August 06, 2021 0 Comments
It feels to us like Liverpool is a city at a crossroads. The worst pedestrian and cyclist road safety track record in the country. Deprived neighbourhoods with chronic health issues and low car ownership. Offered millions of pounds of central government funding for local transport development, the city has elected to remove an important active travel corridor prior to the publication of a review into its effectiveness. The actions of a local councillor, praised by the City Mayor, could lead to a huge reduction in local transport funding that will set the city back years. We look back at the last two years, the impact of Covid, and ask is this the end of the road for a co-ordinated active travel plan for Liverpool?
It was recently reported that Colin Smith, the man responsible for the deaths of Clare Killey and Anthony Cope as they rode their bicycles on a February Evening in 2019, has been sentenced to 11 years in jail.
Following a trial where he pleaded not guilty to all charges, he was jailed on 24 June 2021, having being found guilty of:
Smith, who fled the scene after causing the collision, also received a ten-and-a-half-year driving ban, somewhat weirdly (and symbolically) shorter than the term of his incarceration.
We might ask 'what chance did Clare and Anthony have?' when faced with a speeding driver, more than two times over the drug-drive limit, and determined to deny he was at fault. Even in court Smith blamed others for causing the collision. It seems certain that a painted white line on the road, or a high-viz flouro jacket, or even a helmet (or any amount of body armour), would make little difference in this situation. Perhaps properly segregated infrastructure could have kept the bikes further away from this incident and maybe saved their lives. Sadly we will never know.
The sentencing brought a grim sense of closure to us, as it was this killing that spurred us to, first individually, then collectively say: something must be done about the state of cycling in our city. We didn’t know Clare or Anthony personally – though we know those who did. Yet their deaths, on roads we ride weekly, could so easily have been us, our friends, our loved ones. There but for the grace of God, go we.
Over the last two years, spurred by Clare and Anthony’s needless killing, we reflected on the city’s shameful record on pedestrian and cyclist safety - Liverpool has the highest Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) of any metropolitan borough in England (source https://www.wacm.org.uk/54.html) – and asked what can we pragmatically do to help turn this around?
And that’s been our mantra for the last two years. In that time we certainly can’t claim that we’ve set the world on fire, but we’ve tried to make an honest effort of supporting the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Liverpool City Council and others to make our home better for cycling. To make it a more liveable place.
We started writing this in the wake of the sentencing, hoping to take stock of what the city had managed to achieve since that period. And to a lesser extent what we have managed to do. But over the course of writing it, we’ve seen our perceptions of what the city has done turn on its head as the West Derby Road pop-up cycle lane was removed almost overnight. But we’ll come back to that.
More than ever now, this seems like a moment to take stock. Are we any further on than we were two years ago? What’s changed, and what’s next?
Amidst the rough and tumble of it all there are clearly some positives, and the city and city-region have definitely made some good progress in the last two years. There has been a steady stream of heavy duty segregated infrastructure appearing – for example the Dock Road, the old Runcorn Widnes Bridge and Princes Avenue have all opened in that period. A new lane on the Strand is also set to open soon as well. Some of these segregated lanes are quite good too – even if they are relatively small islands of refuge in a huge space. We understand that’s part of how we get there, though. Some of it – as we will see later – is less good.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought about huge changes for cycling and walking. During the first lockdown, and across the summer of 2020 we have seen a huge upswing in the numbers of people walking or enjoying themselves on bike. What’s telling to us is that this isn’t the usual suspects either – i.e. middle aged men – but families, kids out with their mum and dad. This is different. Our friends in local bike shops tell us that demand for new bikes is off the charts, and they simply can’t get bikes and parts fast enough as people want to get out on the road.
We also saw a number of so-called "pop-up" lanes appear across the summer of 2020. First on West Derby Road (more on that in a moment), then Kingsley Road, and finally linking Bootle Strand to the City Centre. There is also the prospect of more to come. The city-region has been allocated £9.8m of central government money to complete its pop-up lane programme, including routes on Aigburth Road, and one linking Woolton to the University campus.
When we started writing this, just days ago, we wanted to sing the praises of the West Derby Road lane. It really was a great example of what to do: It was wide, and largely safe, and has been revisited to make it even safer. There is also evidence that it was well-used, with more than 98,000 journeys across the summer of 2020, and no evidence to suggest that traffic is impeded by the loss of a lane. For example, we were told that the bus services are able to move at the same speed, and reach stops in the same time, as pre-pandemic.
Last week, we learned the news that Liverpool City Council – and the Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency, Environment and Transport, no less – would be removing the lane with immediate effect. Using the cover of a sinkhole on the parallel Prescott Rd, the Cabinet Member cited the increasing traffic now being pushed onto West Derby Road. However, the Cabinet Member also said that the lane would not return when traffic subsided, and he would ‘not agree to a cycle lane… which prohibits two lanes of traffic’.
Cyclists could ‘rest assured’ that the Council is considering alternatives. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time riding around our city knows that ‘alternatives’ are cold comfort, and almost always result in back-routes that take twice as much time, and fly in the face of what these pop-up lanes were meant to achieve – making cycling a feasible and legitimate option.
It was a decision condemned as retrograde by the previous Transport cabinet member, and the City’s Active Travel Commissioner, Simon O’Brien.
There were over 98,000 cycle journeys West Derby Road temporary cycle lane in Liverpool between July 20 and July 21. Bus times on the route not affected. The Public weren’t consulted on toxic air levels. Let’s be straight this is about cars again Sigh @lpoolcouncil @MayorLpool— simonobtv (@simonobtv1) July 27, 2021
If this decision wasn’t galling enough – not least for what it meant for cycling provision everywhere else in the city – not 48 hours later the Department for Transport announced that it would reconsider future funding for cities which prematurely removed their active travel interventions before a proper assessment had taken place.
It took less than two days for the city’s chickens to come home to roost. Already the pictures of councillors posing with the lane dividers ripped from the road, as if they’re trophies, appear to be on the wrong side of history.
A pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.
So what’s next?
Our ethos has always been to try and see the positives. To work constructively to support the city. But it’s hard not to see this as a sad moment for our City.
You can’t help but wonder how the decision to remove the cycle lane will contribute to, not reduce, the city’s shameful record on KSIs for cyclists, pedestrians and children. How many more people have to not come home from riding their bikes before people in charge decide that something needs to be done. Remember: that’s how the Dutch movement started. People refused to accept their loved ones dying and said enough is enough.
We’ve been to see places where it can be done despite people saying it can’t – such as Ghent in Belgium – and we’ve tried to support our city in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by getting people moving.
Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, we looked at what a fledgling network could look like for the city, taking the announced lanes and existing infra (Red and black) and adding on to that roads where there IS spare capacity – either wide lanes, or quieter roads with a ‘spare lane’ identified using DfT tools (green). We then left out some of the contentious roads (such as Queens Drive) following the Ghent model of ensuring cars do have space to circulate properly. What we were left with was this.
As Jim Bowen, a man who cared deeply about working class places, nearly used to say on Bullseye: here’s what you could win. All we’ve got to do is want it. And be brave.
We remain keen to support and assist in the creation and delivery of a well thought out and joined-up active travel plan for Liverpool and the City Region that can still make Liverpool the Most Liveable Place. But with the city mayor back-pedalling on the implementation of active travel infrastructure funded by central government grants - leading to the withholding of future local transport funds that will damage our entire local transport budget, the vague promises of future infrastructure sound hollow and frankly PR designed to deflect. We will continue to call out these inadequacies and our offer of free resource to help deliver a better future remains on the table indefinitely.
The Most Liveable Place Team
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