What might a safer Elm Grove junction look like?

When I was collecting signatures for my petition about the road crash hotspot at the bottom of Elm Grove, a few people asked how redesigning the road could improve safety. How different could it really be?

Following the council’s invitation to submit ideas for their forthcoming review of this junction, I got together with a few friends and we have come up with two options for a safer junction, plus some other ideas to think about. I’ll be emailing all these ideas to the council’s Travel Planning team tomorrow, just in time for their 1st November deadline.

If you think these are good suggestions, there’s still time for you to drop them a line to say so – feel free to link to this blog post if you want to. Or, of course, send in your own thoughts about what’s wrong with the junction and how it could be improved.

Preferred option – London-style

lewes-rd-option-1

Move the central islands on Lewes Road, both north and south of Elm Grove, to create a wide, protected, two-way cycle track on the western side of Lewes Road, connecting with the cycle paths around the Level and continuing past Union Road, Park Crescent and Elm Grove, as far as (approximately) Kendrick’s Property Services.

Convert the bus stop opposite to a floating bus stop, and provide a signalised crossing for southbound cyclists to enable them to join the two-way track as they emerge from behind the bus stop.

Here’s a picture of a similar crossing already in place in London:

parliament-bike-crossing

Introduce a two-way protected cycle track at the bottom of Elm Grove, accessible both from Elm Grove and Islingword Road (provide a cyclist-only cut-through at the bottom of Islingword Road).

Use signals for cyclists on the two-way track to allow them to turn left or right into Elm Grove (via Islingword Road) and for cyclists turning left or right out of Elm Grove.

Add a pedestrian crossing just south of Elm Grove. This will make it quicker and easer to access the GP surgery. Straighten the crossing north of Elm Grove, as the distance to be crossed would be reduced by the width of the cycle track. Remove all the railings.

Option 2: Copenhagen-style

lewes-rd-option-2

One-way raised or wand-protected cycle lanes on both sides of Lewes Road and Elm Grove.

Vehicle traffic stopped further back from the junction than cyclists and left turning vehicles held, with a large “mixing zone”, giving cyclists a clear head start as the lights change.

Other ideas

Minimal changes

If there is to be no alteration at all to the road layout, the council could still introduce:

  • Advance green signals for cyclists, or simultaneous green for cyclists
  • Low level lights, so that cyclists can easily see the signals
  • Traffic lights which hold vehicles from making a left turn into Elm Grove until cyclists have had a chance to clear the junction

A broader view

In order to allow the structural changes outlined above, it may be necessary to reduce the number of vehicles passing through the junction. The council could explore the following possibilities for doing that:

  • Preventing vehicle left turns into Elm Grove (except for buses). This may require some other changes to prevent rat-running.
  • Making the southbound left-hand lane into a bus lane.
  • Preventing vehicle right turns out of Southover Street, to minimise traffic turning left into Union Road.
  • Making Lewes Road one-way northbound (except for buses, taxis and cycles), and  Upper Lewes Road one-way westbound (except for cycles)

I am aware that the brief for the council’s review is to focus on efficiency, and that the budget is tight. Our suggestions may seem unrealistic. However, I think there is a very strong case for designing streets that feel safe for cycling, in order to enable a significant shift away from private car use and towards cycling for most short journeys.

All the evidence from Europe is that protected infrastructure provides that sense of safety, and that it is possible to create the circumstances for a much higher modal share for cycling than we currently see in the UK.

More people cycling would relieve congestion in the city and therefore improve the overall efficiency of the road network. It would also make a big contribution to our air pollution problem and give more people an opportunity to take everyday exercise.

Even if the council does not currently have enough money to transform the junction fully, I think it would be worth producing a tested and costed design that would afford adequate protection for people on bikes, so that they are able to quickly bid for the necessary funds in the future.


We are all Daniel Blake

Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, is a hard-hitting illustration of the cruel chaos our social security system has been reduced to. If you’ve had to deal with this system in the last few years, or if you’ve simply been paying attention to the voices of disabled activists over that time, you won’t be surprised by the events of the film. But Loach’s presentation of them through the fresh eyes of Daniel, a skilled carpenter rendered unable to work by a heart attack, deliberately highlights the shocking fact that our safety net is truly in tatters.

I’ve been volunteering in the computer room at Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project for a couple of months now. I’ve met several real-life Daniels. One thing the film doesn’t show is the soul-destroying effect of the grotesque merry-go-round of ESA rejection/JSA application/appeal tribunal when it is followed almost immediately by another assessment and another rejection, starting the whole ridiculous business again. I met a man recently who reckoned he could easily end up living on the streets because of this kind of instability. He didn’t think he’d survive it again.

