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Colchester: making it easier to bike around town
AT the moment we have to almost avoid the town centre because there are so many one way streets and it's so difficult to get around."
So says Steffen Boehm, a leading member of Colchester Cycling Campaign and Essex University's Bicycle User Group (Bug).
"You're better off avoiding the town centre and that's just no good if you want to encourage people to cycle," he continued.
This is one of the conundrums facing Colchester, last week named as a cycle town and given £4.2 million to spend in a bid to dramatically increase the three million cycle rides which took place in the borough last year.
The announcement happened to be made during Bike Week, which culminated in Colchester with a celebratory picnic.
A Biriyani Bike Ride, a ten-mile time trial around Peldon and a biking breakfast were also among the events held, ending yesterday in a picnic at Kings Meadow Riverside, near Castle Park.
While the borough in general already has a number of good cycling routes, notably the Wivenhoe Trail, travelling into and around the town centre is a more difficult proposition.
If this problem can be solved and workers, shoppers and tourists start jumping on their bikes on a daily basis, maybe towns on the coast could start following suit?
For Mr Boehm, the answer is to pedestrianise the whole of the town centre.
"On the continent, if you go to pretty much any historic town most of them have large pedestrianised areas in the town centre because that's what people want.
"I think the whole joy of cycling in a town is massively improved if you basically get rid of the cars."
Paul Wilkinson, Colchester Council's policy transportation manager, wants to see less traffic in the town centre too but does not think pedestrianising it is the answer.
He said it poses a problem for stocking the 300 shops and other retail outlets there for a start, while public transport would need a major rethink as well.
Instead, in a process that would take longer than three years and cost more than £4.2 million, investigations could start to see if roads such as the High Street and Head Street could stop being one-way.
Mr Wilkinson said: "We wish to reduce the traffic in the town centre, but there will be cars there.
"Colchester town is the heart of the borough and it needs to retain its status as a successful retail centre, leisure area and work place.
"There's already a network of routes in the town that connect some of the residential areas towards the town centre, like the Wivenhoe Trail through the Hythe area to the bottom of Castle Park.
"We have some off-road routes which we will be continuing to use - the North Station road to the junction of Middleborough and then the Dutch Quarter area is a good route to the town centre.
"People can cycle on the road but when we get into the core area, which is from the bottom of Balkerne Hill, Southway and High Street and Head Street we will be looking to do, over a period of time, is actually alter the operation of the one-way network.
"That won't be just for cycling - that will be done for other reasons and other purposes.
"We will be looking at the town centre and all the roads - High Street, Queen Street, Head Street, Osborne Street, Stanwell Street - and we will look at the impact there would be with the surrounding network to see what happens and see if the impact is acceptable."
Detailed plans on what Colchester as a cycling town will look like are being drawn up, but likely improvements should include widening the Balkerne Hill bridge to help cyclists travelling from the west of the borough.
Money will also be put towards Bikeability schemes to help youngsters and other cyclists gain the confidence to get on their bikes more often, while a marketing campaign will be introduced this autumn.
- Have your say online on our web vote. Visit gazette-news.co.uk where we ask "will cycling town status for Colchester make you more likely to cycle into work?"
A MARKETING campaign promoting Colchester as a safe and fun place to cycle is to be launched this autumn.
Cyclists have put forward the example set by Copenhagen in Denmark, where 36 per cent of residents cycle every day, as one model which could be followed in the borough.
There, not only has cycling been made easier with the introduction of an advanced network of routes and tracks, but websites such as Copenhagen Cycling Chic show glamorous men and women cycling across the city.
"In Copenhagen everybody cycles to work," said Pam Nelson, of the Colchester Cycling Campaign. "There are terribly elegant people cycling around quite easily.
"I think that's our next ambition in Colchester - to make it much more acceptable to be seen on a bike."