How can Portsmouth improve its cycling strategy?

South coast city looking to replicate the likes of Copenhagen and London as it aims to ease congestion and pollution on its roads

Campaigners in Portsmouth have been asked by the council to come up with ideas to tackle its traffic problems, in a move that could help get more people on bikes in the city.

In Portsmouth, 4.7% of commuting traffic is by bike, but cycling accident rates are also high. The city also faces an EU fine for high levels of the air pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide, which comes from car traffic.

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Pompey BUG (Bicycle User Group) is in the process of drawing up a cycling strategy with five pillars, which they will hand to all of the city’s political parties in a public launch on November 3.

Jon Spencer, of Pompey BUG, says the city is an island accessible by three main roads, and when one of those roads becomes blocked “the whole thing backs up”. One such episode acted as a catalyst.

Spencer says: “There was a lorry fire in August and when that happens the whole city goes to gridlock. It was three to four hours before anybody could move about and so it really stops any significant economic activity for that time, plus it puts lots of idling traffic on all of these roads.

“Last time that happened we wrote an open letter, which the local newspaper kindly carried, to our surprise, and to our even bigger surprise wrote a supportive opinion piece.

“We said they [the council] need to make transport a priority. The leader of Portsmouth City Council, Donna Jones, wrote back asking for ideas as to how they can solve the problem.”

He added cycling offers a quick and relatively cheap solution to the city’s transport problems, as well as potentially addressing childhood and adult obesity. He added a cycling vision, and a move away from a “piecemeal attitude to funding” are needed to get people on bikes.

“What we aim to deliver is a strategy for cycling which will fit around every other transport strategy. The cause of air pollution in Portsmouth is traffic and no real alternative is being given to people in Portsmouth.”

The vision, which is still being drawn up and will be launched publically on November 3, has five pillars, the first two being that cycling needs to be safe and accessible to all ages and abilities.

Spencer says health and environmental outcomes will form two pillars. Leisure will also feature: for Brittany Ferries, who operate services to Portsmouth, the main growth area between 2012-13 was among cyclists, a 17% increase. The city is also trying to position itself as a tourist destination, “rather than somewhere people go through”.

Spencer added cycle routes will need to be joined up, with protection for cyclists on main roads, quoting London’s new design standards as a gold standard Portsmouth could follow. However details for cycle routes will come later, after the vision is adopted.

He said: “Doing nothing is not an option; continuing to have another generation of obese children and worsening air quality is not an option.”

“Portsmouth should be able to claim and achieve a very ambitious modal share. If Copenhagen can achieve 45% cycling rates and it’s freezing half the year…”

Spencer now has a busy time ahead asking for advice, and enlisting help from campaigners and individuals with experience of this type of strategic planning, as well as garnering support locally. He’s written to 100 people and hopes to get schools, universities, and the local health board on side.

A council spokesperson says the council currently has a joint walking and cycling strategy as it feels the two are interlinked.

The spokesperson said: “We do work very closely with the cycle forum and the Leader of the Council is working with them at the moment on ways we can improve the safety of the city’s traffic network, using problems they have identified.”

“In Portsmouth 4.7% of commuting traffic is by bike and we have more than 7,000 commuting cyclists.

“Because we have a high number of cyclists, more accidents are unfortunately likely. Portsmouth does rank high for accidents by some statistical measures, but they don’t take the number of people cycling into account.”