‘Localism’ – terrible for the design of cycling and walking infrastructure if councils don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t care

There’s some development coming to the west of Horsham, mostly in the form of new housing, being built on (formerly) agricultural land that lies between the town and the village of Broadbridge Heath. Once the development – imaginatively titled ‘Land to the West of Horsham’ – is completed, the distinction between Horsham and Broadbridge Heath will, to all intents and purposes, cease to exist. The new development is in brown.

People tend to get quite upset about green field development; countryside is more aesthetically pleasing than the forms of suburban sprawl that tend to replace it.

I’m not so sniffy about it, provided it is done properly. Urban forms can be as attractive, quiet and pleasant as the countryside. The problem we have in Britain is that our development is usually done badly; ugly, or at best generic, buildings, little local amenity, poor transport infrastructure that generally revolves around the private motor vehicle, which in turn creates an ugly streetscape, noise and pollution, and a lack of social and objective safety.

I’m reserving judgement on how this new development in Horsham is going to progress (the broad plans do not fill me with much confidence), but the early signs are far from good. The first stage of the development, entitled ‘Highwood Village’ (a strange choice of title, being nothing like a village) is virtually complete. It is the section that lies to the south of Tanbridge House School.

The new entrance to the development, from Hills Farm Lane in Horsham.

Immediately we can see that the pavement just stops at the junction; there is no continuity across it. Instead pedestrians have to cross, and then cross back, all because of a slightly absurd sliproad-style turning onto Hills Farm Lane. The junction mouth is vast. This is surely not an appropriate junction design for a residential road meeting another residential road. Anyone with push chairs or a wheelchair cannot get across the junction on the right hand side here – there are no dropped kerbs on the far side.

The pedestrian refuge for crossing the ‘main road’ of Hills Farm Lane here has been left in place. An attractive design feature for cycling. Note that there is a new bus stop in the background, hard to get to if you are walking along the right hand side of the road, thanks to the new junction.

Now into the development itself.

Here’s the ‘official’ dropped-kerb crossing point for the junction mouth, some thirty yards away from the actual junction (to the left of the photo). Convenient for pedestrians.

The first houses in the development, as you come across the bridge over the river.

Notice that there is some excellent provision for cycling here, by way of a shared use pavement. Of course, by ‘provision’, I mean that someone has put a blue roundel on a lampost, and by ‘shared use pavement’ I mean an ordinary pavement, indistinguishable from that designed for pedestrians, on which someone has decided it is acceptable for people to cycle. This particular spot – the end of the bridge – is a fantastic blind corner.

In addition to being just about the lowest form of ‘designing’ for cycling, to add insult to injury, it’s completely misguided. There shouldn’t be any need for cyclists to be pushed onto the pavements here. This is a residential road, and as such, should have a low speed limit and design features to calm it and make it subjectively safe for cycling – and indeed for the residents who might wish to let their children play in the street. Frankly this is just hopeless, awful stuff.

In any case, the ‘shared use’ pavement quickly comes to an end a few yards down the road. What was the point?

 Now onto a design feature that had me hopping from foot to foot with incredulity. As already mentioned, this development lies just to the south of Tanbridge House School, the largest secondary school in Horsham District. Perfect! Your child can walk out of the front door here, and be at the school in just a short, hop skip and jump.

Except, no, they can’t, because this new development has been fenced off from the new path – built at the same time - that leads directly to the school.

There’s the school in the background, and there, in the foreground – separating this small car park from the path behind – is some planting and a wooden fence.

Really? Really? Why would you do that? Why would you fence off the direct route from a new housing development to a school? The mind boggles.

The route you have to take is therefore circuitous, heading off in the opposite direction, before joining the new shared use cycle path, that starts back out near the junction entrance to this housing development.

I got a little excited when I saw this path under construction, cycling past a month or so ago, and to be fair, the quality is reasonably good. The surface is smooth, it’s much wider than your usual shared path, and it goes somewhere. Sort of.

On the negative side, it’s already overgrown, despite only being open a week. Not a good start.

It’s needlessly wibbly-wobbly (you wouldn’t think that you could actually build a cycle path in a straight line).

Oh, and when it meets the road again, there’s no dropped kerb.Can you imagine a road meeting another road with this kind of arrangement? Would the driver of a motor vehicle have to bump his car down over a kerb simply to join another road?

