Thursday, 9 February 2012

Icy pavements - just what is the Council's strategy?

(Updated 13:30): Local pedestrians are furious about what's perceived as a confused strategy from Lancaster City Council about the gritting of pavements, after overnight rain and freezing conditions turned some local streets, Lancaster-Morecambe Cycle Path and the Millennium Bridge into dangerous ice rinks.

But the Council has told virtual-lancaster it does have a bad weather plan and acted on it from dawn this morning in an effort to minimise disruption caused by the ice.

School children, students, cyclists and commuters struggled to work alike with locations including the Lancaster to Morecambe Cycle Path, the Millennium Bridge - one of the city's main pedestrian and cycling arteries - left treacherous by suddenly-freezing rain.

West Road, Beaumount Street, Baker Street, Moorside and among other areas that were all also danger zones for pedestrians.

Some feel there continues to be inconsistency in the Council's pavement gritting strategy, despite concerns raised by councillors last winter.

Last week pavements near the Town Hall and on Quarry Road - were gritted, but not the Cycle Path.

But the Council is adamant they acted as soon as it could to address problems caused by the inclement weather.

Staff tld virtual-lancaster they began gritting the Cycle Path at about 7.30am, but did not reach the Millennium Bridge until after the "rush hour". This requires special treatment with a substance called urea, because of its aluminium construction.

Staff out at dawn to deal with ice menace

"Lancashire County Council is responsible for gritting public highways and pavements and they have a strategic plan in place to deal with weather such as that we experienced this morning," a spokesperson told virtual-lancaster.

"The city council has an agreement, as part of this plan, that we will assist them with gritting priority paths and pavements when they request us to do so.  This is the same approach as was taken last year and, under the agreement, the request came from them earlier this morning.

"City council grounds maintenance, cleansing and highways maintenance staff were out from 6.00am onwards gritting pavements and the cycle track and worked hard to clear areas as quickly as possible."

Readers Reports

"My mum's day care bus for Vale View came early today," virtual-lancaster team member Satori reports from central Lancaster. "It seems they couldn't get up the hills on the east side of the city centre to collect some people because of the ice so they have to stay home on their own.

"Pavements here treacherous though," she adds. "I had to sand it. Luckily our pavement is flat so we manage ok, but it's impossible to load a wobbly elderly person safely when your door opens onto a greasy slope and your own footing is insecure."

"My daughter slipped off her bike coming out of our back garden onto Beaumont Street," Chris Drury told virtual-lancaster via Twitter. "Pavements in the area are deadly."

"Kids slipping all over the place outside Moorside and St Bernadettes," said another. " School pavements should be gritted."

"This is supposed to be a cycling town," one downed cyclist raged this morning. "Why the **** hasn't anything been done?"

Gritting Strategy

Lancaster City Council told virtual-lancaster it assists Lancashire County Council with its gritting operation. Gritting of roads and pavements in Lancashire is the responsibility of the County Council, except for motorways and trunk roads, which are the responsibility of the  Highways Agency.

"Today we have received instruction from Lancashire County Council to grit priority pavements which cover main areas of footfall in Morecambe, Lancaster, Heysham, Carnforth and cycle tracks.  This also includes the Millennium Bridge.

"It is unrealistic to think that in a district of our size, and given the finite resources that are available, that every area can be cleared at once," a spokeperson explained. "Staff cleared areas as quickly as they could and the Millennium Bridge was treated as soon as reasonably practicable.

"It must be realised that our staff are not employed to solely do this particular job - they have to be diverted from other duties - and the grit that is used is provided by the County Council.

"The city council's role is to provide the staff - the decision as when to grit and which areas is the County Council's.

Some virtual-lancaster readers were sympathetic to the Council's plight. "There is not funding to grit everywhere," said one Twitter user. "People's definition of main areas that should be gritted are always the ones they use."

"The Snow Code"

virtual-lancaster has previously reported on the Council's gritting strategy in 2010, after the Department of Transport advised then local MP Geraldine Smith councils should, perhaps, done more to clear pavements and roads during the recent snowy weather.

The government minister told her the Department for Transport did not issue guidance on responsibility for clearing footways in adverse weather conditions, but it did endorse the UK Roads Liaison Group's code of practice, "Well-maintained Highways" (available at:, direct link (PDF) here) when it came to keeping traffic and pedestrians moving safely.

The City Council's web page on Gritting says that if you clear snow and ice yourself, be careful - don’t make pathways more dangerous by causing them to refreeze. But don’t be put off clearing paths because you’re afraid someone will get injured.

"People walking on snow and ice have responsibility to be careful themselves," they state. "Follow the snow code to make sure you clear pathways safely and effectively."

The cost of gritting pavements across the Lancaster and Morecambe area are unknown but in Leeds it was estimated gritting every pavement would cost about £1 million a day in 2010.

In the UK, facilities for non-motorized traffic are not normally salted or gritted in icy conditions, potentially making them dangerous or unrideable.

Bring on the Quad Bikes?

Other Councils with cycling networks have their own strategies for delaing with icy conditions. Cambridgeshire has a Quad bike and brine sprayer which is used to treat some longer lengths of the network within Cambridge City and knapsack sprayers in other areas.
The quad bike is being used to treat the primary on- and off-road network of cycle routes and is deployed when there is a forecast of five days or more of icy weather.

