Smoothing traffic flow, West Sussex-style

The village of Southwater, which lies around 2 miles south of Horsham, has expanded at an incredible rate over the last two decades. In the early 1990s, its population was just over 5,000. In the 2001 census, the number of residents had increased to over 10,000 – a doubling in just ten years. Now new plans for 550 homes to the north west of the village will add, at a rough guess, another 1500-2000 to Southwater’s population.

The increase is due, almost entirely, to new-build developments that have ‘filled in’ the space between the old village and its bypass, constructed in 1978.

The A24, which runs from London to the coast, at Worthing, used to run through the village – the aptly named Worthing Road. Once it was diverted to the east, sent onto a dual carriageway that now runs continuously to Worthing, there was ‘dead space’ between the village and the new bypass which was just begging to be filled with new housing. Lo and behold, it is now filled, right up to the green line of the A24 bypass on the right.

The demand for housing here is still high, and so a place has had to be found for new development – the proposed 550 houses will go on land to the west of Worthing Road, approximately indicated on the map below.

A problem that would be posed by this development is the further strain it would place on the transport infrastructure as a result of  another 500 or more vehicles regularly making journeys into and out of the village. There is already an issue with queuing to get onto and across the gigantic Hop Oast roundabout, where the road coming northwards out of the village meets the bypass.

This is the irony – Southwater has become so bloated with car journeys – its residents dependent on the car for commuting and most day-to-day trips – that a bypass constructed thirty years ago to relieve ‘traffic’ within the village faces the prospect of itself becoming overwhelmed by the motor traffic it has induced within the village. Southwater has swamped its own bypass. As Horsham District Council write, in relation to a different development –

The Hop Oast roundabout is already operating near capacity in both the base and future years without development scenarios

Rat-running on country roads that bypass the roundabout on the A24 is already a problem, principally because these rat runs often form a more direct, and unrestricted route into and out of Horsham, and also because of the queues at the Hop Oast roundabout. The problem will only get worse with more traffic queuing there. It is this possibility that has been reported in the local paper this week.

‘RAT-RUNNING’ is feared by a Southwater campaigner as a 550-home development proposal threatens to increase traffic on the A24. West Sussex County Council asked Berkeley Homes to provide plans showing how they intended to reduce traffic on the A24 therefore reducing its development’s impact on congestion and ‘rat-running’.

The routes that WSCC believe motorists might use to avoid the Hop Oast roundabout on the A24 are Worthing Road, Southwater Street and Kerves Lane, or Church Lane and Two Mile Ash.

The first mentioned ‘rat-running’ route is shown on the map below.

Instead of following the Worthing Road northbound, which is the main route into and out of town, you can choose to divert onto the Two Mile Ash Road to the west, which is a country lane with, absurdly, a 60 mph limit for its entire length – something which greatly distresses many of the residents who live along it.

Home-made speed limit signs are about the only thing they can do at the moment.

As things stand, this is a very attractive alternative route for people who might wish to avoid the prospect of queues to get across the bypass roundabout.

The other mentioned rat-run, that of Southwater Street and Kerves Lane, is to the east of the main road.

This route – again, almost entirely on country lanes – is particularly attractive as a short-cut for people who are going to, or coming from, the east of Horsham. Again, it allows drivers to bypass any queues to get onto or across the A24, by using inappropriate roads. At rush hour, it can become unpleasantly busy. Below is the junction of Kerves Lane with Coltstaple Lane – traffic heading out of Horsham, towards Southwater. This road is not really suitable for this volume of traffic.

Further towards Horsham, on Kerves Lane, at rush hour –

No obstacles are put in the way of drivers who might choose to use either of  these routes, instead of the trunk road.

Local campaigner Peter Kindersley summarises the problem succinctly

Given that the back routes cut off much of the queue into Horsham in the morning, and in the evening avoid the Hop Oast queue altogether, it is clear why rat running can only worsen in the future.

But fear not! For Berkeley Homes – the developers behind this 550-home scheme – have a solution to this problem of cars tearing up and down country lanes to bypass the queues their development will contribute to.

What it could possibly be? Surely it must involve some measures on these country lanes, like much lower speed limits? Or turning restrictions at crucial junctions, to block rat-running routes? Or – crazy thought – improving the routes for cycling into and out of Horsham from Southwater, so that fewer journeys might be made by car, and queues reduced?

Here’s the ‘solution’

ISSUE Traffic congestion and delays at the Hop Oast junction.

SOLUTION This development will provide a filter lane from Worthing Road on to the northbound A24 to reduce existing queues.

