Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Co-ordinator's Update

Hopefully, most readers of this blog should be aware that I am the new co-ordinator for the Leicester Group. I am hoping to be in touch with all of the rangers soon to try and decide on meeting venues and arrange work-parties etc.

In the meantime, here are a couple of recent events that I would like to feed back about:
Stall at the Greenlight Festival

On Saturday 16th March we ran a successful stall at the Greenlight Festival. This festival is now annual and celebrates sustainable living in Leicester.

Despite generally poor weather, the organisers estimate that there were about 900 people through the doors and many of them stopped at the Sustrans stall. We chatted about the National Cycle Network, Sustrans aims and cycling in general. We gave away heaps of leaflets, badges and maps and several people expressed interest in volunteering with us.

I feel that there is real value in having stalls at events such as this where we can obtain feedback from the public and can promote the aims of Sustrans. I certainly enjoy sharing my passion for cycling and the work of Sustrans with a wider audience. It is surprising how many people still do not know about who we are and what we do. More publicity will, I hope, help to remedy this. I'm hoping to organise more such stalls over the coming year (in addition to our important presence at Leicester Skyride). Anyone interested in helping organise or run a stall, or who has ideas for a suitable venue, please get in touch.

Lastly, huge thanks to Richard, Keith, Judith and Peter (and a guest appearance from Rory!) for giving up their time to help on the stall.

Looking forward to more successful events in future.

Group Coordinators Conference

This took place last weekend in the fair city of York (I was careful not to mention Richard III!) and was a great success. In addition to a led ride, we had a talk from Peter Litman (Head of Strategy and Innovation). I was very pleased that he emphasised the environmental impact of our work and discussed how a serious long term aim of Sustrans should be to reduce (and eliminate?) car use. He told us that, according to Ministry of Health research, children raised in London will 
NEVER have full lung capacity, due to air pollution.

According to Peter and Tony Ambrose (National volunteer coordinator), Sustrans is now taking the recruitment and support of volunteers more seriously than perhaps it did in the past. The website, and volnet in particular, have been greatly improved recently and are well worth checking out. We are able to share our photos directly with the country by using Flickr, which is connected to volnet. I am hoping to use the new volnet to recruit more volunteers for the group.

On a practical note, Sustrans is putting on more training for ride leaders. Now only certified ride leaders will be able to lead any ride that is part of Sustrans. In addition to Sustrans own training, British Cycling/Skyride and CTC certificates are also permitted but no others. Anyone interested in undertaking free, full-day ride leader training, please contact me and I'll pass your name on. The next Sustrans training day is in Derby on 16th May.

For me, the most useful aspect of the conference was meeting with other Midlands group coordinators as well as with Ian Keetley, the new east Midlands volunteer coordinator. Ian is trying to visit local volunteer groups and would like to come to Leicester soon. I found him very approachable and I'm sure that he will do his best to support and network with the group and I look forward to further work together.

That is all for now but please do get in touch with any ideas for how the Leicester Rangers can be further supported.

Steve Massey

Monday, April 22, 2013

New R Soar bridge at Space Centre, Leicester - 1

Looking S from Space Centre       K Drury
 Work has started on the W abutment of the new bridge over the River Soar at the Space Centre, Leicester. The bridge will connect the Space Centre and 'Science Park' area to the planned development on 'Wolsey Island' at Abbey Meadows, near the site of the old boathouse and water tower.  I have heard of an installation date of Autumn this year (from the contractor who is to carry out the emplacement of the span).

Diversion to cyclepath       K Drury 
The siting of the W foundation (it may not strictly be an 'abutment', as the bridge is likely to be a light, self-stayed structure, so only needs a foundation at either side, not an abutment to absorb lateral thrust) has necessitated a minor diversion to the cyclepath/NCN 6 along the river bank at the Space Centre.  

Excavating for new foundation    K Drury

                                                                  K Drury
 Further works - presumably to repair the serious tree-root damage, and repair the damaged bridge over the brook at the Pumping Station have also started.  Expect some interruptions to rides along this path for the next couple of months.