Parishes and towns interested in gritting their own cycleways and footpaths can take part in Cambridgeshire's volunteering scheme.

Last year, Essex County Council bought Quad Bikes to grit even the narrowest of roads and pavements.

Despite cost concerns, after a long-running campaign last year, County Down council instituted an agreement that campaigning councillor Andrew Muir said would hopefully provide a framework for action in dealing with icy pavements.

"Whilst it will not be possible to grit every pavement after every sprinkling of snow it provides a basis for a more co-ordinated approach focused on key areas during extreme and prolonged cold weather when snow and ice make Town Centre’s inaccessible," he said.

Suffolk County Council has contracts with over 200 farmers and contractors across the county to help with clearing snow and ice, as well as using their own equipment, we. In severe snow conditions, they carry out snow ploughing throughout the night to try to keep the most important roads passable (this is normally confined to the busier A class roads).  They also clear snow from heavily used pavements, with main shopping streets in town centres given the highest priority, followed by other town pavements and well used cycle tracks.

"If you want to clear snow and ice on the pavement outside your property or from public spaces, it's unlikely you'll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries on the path if you have cleared it carefully," they state. "Follow the snow code when clearing snow and ice."

Useful links

• Council's Customer Services (01524 582000)

• Gritting is the responsibility of Lancashire County Council. Tel 0845 053 0011. 

• See the County Council's advice for pedestrians 

Lancaster City Council Severe weather advice 

Cycling advice for Chilled Out Cyclists


campdave said...

Everyone would like all pavements and roads gritted when it's icy. However, it's unrealistic to expect this without a substantial increase in council tax to fund the necessary staff and vehicles to be able to simultaniously grit the whole district.

John Freeman said...

You're right - it would be expensive and we have noted the cost in Leeds (we did ask for costs in Lancaster a while back).

The Council cearly does have some kind of policy on pavement gritting, as you'll see from the updated story, but it seems dependent on someone from Lancashire County Council asking for support gritting pavements first before they can act.

Gritting of pavements was discussed at length last year by Council and an "action plan" drawn up. The Millennium Bridge was gritted last year in bad weather so the Council surely established a principle that that, at least should be gritted in icy weather.

As for costs, of course it's expensive. But what's more expensive - the £8000 the RLI apparently costs each indicent of dealing with a broken limb at, or some adequate gritting in the city centre and our Cycling Town's cycle routes?

Anonymous said...

The day centre bus for elderly people couldn't pick up its passengers from the steeper streets on the east side of the city this morning. So they had to stay home.

Many local authorities have started to use a process called 'planning'. You pick out your priority sites and cover those first. Steeply sloping pavements and roads. Exposed foot traffic routes (like the Millenium bridge). These are not many in number.

Then you sort out seasonal incentives for staff or volunteer members of the public living close to these areas to go on grit-call-out duties. This is only for a week or two of the year, there are weather forecast warnings and normally it would not be a massive commitment for a few able bodied people who can get up early. The main logistic is getting the right equipment into the right hands at the right times. A wall-bin with a combi-lock in an alleyway accessible to a council truck should suffice.

For example: It wouldn't take 15 minutes for someone to take care of the currently lethal paths in Dallas Rd Gardens, and the pavement by the school alongside it, of a morning. Out of the hundreds of people who live nearby, there must be one volunteer (or maybe more)that the council could deploy. It would be a massive service to the community and greatly appreciated.

campdave said...

Your cost of treatment at the RLI is interesting. However, this is money that isn't available to Lancaster City Council to deploy in preventative measures.

I'm sure Lancaster City council would love to have all major (and non-major) routes gritted and safe, but until some investigative reporting can come up with definitive evidence that this mornings (pretty unique given the carnage on the motorway) was a failure of process by the council, this is just a lazy piece designed to provoke anger than inform.

John Freeman said...

CampDave, maybe you should re-read the now updated article which includes a Council statement and information on what some other coucils with cycleways do in such weather conditions. Hopefully this addresses your accusation of "lazy journalism".

Yes, the icy conditions this morning might well have been unusual (although we had similar conditions a few weeks back) but over on Twitter you yourself pointed out that roads were gritted last night, so they weren't that unexpected.

If complaining that a lack of planning provokes anger I'd rather that in the hope that next time, less people will find themselves in Casualty.

campdave said...

The roads were gritted last night, and that has proved to be ineffective with this mornings conditions.

If the freezing rain was expected (and the lack of treatment on the motorway suggests it wasn't), then the council can be accused of failing in their duty. I've no idea how long it usually takes to deploy their staff or gritter, and the fact that you don't give fact in your piece shows that you don't either.

John Freeman said...

Story updated again. My very brief convesation with Highways indicated they started gritting at one end of the Cycle Path to the other but they didn't say which end they started at. (Morecambe?).

As you say, people do have different priorities as to which parts of the pedestrian network require treatment, but given how used the Millennium Bridge is - and that it required special treatment suggesting a different team handled it - perhaps it does justify higher priority?

Anyway, we seem to be going around in circles. You made some fair comments about the nature of the original post and pulled me up by my boot straps. I hope the current version of the post is more even-handed.