Maddeningly, the pre-existing shared pavement hasn’t been remedied at all. A short stub of it still exists, with a dropped kerb a few yards back in the direction you’ve come from.

‘END OF ROUTE’

This hints at the final, most serious problem with this path. It’s a short little stub, running parallel to a road which should itself be made safe, pleasant and convenient for cycling and walking; Hills Farm Lane. You can see the arrangement in the video below, as I cycle on the road, instead of taking the path.

Hills Farm Lane is (or should be) a minor distributor road, servicing the ten or so cul-de-sacs along it. As it stands, it’s a bit of a rat run, a useful short cut for people who wish to avoid traffic lights in the centre of town when heading west. It needs a lower speed limit, and design features to keep those speeds low. Ideally,  filtered permeability half-way along it would be appropriate, to ensure that the only people using this road are residents, not people speeding through on a short cut. If that can’t be achieved, then a cycle path should be built alongside it. Properly. There’s plenty of space; it’s flanked entirely by the green fields that are now being built on.

But no, if you are cycling along Hills Farm Lane, there is still nothing for you until you come to this development, where the new shared path starts some 30 yards into the turning, rather than along the road itself. Again -

If we are cycling along the main road, from the right, and we wish to divert onto the cycle path, look how far out of our way we have to come to join it.

In any case, the path comes to an end after about a hundred yards, joinig the pre-existing ‘shared use’ pavement conversion, which is rapidly disintegrating.

It’s just a complete muddle. No thought has gone into ameloriating the conditions for cycling, or for coming up with a useful route, or with how children might want to walk or cycle to their school, or with when and where shared pavements are appropriate.

Jim Davis wrote yesterday about the increasing fashion for ‘localism’ in cycle infrastructure planning -

Cycling has always been about ‘Localism’ and ‘Big Society’ with local campaigners and activists that have been bashing their heads against the wall of local democracy for years (and for free). This, for me is where the problem lies; it’s all well and good giving local authorities ‘the right tools’ with devolved powers, but what if they don’t know what to do with them (or don’t even want to know). It’s like giving a group of primary school children ‘the right tools’ to design Britain’s successor to Trident – many will be keen as mustard and will give it their best shot. The results they come up with, whilst thankfully not feasible, will be all the more wonderful as a result and fascinating.

It’s an apt analogy, particularly because in the case of this development I think that we would actually have been better off letting children design the infrastructure for walking and cycling. They would have realised that putting a fence in the way of their direct route to school was a bad idea. They would have wanted a residential street that is safe to cycle in, not one in which they are forced to share a pavement with pedestrians. They would have realised that bumping down over a kerb on a bicycle is not as pleasant or as convenient as a smooth transition. They would have realised that cycle routes should form direct lines and run along pre-existing roads. I mean, it’s just obvious, if you actually ride a bike.

That’s why children would know this. Because they walk and cycle about; at least, they do so far more than the planners and designers at my local council, who only seem able to design routes for motor vehicles, and for whom routes for walking and cycling seem at best to be an aesthetic afterthought.

So less ‘localism’ please, at least until we have worked out how to compel councils to even get the absolute basics right.

UPDATE

One thing I forgot to mention – and for which I am grateful to dasmirnov for pointing out in the comments – is that this whole area flooded last week, following the heavy rainfall. Do watch his video.


This has happened before, of course – the area is a floodplain for the River Arun, which I remember regularly spilling over its banks a few years ago, when I lived nearby. Now the area has been built on, and the fields replaced with a good deal of tarmac and hard standing, the problem will surely only get worse.

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21 Responses to ‘Localism’ – terrible for the design of cycling and walking infrastructure if councils don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t care

  1. AndrewRH says:

    It is #ChildSafetyWeek promoted by @CAPTcharity – getting safety designed & built into roads is key.
    Not that you need another example, but over in Basingstoke, Hampshire — the home of roadabouts — the powers that be are still in their 1970s car-centric thinking as they prepare to remake of a major roundabout.
    See http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/local/9700870.Tesco_plans_are_in_the_spotlight/

  2. Cyclestrian says:

    “In any case, the ‘shared use’ pavement quickly comes to an end a few yards down the road. What was the point?”

    Take a look back in a year’s time: here “shared use” really means “car parking”.

    By then, hopefully kids that live here will have ‘modified’ the newly planted hedge and fence to allow them to get to school the sensible way.

