Weymouth: on the right track, and the road to nowhere

It’s always sad to see a town’s residents asking for a bypass, citing the fact that their town centre is choked with traffic. Here’s some traffic heading south out of Dorchester, county town of Dorset, about to cross over the 1980s bypass and onto the main road to the seaside resort of Weymouth, six miles and a big chalk hill away. It’s as much traffic, or more, as there was before the bypass was built.*

Outside Dorchester on the new cycle track but otherwise unchanged road.
Not quite correct map of the new road

Weymouth has just gained a new relief road, in advance of hosting the 2012 Olympic sailing events. The county and borough councils had been employing people to design hypothetical Weymouth relief roads for five decades, but when Labour finally abandoned the loosen-your-belt approach to congestion relief it looked like all the effort had been for nothing. The olympics brought it back from the dead. With it, though, a new cycle track, which opens officially on sunday.

Perfect place for road works signs.

Leaving Dorchester no major changes have been made to the road, the cycle track has merely been wedged in alongside it and the road surface is currently being refreshed. The track here is probably not suitable for asthmatics.

There’s a brief pinch point — perfect for creating conflicts with pedestrians. The road could have been shifted over a few feet — but presumably nobody is willing to spend the money or cause the disruption for the sake of a cycle track. Some of the already wasted carriageway space could have been reallocated, but it’s on the approach to a right turn filter lane and presumably the speed and convenience of motorists is more important than the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Crossings and conflicts

As of yesterday evening, they had yet to ruin the track with a can of paint — but I fear that they’ll be out there as I type putting in lots of “give way” marks where it crosses this side road (the only at-grade public road crossing). The road is a small and narrow country lane, but it has become a busy ratrun for people trying to push in after the worst of the queues on the main road. There’s not much around here to be served by the bus stop, but the designers might have thought of a creative use for paint there, too. Hopefully they will have learnt by now not to try to divide cyclists and pedestrians with white paint — thought, a couple of decades ago, to be a critical feature for the safety of blind pedestrians, but in reality worse than useless. A Dutch-style dashed centreline might help, though — one chap was having a little difficulty with lane discipline.

There are a few gateways and other access routes — lets see how the track stands up to a few years of tractor crossings.  No parking in the gateway — but nothing to stop the massive drop-kerb at the waterworks(?) access road becoming an improv layby.

What, no give way markings at this important crossing? (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon.)
I can see the seaside!

Here the new road drifts from its original course, cutting through the chalk hill for the descent into Weymouth. The cycle track continues to the summit and a new “green bridge” (doubling as farm access) over the road. There is none of the usual torture equipment blocking the track, just some simple bollards — the wooden sort that rot out at the base and fall over after a few years. A couple of little reflectors might help to avoid a few nocturnal surprises.

In addition to being cycle track and farm track, the “green bridge” is supposed to be a wildlife crossing, with wide hedges all along each side. Currently it’s mostly chalk rubble from the cutting, but I’m sure it will sort itself out eventually

Farm track and cycle track: already in need of sweeping.

For the descent into the northern suburbs of Weymouth, the cycle track takes over the old road, which was considered too steep and too sharply curved (perfect for a cycle track, then). Like the new road, it was two lanes up, one lane down, but the surfacing has been partly removed — eventually the gaps might return to flower-filled chalk grassland. Unusually, there is a separate footpath — not that this pedestrian has noticed. The old road markings have been burned out, suggesting that there is no intention to give the track a smooth new surface. Hopefully they will at least give it a good sweep before opening day. Meanders have been introduced to “minimise visual impacts” — I’m sure that makes up for the neighbouring visual impact of blasting a new three-lane road through the hillside.

Down to the railway bridge. Currently lots of gravel strewn across the descent — soon fixed, I hope.

Choice of routes into Weymouth: back up on a cycle track beside the old road, or down around the hairpin of the old road and into Upwey. Down the hairpin the old road cutting is remodelled and a junction feeds traffic from the new road onto the old road, which remains live from here down into Upwey and through to Weymouth town centre. I fear that this will prove to be the same mistake as in Dorchester: in the long term, building a new road does not cut congestion on the old roads unless you make it very difficult or impossible to drive on the old ones.

On the right you see the cycle track joining the live section of the old road. I fear the intention is to close and lock the gates, leaving that little tiny bit on the left, which will probably lead you into a badly parked car.

Beside the road runoff pools.

(I took the Upwey road into town, but returned on the relief road track, hence the sudden drop in light.)

Priority over farm track, and sound barriers between cycle track and road.
End of the new road and end of the track.

The track is not awful. It’s one of the best in the UK — not much of a compliment. It is mostly of a good width, has reasonable direction signs, no absurd access barriers, it’s pretty direct, and most of the inclines — and there are inclines — are natural. We’ll see whether the maintenance matches the quality of the build.

