Urban transit systems feed the beast at the centre

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s true, they all tend to serve the city at the centre of things and rarely offer connectivity between the satellite towns/districts. I’ve often thought about this because of my experience with Merseyrail but the same will be true of virtually all metro/transit systems. The link below addresses Greater Manchester’s very similar problem:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0yekbZWMWw&t=482s

But like Greater Manchester, there are potential solutions available subject to the money to do them and the political will. Readers of this blog site will probably recall that I’ve always been sceptical of the Liverpool City Region as a concept because it potentially sets up power and resources being pulled into Liverpool at the expense of towns such as Bootle, Southport, St. Helens, Ormskirk, Kirkby and Birkenhead. To my mind, Liverpool City benefiting from losses in the districts is simply bad politics, bad for the wider than Liverpool local economy and bad social policy. Yet the Liverpool City region is set up with a public transit system which is in effect designed to deliver such outcomes!

I don’t want there to be excellent transit to Liverpool but crap irregular and unreliable buses joining up important district centres. So what are the possible solutions? I’ll look at just two for the Liverpool City Region but from it, you’ll get my drift, I hope.

Expanding Merseyrail

If you take the Liverpool – Southport and Liverpool – Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Lines they effectively head north from Liverpool in a ‘V’ shape with Southport and Ormskirk at the top of the ‘V’. What’s needed is for the Ormskirk Line to head further north to Burscough (a fast-growing town in itself these days) and then for it to finish at two destinations – Preston and Southport. The track/trackbed’s already there to enable this, indeed the only bits without track and regular train services are the two ‘Burscough Curves’. It really is a ‘no brainer’ because at a stroke you’ve ended up connecting Ormskirk with Southport and Southport with Preston. What’s more, you’ve converted the present hourly service between Ormskirk and Preston to a far more regular Merseyrail service.

One end of the mothballed North Mersey Branch seen here from the platform of Aintree Station.

Coming down the present ‘V’ towards Liverpool you have a second very clear opportunity to connect up Bootle and Aintree using the currently mothballed North Mersey branch. Or look at it a different way. Presently, if you live say in Maghull and want to get a Merseyrail train to Southport you have to travel south all the way to Sandhills Station in Liverpool to change trains to then go back northwards towards Southport. Under what I’m outlining here you could go via Ormskirk without needing to change trains.

None of this needs land to be acquired, buildings to be demolished or major engineering works but it would significantly help to connect up north Merseyside and Lancashire communities assisting their economies.

Of course, there will be other similar solutions in other parts of Merseyside/Liverpool City Region such as reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway network. That project, which does require heavy engineering, land to be purchased etc. is being seriously looked at despite it having an eye-watering price tag.

Operation Close Pass Day – An uphill pedal

Photo from Cycling UK showing the likely change to the Highway Code for passing a cyclist.

I’ve posted about this national police operation day (on 21st April 2021) twice and those previous posts can be accessed via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/05/25/operation-close-pass-day-still-trying-to-get-lancs-mside-stats/

To say that I feel I’ve been cycling around in circles is putting it mildly as I’ve chased both Lancashire and Merseyside Police for their stats from the day this year.

LANCASHIRE POLICE – Sadly, it turns out that Lancashire Police did not participate at all! This is what Lancashire Road Safety Partnership told me on 25th May (coincidentally the same day I blogged about the matter) – ‘On 14th April for #OpClosePass we shared 2 sets of images on our multi agency social media channels covering blind spots and passing distances using the ‘safe pass mat’ we had made a couple of years ago. We did have activity planned with Lancashire Police but due to operational demand and covid restrictions we were unable to go ahead with this.’

MERSEYSIDE POLICE – It took me far longer to get a response from Merseyside but when it did appear (6th August) it was in quite some detail – ‘In terms of Safe Pass we did not have the bike to call up ‘close passes’ so it was more a case of using an unmarked car or spotter or patrolling to observe cyclists & cycle routes to try and spot anything. We did not keep a record but it was not particularly productive and do not recall any drivers reported issued or anything of note specific to close passes.

As you can see, the Team were only able to dedicate a small part of the week on cyclists and close passes, which is a shame. We are planning to run a number of activities in September as part of the NPCC campaign aimed at vulnerable road users, including cyclists and horse riders. Earlier this year we provided cycle training to 40 x police officers and PCSOs with the aim of creating ‘cycle ambassadors’. These are officers who carry out their daily duties on a bike (as opposed to walking or driving). I have asked them to focus their attention on cycle lane obstructions (parked vehicles) and also meeting cyclist groups, provide free security marking and also offer safety advice. Two officers, in Southport and Liverpool have been issued with Go Pro cameras to record any close passes they observe while on patrol and feedback to drivers.’

So, to me, Lancashire is a disappointment with regard to #Operation Close Pass in 2021.

With Merseyside though the picture, whilst not wholly positive, is to me brighter and more positive towards the issues I’ve been trying to get information about.