  3. Kim says:

    I am reminded of a new estate being built on the edge of Freiburg, where as they put in the roads they laid tram tracks and separated cycleways on the arterial routes, so much cheaper than trying to retro fit them. But that is continental Europe for you, where they like to get value for money and have a higher standard of living… Tory voting Tandridge would regard such things as an anathema.

  4. fonant says:

    Yet more proof, if it were needed, that West Sussex County Council hate people using ways other than the private motor vehicle to get around. I used to think they were incompetent, but now I’m pretty sure they actively want to prevent people taking up cycling or walking for local transport.

    • Mark says:

      I was just thinking the same thing! WSCC have deliberately designed some junctions to be dangerous for cyclists. Some of the cycle lanes in and around Crawley are shockingly bad – both in their design and their complete lack of maintenance. And lets not forget that in Crawley itself, cyclists are still prohibited from using the majority of the bus lanes.

  5. I hope the developers and council will respond to your points for you to publish.

  6. dasmirnov says:

    Yeah the new bit of path isn’t too bad, shame it’s so short and like you say hobbled onto existing infrastructure. The whole place was completed flooded though last week :-/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yXxwZZSReU

    • Ah yes, I meant to mention the flooding! I used to live on Hills Farm Lane, and I remember that whole area being flooded on a couple of occasions. They’ve now built all over it, which is an ‘interesting’ idea, especially given that it will make flooding more likely.

  7. keith says:

    Just a quick point I used to live in a flat in a cul de sac where the road backed on to the station car park but there was a fence at the end of the road, similar to this example. when i asked about putting in a pedestrian gate the other residents raised concerns that our road would then become a commuter car park. If in this example pedestrian and cycle access to the school was provided then the small group of cul de sacs would become one big school car park and the streets where children can now safely play would be clogged with cars day and nght with many more vehicle movements than exist now. Unfortunately schools generate traffic however hard we try to prevent this. staff rarely live within cycling or walking distance and with school buses and transport being axed the problem is getting worse. It might then be the fence wasn’t a mistake

  8. Francis says:

    I live in Horsham. What plans do you have to ensure future developments in the town cater for cyclists and pedestrians better than this one does?

  9. Francis Vernon says:

    Another (smaller) development is being planned on Farthings Hill, just round the corner from this one. See this link on the council’s planning website.
    http://public-access.horsham.gov.uk/public-access/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=externalDocuments&keyVal=M4DAK3IJ00K00
    Deadline for comments is 5th July.

    Any thoughts on that one?

    • Unsure – looks like the development of an existing property, with the building of retirement/nursing accommodation on the site. I don’t know if there are any transport implications, or alterations to the existing Guildford road – beyond perhaps some additional traffic.

  10. Stephen says:

    So left wing and petty. This is a super looking development. Horsham is a beautiful place to live but let us not lose sight of the fact that motorists pay dearly for their cars, road fund licence, insurance etc and deserve to be catered for as a matter of priority. Developments should cater more for them. Far too few new developments provide garages and driveways. Cars will not go away.

    • You know nothing about my political beliefs, yet you’ve chosen to assume, without any evidence, that I am ‘left wing’. Your comment goes downhill from there.

      I have no wish to see cars ‘go away’, nor indeed do I wish to see a lack of off street parking; far from it. Motor vehicles are very useful modes of transport for longer trips. But on a development barely one mile from the town centre, motor vehicles should quite clearly not be catered for as a priority. Walking and cycling to the town centre should be encouraged. Rubbish planning is bad for everyone.

      Might I finally ask what someone in Derbyshire is doing commenting on a story about Horsham?

    • Simon says:

      @ Stephen: Politics ain’t got nuffink to do with it, so leave that alone …

      “The fact is that in the twentieth century the automobile was subsidised on a massive scale. The nicely paved roads that go to the tiniest little towns and obscure regions in the United States weren’t built and maintained by GM and Ford – or even by Mobil and Esso. Those corporations benefited enormously from that system. Rail routes to small towns were allowed to wither and die and trucking became, for most goods, the cheapest and sometimes the only way to get products from place to place.

      “Now I have to admit that it’s nice to motor around a continent and stop wherever and whenever one pleases. The romance of being ‘on the road’ is pretty heady, but a cross-country ramble is a sometime thing. It isn’t a daily commute, a way of living, or even the best way to get from point A to point B.”

      The foregoing was from David Byrne, of Talking Heads. Please also consider this and this.

