Some local responses to the Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign

A letter published in the County Times of Thursday, 29th March -

Safe cycling

I am pleased that our MP, Francis Maude, has shown an interest in the safety of cyclists in the Horsham District (County Times 22 March 2012). Unfortunately Horsham District Council does not seem to share the same interest, as it has failed to consider cyclists in any of its development schemes with the result that cycling around Horsham is downright dangerous, and no fun at all. No wonder one hardly sees anyone cycling to work in the town centre, to the station or to school.

I live in Worthing Road and have an eight-year-old son. We like to out for a cycle ride at the weekend, but where can we do so safely? Almost the only way is to load our bicycles into our car, which rather defeats the objective.

Could Horsham District Council’s Leisure Department suggest a couple of safe cycle routes through Horsham, say, North/South from the Boar’s Head to the Norfolk Arms and East/West from the Shelley Arms to the Hornbrook Inn?

Not only does cycling contribute to the health of the nation, in these difficult economic times it can save scarce resources, and benefit families’ budgets. All of these benefits must be dear to the hearts of our financially-minded councillors.

JOHN BAUGH                                   Worthing Road, Horsham

Mr Baugh’s letter references this piece Francis Maude wrote for the paper, a week earlier. I have to say I am not quite so convinced that our MP is showing the level of interest Mr Baugh recognises. There are some good bits in his article, namely the recognition that while more people are cycling, ‘the infrastructure has some catching up to do’ – quite an understatement. He also acknowledges constituents’

sheer frustration at being urged to cycle for environmental and health benefits, but without the proper safeguards that some of our European neighbours seem to take for granted.

A clear enough statement that conditions for cycling in the United Kingdom lack ‘the proper safeguards’ that you can find quite easily across the North Sea. This is, like David Cameron’s statement that cycling in Britain involves taking your life in your hands, a remarkable open admission of a failure, not just to create attractive conditions for cycling, but even to keep current cyclists safe.

A sensible policy would, of course, be to look at those ‘proper safeguards’ that our European neighbours employ, and to include them in future development, and in new guidelines about how our roads and streets should be constructed and maintained.

What is on offer, though, from Francis Maude and the government is decidedly much weaker.

The Times campaign has in some sense crystallised the case for a national cycle safety strategy. But it’s important to look at what actions are already in hand if we are to avoid the impression of much talk and no action.

The Government already provides funding for cycling initiatives through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (Sustrans) worth £560m in this Parliament. 

Some £11m has been earmarked for Bikeability training for school children which Transport Minister Norman Baker has referred to as ‘cycling proficiency for the 21st century’. And the good news is that this funding will continue until at least March 2015.

Some £15m will be split between Sustrans – the charity set up to help us ‘make smarter travel choices’ – and the Cycle Rail Working Group. Sustrans will spend the funds on further calmed routes for cyclists and pedestrians; the CRWG will use the money to improve integration between cycle and rail at stations across the country – a regular plea in MPs’ postbags.

Ministers also want to see more innovative measures being put in place to improve cycle safety. So it’s good to know that following a successful trial in London, councils across the country can apply to use Trixi mirrors to make cyclists more visible to drivers at traffic lights

The £560 million figure is meant to sound impressive, but is a sum of money being spent over the course of this Parliament, and is being spent on all sustainable modes of transport, not just cycling. The West Sussex County Council bid for £2.6 million includes spending on bus, walking and cycling improvements, and in perspective, this figure is rather dwarfed by the estimated £30 million cost of a 2-3 mile section of bypass for Arundel on the A27, which West Sussex County Council are still desperately keen to have built.

Indeed, the cost of this one proposed road – just like the £56 million Bexhill to Hastings link road, which is now going ahead – outstrips the £11 and £15 million scraps on offer for cycling for the entire country. That gives some indication of how seriously cycling is actually being taken, despite the apparent reaction to the Times’ campaign. These figures are fob-offs, designed to sound impressive in isolation. What is needed is a firm commitment to ensure that our roads and streets are designed better for vulnerable users. This won’t – indeed cannot – happen immediately. But it must be a part of how roads and streets are rebuilt and repaired, and how they are built as part of future development.

Mr Baugh’s letter makes reference to how Horsham’s spate of redevelopment over the last three decades has taken almost no account, whatsoever, of cycling as a mode of transport. New roads have been built, and other streets have been pedestrianised, yet the humble bicycle has been forgotten about in the configuration of these designs. The end result, as Mr Baugh says, is that parts of the town centre are difficult to access directly by bicycle, and cross-town journeys are circuitous, or involve hostile roads. This could have been addressed during those phases of development, but wasn’t.

The weekend before last, I spent an afternoon in Horsham Park, where cycling is now, wonderfully, legal, thanks to the efforts of local campaigners. There were plenty of very young children cycling – or being cycled – around.

I suspect a good number of these children’s bikes arrived at the park packed in the boots of cars, just like Mr Baugh has to do with his son’s bicycle when they wish to go cycling.

Other children were cycling away from the park, accompanied by their parents, but the routes and means they chose were revealing.

Into the subway under the inner ring road. Technically illegal (although you would hope any PCSOs or street wardens would not be petty enough to stop young children cycling here), and not all that appropriate as a shared route between pedestrians and cyclists.