That’s right – yet more capacity for motor vehicles!

As the County Times reports

Berkeley has provided a plan which it says solves the issue by widening the entries and exits to Hop Oast roundabout and providing a segregated left turn with a merge taper onto the north-bound A24 from Southwater to decrease congestion.

In other words, a dedicated slip road for north-bound traffic coming out of the village, which will allow vehicles to turn left onto the (north-bound) A24 dual carriageway without using the roundabout at all.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 16.30.09

This aerial view of the already enormous roundabout is looking south, towards Southwater, from the Horsham area. The A24 runs from top left, to bottom right; the road from village of Southwater is the one that curves from the top; access to Horsham is at bottom. If built, the slip road will presumably cut across the wooded area to the right of the photograph, bypassing the roundabout completely (the wooded area is also visible, to the left, in the aerial view of the roundabout earlier in the post). This proposal has apparently been accepted, in principle, by West Sussex County Council, who had, let us remember, ‘asked Berkeley Homes to provide plans showing how they intended to reduce traffic on the A24’.

Problem solved!

Err, except it isn’t, really. (Let’s set aside the obvious fact that building a new slip road isn’t any way of ‘reducing traffic on the A24’; I suspect WSCC meant to say ‘congestion’ instead of ‘traffic’.)

While the slip will solve the problem of queuing at the roundabout for left-turning traffic coming out of the village (at least until that filter lane becomes bloated with car journeys, and may itself need to be widened, or bypassed), it won’t do anything to address the problem of people queuing to get across the roundabout, and into Horsham. Nor will it solve the problem of people queuing southbound at the roundabout in the evening, coming out of Horsham, either to get into Southwater, or to access the A24.

Unfortunately it is precisely these queues that rat-runners are attempting to avoid on the country and residential lane routes; so while the new filter lane will add capacity to the network, it won’t do anything at all to discourage the rat-running. I am at a loss, therefore, as to see what this extra road-building will achieve, beyond making A24 north-bound commuting journeys from the village slightly quicker, at least until the sliproad itself becomes swamped with induced demand.

There is quite a good bus service running between Southwater and Horsham – every 15 minutes or so, and well on into the evening. There might, sensibly be a case for a bus priority lane to get onto and across the roundabout but this has not apparently been considered.

Equally, it is entirely possible for most reasonably healthy people to cycle the 3 miles or so between the centres of Southwater and Horsham. Unfortunately the routes are not particularly brilliant.

The most direct route is to take the main road across the Hop Oast roundabout – the red route on this Cyclestreets journey planner. This is something I do, occasionally; but it’s not particularly fun, especially with 70 mph traffic approaching from two arms of the roundabout, and high speeds around it. I am reasonably fit and keep a good speed up; this is definitely not a route I would advise for someone who is slower or more nervous. It also involves cycling the length of Worthing Road into Horsham, which is often quite busy, and has a 40 mph speed limit.

The green route is the quietest, but it is a little ridiculous. As you can see, you head south east (away from Horsham) on the Downs Link, the old railway line to Shoreham, which is lovely. You then wind your way northwards on an attractive country lane; a country lane which has, unfortunately, been severed by the A24 bypass.

Easteds Lane to the south, Reeds Lane to the north. No way, now, of getting between the two, except via this.

An at-grade crossing of a 70 mph dual carriageway. As you can see, there are also steps either side to get you down to road level. This is a footpath, not a route for bicycles.

This pitiful crossing is all that is left of the former route. Reeds Lane, coming from the north, is now a dead-end, terminating in some bushes – the A24 roars through, behind the fencing.

You can just about see the path here, an entrance in the bushes, up against the fence. The narrow path skirts a field, before dropping down to cross the A24.

A footpath that cannot sensibly be used with a bicycle, even walking with it. It’s not even really a nice footpath, given the nature of the crossing involved. This is a typical example of how bypasses and dual carriageways have been constructed across Horsham, and probably across much of Britain. Country lanes were split in two, and nobody thought about appropriate ways for keeping them in use, or allowing them to be crossed safely and conveniently.

If you can get across the A24 on this crossing with a bicycle, you will end up merging with the ‘amber’ route, which takes the rat-run of Kerves Lane. This road is reasonably quiet for cycling, but as described above can become unpleasantly busy at peak hours. I have, as it happens, encountered some of my worst driver behaviour on this road, usually from commuters in a hurry on this shortcut (it seems I am not the only person of this opinion).

