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Cardiff Connections

Blog gwreiddiol | Originally posted: November 19, 2013

Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru | Wales Millennium Centre

I attended the RSAW annual conference in Cardiff last Friday and have since been reflecting on a number of issues raised at the conference which was both stimulating and concerning. The conference included an inspiring presentation by Wulf Daseking a former planning officer from Freiburg who outlined how the city 27 years ago had begun a rolling programme of initiatives designed to lower emission rates, create an integrated city public transport system, create an improved environment for the city’s populous and control development sprawl!

It is clear that the steps taken at that time were almost unheard of but now seem so obvious that one is left asking why such steps were not recognised by so many other city planners. One has only to contrast the steps taken by Freiburg with the almost tragic dissection of Cardiff with criss-crossing double carriageways - a city now almost grid locked with traffic at various times of the day and a city which has become extremely difficult to traverse with anything other than a car! One has only to consider access to the city’s parks and open spaces to realise how difficult it is to access these public spaces with Cathays Park enclosed and dissected by traffic routes and Sophia Gardens separated from Cathays via a double lane carriageway. Even smaller areas like Victoria Gardens in Canton and Roath Park are isolated from surrounding residential areas by traffic routes and the bay is totally isolated from the city centre with major transport connections which disconnect it from the centre. Having been staying with my son and his family in Canton, I had the ‘pleasure’ of walking in to the centre along Romilly Road West leading to its connection with Cowbridge Road East. The journey was anything but pleasant and I can imagine seven times worse for a family with a pram – the pavements are narrow and poorly maintained and traffic is given priority along the whole route – it seems that there are fewer cycle routes in Cardiff than in almost any other city in Europe and even where some attempt has been made to provide a narrow cycle lane on the approach to the centre most cyclists seem to consider it best to either walk or ride along the pavements. Professor Daseking noted that his initial impressions of the city had been coloured by the dismal and confusing exit from the railway station! Cardiff must also be the one of the most poorly signposted cities – there seem to be no signs to indicate where you are or indeed where it is that roads lead to – it is almost as if traffic engineers have determined that everyone does or should have a sat-nav!! It’s not that I advocate the proliferation of signs but discreet signposting of regional centres such as Canton, Llandaf, Leckwith, Pentwyn etc would surely aid locational identification.

The area immediately to the north and east of Cathays Park seems to have been hijacked by the academic institutions with student accommodation a particular bain for the city since it creates student ghettoes at term times and areas of dereliction during vacations. A large tract of the city has been laid waste in the provision of student accommodation which generates good revenue for its landlord owners but which has led to poorly maintained terraced streets – student abuse of accommodation has led to a lack of maintenance leading to a spiral of decay which is affecting impressions of the surrounding environment.

In outlining the steps taken at Freiburg, Professor Daseking was at pain to point out that the steps taken were unique to that city, its population and their particular traditions and culture and warned that this should not be seen as a panacea for all! It is all too easy to try and transpose a successful formula from one location to another only to find that the effects are quite different. What can Cardiff achieve now at this late stage – is it actually too late to change the fortunes of the city? One of the most salient points to emerge at the convention is that Cardiff is actually now preparing its LDP (local development plan) with the intention that this plan should inform the city’s development for a period of some ten years. Can its dignitaries and its people really afford to miss this opportunity to grasp the nettle and take up some of the challenges posed by the city’s problem areas.

Measures to alleviate the current problems might include reducing carriageway widths in certain areas of the city as traffic calming measures in order to reduce traffic speed and simultaneously widen pavements or provide greater space for cyclists. Cardiff has a relatively level centre and so increasing the use of cycles within the city by such measures should be relatively straightforward. Measures similar to this were effected quite successfully and at relatively low cost in Time Square, New York – view this TED talks lecture by Janette Sadik-Khan on how the city has tackled some of its problems around Times Square

I would personally not advocate the use of congestion charging since this has an adverse impact on commercial activity within the centre but rather to experiment with the model at Freiburg of an imposition of a charge for employees working within the centre to park their vehicles at their place of work. In Freiburg, this was set I believe at £160 Euros per month and this seems to have successfully discouraged a large proportion of employees from using their vehicles, instead using public transport or alternatively turning to car sharing / walking or cycling. However, in order to achieve this, there has to be an appropriate public transport system which in Freiburg was a tram system which fed radially out of the centre at regular 20 minute intervals but which might be a very problematic issue in Cardiff.

Such measures should not be seen as measures to aid carbon emission targets but rather as simplistic measures to aid connectivity within the centre for its population - pedestrians and cyclists alike. What is needed in Cardiff is a visionary with the determination and perseverance required to deliver the right outcomes for the city – there are no short term fixes but the city needs to reverse a series of measures which has led to the city becoming a haven for cars but a nightmare for pedestrians and cyclists!

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