    • pm says:

      Leaving aside everything else – can I ask why the fact that motorists pay for their cars and for insurance imposes an obligation on others to give them priority? People buy and pay insurance on all sorts of things, including on bicycles (and computers and houses etc) , I don’t quite follow the logic that says if you buy something and insure it other people then have to cater to you ‘as a matter or priority’. Please explain your reasoning.

      And what on Earth is a ‘road fund licence’?

  11. haagse hop says:

    silly man!

  12. Stephen says:

    I certainly did not intend to judge any persons political persuasion, only the concepts. I came across this by accident and having now read more and delved around the site I have a greater understanding of what this is about and realise I have totally picked the wrong audience!

    I will take just a moment though to explain a little further. Governments obtain enormous revenue from the motorist. Tax is paid on the new car purchase price, then there is annual RFL (road tax). Insurance is subject to an insurance premium tax, not to mention the tax on fuel which is a large part of the price per litre. Repairs to these vehicles and the sales of components are then subject to VAT. I could go on…In addition, the manufacturing and sales of cars are also massive players in the world economy. Quite a cash cow really.

    For these reasons I find it frustrating when motorists are demonised and causes, often with fairly low income potential are given too big an investment. As motorists, we pay our way.

    I find it a great shame that housing developments lack garages and driveways these days. These kept our cars safely off the road or inside in the warm, extending their service life and keeping our pride and joy away from little scrotes that steal radios and key the paintwork,

    I speak as a Sussex resident, a major car enthusiast and also a cyclist. I certainly do believe that all modes of transport should be allowed to thrive and interact safely and most definitely believe in saving lives.

    • pm says:

      I think the accounting for motoring is complicated. Against the taxes you mention of course has to be set the rental value of the publicly-owned land that drivers get priority use of for driving and parking. I am not convinced the ‘enormous revenue’ you mention actually pays the true cost of this (not when you consider the very high value of land in urban areas).
      I note that whenever motoring organisations talk about ‘roads’ they only consider the cost of maintaining them – not the rental value of the land they sit on. When it comes to housing, for example, people don’t expect to only pay the cost of maintaining their property, they have to pay for the land it sits on as well.

      I don’t believe therefore that motorists do, in fact, pay their way. The fuel duty and VED (which are the only relevant taxes), it seems to me, simply go some part way to paying for the rental cost of using (indeed, dominating) that land, and for compensation for the filth motorists put into urban air.

    • Simon says:

      Stephen, speaking as “a major car enthusiast”, I am interested to know what you perceive to be the benefits to society attached to the use of the private motor car in the built-up area, particularly during daylight hours. I personally cannot think of a single benefit, so I would be indebted to you if you could shed some light on this subject …

      For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, at a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. This difference in planning helps explain why downtown San Francisco is much more exciting and livable than downtown Los Angeles. – Donald Shoup

      The only way you run into someone else in LA is in a car crash. – Susan Sarandon, on why she moved to NY.

      The car is like our mother-in-law. We have a good relationship with her, but we cannot let her conduct our lives. In other words, if the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law, then you have a problem. – Jaime Lerner, former Mayor of Curitiba (Brazil)

      Vancouver killed the freeway because they didn’t want the freeways to kill their neighbourhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it. – Rick Cole

      If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. – Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman

      Cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around. – Dan Burden

      …if someone charges that the New Urbanism is about hating cars, we can say no, that it is only when convenient walking and convenient driving conflict that we place the pedestrian above the driver; where they do not conflict, there is no dilemma. – Bruce Donnelly

      We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or we can have a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both. – Enrique Penalosa

      Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman. But if a man doesn’t drive, there’s something wrong with him. – Art Buchwald

      Density and environmental protection are not incompatible. If they are, we are in very deep trouble. – Patrick Condon

      If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent

      Men do not love Rome because she is beautiful; Rome is beautiful because men have loved her. – Leopold Kohr

      We cannot continue to believe that the landscape is sacred and the city profane. They must both be considered sacred. – Paul Murrain

      Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how. – Edward T. McMahon

      To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself. – Anthony Downs

  13. Paul Smith says:

    There’s a slight shortcut shared-use path that’s been constructed running alongside the northern side of the development.

    Doesn’t lead to any of the side entrances, but does lead to the front entrance of the school. It’s been fenced off for a good few months so far though. Not sure what they’re waiting on.

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