1 November 2015

Regulating the Marshes

Coppermill Lane used to be an unsurfaced dirt road when I came to live here. Once you got past the water board houses, it was like a country lane with no street lighting and no car park, and you could drive right down to the marina because the gate wasn't there either. I have to say I liked it that way and was rather sorry to see the tarmac go down. The place is much more popular now, but the marshes were a nature reserve back then and people certainly drove down there to walk their dogs, watch birds or whatever. I used to take my kids cycling there on their BMX bikes and a bit of mud was all part of the experience. I'm not sure what exactly has changed that the whole unregulated thing is no longer the way things go. Yes, there used to be burnt-out cars now and again, presumably dumped in the middle of the night, but never anything threatening in the daytime. Are things safer now that we have a bit of lighting and some barriers? The recent spate of violent muggings suggests the complete opposite.

The current 'quietway’ proposals will replace the speed cushions with sinusoidal humps. The speed cushions make cars move into the middle of the road, where they can drive as fast as they like because the cushion has no effect if you straddle it accurately. But for cyclists, the cushions mean going too close to the edge of the road to avoid being jolted, and making it impossible to ride at the recommended distance from parked cars (about 1.2 metres) so they don't get hit by someone opening their car door without looking. The new humps should have been an obvious move ten years ago. But that isn't the only change. It will become illegal to park in the lane (if that proposal goes ahead) so the only time you would be able to visit the nature reserve by car would be when the car park is open. There will be an entrance to the new 'wetlands', the reservoirs which are currently inaccessible from Coppermill Lane, but that will be open even shorter hours than the car park. I know it will be unpopular to argue against regulation and safety culture. Yes I'm aware of the issues, safety for women and disabled access etc. but I’d question whether any of the so-called improvements make any real difference. I can't imagine, for example, that anyone can ride a wheelchair on the appalling shingle paths in the marshes. I think a minority at least sees it the same way - a gain for regulation means something lost in the way of wild-ish nature on our doorstep.