Yesterday I cycled over to Merryfield Drive, in the west of Horsham, to take some pictures of the town’s only stretch of segregated cycle track. Here it is, all twenty metres of it.
It’s a slightly confusing arrangement, because as you can just about see, there’s a cycle lane on the other side of the road, that starts by the blue van. This too, like the cycle track, stops just as quickly as it starts. Looking the other way from the photograph above, we see the junction with the Guildford Road –
It’s a mess of a junction, at least for bicycles.
The two-way cycle track on the right here at least has the virtue of allowing cyclists intending to turn right at this junction, and continue along the pavement (which they can, legally), to do so with relative ease. But of course they still have to cross the road to enter it, before the junction.
But the slightly shambolic, brief dollop of infrastructure here isn’t the real issue with Merryfield Drive. The real issue is that it’s a residential road that probably shouldn’t be a through-route, and yet it has a 30mph speed limit, is used as a shortcut, and is littered with on-street parking. It’s the marked road that runs through residential west Horsham on the map below, becoming Redford Avenue in its northern half –
A road that, with a little imagination, could be really quite pleasant to cycle on is actually rather hostile.
If you don’t believe me, let me show you some pictures I took in the five minutes I was stood at and around this junction.
You can see a lady cycling north, on opposite pavement. She has ignored the cycle track, with good reason, because it stops after a few yards, and would leave her having to negotiate her way around parked cars with vehicles approaching her fast from behind, and oncoming cars probably unlikely to yield and let her through the gaps between the parked cars.
Another cyclist voting with his wheels and choosing to use the pavement, rather than deal with parked cars and fast vehicles attempting to overtake him.
And another. A teenager this time.
And another, a young boy of about ten.
None of these people are anti-social, or yobs. They were not cycling fast, and came past me slowly and respectfully. They were not choosing to ignore the road for any reason other than the fact that to cycle on it is unpleasant and intimidating.
What parent would feel comfortable with their child cycling here, with parked vehicles on both sides of the road, and cars approaching each other at 30mph+?
The contrast with an analogous road in the Netherlands could not be more stark. This is the residential street of Bielerstraat in the similarly-sized settlement of Assen, which serves, just like Merryfield Drive, as a distributor road for several smaller residential streets –
There’s no on-street parking that has to be negotiated around. The speed limit is 30 km/h (around 18 mph). There is no centre line. There are marked cycle lanes of good width, but in my limited experience of this road, cyclists tended not to pay too much attention to them, happily cycling along two- or three-abreast. This was possible because of the calm environment. Unlike Merryfield Drive, Bielerstraat is not a useful cut-through road any more, and motor traffic volume is very low.
Consequently, it’s a residential street on which cyclists of all ages and abilities are happy to ride; it felt safe and inviting. There is no possible reason for riding on the pavement here.
Merryfield Drive, by complete contrast, has plenty of obstructive on-street parking that is entirely legal, despite nearly every single property along it having space for two vehicles on its driveway.
It also has a needlessly high speed limit, no cycle lanes, and no measures to reduce through-traffic. It’s no fun.
The simple truth is that the convenience of motoring has been placed far and above measures that would improve the street environment for cycling. When a road has, intentionally or otherwise, been made hostile for cycling, we shouldn’t be surprised when people choose to avoid it on bikes, and seek out the calmest conditions for cycling, even if that happens to be the pavement. As Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize said recently –
“Badly-behaved” cyclists are usually just cyclists with inadequate infrastructure.
Make Merryfield Drive a pleasant place to cycle, and the problem of ‘anti-social’ cycling will disappear.
Nice post, that is hilariously awful, just like 99% of the ‘cycling facilities’ we have here… I’ve also just noticed that following the track at the top leads you straight over a drain cover too :P.
Rat run par excellence. Fortunately we are negotiating with the relevant folk to get the Riverside Walk which runs parallel to Merryfield Drive alongside the river to the west upgraded to a shared-use pedestrian+cycle path away from that nasty road. Which is in dire need of a 20mph limit. And is nasty.
Out of interest, why don’t the Dutch park in the cycle lanes in the street you show like people would here? Inherent goodness? Massive fines? They have garages?
I would guess that it isn’t common practice in The Netherlands for a cycle lane to perfectly legally double as car parking. Our IDGAF approach to designing for cyclists end up informing the end user of what is and is not appropriate. This is the advantage of a standards-based approach to road design, consistency ensures people know how to, and how not to behave. It is something The Netherlands has and which we do not, and for want of which the quality of life of every person in the UK is diminished in lots of little ways.
Dutch motorists don’t park in the cycle lane because it is illegal. The dashed line merely indicates that motorists are allowed to drive there, but only if the situation calls for it. Typically that happens when a car needs to filter or access a parking bay.
I suspect that unlike the UK, miscreants actually run the risk of getting tugged.
As Branko says, it is illegal to park in cycle lanes, although not illegal to drive in them. On many streets, the space allocated for motor vehicles is not sufficient for two cars to pass each other without ‘dipping’ into cycle lanes; this is because space for driving has been sacrificed to make cycling feel safer.
There isn’t really any need to park in the cycle lane on Bielerstraat anyway. Although the houses, as you can see, are large, each household typically only has one car, which can be safely stored off the carriageway. The car is used for longer trips, or for carrying heavier loads. Day to day trips around the city are of course carried out by bike; there’s not really any need for the multiple car ownership we see in Britain.
