For years, Swindon Cycle Campaign has been pushing to get a safe, traffic-free cycle path to link Swindon with outlying towns such as Highworth and Royal Wootton Bassett. The benefits of creating such links could be numerous, particularly in terms of reducing the demand for car travel and increasing safety. Whilst councillors have typically been supportive of creating such links, they have always been viewed as ‘nice to haves’ rather than important parts of the local transport network. Road expansion seems to always be prioritised: projects which increase capacity to allow a few more private vehicles to pass through junctions during the peak hours, doing nothing to facilitate travel by sustainable modes such as by foot, bike and public transport.
I despair at seeing the latest Highways Newsletter from Swindon Borough Council announcing further road ‘improvements’ at Mannington roundabout, Moonrakers and Mead Way. These costly road expansions are at the expense of increasing access opportunities for the most vulnerable groups of people, who often have no access to a private vehicle. According to the 2011 Census around 1/6th of people in Swindon fall into this category. Many young people cannot afford the high costs of learning to drive, whilst other people with disabilities, for example, are not able to drive or have had their licence taken away.
Currently, if you live in Highworth or Royal Wotton Bassett and don’t have access to a vehicle or can’t drive, you have little option but to rely on limited bus services. Cuts to bus services, widespread pavement parking and poor footway maintenance have contributed to making it even harder for people who don’t have access to a car to get around. While the distance between Swindon and these outlying towns is easily cyclable, the road conditions are only for the most confident of individuals; you certainly wouldn’t want your 10-year-old child cycling along there. Many of us took for granted the freedom we had as children to cycle to school or to friends’ houses, such independent travel is stifled by our highly trafficked road network. Just imagine what benefits safe cycle links could bring: children could cycle freely, adults could cycle to work and for leisure, and those people who are disabled or elderly could have improved access to key services. We’ll see whether the Swindon to Royal Wootton Bassett cycle link (which has match funding from Highways England) actually appears in the next couple of years … I hope so. As for Highworth, well it will take a shift in political priorities to view cycling and walking as important modes of transport, that is, as deserving (if not more!) than the private motor vehicle.