COVID-19 may have provided an opportunity for improving sustainable transport in Portsmouth, but that opportunity is already slipping through our fingers. Central government announced funding to help social distancing by improving walking and cycling routes. Portsmouth City Council has bid for £192,000 in the first round of funding. Some or all of the measures are temporary, it is not exactly clear. The measures include:

  • Funding the existing partial closure of the seafront
  • Creating a bus and cycle only through route through Isambard Brunel Road, Guildhall Square, Guildhall Walk ( 2-way cycling) and the Terraces
  • Cycles only in the southern part of Palmerston Road
  • Creating a continuous cycle path on Elm Grove

As well as:

  • two temporary toucan crossings on Eastern Parade in Southsea, pop-up cycle lanes and some parking suspensions in Ordnance Row and Elm Grove and traffic filters in Castle Road and Canal Walk.”
  • “A low traffic neighbourhood is also proposed between Highland Road and Goldsmith Avenue, creating one-way systems and no-through roads.” I think this is Maxwell/Languard/Hunter/Methuen Road.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION 24 June, the council has not been forthcoming with what specific schemes are contained in the bid. I’ve asked for information under FOI to try to clear this up.

UPDATE 29 June, the confirmed list of funded changes is now available.

The transport cabinet member for PCC claimed “We must build on [the improvements] and not allow our roads to return to the pre-COVID situation”, however they seem to have already allowed that to happen. The council stated: “The cycling and walking activities included in the bid aim to create safer cycling and walking routes whilst also maintaining the flow of traffic”. These mixed messages that claim to both maintain and reduce car usage immediately throws the ambition of the plan into doubt. The road system is already massively biased toward car travel, and the council has no plans to change that. The measures are focused on the south of the city which neglects transport in the northern part.

Also, many of these steps are in already quiet areas, while most benefit can be gained by ambitious changes to the main transport routes. Just making quiet roads like Maxwell/Languard/Hunter/Methuen Road one way is not going to achieve very much. Many of these measures temporary but we need long lasting change in the city to address congestion. The plans don’t form a continuous cycle network and seem to be more ad-hoc quick fixes that don’t annoy the car lobby.

There was a proposal to close a lane of the Eastern Road to form a cycleway. The existing cycling way is very close to fast moving traffic and widened cycle route would be safer. However, a petition was started against the plan by a group called Keep Pompey Moving, founded by a local car dealership owner. After discussions, the plan was abandoned by the council, citing value for money concerns. The cost was thought to be around £100,000. The general idea was quite bold but the cycle lane would have only been temporary which seems rather weak and short sighted. It could have also displaced traffic on to Copnor Road.

Widen My Path is a website that collects suggestions for improvements to walking and cycling around the UK, and for users to up vote ideas. This allows many ideas to be collected from a wide audience. Many of them are ambitious and some gaining support from the website users. Among the most popular ideas are: making the seafront traffic closure permanent, and protection for cyclists going over Copnor Bridge. If you have ideas for improvements, please add them to the site! The council should pay attention and take the best ideas forward to implementation.

For cycling to be popular in the city, it has to be an efficient way to get around. This requires a network of safe, fast routes for cyclists to reach popular destinations. The current cycle network is highly fragmented since it prioritizes traffic in most places. Rapid Cycleway Prioritisation Tool was created by Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. It identifies routes that would complete a cycle network if they were converted to cycle ways. The analysis included Portsmouth and found London Road, Copnor Road and Queens Street to be ideal places for upgraded cycle routes. Ideally, these would be segregated and protected cycleways. While some cycle infrastructure exists along Eastern Road (which is of questionable safety), south of Winston Churchill Avenue and along the sea front, the rest of the city needs connecting for cyclists. Ideas from the RCPT are intended to assist councils in bidding for Tranche 2 of the Emergency Active Travel Fund.

The council needs to be ambitious and think seriously about supporting active transport, which inevitably means de-prioritizing private cars. This in turn helps address the air quality problem and the climate crisis.

UPDATE: Conservative councillor calls for the seafront to be reopened to traffic. 🙁