I wrote a rather long piece a few months ago about a West Sussex County Times article entitled Councillor warns of road ‘peril’. This was an article that, for some reason, decided to focus entirely on the dangers of ‘selfish cyclists’ who are using pedestrianised areas in Horsham, and which simultaneously managed to ignore completely the (acknowledged) dangers of reckless driving.
Don’t get me wrong. Anti-social cycling – the kind in which pedestrians are passed fast and close, with scant regard for anyone’s safety – is unpleasant and stupid, not to say potentially dangerous. But I found this emphasis on the danger posed by cyclists rather odd, given the factual evidence of no cyclists being responsible for injuries to pedestrians in Horsham, ever, and five Horsham cyclists being hit by motorists in the few weeks subsequent to the article being published, myself included (to say nothing of the continual toll of pedestrians also being ‘in collision’ with motor vehicles in the district).
In this companion piece, I’d like to revisit that article, and take a closer look at why cyclists are using pavements and pedestrianised areas in Horsham. For the most part, they are doing so in an entirely civilised and safe way, although there are exceptions – precisely those idiots on bicycles who tend to generate these kinds of articles in the local press across the UK.
A common sight in Horsham is this sort of thing –
Parents aren’t stupid. They don’t want their children using the roads, because whatever the statistics about how safe cycling actually is, they feel subjectively unsafe to cycle on – deeply so. This kind of feeling is undoubtedly magnified when it is your rather vulnerable young child who might be being put at risk. So they make them cycle on the pavement, which feels a whole lot safer, even when it is technically illegal, as is the case in the photographs above.
Horsham District Council is obviously well aware that their roads are rather horrible to cycle on, because – as with most other councils – they are legalising pavement cycling by stealth.
A pavement on the south side of Redkiln Way, in Horsham, where it is now legal to cycle. Of course, there is plenty of space here for a proper cycle path, but the idea that anyone might want to ride a bike in Horsham as a means of actually getting about has been so far off the radar for so long that the best we can hope for is some paint telling us to give way when we come into conflict with (blocked) secondary entrances to small industrial units.
If the pavement is narrower than the above example – that doesn’t matter. Just put up a shared use sign.
Unpleasant roundabout to negotiate on a bike?
Fine, you can use the pavement here too. You’ll just have to engage in some ‘dismounting’ while you’re at it, because again, this sort of thing just can’t be done properly.
A useful cut-through link to a supermarket? We’ll make it shared use (even though there was ample space during construction for a wider path that would reduce conflict between pedestrians and cyclists), and tell you to dismount at random intervals –
In short, there are countless examples, all around Horsham, where you can cycle on the pavement, quite legally. Now because these ‘facilities’ amount to nothing more than paint being applied to already-existing pavements – pavements that were never designed for cyclists – the message that is being sent out is confusing and contradictory. One pavement is fine for cycling – another identical one is not. It is not surprising, therefore, that some nervous cyclists choose to cycle on pavements everywhere, regardless of the law, because they cannot see a logical and consistent reason why they should be prevented from doing so. The council obviously thinks its okay for people to cycle on some previously pedestrian-specific areas, so why not all?
It gets worse. Sometimes it almost seems as if the council is trying to create conflict between pedestrians and cyclists. Chart Way is a bridge that provides direct access from North Street (the main route to Horsham station, as well as an arterial road from the north of Horsham) into the largely pedestrianised town centre. It is actually legal to cycle on this bridge, because it lies along the line of a bridleway. It’s rather handy, too, because it means you don’t have to cycle across this pretty horrendous junction –
How obvious is it that it is legal to cycle on this apparent footpath? Not very.
This is all we get. A small bicycle symbol on a sign. Now I can legally cycle across where those people are walking, but from the dirty looks I get, I often feel it is hardly worth it. I’m giving cyclists a bad name by ‘cycling on the pavement’. The southern end of this bridge is hardly any clearer –
This is a recipe for hostility. A Horsham cyclist recounts here his account of being stopped by PCSOs while legally using this route. You can also find complaints being made to local councillors about cycling on this bridge here (pdf), all parties to the discussion again completely unaware that cycling on Chart Way is perfectly legal.