I can’t remember who first coined the phrase, but in the UK “the car has replaced the umbrella”. Sums it up in a depressing sort of way.
Thanks, enjoyable post. We need to keep repeating the message!
Thanks for those who had a go at my idle query about Dutch parking habits. Chester has a point I hadn’t thought of. Not sure “it’s illegal” entirely answers it – so’s speeding and (dare I say it) red light jumping over here. I’ve seen similar photos on this blog and elsewhere of quiet residential back streets where it would be v tempting to park on the street at least sometimes, and it would be only mildly anti-social. But it looks like 100% compliance. Car ownership is (I understand) much the same. And there must be some people who use their cars a lot. Thanks anyway.
“What is needed is a strategic network of routes that look really attractive to cycle on.” (David Arditti)
Bearing in mind that I am not seeking to show every single cycle route in Horsham – and I grew up there: went to Trafalgar School, then Greenway, then Collyer’s, so I know what’s missing – but rather, I am seeking to show what a strategic cycle network for Horsham might look like, then you could do worse than something like this (I don’t deny that you could do better).
The Europeans know a thing or two about developing cycle networks, and they have even published a guide to explain the way ahead for towns and cities. In big, bold letters, on page two of the chapter entitled, ‘How to begin?’, they say: “The level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow.” You can tell that a non-native speaker has written this, by the way. Probably we might say something like, “Introducing the network to a minimum level of functioning is a prudent way to begin”, or something along those lines, but so much for semantics.
Once the network has been planned (step 2), it would then be appropriate to study the feasibility of the network (step 3). Given that, according to Cycling: the way ahead, “the worst enemies” of the bicycle in the built-up area are held to come, not from the motor vehicle, but from “longheld prejudices”, they suggest a number of “simple, inexpensive and popular measures” which should set the ball rolling.
Once the network had been set up and made to function, for example, it might be possible to look at setting up traffic loops on access roads. In this case, the rat run along Merryfield Drive / Redford Avenue would be removed. Inevitably, of course, the shopkeepers on Merryfield Drive would scream blue murder, and no such change would be allowed to take place. And so, ever reasonable, advocates of the bicycle might suggest installing a segregated path on Merryfield Drive (at least as far as Greenway, allowing that Riverside Walk might be widened to facilitate shared use). But then, the owners of all those parked cars would be up in arms, and no such change would be allowed to take place.
In a place like Horsham, not knowing where to go is so much not a problem, at least for the people who live there. If a town like Horsham was in The Netherlands, there would be just generic signs to indicate a cycle route. That is to say, individual routes would not be assigned a route number, as I have done with my proposed design for the Horsham Cycle Network. Even so, I find it helps to use colours to distinguish one route from the next, not least because it makes the map easier to read.
If it is not possible to introduce the network straightaway, there still has to be a plan in place. Otherwise, whenever there is an opportunity to reconfigure the road layout, the bicycle will just get ignored, or at best, tacked on as an inconvenient bolt-on.
Without a plan, there is not much chance of any meaningful commitment. Once the plan has been agreed, get the network up and running, accepting that it is not going to be very good to begin with, and appeal to those people on the margins: the ones who are most likely to start cycling, to encourage them. And then build upwards from there.
Even with a plan, there is not much chance of any meaningful commitment. WSCC and Worthing Borough Council commissioned Sustrans and Babtie Group to design a comprehensive cycle network for Worthing in some detail, including costings and relatively detailed design. I have the one-inch thick Final Report on my desk, dated May 1999.
So how well has that cycle network progressed in the last thirteen years? Well, some of the original crap in High Street has been removed, we have an obstacle course at the Goring Road shops that I’ve never seen anyone attempt to use on a bike, two new pavement conversion routes have been created for cyclists who prefer to Give Way at every side road and entrance, and we now allow cycling on the Promenade. The only facility that has really encouraged people to travel by bicycle is the last of those. The County have invested almost nothing, the whole thing is piecemeal funded by S106 planning bribes, and the County have abolished the one-person Cycling Officer role.
Do we now have a safe and pleasant cycle network for everyone to use to get around in Worthing? No. The county council have completely failed.
Today we have the situation where the County Council have £2.6 million of LSTF money to spend on, er, Sustainable Transport, and yet apparently none of this is to be spent in Worthing. So even the short easy-to-implement section of seafront cycle route that locals are asking for as their top priority isn’t going to happen.
We don’t need network plans, we need SERIOUS commitment to providing for people wanting to travel by bicycle, with SERIOUS funding and long-term investment. Sadly here in West Sussex we have a highway authority that really does not care at all about cycling as a mode of transport, so our roads are terribly congested with people driving for short local trips and the economy suffers as a result. WSCC plainly think that the only way to help the economy is to make it easier to go by car – perhaps one day they’ll wake up and see the expensive mess they’re causing?
Hi Fonant, thank you for your comment.
I am sorry to hear that Worthing council have failed to develop their cycle network properly, but I don’t think that takes anything away from what I am saying.
I have just posted a blog entitled Daring to redistribute space and means, which I hope you will be interested to check out.
It is based on reports produced by the EC, and contains the following line: “Only by studying a cycle route network will it be possible to truly grasp the situation.” Of course we need serious commitment and serious funding, but we also need network plans.
For the amount of kids cycling along here, something should really be done. When I’m on an early shift there are swarms of children pouring out of Tanbridge School, going along the shared path up the A281, cross at the lights and head up this way. Extending the route further north is a no brainer.
And resurfacing the road, for us on 23c tyres. 🙂