It still fails, as most British tracks do, in being a shared path. That might work fine in the rural northern half of the track, but in the Weymouth suburbs I imagine it will create conflicts.

And it fails, as British tracks do, by running out. The council are happy to build a cycle track as part of the greenwash to accompany a big new road. It’s easy to build a cycle track when you already have £90 million and a license to blast through AONBs and cut down SSSIs. But at the Dorchester bypass and central Weymouth, you’re dumped back on busy town streets. Demand for cycling between the towns is going to be extremely limited so long as cycling within the towns is so unattractive.

And it’s only going to get less attractive with an even bigger invitation to drive between the two. Weymouth might have a relatively decent new cycle track, but it’s an afterthought, a product of the old-fashioned loosen-your-belt solution to congestion, a “solution” that will create much more of it in Weymouth and Dorchester, and which has cut through an AONB and paved over an SSSI. It would be better off without the track if that’s the price.

The new road was closed overnight while the resurfacing of the northern section was completed. I used it on the way back out of town, took the lane and rode without lights…

I discovered that it’s considerably smoother than the slightly lumpy cycle track that runs alongside.

More on the Weymouth Relief Road blog

* Fascinating that so many people want to spend so much of their money and an hour each evening crawling out of Dorchester and into Weymouth, breathing each others’ fumes. There are forty trains each way every day between Weymouth and Dorchester. They take ten minutes and have stops in the Weymouth suburbs. A return is £3.80 — much less with railcard, off-peak, and season ticket savings. Public transport outside the big cities is just too slow, infrequent, inconvenient, and prohibitively expensive, I guess.

7 thoughts on “Weymouth: on the right track, and the road to nowhere”

  1. Great insight into a new UK cycle track, it’ll be good to see how much they ruin it with paint. Shame a lot of it looks more like a pavement than a cycle track, shared use paths are fine where the pedestrian numbers are very low, the path can be wide and separated from the road by a good distance or a barrier, but just labelling a pavement a cycle track is lazy and no use to anyone.

    The interesting point you make for me is about the train. It highlights how broken our public transport system is in this country, not the trains themselves, but if people can’t get to the station from their home quickly and easily, they’d rather sit in an hours traffic jam. All that is needed is some joined up thinking and a safe way for people to cycle across town from their home to the station. Not everyone can live within walking distance of a train station, if you encourage cycling you stretch the reach of the station from 5 minutes walk to 5 minutes cycle, massively increasing it’s efficiency.

    1. The section that’s just a pavement — around the pinchpoint, junction, and bus stop — is only a couple of hundred yards, out of a five mile track. I think it’s probably *new* just a pavement, too, not even converted from what was already there. It would have been more expensive, but not impossible to get those features right. I imagine pedestrian use will be quite low — it’s outside the town and in a section with few buildings or development. (Though I saw a couple of people who looked like they were walking the full five miles — I’m sure there must be more pleasant footpaths, away from the fumes…)

      Being only a small town and with a central and a suburban station, a lot of Weymouth is already a short walk from the trains. Hopefully the new track and its branches will help expand their catchment area even further.

  2. Your report seems a bit negative. I will be interested to see how it turns out, and maybe try it. I am not sure I agree with your conclusion that it would have been better to do nothing. The unpleasantness of the ride between Dorchester and Weymouth has long restricted cycling in S Dorset, despite the presence of a fair Sustrans track on the rail bed to Portland. Hopefully this will give it a fillip, and lead to further improvements in those towns. Though clearly not of Dutch standard, it looks as if something may have been learned here from past UK cycle path failures.

    Vole O’Speed

    1. There were quite a lot of people riding between the towns over Came Down, east of the main road, on the previous occasions when I’ve been there. It’s too early to be sure whether I should be negative or not. The issue is whether the new road will do more harm than the associated works do good. Those works are not over yet: the road through Upwey is to be redesigned to something more appropriate to its new downgraded status. There will be all sorts of not entirely predictable changes in people’s travel behaviour all over the town in response to the redesigned roads and the shifted congestion hotspots.

  3. I think people use their cars for slow commuting to get value out their purchase. If you are going to have a car at all then it is usually cheaper to use it all the time rather than leave it at home and commute by public transport.

    The government should put scrap all road tax and put up tax on fuel to compensate. This would directly relate vehicle tax paid to fuel used and therefore CO2 created. The current system of doing this is silly. A huge 4×4 which is rarely used emits much less CO2 than a tiny, low emission hatchback which is used all the time. The government should also encourage the insurance industry to charge by the mile, perhaps by satellite tracking.

    If a car cost nothing when it wasn’t being used people might just use the money saved to commute by public transport.

    1. Car clubs allegedly do this — transfer the upfront costs into per mile/hour costs, removing the feeling that the car is being wasted when it’s not in use.

      They could potentially also have something of the opposite effect — removing the disincentive effect of the upfront costs, which might otherwise have persuaded people to go entirely car free. I might take a look to see what the state of the evidence is some day…

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