Medway Labour group is broadly supportive of the Council’s Cycling Action Plan. We are pleased to see that the council is taking steps to encourage cycling throughout Medway. It has always been the view of the Labour group that more must be done to encourage cycling as it has great benefits to the health of residents and to improving congestion across Medway.
However, it is the view of the Medway Labour group that there must be more of a purpose to the council’s cycling action plan. When considering our response to the action plan we have asked ourselves ‘what is the purpose of improving cycling in Medway?’
Aside from health benefits and easing congestion we have chosen to focus on the reasons why people would choose to cycle in Medway and what we can do to make cycling more advantageous.
For that reason we have chosen to put greater focus on those people commuting to and from work and on people using cycling to get to and from leisure facilities. We believe that it is vitally important to recognise that a great number of people choose to cycle their commute to and from work. As such we believe that it is vitally important to improve links between train stations in Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Rainham and cycle paths close to those train stations so that there is direct access for those people choosing to commute to and from work. This would also be advantageous for the great number of people who live in Medway but commute to other locations (such as London) who may wish to cycle to the train station before commuting to work.
For this reason we also believe that we should do more to link up cycle paths between residential areas and significant areas of employment in Medway in order to aid those who both live and work in Medway.
In seeking to try and make cycling more of an attractive option for those travelling to and from leisure facilities we believe that the council should seek to better connect residential areas and leisure facilities. For example, the cycle paths to Medway Valley Park are poor and do little to encourage people to cycle to facilities such as the cinema.
Whilst we applaud the council’s initiative to improve cycling and to promote cycling as a leisure activity in itself, we are of the view that we must also acknowledge that cycling must serve a purpose for Medway residents. That is why we are seeking to improve cycle paths for those using cycling for commuting and/or those wishing to cycle to and from leisure facilities.
Of course, cycling – particularly when used for commuting – is greatly advantageous to easing congestion in Medway. Congestion in our town centres, especially at rush hour, can often be a problem. But if we can make cycling more advantageous then we have the ability to ease congestion. This will become an even greater benefit when we consider the new regeneration sites across Medway which are likely to add to congestion in our town centres.
What the action plan fails to acknowledge is that Medway is not the easiest place to cycle around. The geography of the area is such that we have a great number of steep hills – this is likely to discourage many residents from cycling. As such we must take advantage of the flat areas that we have in Medway.
It is the view of the Labour group that we must do a great deal more to take advantage of the riverside in particular and greatly improve our riverside cycle routes. The riverside is not only beneficial due to being flat but it is unique in connecting virtually the whole of Medway. By improving our riverside cycle paths we can connect Strood, Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham. As such the Labour group would be keen to see the Council work towards the introduction of a ‘cycle highway’ adjacent to or in close proximity to the river.
Any riverside cycle improvements would also need to take into consideration the planned riverside developments and recent riverside developments. For example, existing developments at St Mary’s Island and Victory Pier/Liberty Quays have their own individual riverside walks and/or cycle paths. However, the connectivity in terms of pedestrian/cycle access between these development sites is not always safe or desirable. Further proposed developments at Chatham Waters and Colonial House offer further opportunities to improve this connectivity and strong partnership working between Medway Council and private developers (and other private landowners with a river frontage) is required in order to improve / achieve good connectivity.
Likewise, Rochester Riverside has its own designated riverside walk/cycle path and future proposed developments at Strood Riverside, the Civic Centre site and Temple Marsh offer opportunities to improve connectivity along the river and promote cycling as a viable way of getting around the Towns and also as a leisure pursuit.
Medway Labour group is pleased to see that the action plan is determined to improve the safety levels of cycling in Medway. Safety must be at the heart of every objective we set in relation to cycling. However, we believe that the action plan fails to mention one of the most fundamental ways of improving cycling safety. Medway has a large number of roads that require improvement to their surface. Until we make the required improvements to our roads we are potentially risking the safety of our cyclists. Road improvements has been something that the Labour group has campaigned on for some time – we feel that this cycle action plan presents an unavoidable need for those much needed improvements to, finally, be implemented.
We are also pleased to see in section 2 ‘What we have delivered’ of the action plan that the council has increased cycle parking provision. However, cycle parking has not been mentioned in the rest of the action plan. It is the view of the Labour group that there is still a real shortage of cycle parking in Medway and we would be keen to address this more thoroughly.
Finally, Medway Labour group is pleased that the council will continue to support the existing Medway Council staff travel plan but we believe that we should do more to encourage local businesses to introduce similar plans. In paragraph 5.18 of the action plan the council states that they will ‘seek to indirectly support local business to maintain and develop travel plans’. We wonder if the council can take further steps to work with local businesses to introduce cycle plans in local businesses and liaise between local businesses and local bike shops to implement a similar cycle plan as is in operation at Medway Council in local businesses.