Feature: Is Peterborough on track to become UK’s Environment Capital?

Cycle lane at Oundle Road, Woodston EMN-170829-164823009
Cycle lane at Oundle Road, Woodston EMN-170829-164823009
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The environment is a huge talking point at the moment, both nationally and locally.

While the front pages recently were dominated by government proposals to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040, in Peterborough there has been much talk about sustainable transport in the city.

Pedestrians walking their bikes along Bridge Street

Pedestrians walking their bikes along Bridge Street

The controversial decision to knock down Rhubarb Bridge and replace it with road crossings, the Peterborough Telegraph’s campaign for a footbridge at Fletton Quays and fines for cyclists on Bridge Street have all featured heavily in the past few weeks and provoked huge discussion.

It is also 25 years since Peterborough was designated as one of four UK environment cities and nine years since Peterborough City Council adopted the target of creating the UK’s ‘Environment Capital’.

Now, as part of a series of features, the PT has spoken to some of the organisations which are trying to make Peterborough more eco-friendly to find out whether the city is living up to its lofty green ambitions.

This week, we decided to take a look at transport in Peterborough.

Rhubarb Bridge EMN-170815-173050009

Rhubarb Bridge EMN-170815-173050009

Carly Leonard, chief executive of the Peterborough Environment City Trust

Tough choices will need to be made to end the reliance on the car says Carly Leonard, chief executive of the independent charity the Peterborough Environment City Trust.

Whether that be congestion zones or ‘clean air zones’, which PECT would be happy to see investigated, change needs to come sooner rather than later.

Carly said: “There probably will need to be difficult decisions made in order for us to get to where there’s less vehicles on the road, there’s less pollution, people are more active.

“Those difficult things shouldn’t be shied away from - they should all be investigated and all options should be looked at.”

PECT is doing its bit to lead from the front, with an electric company car and bikes for staff to get to meetings.

At the lower end of the scale Carly would like to see employers make it easier for people to walk or cycle into work, which might include putting in showers. And she highlighted an initiative in Bristol called Playing Out where a street can close a road for a period of time so residents can reclaim it and children can go out and play.

“I think things like that alone won’t solve the problem, but they do give people that feeling of what it would be like if we weren’t overrun by cars all the time,” she said.

“I think the fewer cars on the road the safer people feel getting around. Also, from a pollution and a respiratory perspective it’s much better for people to walk down a path that’s not choked up by vehicles all the time.”

Looking at the broader picture, Carly says: “To some extent you need to make it slightly harder for the car to be the easiest option and a lot easier for it to be public transport, walking and cycling.”

For this she wants to see investment in sustainable transport infrastructure, adding: “A lot of the barriers people feel to getting active and getting healthy are it feels difficult and it feels like something they’re not quite sure where to start with.

“That starts with just getting out for a walk or walking to work or cycling. Rather than people thinking they have to go from nothing to going down the gym five times a week. It’s small steps.

“My top priority would be to make sure we have the best sustainable transport infrastructure in place and that it made it really enticing to get on your bike or walk to where you were going.”

Matthew Barber, Sustrans

Be bold and brave is the call to Peterborough City Council by Matthew Barber, head of partnerships (Midlands and East) at sustainable transport charity Sustrans.

A vocal critic of the Bridge Street cycling ban, Matthew believes Peterborough has been overtaken when it comes to having the best cycling infrastructure.

He said: “Many towns and cities would love to have the network that we’ve got. But, if we’re trying to create an environment capital then we are relying too much on our existing, ageing network, and we are getting overtaken by other cities who are braver and bolder when it comes to putting down really high quality cycling infrastructure.”

More than anything, Matthew wants to see segregated cycle lanes put in, rather than the painted lanes on roads such as Oundle Road and Park Road.

These lanes would have kerbing on either side so cars could not come across into them and would make people less fearful about getting on their bikes.

“Nottingham have a very good segregated scheme, as does Leicester. Chelmsford are looking to put a segregated scheme in,” he said.