You have your reward, though, on both these routes, with some attractive, quiet, traffic-free cycling, almost all the way to Horsham – the ‘Pedlars Way’ bridleway, which takes you from Kerves Lane into the quiet residential streets of southern Horsham. It’s a lovely route, but unfortunately it is only really appropriate for those with mountain bikes, or sturdier commuting bikes. The first section is a tarmac lane, but one that is extraordinarily pot-holed.

Beyond this, the route becomes more of a bridleway. The scenery is fantastic,

but further south it is definitely a ‘track’, which can become quite muddy after rain, and during the winter.

 It’s a pleasant route, but is not exactly direct, and is hobbled slightly by the poor surfacing. It also involves cycling on busier roads to get to it; not just Kerves Lane, but also Worthing Road, the main street in Southwater.

Another option is to use a bridleway that cuts through from the top of the village to Kerves Lane – this might be appropriate for people who live in the north of the village, and wish to cycle into Horsham without negotiating the Hop Oast roundabout.

Unfortunately, like the severed lane further south, this also involves an at-grade crossing of the bypass.

This one is in quite a precarious location, located just after a slight bend where motorists are accelerating off the roundabout itself.

The bridleway itself is in an appalling condition.

This is definitely a route for mountain bikes only, especially given that the construction work going on here – a redevelopment of the golf course to the east of the Hop Oast roundabout – has not only churned up this bridleway, but has also seen this helpful ramp being built across it.


In nearly all of these example routes, you will most likely have to cycle part of the way through the village of Southwater itself along the old Worthing Road. Unfortunately the village seems to be something of a haven for boy racers with noisy exhausts, who I find like to use this straight road as a drag strip.

Even on a lazy bank holiday afternoon, when this photograph was taken, it’s still quite busy (so much for the bypass alleviating ‘traffic’).

There is some ineffectual traffic calming on this road –

A well-meaning cycle cut-through, but with, absurdly, ‘END’ painted on the road, along with yield markings; a dangerous and confusing merging back into the traffic stream. The kind of badly designed ‘traffic calming’, in other words, that makes things worse for bicycle users.

In short, it’s not exactly wonderful to cycle on the main road through Southwater. Perhaps the new development – which if it goes ahead would be built on the fields to the right, seen in the photograph above the previous one – could allow, or fund, improvements to this road, to make it safer and more pleasant to cycle on (genuine improvements, that is, not hopeless measures like the ones that currently exist). But I’m not holding my breath.

Faced with developments that will create more motor traffic, the tick-box solution in West Sussex seems to be to build more roads to accommodate it, rather than to encourage people to abandon their cars for some of those journeys. Some of the routes for cycling are insultingly poor, and will apparently remain so even with the addition of much new development. Likewise, the A24 and the Hop Oast roundabout will remain a significant barrier to cycling (and walking) in and out of Horsham. It’s high time some of that developers’ cash was used to improve routes for walking and cycling, and not just used to facilitate more road construction.

This entry was posted in Cycling policy, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Infrastructure, Road safety, Smoothing traffic flow, Southwater, Town planning, Transport policy, Walking, West Sussex County Council. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Smoothing traffic flow, West Sussex-style

  1. Very interesting post 🙂 I think it would be rather interesting to see the proposed cost of that filter lane they want to install through that wooded area (along with any environmental impact reports?) and compare these to the costs of installing some proper Dutch style lanes down the A24 to try and facilitate cycling along there in a safe and pleasant manner. Whilst these A-roads would in theory allow cyclists to use them as you state they aren’t exactly inviting and even as a fairly experienced and quick riders myself I’d avoid any dual carriageways with cars bombing past me in excess of 70mph and frankly whoever is in charge of these and thinks that it’s “acceptable” should be made to ride on them themselves!

    • Thanks Mark.

      Maybe my post wasn’t clear enough, but the issue isn’t so much cycling along this stretch of the A24 – it runs parallel to the village, and Worthing Road through it. It’s more about how to get across it, and the large Hop Oast roundabout on the bypass; they divide the village and Horsham. Southwater is effectively separated from Horsham, and the ways to get from the village into to town (and vice versa) are not brilliant if you don’t fancy tackling the roundabout itself.