This confusion over which pedestrian areas in Horsham it is actually legal to cycle on extends to all the streets that are mentioned in the original County Times piece. Let’s take a look at what the gentleman making the complaint in that article, Brian Bateman, actually has to say –
Mrs Costin’s concern was sparked when Brian Bateman, who lives in the Horsham Town ward, wrote to the councillor after he was confronted by ‘yobs racing up and down West Street on mountain bikes’. He told the County Times: “I walk to work everyday and my route takes me along the Bishopric and up West Street. There are now more incidents daily of dangerous cycling on the street and the situation has got steadily worse over the years. I was nearly hit by two people racing up behind me. These were not children they were adults in their twenties. I was so shaken I reported the incident to the police. To add insult to injury when I turned to walk into the tunnel past Laura Ashley just off Middle Street I was nearly hit by a woman on a racing bike. This is supposed to be a pedestrianised area. There are warning signs at either end of West Street. There are also ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs in the Market Square which are totally ignored. There are too many incidents of this type happening all over town and the people responsible are not all yobs – they come from different social groups and are of varying ages.” Mr Bateman believes “harsher penalties should be put in place before someone gets killed”.
I’ve highlighted the names of the streets that are at issue for Mr. Bateman. As it happens, they form a direct east-west line across the town. If we put aside the legality of the cycling for a moment, it becomes immediately apparent why people are cycling on these pedestrianised areas, when we look at the routes we can take to cycle from east to west – or vice versa – across Horsham.
I’ve plugged in a journey into Cyclestreets – a short one, across the centre of the town, from Brighton Road in the east, to Guildford Road, in the west. Here is the result –
You can see West Street and East Street, forming the most direct ‘desire line’, across the centre of the map. Middle Street is the short unnamed section that (unsurprisingly) lies between them. The red streets are all pedestrianised – the Bishopric, lying to the west, is pedestrianised to the east of Albion Way.
As you can see, we have a choice of three routes on a bicycle; the quietest (marked in green), the balanced (marked in yellow), and the fastest (marked in red). At this point it is important to note that none of these routes takes the direct, straight line along East Street, then Market Street and West Street, to the Bishopric. All of them are rather circuitous. Of course, the east-west route for cars, Albion Way – the large dual carriageway that arches around to the north of the centre – is not a straight line, but is nevertheless fast for driving.
So we immediately have a directional reason why people might decide to cycle on the streets that Mr. Bateman mentions. The other, perhaps more important reason, is that Albion Way, and Park Way, are both horrible places to ride a bicycle. This is the western section –
The middle section –
This last section is especially unpleasant; a thunderous subway with vehicles accelerating away from (or towards) the lights. The dual carriageway as a whole is a place I try to avoid as much as I can, and I am an ‘experienced’ cyclist.
But – as you can see from the Cyclestreets journey planner – you have no choice but to use it if you wish to cycle across the town, even using the ‘quietest’ route, marked in green*. All these routes involve making a right turn from the third lane of an urban motorway – the spot at which the lady is shuffling across the junction in the picture at the head of this blog. The red route simply involves cycling the entire length of the dual carriageway – not for the faint-hearted. The other two are ridiculously circuitous and twiddly.
My personal choice – and what I often do – is to cycle down East Street, across Market Square onto Blackhorse Way, and then walk the final section of the Bishopric. But even this is needlessly difficult, and I usually find myself resorting to the dual carriageway, simply because it is twice as quick as fiddling about with dismounts and walking.
a police community support officer (PCSO) was called out Tuesday morning (September 20) to patrol West and East Street.
This particular PCSO must have been wasting at least half his time, because, as Greg Collins points out in the comments below the piece, cycling on East Street is, and always has been, legal. Here is a picture from just the other day of a dangerous maniac recklessly endangering pedestrians on East Street –
Market Street, West Street and the Bishopric are a slightly different matter, because these are most definitely pedestrianised areas. But what’s this? It’s an official Horsham District Council cycle routes map! You can download the pdf for yourself, if you so wish, but you can see the relevant section below –
The three streets that Mr. Bateman refers to – West Street, Middle Street, and the Bishopric – are all marked in purple. What does this mean?
