University lecturer explains why getting on a bus or bicycle is the solution to 24-hour bus lane traffic issues in Northampton
"It is vital we firstly consider ‘how many people can we move at one time?’ rather than ‘how fast we can move one person’"
With the new 24-hour bus lane between Weedon Road and Northampton Railway Station now in place, this newspaper contacted a university lecturer to explain how the route is going to help the town become more environmentally friendly.
Dr Declan Ryan is a University of Northampton lecturer, who specialises in exercise physiology. He has been an active voice on Twitter in favour of the new 24-hour bus lane from Weedon Road to the railway station, and is keen to get the town using greener ways to travel.
Northamptonshire County Council introduced the bus lane in August last year and switched the enforcement camera on in February in a bid to promote greener ways to travel in the town and introduce "Covid travel plans", which is essentially encouraging more people to get on a bicycle.
Here's how Dr Ryan responded to our questions about the 24-hour bus lane:
What are your thoughts on the new 24-hour bus lane?
"The persistent news focus on traffic demonstrates how fragile and unreliable a car dependent transport system is. If we want our transport network to be reliable and flexible to meet our needs as local residents then government has to provide alternative transport options that are just as convenient as the private motor vehicle.
"This upgrade can ensure reliable journey times for bus users to complement the already high frequency of bus services, which sees a Stagecoach arrival every 10-minutes at the St James Road-Weedon Road junction.
"Members of the public have long asked for bus services that are reliable and timely, the upgraded 24-hour bus lane on Weedon Road now provides that service."
Is this bus lane the best possible solution? Why?
"Creating a transport system that makes walking, cycling, eScootering, and public transport viable options for residents will be the main contributor to sustained improvements across all sectors of life from health to social well-being, to air quality, and economy.
"Across the country we’ve seen schemes that have reduced pollution outside of school gates, enhanced physical activity levels, and had restaurants spilling out into the streets to provide a vibrant and thriving town centre experience.
"For too long we have been a nation that has ‘encouraged’ active and sustainable transport choices but were also hesitant to try any meaningful change to our roads. This ‘encouragement’ will likely have cost people their lives and caused larger healthcare bills for our health and social care services.
"This year, we have seen a persistent demand from residents for change, they want safe accessible infrastructure for walking and cycling and now is the time for councillors to deliver the demands of their constituents."
How is it going to help the environment?
"The private car contributes over 55 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector, while buses contribute just 3.7 per cent.
"To create an environmentally friendly transport system it is vital we firstly consider ‘how many people can we move at one time?’ rather than ‘how fast we can move one person’.
"On average the private car is carrying just 1.6 people at any given time and isn’t an efficient use of road space or good for our personal health.
"The residential streets of St James Road and Weedon Road have been declared an Air Quality Management Area since 2006 due to dangerous levels of pollution.
"At this point I would commend our councillors for putting the health and well-being of our St James residents and surrounding communities first by implementing changes that offer legitimate forms of active and sustainable transport, such as the 24-hour bus lane upgrade and the introduction of Voi eScooters.
"If councillors continue to prioritise the health and well-being of their constituents then we can expect further pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements."
If people aren't using the bus lane, in turn causing stationary traffic, how is that going to help the environment?
"The bus lane is used consistently throughout the course of the day by buses. By taking the bus, you will have more reliable journey times due to the bus lane, likely making your journey quicker by bus in comparison to private car.
"If a journey's purpose requires the use of a private car then it is recommended that the automated engine stop-start is switched on, if the car has this feature, so the car engine is not idling while it is contributing to traffic."
What are your thoughts on the roadworks in the town, St James and Spencer Bridge Road, happening at the same time the bus lane has just opened?
"As Northamptonshire Highways has outlined, the backlog in works due to Covid-19 and essential maintenance of public services, like gas and electric, means that roadworks need to occur.
"It requires us to decide whether our journey is essential and whether it can be done by walking, cycling, eScooting, or taking public transport. During these on-going roadworks, it has demonstrated that car use is unreliable and that our Covid-19 recovery needs to prioritise active transport infrastructure improvements to manage our growing transport needs."
What would you say to people who can't afford a bike?
"Bicycles can vary drastically in price from thousands of pounds to freebies. If you’re looking for a cheap bike, then the Umbrella Fair in Northampton has a Cycle Recycle project, where you can pick up a bike for less than a tank of petrol."
What would you say to people who can't shower at work?
"I’m often asked what to do when there are not showers at work and I always offer the same advice that I follow: just cycle a bit slower. The beauty of the bike is that you don’t have to go as fast as you can, you can coast through your journey with the fresh air in your lungs at your own pace.
"When I’m working in the office, I cycle in everyday and never use a shower. If I feel hot on my cycle, then I slow down or take off a layer of clothing. Because cycling journey times aren’t particularly impacted by car traffic you can be confident that you will never be held up on your journey or need to rush to get to work."
Any other thoughts...
"Ultimately, a transport system that makes each transport choice a viable option for a journey is the key to meeting the needs of the community. By improving short journey conditions for active and public transport, councils are now making these options a viable solution for the public's’ transport needs.
"This allows each resident to select the most appropriate mode of transport for their journey – whether that’s a short walk to the town centre or driving the children to a theme park."