It also didn’t show the knock-on effect of sanctions on people’s housing. Both Daniel and his friend Katie were sanctioned in the film, leaving them without income for four weeks. We weren’t shown whether they contacted the local council to ensure their housing benefit was not automatically stopped – despite belated DWP guidance to the contrary, many people in real life have gone into rent arrears because of this delightful bureaucratic hiccup.

Some of the most upsetting sequences in the film showed single parent Katie struggling to keep her head above water, alone in an unfamiliar town, dependent on the kindness of strangers and the charity of the foodbank. The latest survey of foodbanks in Brighton & Hove was published just this month by Brighton & Hove Food Partnership. As you might expect, the city’s 15 foodbanks are dealing with increasing demand, due to benefit changes and delays, and high housing and transport costs. In 2016, local foodbanks are supplying 298 food parcels in an average week.

But real-life Katie is unlikely to be able to stay in Brighton for much longer, even with the help of her local foodbank. Right now, the weekly benefit entitlement for a single parent with two children of opposite sexes is a total of £455.18. That’s £73.10 in JSA, £117.40 in Child Tax Credits, £34.40 in Child Benefit and £230.28 in local housing allowance.

Brighton & Hove Council reports that there are currently no 3-bedroom properties available in the city that are affordable for a family on this level of housing benefit. If Katie were living in Brighton & Hove, she would already be paying at least £100 of her weekly rent out of her remaining income, as well as around £4 a week in council tax, leaving her and her children with less than £120 a week to live on. No wonder she needs the foodbank.

But next month – from 7th November 2016 – the new benefit cap will come into force. That will reduce Katie’s housing benefit to £159 a week, and her remaining income – after rent and council tax – to £50 a week.

£50 a week to feed and clothe a family, and pay the bills? It’s clearly impossible.

Some of my fellow students at the welfare benefits training course I attended earlier this month were council staff from the Housing Options team. Their job is to advise people about what to do if they are in danger of homelessness. Based on these facts, they are making it clear to people now that if you have children, your only options are to get a job or leave town.

To put it another way, there is no longer a safety net in our city for people with children.

I’m not telling you anything you haven’t been told before. Groups like Boycott Workfare, Disabled People against Cuts and Black Triangle have been campaigning about this stuff for years. Bloggers like Joe Halewood, Johnny Void, and Kate Belgrave have been valiantly trying to get the word out.

They’ve had to fight a battle to be heard, because benefit claimants were being relentlessly demonised by the press and broadcast media. Even the Labour Party’s former shadow secretary of state for work & pensions ended up joining in.

Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few politicians who was listening all along. Debbie Abrahams’ announcement at this year’s party conference that Labour would abolish the Work Capability Assessment has already made a difference, with the government immediately announcing that people with chronic disabilities and terminal illnesses would not have to be endlessly reassessed for ESA. Why they are still insisting on the same people being regularly reassessed for Personal Independence Payment remains a mystery.

If you haven’t yet raised your voice to support those who are campaigning on these issues, please take some action, however small. Write to your MP, pledge a ticket on this Facebook group to enable someone else to see I, Daniel Blake – or find someone who has pledged one so you can afford to see it, organise a community screening in January, when the DVD comes out, start a discussion in your own social network about the film, or how the benefit cap is forcing families out of our local communities, volunteer at a food bank or join a political party. I don’t think there’s one right thing to do – we need to build a diverse and broad social movement that changes the public mood, not just swap one lot of managerial politicians for another.

After all, if there’s no safety net for some of us, there’ll soon be no safety net for any of us.

daniel-blake


How local democracy works

I presented a petition of 781 signatures at a Brighton & Hove Council committee meeting this week. I was asking the council to carry out a public review of a road junction near my home where there have been 5 serious injury accidents in the last five years, most recently, the horrific crash that happened there this July.

If you like that sort of thing, you can see the webcast of the meeting on the council’s website – the link should go to the relevant bit of the meeting. But in any case, here’s the speech I made:

I won’t read out the wording of the petition – you have it in front of you – but I’d like to give you some more information about the people who’ve signed it and why.

Hundreds of the signatures were collected at local businesses, notably the chemist right on the junction. These are people who use the crossings regularly and know very well what the problems are.

