The local cycling forum in Horsham are banging their heads against something of a brick wall, attempting to get contraflow cycling on a short (residential) street that has one-way flow. This is Barrington Road.
There’s a bit of background here, but essentially allowing two-way cycling on this street would mean that it would form part of a useful route, from north to south, connecting up with a a reasonable shared cycling and walking path. At present, without two-way cycling, the route effectively hits a dead end.
Local councillors appear adamant that allowing two-way cycling would be ‘dangerous’, because of the parked cars on each side of the street, and the narrowness, and continue to oppose opening up this street to cycling in both directions.
We find these arguments quite unconvincing. The street is not at all busy, even at peak times, the sight lines are good, it is short, and it is surrounded by equally narrow (and busier) streets that have two-way driving on them; for instance, New Street –
I encounter people driving towards me while cycling on both these streets, and we manage to work it out amongst ourselves. Barrington Road would, of course, involve changing the status quo, meaning drivers would now be encountering people cycling towards them when they hadn’t previously, but
- these difficulties can be mitigated by appropriate exit and entry treatments, making drivers aware of the situation
- bicycle symbols can easily and cheaply be painted on the road, again, making plain to drivers what to expect
- it is not unreasonable to expect drivers to look where they are going, and to respond appropriately to oncoming cyclists.
Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before. But simply refusing to allow cycling in a contraflow direction – while a neat and tidy way of dealing with that safety issue – is not a particularly productive one.
There’s a wider point to be made here. This particular case illustrates a phenomenon I would like to call selective attention to danger. What this involves –
- a minor scheme which might introduce a small element of risk or danger being blocked, while
- the roads and streets around that scheme – indeed, often the only alternative in the absence of that scheme – remain hostile, intimidating and objectively dangerous, without any remedial action. For decades.
A notable example of this phenomenon is the Holborn gyratory in Camden, which was the scene of death in July last year. This justifiably angry blog from Andy Waterman – written on the day of Alan Neve’s death – tells this story better than I can. But this image, from his blog, sums up the issue.
The direct east-west route – formed of a contraflow bus lane – could not be used by people cycling, and indeed the police consistently ticketed people for doing so. The only alternative was therefore the fast, wide Holborn gyratory, four lanes wide. Where Alan Neve died. Subsequent to his death, east-west cycling is now allowed in the bus lane. It probably wasn’t that dangerous in the first place; certainly compared to the alternative.
There’s similar selective attention to danger in Horsham. Contraflow cycling on this quiet residential street is seemingly beyond the pale, but across the rest of the town, we have unremittingly hostile roads that pose far, far greater risks, about which nothing has been done, and about which nothing is being done. To take just one example, barely half a mile, as the crow flies, from Barrington Road, we have this junction on our inner ring road, Albion Way.
To make a right turn here by bike (at the lights in the distance) involves crossing into the third lane, moving across two lanes of heavy traffic, often travelling at or above 30mph, heading straight on. There is no alternative here, except giving up entirely. The only reason this junction might appear ‘safe’ is that very, very few people are actually prepared to do this.
The risks posed cycling down a quiet residential street, facing intermittent oncoming traffic, pale into insignificance compared with the hostility of this junction, and many others, in Horsham. Yet nothing is being done about these latter environments, while the comparatively minuscule risk of the former is enough to torpedo any changes. It’s objectively absurd.
If a council is genuinely concerned enough about my safety to stop me from cycling on a short, narrow street in such a way that I might occasionally encounter an oncoming vehicle, where is that concern on all those other roads where I, and many other people, cycle every day? Roads where I have to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic; where I have to negotiate out around parked cars into streams of traffic; where I have to position myself to prevent drivers from turning across my path; where I have to ‘take the lane’ to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. Why is your concern so selective?