At the Pumping Station brook, the 'Green Route 1' post carrying NCN 6 signage has lost its S pointing fingerboard.  That'll be the 3rd such vandalised item I've had to report this year!
Fingerboard towards Abbey Park - gone!   K Drury

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An unbelievable day - Bath Two Tunnels Greenway opening

 Last Saturday, 6th April, the southern half of Bath became unrecognisable.  There were bikes EVERYWHERE!  Not only bikes, but crowds of pedestrians, joggers, cars with bikes on the roof, on the rear door, jammed inside, you name it.  They were all congregating on one spot.

A new bridge on the TT Greenway                 K Drury
That was the Bloomfield Open Space, 1km south of the City Centre, hosting the Festival to mark the opening of Bath's Two Tunnels Greenway, possibly the most adventurous, expensive and far-reaching of Sustrans' Connect2 schemes.  There are countless write-ups, videos and pictures of this remarkable event on the Net - just Google 'Two Tunnels' - so I won't repeat any of that.  The pictures series on Flickr at Click gives some idea.

What appealed to me in particular, since the day addressed many of my personal interests one way or another, was the background to such euphoria and mass participation.  There isn't a formal statement of the numbers attending yet, but my own view and rough counts of Tunnel journeys on Saturday afternoon square well with several estimates on the Net, namely that the overall attendance at the Festival was around 10,000, of whom a good 8,000 traversed the Tunnels on that one afternoon.  Why so many, and why such an explosion of interest?  

So, the background to all this.  Firstly, the history of the route:  the Two Tunnels Greenway is made from restored sections of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway's trackbed and tunnels between the centre of Bath and the village of Midford in the delightful, quintessentially English countryside SE of Bath.  The S&D was always a sort of large railway family concern, and many of the workers and their families still live in the area of the Greenway.  It has a sentimental presence in the minds of Bath residents.  The Greenway was indeed opened on Saturday last by former S&D employees, who also gave several jam-packed talks to as many of the visitors as could get within earshot.  I felt the majority of people there were relatively local, from Bath or Bristol. Though many like me also travelled from far to attend.

Midford from the S&D Viaduct         K Drury
Secondly, the geography:  the Greenway allows exodus from the centre of Bath to the SE without climbing the serious hills at Combe Down.  So you are transported by the Greenway from the superb urban vistas over Bath to the beautiful, and unbelievably historic countryside around Midford, Radstock, Frome and onwards, without serious effort and in just a few minutes, PLUS the remarkable experience of 2km of cool, softly lit tunnels, on the way.  That the second, longer tunnel is the longest for cycling in the UK is remarkable in itself.  That it runs downhill at 1%, then 2% near the eastern end and thence down to Midford enhances the cycling experience even more.

Thirdly, the superb publicity for the project put out by the Two Tunnels Project.  Blogs, website, tweets, and a Yahoo group, as well as strong local news provision ensured that the masses were just awaiting this opening day.

From Tucking Mill Viaduct         K Drury

Fourthly, the weather:  how many events are fortunate enough to be set on the first warm, sunny day after a long, cold Winter and non-Spring?  There was a lot of sunburn that day - well, outside the Tunnels, anyway!

A few of King Bladud's best 8am Saturday  K Drury

Fifth, the superb Opening Festival itself, which featured such a variety of stands, showing the history of the S&D, the course of the Two Tunnels Project, the activities of many local area organisations, a wonderful display of King Bladud's Pigs (Google it), and so many bands I lost count.  See video

But sixth, and somehow the most important of all.  The Festival site and entrance to the Greenway and the first Tunnel are not a vast area - about 4 or 5 acres.  Imagine many thousands of people, mostly with bikes,  squeezing into that area, then waiting an hour or more in the sun to get access to the Tunnels and Greenway (which was carefully controlled).  Yet there was not a disturbance or crush, nothing to see but people smiling and good-naturedly chatting.  This says loads about the quality of the Sustrans and Project marshalls and other staff on duty there, but it also depicts the attitude and state of mind of the masses of visitors.  They knew they were onto - and about to be into - something unique, and were prepared to be patient for it.  Mega chapeau to all concerned.