Of course, things have moved on since I started banging on the doors of my two local police forces as only a few days ago the charity Cycling UK declared that Government is supporting all the major asks of the organisation in a rewriting of the Highway Code:-

www.cyclinguk.org/blog/campaign-win-cycling-uks-fight-improve-highway-code

So the landscape with regard to safer cycling is changing for the better, if slowly. The next test will be to how police forces across the UK react to this changing landscape and the dangerous driving which leads to cycling being far more unsafe than it needs to be. The speeding drivers who seem to have taken over our roads since ‘lockdown’ need to be brought back under some form of control as they are a danger to us all on the roads – pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists, and indeed other drivers.

As with all my postings, if you think I’ve got something factually wrong please shout.

Maghull/Lydiate – Cycling the A59/Northway

This is a subject I’ve blogged about quite a few times previously. It’s one where progress is being made yet some confusion seems to surround it (as well as some significant gaps) so I’ve taken up a number of queries with Sefton Council once again. Here’s the current situation as I understand it to be:-

Starting at Switch Island the cycle path/track has been upgraded over almost all of the stretch to the traffic-lighted junction with Liverpool Road South (Alt Junction) yet odd things have clearly not been done. There’s a stretch of maybe 100 yards over the River Alt where the track/path has not been widened yet either side of this isolated stretch has been. Moving towards the Liverpool Road Sth junction there’s no signage showing cyclists how to safely cross L’pool Rd Sth to access the safe cycling route (or for drivers to be aware too) along the service road to reach Hall Lane junction.

When you reach the Hall Ln junction, having used the service road, again there’s no signage for cyclists to access the recently widened footpath/shared pedestrian/cycle space northwards towards the newly rebuilt Damfield Lane junction. Indeed, there are no signs to say that the widened path is indeed a shared pedestrian/cycling space.

Looking southwards towards Maghull Town Hall/Hall Lane junction with the new and widened shared space path.

There’s presently no cycle track/path north of the Damfield Ln junction to the Westway junction so we’ll leave that section out for now pending Sefton Council finding the resources to provide such.

North of the Westway junction there is a safe cycling route, again using the A59/Northway service road, to the Dodds Ln junction and beyond that but not as far as the Kenyons Ln junction so there’s another missing link. An aside here is that a traffic engineer tells me that they’ve tried to tweak the traffic lights at this junction so that the pressure pads better recognise cyclists.

Kenyons Ln junction

North of the Kenyons Ln junction, again there’s no safe cycle facility to the next junction at Robins Island, however, whether I like it or not (and I don’t) the agricultural land abutting this section of the A59/Northway (known locally as ‘Tyson’s Triangle’) is to have a new housing estate built upon it. However, the silver lining here is that it throws up the distinct possibility of Sefton Council being able to negotiate with the developers via what is termed a Section 106 agreement. It means the developer will need to pay for some local infrastructure improvements and I’ve thrown my two penneth in along the lines of some of that money being used to create a safe cycling route between Kenyons Ln and Robins Island. I’ve also asked Sefton Council to extend the cycle path, which is already in place north of Robins Island, back into Liverpool Road so that cyclists are no longer forced to use either the pavement or Robins Island. This is really a minor piece of work but it will make a significant difference for cyclists.

So there you have it. The goodish news is that I’ve been able to engage in a dialogue with some of the traffic/highway engineers at Sefton Council to discuss these issues and I’m pleased to say that we seem to be on a similar agenda. Indeed, I was delighted when one of the engineers told me that he is a fellow cyclist so he clearly understands things from a cyclist’s perspective.

I don’t know how long it will be before there’s a clearly built and signed cycle track/path alongside the whole of the A59/Northway corridor from Switch Island to the West Lancashire boundary, which is just north of Robins Island, but I’m more hopeful than I have been for a long time that the campaign to have it constructed is making slow if steady progress.

More news when I have it.

Lydiate – Our canal towpath

I don’t cycle the towpath of Leeds Liverpool Canal through Sefton and West Lancashire often for two reasons. It’s narrow and rough to ride on and the narrowness means I need to stop frequently to let pedestrians pass. However, the other day I decided to cycle the section from Greens Lane swing bridge in Downholland through to Bells Lane swing bridge in Lydiate.

The ride was pretty much as I expected i.e. only really suitable for mountain bikes due to its rough and uneven nature. I would add that as the weather had been dry for quite some time I didn’t encounter any of the usual boggy areas that can, during winter months, make the towpath all but impassable in places north of Lydiate Hill Bridge/Billy’s Bridge.

Joining at Greens Lane the swing bridge was just closing as I got to it from the Aughton direction:_

Greens Lane swing bridge

You arrive in Lydiate on the towpath when you cross Sudell Brook (it forms the Lancashire/Merseyside & Lydiate/Downholland boundary) which flows under the canal just north of Jackson’s Bridge where Pygons Hill Ln/Hall Ln cross the canal. This is the view from atop Jackson’s Bridge looking northwards towards the Lancashire boundary. This section of the towpath is reasonable, in dry weather:-

Looking north from Jackson’s Bridge

The towpath southwards from Jackson’s Bridge, past Lollies Bridge, Pilling Lane Bridge, and through to Bells Lane swing bridge is variable but mainly poor especially if the weather has been wet.