I also spent time talking to passers by outside the doctor’s surgery and online, and I heard many interesting comments from people who took the time to sign.

  • People who regularly cycle through the junction told me they take their lives in their hands every time. One man told me he has stopped cycling altogether because of this junction.
  • People who have to cross with buggies told me it’s really slow and tricky to manoeuvre on the traffic island surrounded by fences.
  • Friends who use wheelchairs told me they simply avoid that junction as much as possible
  • People pointed out the terrible drainage, which causes massive puddles that soak people on the pavement when large vehicles go through them
  • Drivers said it is scary to find cyclists on the left hand side of the stream of traffic, when you want to turn left – this is, of course, exactly where the current road design directs people to cycle
  • But the comment which stuck most in my mind was from a cyclist who didn’t see the need for a redesign. He said “That junction is perfectly safe if you keep your wits about you. You just have to ride as though everyone is trying to kill you.”

Is this really the message we want our streets to give people if they choose to cycle? Everyone is trying to kill you?

The message that everyone is trying to kill you outweighs some croissants from the Mayor on Cycle to Work day.

The message that everyone is trying to kill you will take the shine off our invitation to visitors to hire a bike from our lovely new bike sharing scheme.

The message that everyone is trying to kill you is a louder one than the finding from last year’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment that increased physical activity could prevent 98 deaths per year in our city.

If our roads give the message that everyone is trying to kill you, then we are undermining the objective of the Local Transport Plan, to “Enable people to feel more safe and secure when travelling in the city, especially when using sustainable forms of transport”.

I know that you already understand this stuff. That’s why you agreed last year to support the Space for Cycling campaign.

Here’s an opportunity to turn that expression of support into practical action. Please make a decision today to listen to the views of local residents and to involve them in a proper rethink of this notorious junction.

Thank you.

If you’ve watched the video, you’ll have seen the response of the committee chair. It was sympathetic, but ultimately disappointing. She said:

Thank you for your petition.

An upgrade of the Elm Grove/Lewes Road junction is currently on the Local Transport Plan Programme that was agreed last Autumn and is due for completion in 2016/17.

The project is in its early stages but it is anticipated that the project will include an upgrade of the traffic signals to improve the efficiency of the junction as well as the introduction of cycle advance signals. As part of the process we will also conduct a safety review to ensure that safety is maximised for all users.

Due to timescale and budget constraints it will not be possible to conduct a full, wide-ranging public engagement on multiple options however we will liaise with all of the important stakeholders and immediate frontagers such as the ones you have suggested as appropriate. And if anyone would like to put forward suggestions then they are very welcome to do so by emailing Travel.Planning@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

I am disappointed in this response, for three main reasons:

  1. I don’t agree that improving the efficiency of the junction is the priority here. I think it’s more important to make the road safer for people on bikes and on foot. In the long run, making roads feel safer for people travelling by bike is the best way to improve the efficiency of the road system. But the changes necessary to do that can’t be made if they have to happen without altering the existing capacity of junctions and roads to accommodate motor traffic.
  2. My petition specifically mentioned a simultaneous green light phase for cyclists as one of a range of options I wanted the council to consider. But it seems that, even though the review is at an early stage, the council has already decided that they will install cycle advance signals. I think this will have a minimal impact on the problems there, and I think they could achieve much more for the same cost if they were open to more imaginative options.
  3. I am fearful that without a thorough and open-minded review, all we will get is an update of the existing traffic lights, and there will be no thought given to reconfiguring the layout of the road to protect pedestrians and bike riders from danger.

Nevertheless, suggestions are being specifically invited, so I emailed the Travel Planning team to ask about the timescale of this limited review, and how people who signed my petition can contribute. I received a response today from Stacey Amey, Principal Transport Planner, who is leading on the project. She said:

  • At the moment we are in the process of scoping out what is possible at the junction and what the cost implications will be. We therefore would welcome any comments or suggestions at this stage.
  • Key stakeholders will generally include local community groups and special interest groups, the Universities, frontages, emergency services, ward councillors and public transport providers however the level of engagement will depend on the nature of the project and the level of disruption anticipated at the construction phase.
  • Please be aware that the budget and timescales are very tight on this project
  • Any comments or suggestions should be sent to travel.planning@brighton-hove.gov.uk
  • It would be useful to receive feedback by 1st November

I intend to put together some suggestions and submit them to Stacey before 1st November. If you are familiar with the junction at the bottom of Elm Grove and have ideas for how it could be made safer, I would urge you to do the same.