Through Medwin Walk. Again, illegal by the letter of the law, and I have seen a lady cyclist being issued with a ‘yellow card’ warning for doing so at this very location, by a street warden and PCSO.

Then across the pedestrianised Carfax, where cycling might, again, land you in trouble thanks to local bylaws.

Up East Street, a street which only allows vehicle deliveries, and disabled access – a successful recent development.

Unfortunately, if you wish to continue eastwards from this point, the roads become fairly hostile, and this young chap and his father sensibly decide to dismount and walk.

It’s roads like this, across Horsham, that despite the clear evidence of local children wanting to cycle – out in their droves in the park where it is safe – result in no children, at all, cycling to the primary school near where I live. (A good number do use mini scooters on the pavement, which are slower, and allow their parents to walk with them). By contrast, the equivalent busy roads in a Dutch town or city present no obstacle to the very young.

The areas shown in these photographs of Horsham have all been subject to development since the 1970s, yet over this long period these major developments – with the honourable exception of East Street – included no measures to make cycling feel safe or convenient for the young, the nervous, and the old, or to accommodate and facilitate it within the improvements for pedestrians.

The investments proposed by the government that Francis Maude references are welcome, of course, but the root problem is a failure of planning and guidance. I’m not seeing much in the government’s response to the Times’ campaign to suggest that is going to change.

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This entry was posted in Car dependence, David Cameron, Department for Transport, Francis Maude, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Infrastructure, Road safety, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, The Times' Cities Safe for Cycling campaign, Town planning, West Sussex County Council. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Some local responses to the Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign

  1. Meanwhile, in the [soon to be re-]frozen North, North Tyneside Council is voting to pat itself on the back while making road conditions so hostile that even “keen” cyclits are starting to view them as no-go areas.

    Same s**t, different day.

  2. Joe Dunckley says:

    “The Government already provides funding for cycling initiatives through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (Sustrans) worth £560m in this Parliament.”

    Chez wat? I hope that’s a subbing error, rather than the hon. gentleman’s actual belief regarding what “Sustrans” is.

  3. When you look at some of the examples you give here it’s almost as if those in power are actively trying to discourage cycling. I remember from when I was young the amount of parks that had byelaws to stop you cycling (in what should be an obvious place to do it!) – can’t say there where ever enforced…

    There is one that I have visited a few times, Dulwich Park, that is always great fun. Mainly due to the bike hire shop there :-) Not only are you allowed to cycle round the approx 1 mile path around the park you can also try out some different bikes including recumbents, “banana” bikes and some with kiddie boxes on the front – my personal favourite, nothing like racing round and turning the tricycle into a bicycle in the corners with the kids laughing their heads off asking for daddy to go faster :-D Even managed to get my parents out riding when there a few summers back!

  4. Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum says:

    After having been invited as Chair of the local cycling forum to send a letter of support from the forum for one of Bournemouth’s bids to the fund (which I flatly refused to do), I found out an interesting fact. The bids can only be for a maximum of 30% capital spending. That means that only £167m of the fund is available for investment in infrastructure. The rest MUST go on ‘soft’ measures such as schemes to show people safe routes from home to work, training, encouragement etc. What a pile of crap.

    • fonant says:

      Sadly “soft” measures are popular because they have to be maintained for long periods, thus providing work for the transport consultants who advise councils. It’s also difficult for even the most-Clarksonite motorheads to argue against soft measures, while they most certainly do complain about road space being taken away from them.

      I’m not sure that trying to persuade everyone that cycling is sensible transport is particularly effective, or even possible. Building visibly safe cycle routes where heavy motor traffic is removed is proven to be extremely effective, and only has to be done once to benefit the entire population at once for a very long period.

      But logic doesn’t influence politics, so we end up deciding to spend “revenue” money long-term on “soft” measures instead of investing “capital” money for the future in decent infrastructure that will last decades.

  5. Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum says:

    What it actually means for Bournemouth’s small bid is that £4.5m of local money is being put into a bid which will result in only £3.5m being spent on local infrastructure. The rest will, of course, help Bournemouth to employ people to carry out the ‘soft’ measures – people who, surprise surprise, help to advise in putting the bid together. :S

    • Paul M says:

      That arithmetic sounds fairly familiar. When we analysed how the City of London had spent its LCN grant money from TfL over the last few years (until the scheme stopped, at any rate), we found that typically the budget disappears down three roughly equal sized holes.

      One is of course the physical, tangible (for what it is worth) expendiure on paint and asphalt and – very occasionally – kerbstones. The second is spent on feasibility studies, impact assessments, traffic counts, yada yada yada, maybe even the occasional engineering design, carried out by “independent” consultants (I parenthesise, because it seems to be that most of these consultants are actually entirely dependent on a handful of local authorities to keep them afloat) The third, startlingly, is in effect a subsidy of the City’s own planing and highways departments’ salary bills.

  6. fonant says:

    Remember, Horsham is in West Sussex, and West Sussex County Council are positively against cycling as a mode of local transport in the county, judging by their budgets and actions over the last 20 years.

  7. Kim says:

    Here in Scotland, we looked at the Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign and decided we could do better. So a small group of us started Pedal on Parliament, wrote our own manifesto and are now lobbing to get it taken seriously. Only time will tell if this will work, but we are fortunate in having the example of the City of Edinburgh Council which has committed 5% of it total transport budget to improving cycling, and this will be increased by 1% (total transport spend) per year.

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