  2. disgruntled says:

    Those dual carriageway crossing are just terrifying… makes me feel a bit sick just looking at them

  3. mike_c says:

    Yes, people get killed using crossings like those

  4. Iain says:

    Firstly, isn’t there an election comng up? I know no one seems interested in our votes these days (I know more about the London mayor race than the one to be my local councillor…) but if ever there’s an opportunity for an ambitious local politician, this is it! How many people have children who can’t cross the street let alone play etc?! Remodelling the roundabout to speed up cars (and therefore make it even harder for cyclists and anyone daft eough to actually walk!) will undoubtedly cost millions – for that, or probably much less the bridleway could be nicely surfaced, signposted, a proper, safe, useable crossing or two created [if your children or granny can’t cross it isn’t safe]. If there’s a pleasant and safe alternative to the road, people will use it.

  5. dasmirnov says:

    When the other half and me were looking at moving here towards the end of last year, it looked like we’d be ending up in Southwater. 3 mile bike ride for both of us into work? No problem. Luckily I checked out the roads before hand. I use all three routes you’ve mentioned here quite often, Kerves Lane isn’t too bad, but is probably a bit steep, Tower Hill is busy quite and tight once you get into Horsham, and Worthing Road/round-about is a bit mental, none of which are very appealing to more casual cyclists.

    Need a proper paved, flat-ish, dedicated cycle route. And better bike parking in town, luckily we both can keep ours at our respective places of work, but I wouldn’t want my bike sat outside all day on a typical Horsham bike rack/lamp post. It seems mad there isn’t better provisions for all the bikes I see around here, I must see five times as many bikes as anywhere else I’ve lived – it was one of the first things we both commented on when we travelled here to sign the paper work, loads of bikes!

  6. West Sussex CC seem to have a thing about bisecting country lanes with dual carraige ways, they did it with Gatehouse Lane in Burgess Hill where it crosses firstly Jane Murray Way (just after a roundabout) then later the A2300 (guess what, just after a roundabout). This forms part of the route out of town towards the dubious delights of NCN 20 along the A23 and possibly more importantly the smaller villages to the west south west. When I lived in Burgess Hill I mentioned this route to people who wanted to get out on their bikes but just got blank stares of incomprehension (the “you can’t be serious” stares). It’s one reason I support the Cycling Embassy.

  7. PaulM says:

    A propos of Iain’s comment, I am coming to the conclusion that the only way forward is to engage wider public opinion in support of cycle-friendly measures. Activists and blogger can write long and well-researched articles/posts but the audience for these is, I suspect, quite small. Even if the local powers-that-be are among the readership, unless they are themselves cycle-friendly (unlikely) or can see political advantage in supporting (or disadvantage in not supporting) the argument doesn’t progress much further.

    But how do you engage wider public opinion in support? I wish I knew, but I suppose there must be people out there who have an idea. My guess is that you need to recruit school heads/governors, the local NHS, and groups or charities in aid of pedestrians, disabled people, children, the elderly etc who have no access to cars and who therefore need alternative means.

    I suspect that means some compromise. Having just read the post on waronthemotorist about shared use, I can quite see all of the problems with these and how they may well have come about eitehr because they are a cheapskate solution or even with the devious intent to kill cycling altogether. However, I have no doubt that asking for 4m wide cycle-only paths just won’t get sufficient cross-partisan support. Sustrans clearly took the view that 3m shared paths were the most efficient way to deploy the funds raised and lottery grants they had available, and I suspect they were right. These may not permit fast commuter cycling but they would at least be a step in the right direction, and I would like to think they would make their own case for further expansion – just as now any road widening scheme goes on to “prove” why the road should then be widened again. In any case, don’t we all take the view that many potential cyclists would not wish to cycle on-road, and woudl have either no ability or no incliniation to cycle fast? A bike can get you from A to B ina bout a third of the time of walking, if you travel at 10mph – hardly a dangerous or even intimidating speed.

  8. fonant says:

    West Sussex County Council are addicted to motor cars, and hate people using bicycles. Without a change of leadership, unlikely in this mostly-rural Tory heartland, I wouldn’t expect anything other than more attempts to relieve congestion by making car journeys easier and other transport modes more difficult.

    It makes me cry, given that even the Tories worked out a couple of decades ago that building more roads just increases the number of car journeys and thus congestion. They can’t see beyond the end of their own car bonnets, and completely fail to realise that encouraging cycling, walking and bus use is of benefit to motorists too!

    The problem is that everyone “knows” that the motorist is the majority, even though, in fact, the motorist is a minority of people in West Sussex. We “know” that the “car is here to stay” and that “we can’t live without our cars”, even though it’s most unlikely that the car, as we know it, is going to last more than a decade longer, and that mankind has managed to live without cars for the vast majority of our existence. We need a serious crisis, probably fuel-related, to wake us up out of our dreams and realise the folly of our current transport choices.

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