All change, again!

The news that the Liberal Democrats will be running Portsmouth City Council again from May 2018 means that PCF will be looking to work with its fourth Traffic and Transportation cabinet member in as many years.

Councillor Lynne Stagg will take up the reins for a second time, and having been Lib Dems’ spokesperson for the portfolio prior to the recent election, she will hopefully be up to speed with a number of the pressing issues, which of course includes those concerning cycling in the city. She has previously pushed for safer cycle routes in Baffins and Milton.

At this point the PCF committee would like to thank Councillor Simon Bosher for all his work in the ten months since taking over the role a week before Tim Atkins’ fatal accident on the Eastern Road last June. He has been approachable, pro-active in developing schemes and dealing with issues as well as giving the departmental officers the aim to identify and develop schemes for future cycle infrastructure and planning. He also accepted an invitation to come out on a ride with us last summer and was open enough to accept that there were a range of issues facing cyclists in the city and set about trying to address some of them.

The most obvious example of this being the relocated lamp posts and signage on the Hope Street cycle lane (the main one between the ferry port and the city centre). These lamp posts were on a blind corner, close to fast traffic which was only exacerbated on a dark evening by the brightness of oncoming car headlights facing anyone cycling southbound. We had campaigned for many years to have these obstacles removed from the middle of the cycle lane and had repeatedly been told it could not be done. Another example was the creation of a cycle lane on Farlington Avenue to allow cycles to filter past the traffic islands installed to control vehicle speeds towards the top of the road. It’s so much easier not having to re-start pedalling while trying to go uphill!

It is for these reasons that we hope he might retain responsibility for the area in opposition. We will want to see him on the bike hire scheme that he instigated when its launched in the summer and to ensure that the commitment to improving cycling conditions in the city is maintained. Cllr Bosher has been an extremely effective T&T post holder and we wish him well. We hope Cllr Stagg will build on what he has started and work across party lines to deliver the best possible outcomes for cyclists in the city.

So what we can expect from the new administration? Well to start with it was their motion to full council last October that initiated the spending commitment of a guaranteed 10% of annual LTP funding. The motion included the request that the council “Develops a strategy to implement in full Portsmouth Cycle Forum’s ‘A City to Share‘; such strategy to include a costed network of safe, accessible and direct routes that link places and people”, a commitment that was repeated in their 2018 local election manifesto, and so we look forward to working with them to achieve that, especially as it will cost more than the funding currently guaranteed. Perhaps they could follow the example of other councils who are promoting the health benefits of active travel by using some of the public health budget to help get infrastructure built?

This year’s LTP transport schemes already include a number of cycling related safety and infrastructure improvements to be rolled out, and it will not be long until the list for 2019/2020 is starting to be developed so we hope that they will build upon the current progress in order to create the network required to enable those currently apprehensive about cycling to try it for themselves.

If they should start to flag on their commitments, then Labour will soon let them know. They also pledged to implement our ‘A City To Share’ Strategy in their 2018 local election manifesto and with group leader Stephen Morgan MP also sitting on the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in Westminster and having recently come on a ride with us around his constituency, there is also a strong will on their part to build on the recent successes in the city ahead of the 2019 elections.

In our recent 2018 AGM report to members, I wondered that when we look back at 2017 in five or ten years time, will we remember it as the year that things finally started to change for cyclists in Portsmouth, or that it was just another false dawn? There is now a direction of travel for cycling in the city which all three main parties generally agree upon. Whether this is because of the need to reduce congestion in the city, improve air quality, increase the level of physical activity of citizens or to just make it a safer place to ride on two wheels, I feel positive that improvements will arrive whoever is running the show.

The next couple of years has the makings of a landmark point for cycling in the city. We need to support those who are assisting us to achieve our aims, question the means of getting there and be critical of those who put up barriers or deflect our course. We all want a City to Share, as do the rest of Portsmouth. Even if they don’t realise it!

Written by: Ian Saunders (Chair)