Cycling is permitted outside of shopping hours.
When did Mr. Bateman encounter the rogue cyclists?
“I walk to work everyday and my route takes me along the Bishopric and up West Street.”
… When he was walking to work. That is, most likely at a time when the cycling on these streets was actually legal.
Now of course I don’t dispute that the cycling Mr. Bateman encountered may actually have been hazardous and/or reckless. But it would help if he, the council, and the police, could actually get their facts straight before blundering in to an issue like this. There are ‘no cycling’ signs on these streets, it is true, but they do not reflect the reality of the pragmatic allowance of cycling here outside of busy pedestrian times – something for which the council should be applauded, as they have given more nervous cyclists a viable alternative to an unpleasant dual carriageway.
This is West Street, at half past five in October. Cycling here at this time of day is now legal – sensibly so. But absurdly even the council don’t seem aware that they have made it legal at certain times! The ‘no cycling’ signs remain, unadjusted.
The final burst of ignorance in this story comes in Market Square, where Mr. Bateman complains
There are also ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs in the Market Square which are totally ignored.
As those signs are right outside the County Times’ offices, I can’t help but be suspicious, again, that Mr. Bateman is perhaps being used as a mouthpiece for a newspaper employee’s own ‘concerns’. But no matter. In any case, cyclists are right to ignore those signs, because they are advisory only. As you can see in the picture below –
This looks like a pavement, but it was a road, for ‘vehicles’, well into the 1970s, until it was closed off with bollards. It is still a thoroughfare, but no apparent thought has been given to its potential use as a through-route for bicycles. Most weirdly, despite the sign having been erected here in an attempt to ‘advise’ people on bicycles to dismount, the bollard in the foreground actually has a symbol on it that indicates that this is a ‘cycle route’ of some kind. Looking the other way –
In fact signage like this is, in microcosm, sympomatic of the fact that, when it comes to cycling and Horsham District Council, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
To sum up, we have
- PCSOs being urgently despatched to stop cycling on a street where it is perfectly legal – East Street
- Other cyclists being stopped on another route where cycling is, again, legal – Chart Way
- Citizens complaining about ‘illegal’ cycling on a number of streets, at a time of day when cycling is actually legal on those streets
- The council promising to do something about this ‘illegal’ cycling, despite the fact that they themselves have made it legal at these times
- Citizens not understanding the meaning of blue advisory ‘Dismount’ signs
- Cycling being permitted on some pavements, but not on other near-identical pavements
And so on.
It’s not easy cycling on most roads in Horsham, especially for the less confident. Now, to be fair to the council, they have opened up some pedestrianised areas for cycling, and made things slightly easier. They haven’t done much else, of course – I’d rather have proper routes across town that feel safe, not ones that bring me into conflict with pedestrians, and that are only legal at certain times of day. But credit where credit is due.
The only trouble with these minor improvements, of course, is that they are totally unpublicized, or officially signed. Even councillors, PCSOs and council employees (to say nothing of local residents and newspaper employees) don’t appear to know anything about where, and indeed when, cycling is, and isn’t, legal. Consequently people using bicycles can quite easily be branded as ‘criminals’ or ‘rogues’ – and be the subject of council ‘crackdowns’ – when they’re riding their bikes, perfectly legally, in these locations.
It’s not totally surprising, therefore, that the focus of these newspaper pieces about ‘road peril’ tends to steer, almost inevitably, towards ‘illegal cycling’, especially when there is so much confusion and ignorance about what actually is, and isn’t legal.
Thanks a bunch.
*this ‘quiet’ route is, actually, a little bit ‘screwy’ – the sensible option at the western end would be to dismount and just walk the final pedestrianised section in a westerly direction, rather than to do a loop to the north onto a ridiculously busy road.