Another boost for cycling in Ipswich – but will it add to rush hour congestion?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
More new cycle routes are set to be created around Ipswich by blocking off some secondary routes to motor traffic – but transport officials are confident this will not lead to increased congestion because of a cultural shift away from traditional commuting.
Suffolk County Council is hoping to receive more money from the government to carry out more projects to make cycling and walking around the town more attractive to commuters who might otherwise drive or use public transport.
This will follow the projects that were brought in during lockdown like closing the sliproad to Stoke Bridge and the junction between Princes Street and Portman Road to make these routes better for cyclists.
However Graeme Mateer, Head of Transport Strategy at Suffolk County Council, said the new changes would be introduced after public consultation – unlike the original changes which were brought in under emergency legislation with the public asked to comment after they were introduced.
Mr Mateer said: “We will publish a list of proposed changes and get the views of the public. We understand that any proposals will attract some objections – but we have been generally pleased by the overall reaction to what has happened over the last few weeks.
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“The changes we do introduce will have to be completed by the end of the end of the financial year (next April) so they should be in place by the time more people are getting on their cycles again during the spring.”
The government announced the extra spending earlier this week at the same time as it announced other schemes to encourage cycling – including vouchers for people to spend on getting old cycles serviced and a proposal that some people could get help to start cycling in a bid to tackle obesity.
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Changes to the road network will close more junctions and close some through routes, but the county council does not think this will increase congestion – even at rush hours.
Councillors and officers believe the coronavirus has accelerated a long-term switch in working patterns.
Traffic planners at Suffolk County Council do not know how many workers are likely to return to full-time work in offices in town centres, but think it is highly unlikely that the same number of people will be heading in for the traditional nine-to-five hours five days a week.
Suffolk’s cabinet member for Ipswich Paul West said: “There are two reasons for that. Firstly, offices have to ensure they are Covid-safe and there are all the social distancing rules that have to be observed – and it could take some time before all the offices can be full again.
“Secondly many people – and their employers – have found they can work at home as efficiently, or even more so, than they did in the office and that on a day-to-day basis that is more convenient all around.
“They may go into the office two or three times a week for meetings or sessions with colleagues – but even when they do go in it will not be for the traditional working day. That will not be everyone, but it could be a significant number.
“I think that was always likely to happen – but this crisis has accelerated the move in that direction.”
He said that was both good and bad news for town centres: “I don’t think we’re going to see the rush hour congestion any time soon, but obviously it is bad news for the shops and cafes in the town centres who rely on casual visits from workers during their lunch breaks for much of their business.”
Transport policy and development manager Carl Ashton said that there was now about 80% of normal traffic on the roads of Ipswich throughout the day compared with the level before lockdown. What was significant, though, was that this was spread out much more evenly during the day – there were not the early morning and late afternoon peaks that cause congestion.
Unless most offices returned to the pre-lockdown working practices, which seemed very unlikely in the short to medium-term, he did not expect to see major rush-hour congestion problems return.
Mr Mateer, who helped design the experimental cycle routes created to encourage more people to get on their bikes, said there was no evidence they had caused any extra problems for motorists – but they had made it much more attractive for those taking up pedal power although there were some changes that were being kept under review.
Road changes must benefit heart of town, says Ipswich Central
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter is one of the members of a committee looking at improving traffic flows into the town centre. He welcomed encouragement for cyclists – but warned that changes must not isolate the heart of the town.
He said: “Cycling certainly has its place in Ipswich and I welcome anything that brings more people into the town – but I hope that changes that are made are done in line with the ambition of turning the town centre around and developing it in the future.”
Ipswich Central is hoping to shift the emphasis of the town centre to run north-south from the Cornhill to the Waterfront – and is also hoping to encourage more people to live in the heart of Ipswich.
Mr Baxter said he hoped that changes would help create vibrant town centre for those who lived there and also those who came in by car, public transport or by cycling in the years ahead.