Thursday, November 02, 2006

Meeting the Minister

Government Minister Tom Harris MP at Heathfield School today

After that, it was a quick dash to the station to meet Tom Harris MP, Minister for Transport, off the train.

Tom came to review our progress as one of England's 7 Cycling Demonstration Towns. He was joined by Philip Darnton from Cycling England, the body which has overseen the initiative. For Darlington, that has meant £1.5 million over three years.

We visited the new College building on Haughton Road, and saw the model of the new cycle/pedestrian bridge over the railway which will be in place in early 2007, together with the continuation of the dedicated off-road cycle route down Haughton Road to Borough Road. A series of presentations followed, rounded off by a visit to Heathfield School, where the teachers, parents and pupils have achieved near-miraculous results in just a year. No-one cycled to school then - now 70 pupils use their bikes regularly. Tom unveiled a mosaic about cycling designed and made by the children.

Everyone seemed happy with what we had to say. We're on the verge of a step-change in Darlington in terms of cycling infrastructure as work begins over the next few months not only on Haughton Road, but also cycle links across the ring-road in two places at Russell Street and near Victoria Road. Safer routes to get cyclists along the town's busy radial routes are in the offing.

And there's evidence that the work is bearing fruit. Despite the cynicism from some quarters, cycling is taking off in many of Darlington's schools. Our automatic cycle counters around the town are showing big increases in the number of bikes coming into the town centre. When the infrastructure is in place, achieving a true cycling culture could well be on the cards.


Mike said...

Let's hope that we can keep the kids cycling when they move on from primary to secondary school.

Let's hope that some of the new infrastructure puts cycling ahead of cars, rather than requiring cyclists to give way at every sideroad.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, Mike.

Our experience suggests that the key "break point" isn't between primary and secondary school, but rather when boys and(especially girls)reach 14/15 when somehow cycling isn't seen as a cool thing to do. At the same time, providing children with the experience of cycling over a long period gives them a firm foundation for the future as they consider transport choices.

That being said, whilst we have worked very successfully with some primary and secondary schools, there is clearly still a lot more to be done. There should be some news about cycle routes to Branksome Comprehensive soon.

Regarding your second point - this is something we are continuing to work on. When there's more design news, I'll get back to you.

Mike said...

"Regarding your second point - this is something we are continuing to work on. When there's more design news, I'll get back to you."

I look forward to hearing what the suggested solution is. Raised crossing points with give way lines for cars?

Darlington Councillor said...

As far as I'm aware, there's nothing concrete at the moment Mike. We are continuing to look at this and the issue of getting cyclists to the head of the junction at traffic lights at the Bondgate junction for example.

Mike said...

Thanks for the response. If you'd like suggestions, you know where we are.

Mike said...

*start mischievous mode*

Which route did yourself, Tom Harris and Philip Darnton used to cycle from the station to Darlington College and then on to Heathfield?

*end mischievous mode*

Darlington Councillor said...

Tom Harris made a flying visit to Darlington, Mike, so sadly we had to travel by minibus to enable him to get a full picture of the emerging picture here.

When Philip Darnton and John Grimshaw last came to Darlington, however, I joined them on a bike ride that took in Grange Road, the town centre, the Denes, Faverdale, West Park, Branksome and Woodland Road.

*end defensive mode*

Mike said...