Cycle routes need a rethink

MOST people accept that cycling is a great form of transport. It's clean, it keeps you fit, and it doesn't do long-term damage to the environment.Suffolk County Council wants to encourage more cyclists to this part of the world by promoting cycling tourism.

MOST people accept that cycling is a great form of transport.

It's clean, it keeps you fit, and it doesn't do long-term damage to the environment.

Suffolk County Council wants to encourage more cyclists to this part of the world by promoting cycling tourism.

In a sense that's a great idea – there are parts of the county, especially the coastal strip from Aldeburgh to Lowestoft, where cycling is wonderful.

But wouldn't it be more worthwhile to promote cycling as an everyday activity – for commuting or visiting town centres – not just something for tourists who want to be able to visit wonderful country pubs without getting done for drink-driving?

Suffolk, and Ipswich's, efforts to encourage more people to get on their bikes in towns has always been pathetic.

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Some genius thought it would be a good for cyclists, the smallest vehicles on the road, to share a lane with buses – among the largest vehicles.

Then the boffins at County Hall and Civic Centre thought they could encourage cyclists by painting two-foot wide cycle lanes at the side of the busiest roads in Ipswich.

When was the last time these people rode a bike on a busy road? Hasn't anyone ever told them that the way to encourage cycling is by creating meaningful cycle routes – not by just arranging for leading councillors to get their cycle helmets on for a photo opportunity once or twice a year.

Cycling in towns is a subject that our councils seem totally unable to get their heads around.

They seem to think that putting up a few signs with diagrams of bikes will encourage us all to start pedalling.

It won't.

To get people on their bikes, you have to separate them from other road users by creating dedicated cycle routes.

We have short stretches in Ipswich – but none that create a meaningful route from housing estates to the town centre.

Cycle routes were included at Grange Farm in Kesgrave and in Martlesham Heath.

The result is that Kesgrave High has more pupils arriving by bike than any other school in the country – that's a good result.

Cycle routes are also being included with Ravenswood – but if you want to bike from there to the town centre you have to brave the traffic on Nacton or Landseer Road.

Little stretches of cycle paths have been created beside the River Gipping, but there is no co-ordinated route for people wanting to come in from the Bramford or Sproughton area.

A few signs have been put up between Heath Road Hospital and the town centre, but when you get near central Ipswich you have to mix it with other traffic.

Until our councils do something positive to create direct, motor-free, routes direct to the town centre, cycling will remain a means of transport only for the dedicated few.

For the rest of us, our bikes will continue to spend most of the year at the back of the garage while we travel in a safer form of transport.

I WAS pleased to hear that a cause I had championed in this column has had a satisfactory conclusion.

Ipswich Buses is wholly-owned by Ipswich Council. The borough appoints directors to the company, who are not paid.

To look after its interests some of these are councillors. However, directors have always been banned from speaking or voting at council meetings if a subject will affect the company they are involved with, even if they don't stand to gain financially.

So we had the ridiculous situation that if anything to do with Ipswich Buses was discussed by the council which owns it, the councillors who knew most about the subject were banned from taking part in the debate.

Now the government has agreed that this situation was daft and has exempted the directors of the bus company from these regulations.

It's a pity its taken so long for sense to prevail, but at least they got there in the end!

I'VE been watching the recent performance of John Gummer, and I've got a message for him: Please don't stand for the House of Commons again!

He's been a member of the British delegation at the Earth Summit at Johannesburg and has been making some very telling points.

He's been busy criticising the US government for its environmental policies and its threats to Iraq.

And he's been looking like a very energetic – and effective – spokesman for this country abroad.

But frankly he could do that much better from the red benches of the House of Lords than he can from the green benches of the House of Commons.

And if he's there he wouldn't have a constituency to worry about – although he doesn't seem to worry too much about it at present!

I can't believe he needs his back-bencher's salary – and he'd get a very nice pension as a former cabinet minister.

It would be good to see Lord Gummer of Winston in the Lords – and let a younger MP keen to make a name for himself, just like Mr Gummer was 23 years ago, take over the hectic work of a constituency MP.

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