“Whether it’s a psychological barrier, I think there’s a discussion to have around funding, but certainly there are barriers as to why Peterborough is not quite willing to make that step to say ‘actually, we’re going to go for the best practice, high quality piece of infrastructure’.”

Matthew accepts that the city council may not have much money to spend on cycling, but he feels more could be done to make it easier for people to travel into the city centre.

“Crescent Bridge is a big problem. Town Bridge just doesn’t work for anyone at the moment,” he said.

As for Bridge Street, he wants a trial where the ban is lifted, or alternatively an “incredibly high quality route” created behind WH Smith and through the Barclays alleyway into Cathedral Square. Matthew believes Peterborough has a “reasonable” bus service but suffers slightly because there is only one operator in Stagecoach.

He also thinks there is the potential to look at discouraging the use of cars, whether that be through the reallocation of road space, reducing parking spaces or increasing parking costs.”

But, returning to cycling, which Matthew says is stagnating in popularity in Peterborough, there is the feeling at Sustrans that there is plenty more to do.

He added: “Peterborough could be a shining light when it comes to cycling. We have all the right elements here. We need just need really strong leadership to make that happen.”

Cllr Peter Hiller, Peterborough City Council

Peterborough City Council says it has continued to invest in sustainable transport despite huge cuts to its government grant.

Councillor Peter Hiller, cabinet member for growth, planning, housing and economic development, said: “At a time when council funding has been significantly reduced we continue to invest in sustainable transport.

“In the past four years we have spent more than £1.5 million on improvements to the city’s primary cycle networks, which has included projects such as upgrades on Eastfield Road.

“Last year an additional £100,000 was invested to further subsidise city bus services to ensure residents have good access to public transport.

“The council has encouraged thousands of residents to choose sustainable transport through a range of initiatives, from bike training at city schools to personalised travel plans to thousands of city workers.

“It’s also important to remember what this city does have, such as 150 miles of cycle routes and an extensive network of footpaths for people to use in their free time, or to get to work.

“Peterborough is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK and we have been successful with a number of funding bids for projects to ensure our road system remains as free-flowing as possible and prepared for the city’s future growth.

“As a result we have an enviable road system,which is a key factor in attracting new businesses to the city, and low levels of congestion and pollution.

“The council has a limited amount of funding and endeavours to make the best use of the money available to promote and invest in all modes of transport across the city as set out in our Local Transport Plan.”

Peterborough Green Party

The Peterborough Green Party has not held back in its criticism of the city council.

It told the Peterborough Telegraph: “Peterborough City Council’s efforts to deliver a sustainable transport system are abysmal. If you don’t drive, Peterborough is very difficult to get around, yet the council promised us that the opposite would be true.

“Buses are expensive and unreliable and actually incentivise people to drive short journeys because it is cheaper and more convenient to do so.

“Peterborough has a very long way to go before it can claim to be a ‘pedestrian, public transport and cycle first city’. In fact, the council is currently busy undoing many initiatives that made Peterborough safer, such as suggesting that a series of road crossings is ‘better’ for accessibility than a long established, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly footbridge.

“Many of the cycle paths in Peterborough are dangerous, some reduced to as little as a few inches wide (e.g. Dogsthorpe Road, Eastfield Road). Even the Green Wheel, the network of cycle paths intended to separate cyclists from traffic, is untended, unloved and under-utilised.

“The council seeks to make money from, and punish people for, cycling past the Town Hall on Bridge Street yet fails to offer cyclists a reasonable alternative route through the city centre.

“Unfortunately, some cyclists now feel safer riding on the pavement, which makes walking much more dangerous for pedestrians.”

Matthew Barber of Sustrans had a few ideas he believes should be looked at or trialled by Peterborough City Council.

These included:

l Closing one of the lanes inbound at Crescent Bridge and giving the space to

walking and cycling

l Lifting the Bridge Street cycling ban

l Closing Broadway from outside the Central Library

l Discourage driving by putting up parking charges or removing parking spaces.