This is where the ong-term collapse of the towpath into the canal has been diverted past – Between Billy’s Bridge and Lollies Bridge.

The repairs required to the collapsed section of towpath were, when I last asked the Canal & River Trust, due to take place during the 2021/2022 financial year i.e. any time soon but I don’t have an update on those works.

One of the problems with the same section of towpath between these two bridges is that the land abutting the towpath is higher and there’s a continual run-off of groundwater across it. This photo illustrates the problem but after weeks of virtually no rain. It’s not hard to imagine how the situation deteriorates after heavy rain or through the winter:-

Finally a nice view of Pilling Lane bridge with a narrowboat traveling towards the camera:-

The Maghull/Lydiate boundary is roughly halfway between the Bells Lane swing bridge and the Green Lane swing bridge. It is this section of towpath that is down to be resurfaced with the Canal & River Trust gaining the money to do it via the new Rose Hill Gardens housing development at the end of Maghull’s Turnbridge Road. The new houses are all in Lydiate, not Maghull. I still have no news as to whether the Canal & River Trust is prepared to use some of this money to address worse sections of the towpath through Lydiate.

RAF Woodvale – A history talk and some great memories

The other day I spotted that The Atkinson in Southport was advertising an online talk all about the history of our local airfield and thought it would be interesting to know more about it. The talk was at 1 pm today.

My connection with it came during my time as Leader of Sefton Council (2004 – 2011) when I attended the yearly Battle of Britain event held there by the Station Commander. In fact, the great thrill of going to this event was taking along my very good friend Charles (Uncle Albert) Walker who had served with the RAF during WWII as an aircraft electrician, mostly in Gibraltar.

Here’s how The Atkinson advertised the online talk by Military Historian and ex Formby resident Aldon Ferguson:-

‘RAF Woodvale opened in 1941. It was designated to provide fighter cover to protect Merseyside but was too late for the blitz. It did, however, continue to house fighter squadrons for general protection against the Luftwaffe and was a Sector Control Station with responsibility for northwest England. At the end of the war, it became a Royal Navy Air Station prior to a failed attempt by Southport to claim it as Southport Airport. Post-war it housed a large number of support and training squadrons and achieved fame in being the last RAF base to operate Spitfires on routine RAF duty. Still active, RAF Woodvale is currently home to three training units and a Royal Auxiliary Air Force unit.’

And an excellent talk it was too, really enjoyable.

Now back to Uncle Albert at RAF Woodvale, where he must have visited with me half a dozen times. He loved it as the Cadets made such a fuss of him. Having a wartime veteran in their midst was clearly a treat for them as much as it was for Charles who had a new audience for his war exploits. I look back now and smile about those events which made my old friend so happy with this RAF tie proudly on display. Charles died 4 years ago so you can guess that listening to the excellent talk brought back memories for me of a Maghull chap whom I admired so much.

Thank you RAF Woodvale you did him proud.

Maghull – New Damfield Ln/A59 junction under pedestrian fire

I commented on this newly traffic-lighted junction back in April referencing it to Maghull’s ‘Berlin Wall’ i.e. the A59 which splits the town in half and makes getting from one side to the other on foot or on a cycle hard going. Here’s a link back to that previous posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/04/11/cycling-and-crossing-maghulls-berlin-wall/

And here’s a photo I took back in April whilst the new junction was being constructed:-

Firstly, let me say that that this junction really did need upgrading as there have been some really bad accidents associated with it. After completion, I tried crossing it from the western side by bike and I found it OK as the pedestrian phase accommodates cyclists too and unlike the newish ‘Alt’ junction the route is direct.

I thought no more of it until I approached the junction from the south by car wanting to take the Damfield Road slip road to Liverpool Road North. What immediately struck me was that the traffic lights guarding the pedestrian crossing over this slip road have a shroud/filter over them so that drivers don’t confuse them with the new junction traffic lights. The trouble is you can’t see what these shrouded lights are showing until you are quite close to them. Couple this with vehicles leaving the A59 at high speed and I wondered if things were set up safely. Those thoughts lay there until the other day a Maghull resident raised the very same issues with me and indeed other local councillors.

It is the red outlined traffic lights which are difficult to see until drivers are on top of them.

So there you have it. Beware of the pedestrian crossing over the slip Road at this junction as it certainly concerns both myself and another local resident who has told me that ‘In my own case I have now opted to resume taking my grandchildren to school over the footbridge as a safer albeit more time-consuming option.’ Let’s hope Sefton Council reviews the set-up of this new junction as a matter of urgency.

Click on the photos to enlarge them