Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Ring Road - Love it or Hate it?

Last month the Coventry Society hosted a discussion entitled "The Ring Road - Love it or Hate it". An architect gave his view and Colin Knight gave Coventry Council's. There were video clips showing the road's construction and interviews with engineers and workmen.

I'd like to make a few points from the cyclist's perspective.

The original plan was for a dual carriageway with parallel cycle paths, broad swathes of park land on each side and nine roundabout junctions. Viewed from behind the car windscreen, cyclists should have been pleased with the paths segregated from motor traffic. But every cyclist should ponder the question "what about the junctions?".

Given the traffic volume on the ring road, it would have been out of the question to give priority to cyclists when they crossed the entries and exits to the roundabouts. Instead the cyclists would have been expected to wait patiently at the side of the road while those using more privileged forms of transport sped past. A big incentive to leave the bicycle at home and use a car!

Anyway as the predictions for the future level of motor traffic grew, the idea of grade separation, that is having one major flow of traffic pass under the other major flow, grew more attractive. The design was modified to make the dual carriageway go over/under each roundabout. Space for slip roads was found by sacrificing the cycle paths.

Ordnance Survey's Landranger view of the ring road - nine junctions in less than 2 miles.

In its early years, cyclists were expected to share the dual carriageway with motorists. My daily cycle-commute in 1980 included the stretch between junctions 4 and 7, but I don't remember seeing many other cyclists on the road! Since that time many of the pedestrian routes under/over the ring road have been converted to shared use. However the very tight bends on these routes make them unsuitable for speeds faster than walking pace. Pedestrians and cyclists feel insecure using the subways in darkness.

Cox Street and Gosford Street are probably the best ring road crossings:
Cox Street
Gosford Street
Coventry council seems to accept the idea that the ring road crossings need further improvement, but they don't seem to be very clear about the inconvenience of the current city centre layout. Driving from one suburb to another, you won't be held up at traffic lights on the ring road. Cycling you will be delayed by stops as you cross the city centre. This has lead to the idea of a "cyclist's ring road" using what's called the Inner Circulatory Road:

Inner Circulatory Road shown in red

Cyclists would be able to make reasonable progress along the Inner Circulatory Road through the city centre. It wouldn't be a case of speeding through at a constant 20 mph, more that cyclists wouldn't be stopped for long.

Progress is being made, the whole area within the ring road has a 20 mph speed limit and traffic lights are being replaced by zebra crossings on most parts of the inner circulatory road. Congestion around the Corporation Street / Upper Well Street junction remains a problem and making Hales Street one-way was a step backwards. Moving the West Orchards car park to the other side of Corporation Street, with entry/exits on Upper Well Street would improve end to end journey times for people travelling by cycle, bus and even car!

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