTC members who e-mailed the consultation process with our objections!  (Cllr Clarke: “This is a listening Council …”)
The floor was then opened to other county councillors.  Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors spoke against the TRO.  Their objections, however, were not against the details of the arrangements but against the scheme in principle.  In fairness, this had already been decided by the Borough Council and was in the Conservative manifesto for the Borough Council elections.  Cllr Smith, in the chair, reminded them of this but they were having none of it!  You can read the Chronicle and Echo’s report here.  (“Further criticism for plan to reopen part of Abington Street to traffic”)  This is when I realised that the applause for John’s comments were not in support for cycling but a bit of party knockabout.
Last speaker from the floor was the leader of the Borough Council, David Macintosh.  He was heckled by opposition County Councillors.  And Cllr Smith was, in my opinion, a little easier on him when he strayed away from the TRO onto the scheme in principle!  (The relevant gist: a marvellous TRO and Highways Department had been wonderful …)
Then something happened that reminded me of rowdy teenage boys in a classroom!  The councillors on the floor began to argue amongst themselves, swearing loudly!  I think the chair was a little non-plussed at this.  She asked for an end to swearing.  “You tell him off for swearing then!  He swore at me first!” said one – clearly finding his inner thirteen-year-old.  Amazing!
None of the other Cabinet members contributed and the discussion concluded with Cllr Smith declaring that the report on the TRO was passed.

Re-introducing cars to Abington Street in Northampton Town Centre

John Cutler, our Right To Ride Officer, alerted me to the way in which it is proposed that cars be re-introduced to Abington Street.

The majority political party on Northampton Borough Council included this proposal in its manifesto for the 2013 Council elections.

St Giles Terrace is to become one-way (northerly); Abington Street will be re-opened to cars one-way (westerly); and then Wellington Street will be accessible one-way (northerly).

The main problem with the Road Traffic Order is that it is, unthinkingly, to apply to ALL vehicles – so that cyclists will be affected by it.  It is as if the use of bicycles has been forgotten by the planners.

It would be perfectly possible to design the road markings and infrastructure to allow cycling in both directions.  (Indeed, other East Midlands towns and cities – Leicester, Derby, Nottingham – allow cycling in their pedestrianised areas.  This was forgotten in Northampton when Abington Street was originally pedestrianised in the late 1980s.)

Could I urge you, therefore, if you live in Northampton and the surrounding area to e-mail your objections and suggestions to abingtonstreet@mgwsp.co.uk and to copy your e-mail to your borough councillor and to your county councillor?

Cycling in the Northampton Carnival Parade – Saturday 8th June

I’ve just been tweeted a reminder from @CycleNorthants that the Carnival is looking for riders for the Bike Parade in the Northampton Carnival on Saturday 8th June.
All riders are welcome and the organisers are trying to get as many as possible for an impressive display.  You can either bring your own bike or ride one of their “silly” bikes.
The Parade lasts from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. and there will be more activity afterwards at Far Cotton Recreation Ground.
Details from @CycleNorthants  / Northamptonshire Highways / northamptonshire.gov.uk/Cycling.

Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way Cycle Path, part 2

At the end of CTC Northampton’s morning ride last Saturday, Iain Dawson and I continued back to The Windhover along the Brampton Valley Way (BVW) to see the improvements where the BVW goes under the Northampton-to-Rugby railway line.

This crossing has been notorious for many years – a complete mud-bath – and, let’s face it, a local disgrace since the BVW is part of the National Cycle Network Route 6.  It’s been pretty much impassible in all but the driest weather and, even then, you’d want an off-road bike!

We were pleasantly surprised.  Here’s the start of the underpass approached from the south:

IMGP5669Iain shows how it’s negotiated:

IMGP5671and how you emerge on the other side:

IMGP5673Once you’ve emerged, you can see why it used to flood so often – it’s where cycle path, railway line and river all merged:

IMGP5675This is the edge of Kingsthorpe Local Nature Reserve, which has splendid views:

IMGP5676IMGP5677The cycle path then swings up to run alongside the railway line:

IMGP5680and the view remains good:IMGP5679All in all, a very welcome improvement!

And work looks well underway to complete a nice tarmac surface between here and the A5099 crossing, further north near The Windhover.

Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way cycle path

The Brampton Valley Way (BVW) is being upgraded in at least two places in Northampton: where it crosses the A5099 near “The Windhover” pub and where it goes under the Northampton-to-Rugby railway line to the north of King’s Heath.  The BVW is a “linear park” that follows the disused railway line connecting Northampton and Market Harborough.  It forms part of National Cycle Route 6 (NVR6).

Here’s what was happening today at the A5099 crossing:

IMAG0201IMAG0202IMAG0203IMAG0204One of the workmen confirmed that the intention is to widen the cycle path and provide a tarmac top.

Rockingham & Rutland Audax Report – Sunday 9th September

At least three CTC Northampton members – Bill Simpson, John Weller and Ian Macsporran – took part in this event.  Apologies if I missed spotting anyone else.

Organised by Richard Daniells on behalf of CTC Northamptonshire & Milton Keynes, it was billed as a 110-kilometre event, starting and finishing at Oundle.  The route card suggested just over 117k and, in old money, I clocked up 71 miles.

The Joan Strong Centre has been the event’s HQ for some years.  There’s plenty of parking in the adjacent public car park for those wimps like me who drove over to Oundle.  The riders all assembled for a 9.30 a.m. start on a day of glorious weather.  More than one applied sun screen.

The route is glorious, circuiting Rutland and reaching west to Knossington in Leicestershire and north to Castle Bytham in Lincolnshire.  I saw Bill and John at the start but by the outskirts of Oundle they’d gone!  When I got to the manned control point at Ashwell, I saw them departing as I was arriving (they must have dawdled over their coffee and cake!).

For me, as on the one or two other Audaxes I’ve taken part in, this was essentially a solo ride after the first few miles.  Each rider chooses a pace he or she is comfortable with – and Richard’s route card made navigation pretty straightforward.  There were unmanned control points at Cold Overton and South Witham.

If Richard had organised the glorious sunshine, he also organised and warm but stiff southerly/south-westerly headwind for the final third of the course. The refreshments at the finish were very welcome!

So many thanks to Richard – and to Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Lincolnshire County Councils who were kind enough to leave their roads in such a state of poor repair that my memories of the cobbled cycle lanes of eastern Germany came flooding back!

John and Bill, of course, were not the sort of wimps to travel to Oundle by car but cycled to the start and home again afterwards.  I reckon that must have made a day of 130 miles.  Chapeau!

My route is here.

Local share of £15 million for cycle-rail and Sustrans projects

Road.cc reports that 68 projects in England will be sharing Department for Transport funding.  From what I can see in the full list, locally we should see:

  • £140,700 to London Midland to revamp or remove old cycle parking spaces and install new high quality spaces to increase, sometimes doubling, cycle capacity at 13 rail stations including Northampton and Long Buckby
  • £350,000 to Northamptonshire County Council to improve the Brampton Valley Way by resurfacing and dealing with flooding and access problems so that it becomes an all-weather all-year resource.

Let’s hope the latter improvements deal with the quagmire under the railway line just north of King’s Heath!