How did all of this address my personal interests?  Well, trainspotting from 10 years old led to an abiding interest in railways.  So the S&D element scored there.  And I lived until 2005 in Somerset, and visited the S&D sites many times, mostly on foot.  So I'd walked the entire Greenway track, except for the then closed-off tunnels some years ago, and know its features and railway history.  Then, the  interest in trains was one factor in my deciding on an engineering career.  This in turn led to an interest in industrial history, with railways as one focus.  So, as a new member of the Leicestershire Industrial History Society in 2007, I jumped at the chance of visiting Glenfield Tunnel when it was open for the reinforcement works conducted by the owners, Leicester City Council, in 2007-8.  Courtesy of the contractor, I was able to visit the Tunnel regularly (I must have walked its length 50 times at least over the 2 years of the work.), photographing all the features and stages of the work of inserting 39 concrete reinforcing 'rings' to ensure its long-term stability.  (The Tunnel runs under the posh part of Glenfield; another tunnel in Kent of similar vintage and design, and also built under Robert Stephenson's supervision DID collapse some years back:  we wouldn't want that to happen here, would we!)  Anyway, this wonderful experience up close with Glenfield Tunnel, linking railways, engineering, industrial history . . . impressed me greatly.  ESPECIALLY when another of my strong, lifelong interests, cycling, was added to the scene with the realisation in my Sustrans Ranger role that Glenfield Tunnel represents the missing link in NCN 63 in Leicester!

So all of the Two Tunnels success could be repeated in Leicester!  We have a Tunnel, only 30m shorter than Combe Down Tunnel, much older and of more historical significance, namely Glenfield Tunnel.  It has NCN 63 approaching both ends, but having to deviate onto very unpleasant road stretches, as the Tunnel is inaccessible.  The Tunnel starts near the City Centre, and transports you to the pleasant Phoenix Trail en route for Ratby and the West.  
Wish!!  (Apologies to Monsal Trail!)
K Drury
Using Glenfield Tunnel as part of NCN 63 would not need the several new and re-furbished bridges included in the Two Tunnels Project.  But it WOULD need a means to exit the eastern (City) end, currently buried 8m under housing at Copeland Avenue.  To give a reasonable access slope, and new tunnel entrance in Copeland Avenue, a new, extension tunnel of perhaps 100m would be needed.  (This would make Glenfield Tunnel LONGER than Combe Down!).  At least Glenfield has ventilation shafts; Combe Down is unventilated between the ends.

Now, how to go about providing that missing link?  Well, the first principle of an engineering project is to learn from others; so I've kept a close watch on the Two Tunnels Project for some years, linking it to my own experiences from close involvement with the Watermead Connect2 Scheme here in Leicestershire.  Glenfield Tunnel has missed out on Connect2, but I strongly feel we should press the City Council for at least a feasibility study with initial costing of the works to re-utilise it as a commuter link from Glenfield/Ratby into Leicester, as well as a part of NCN 63, obviating its most unpleasant stretches into Leicester.

Calm before the Storm - 2 Roving Marshals arrive
to warn 'There are thousands coming
this way . . . !'
      K Drury

So, Saturday 6th April 2013 a landmark day for me.  OK, so I did spend 3 hours of it INSIDE Combe Down Tunnel as a marshal for Sustrans' Fresh Air Miles ride on a 13 mile loop including the whole Two Tunnels Greenway.  That was a remarkable experience in itself - wave after wave of cyclists at up to 100 per minute eastbound, plus 20 per minute westbound.  Plus about 1/3 of those numbers of pedestrians, some with dogs, some jogging, some a bit spooked, some bravado, two in tears.  Plus one man in an ordinary wheelchair; one
The first of thousands . . .       K Drury
unicyclist; one penny-farthing; loadsa trikes; odd, though, no recumbents.  There were bikes with sensible, low-power lights; far too many with no lights; too many also using unnecessary high-power LED lights.  The Tunnel path-lighting is perfect, as is the music and show-lighting, even before the main display goes in.

Whew!  Sorry about the length of this.  But I think the subject merits it.  Brilliant achievement.  A completely 'joined-up' and successful day, as befits Connect2.