Cycling less than a mile to work at the H-B Office, along the A342 in Wiltshire, is...
in my opinion, dreadful but you guessed that already.
New statistics released yesterday by the Department for Transport, report on the provisional estimates for road traffic volumes in Great Britain for the year ending June 2020, by vehicle type and road class.
As anticipated, the effect of lockdown to #stopthespread of COVID has had a dramatic short term effect on vehicle traffic. Full stop.
“Traffic on ‘A’ roads decreased by 14.1% to 128.6 billion vehicle miles in the twelve months from July 2019 to June 2020.”
However, the fact that these statistics show that the highest proportion, 28%, of all motor traffic is moving along Rural ‘A’ Roads, is what I want to delve into, based upon my own experiences, which I am confident are not those of the people managing the Roads Investment Strategy or planning for developments across the non-urban realm.
There are many reports about how dangerous cycling in our towns and cities actually can be, even with the £250 million emergency active travel fund improvements made by some authorities to protect cyclists from the mainstream traffic. It is cycling between our cities, towns and villages that I know to be equally perilous, and in the last 28 years in my locality, NOTHING has changed to enable me, my children and future generations of H-B’s to traverse between villages and towns without being reliant on the use of a motor vehicle.
I am not risk-averse, but I do spend too much time considering how I should best navigate the minor lanes and major rural roads B and A a lot.
Here is a digest of my thinking and actions before not jumping into my car for a journey, business or pleasure, just in case a travel planner is reading.
Some days I walk to work.
The feel-good, invigorating start to the day, enjoying amazing horizons and saving on my carbon footprint. I could walk a permissive headland, that runs adjacent to the edge of the A342. But, with motor traffic of all variety passing at 50mph or faster – never slower and it being an exposed bit of road I would get to work soaked from the knees down due to the overgrown grass dew covering, but also from the knees up due to the close road spray drift.
So I walk the longer route around the bridleway and then wait for a gap in the traffic to cross the road at a busy junction with poor visibility.
Some days I cycle to work.
It scares me if I am honest, even though it is a short, almost direct journey without the need to navigate between different traffic flows.
On leaving my home, I can pootle up the village lane to the T junction, saying hi to Pebbles in his field on the way. Lovely. Then I push hard to pull out of my hamlet expediently onto the A342. Pedal like a possessed peloton leader around the broken, patched, broken, patched, flooded, broken, lifted double drain cover into that scary Primary Position to get into the layby and off the carriageway as fast as I possibly can.
Then I can freewheel away from motor traffic, round and down onto a private road, cutting off the main road junction, giving way and crossing over the next B road into the Manor Farm site and cycle parking outside of our H-B office.
Get a bus?
Farcical in rural Wiltshire.
Some days I drive the car.
Yes, I do. My mileage is about 2000 miles a year and has been for the last seven years.
Being a rurally based micro-business, dispatching post and small parcels, almost every other day means getting to a postbox that takes more than a DL envelope is a 10-mile round trip.
In addition to my daily commute.
Every day I walk the 200 metre hamlet lane. Four times most days but often more.
It is a loop off the main road, and although you would expect it to be only deliveries and residents in the main, add visitors to small home-based businesses and tradespeople, it is actually busier than Monday Market street on a Sunday. It’s a single track lane in the country with no pavement to define space and cars passing on average 50cm from my arm, mostly at 30mph. I wear Hi-Viz gear most of the time, and a coal miners torch on my head at night.
Every weekend (and sometimes in the week) I ride out, bike or hooves.
7 to 14 miles.
Before I commit to any non-motorised journey, I have to factor risk; traffic volume, type, time and weather and seasons into my route.
Avoiding peak times for cars and different peak times for lorries (there is a waste site further along the road), and weekend pelotons who enjoy the terrain, cafes and horizons that I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by.
I select a different point to exit the hamlet and cross the A342, based upon wind noise and or rain spray. OMG the silent electric vehicles are an utter nightmare.
Light changes during the seasons and the prevalence of unbelievably large agricultural machinery, makes me consider not only choice of routes but times to avoid said routes too.
I am reliant on one landowner, allowing me the use of a semi-protected gateway and permissive path to cross with 5-second visibility at one end of the hamlet. At the other end of the hamlet, on 4-second visibility, I cross to the wrong side of the junction, up onto a grassy knoll, down onto a short bit of pavement before giving way to cross onto the correct side of the carriageway.
Lucky for me I have only got half a mile of Rural B road with their 14% increase in traffic to ride before I can get to rights of way, off the main carriageway.
So reading that traffic on ‘A’ roads decreased by 14.1% to 128.6 billion vehicle miles in the last 12 months,
That’s like driving from earth to the Sun and back 687 times.
Is welcome news but when held in the same context as the fact that Rural Minor road use levels have increased by 18.7% over the last 20 years, the highest increase by far than any other road type, clearly the risk of life I feel is genuine and countrywide, not just restricted to my little patch in Wiltshire.
“We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future, we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.” Said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
My experience makes me doubt that planners and regeneration teams factor the needs of non-motorised travellers when deciding on the merits of new projects, even small developments and the impact they have on visibility and access to non-carriageway routes.
But I am optimistic that the distinct break in traffic volume through the first lockdown, caused people to stop and think about how much quieter the roads were, for a month, and how much easier and safer it was to walk, cycle and ride to obtain necessities locally.
As the inevitable second countrywide lockdown makes us all consider our actions and how we must make a step-change for the better, I am hopeful for a dramatic change in the planning and development of transport infrastructure. A change that also focuses on rural communities who desire to safely travel to work, pop to the local post office, pub or farm shop or meet friends in a park, all by human-powered means instead of the motor vehicle.
Musings by Hi Viz Gal