Friday, September 2, 2011

On the Road - first of a series of columns from Europe

Dave Macpherson is the recipient of a 2011 Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship – for as study trip to the UK & The Netherlands looking at what New Zealand can learn from practical examples of good public transport systems and cycling and pedestrian facilities in medium and smaller cities and towns.
  Last month Cambridgeshire County in England saw the opening of a ‘guided busway’ network between the central city of Cambridge and the ‘necklace’ of smaller towns surrounding it – an area similar in population and structure to the central Waikato.
  The network is the newest and most advanced example in the UK of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, where public transport links significant employment centres with suburbs and towns that the staff live in. Bus routes are typically separate from the main roads, or (when part of them) have dedicated bus lanes, and bus priority measures at intersections.
  In a couple of weeks I’ll be experiencing the Cambridge BRT first hand, and seeing what we can learn from both the successes and delays and cost overruns they experienced!
Brighton and Hove, on England’s South Coast, won national awards for its network of ‘home zones’ where residential and suburban streets have 20mph (30kph) speed limits, and ‘shared space’  road corridor designs that encourage pedestrian and cyclist priority use of the streets, and cars – while not ‘second class citizens’ – have to negotiate roads with care and consideration for more vulnerable users.
  In the Netherlands, I’ll be looking at the same type of place, in towns like Haren, Houten and Drachten (where the ‘shared space’ concept was born), and at the amazing network of cycling facilities that country has built up.
Some of these have been in place for 30-40 years, and have helped the Dutch develop, and accept as part of their everyday life, a whole new culture around safer use of roads, and acceptance of walking and cycling as healthier, cheaper and very often quicker means of transport.
  In Hamilton and the wider Waikato, we’ve been trialling 40kph zones outside schools, and better methods of slowing traffic in suburban streets than the old ‘hump in the middle of the road’. Until two years ago, we also had nation-leading growth in bus usage, but which has stagnated or even gone backwards recently.
  If we want to continue to be leading lights in New Zealand of transport innovation, including safer roads for all users, it is important that we learn from best practice wherever it happens – I hope my study trip will bring back a lot we can learn from.

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