A large development is set to go ahead to the north of Horsham, on the other side of the town’s northern bypass. It will cover (approximately) the area shown in red.
There’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong with new development. Indeed, it can solve existing problems with previous poor design, and can ‘build in’ sensible patterns of land use and transport. Kloosterveen – a new town in a similar location outside the city of Assen’s ring road – has achieved this, with cycling and walking made the obvious mode of transport for short trips in Kloosterveen, and in and out of Assen. Some pictures of connections with Kloosterveen will feature later in this post.
The signs are not at all hopeful, however, that this new development is going to be beneficial in those terms. Existing patterns of travel, dominated by private motor traffic, will continue to be accommodated, while walking and cycling are almost entirely being ignored, with tokenistic attempts at provision.
Thanks to a previous planning disaster when the northern bypass was built in the late 1980s, there are currently no grade-separated crossings for people walking and cycling (and indeed for motor traffic) along the entire stretch of this 70mph dual carriageway – the A264 – that skirts the current northern edge of the town. Country lanes were severed, with no safe crossings.
The mind boggles at how this was pushed through so recently, with absolutely no thought for how people would cross this road on foot, or on bike.
Crossing from one side of the bypass to the other on the route of these two lanes shown above involves dashing across four lanes of 70mph+ traffic.
The other two crossing points are fast roundabouts – no help for pedestrians here either, and if you are cycling, you have to cycle on the roundabouts themselves. Again, the limit across both of these roundabouts is 70mph.
In effect, the land to the north of the bypass is a complete no-go area if you are on foot or bicycle, unless you want to make lengthy detours (and the same goes for accessing the town from this area). It is next to impossible to cross safely or comfortably.
This new development to the north of the town – in precisely the area that is currently severed from the town – should represent a golden opportunity to deal with these severance issues. However the plans released so far are desperately poor.
The developers boast of a ‘Sustainable Masterplan’ – but, tellingly, there is no mention of short-trip transport on the developers own page here. ‘Sustainability’ is framed entirely in terms of ‘natural space’, ‘green buffer zones’, ‘woodland’, ‘ponds’ and ‘allotments’, and not in terms of how people are actually travelling about – a typically British oversight.
Depressingly, the details of the plans reveal that the developers are almost entirely concerned with accommodating existing and projected motor traffic associated with the new development, while very little consideration has been given to how easy, safe and convenient it should be to cross the bypass that separates the town from the development, or indeed to travel around in the development on foot or by bike.
Let’s look at the proposed crossing points for people walking and cycling, one by one, starting with the one to the west.
This is one of the country lanes severed back in the 1980s, that is now going to be expanded into a very large (signalised) roundabout. (You can see the former country lane on the left of the plan below.)
The road to the south of the roundabout, connecting with an existing residential area in Horsham, will be a cycle- and bus-only road. It’s not clear, however, how many people will be willing to cycle on the road to get this connection – it will involve cycling in the middle of three lanes of motor traffic, accelerating to join the bypass, on the entry to the roundabout from the north, as shown in blue, below.
Given the scale and design speed of this roundabout, and the projected amounts of motor traffic using it, it seems far more likely that people will use the combined toucan crossings that are proposed, along with pedestrians. That, however, will involve FOUR separate toucan crossings.
The picture is much the same at the next crossing point. Here an existing at-grade roundabout is going to be enlarged considerably. Again, you can see the current roundabout, underneath the proposed new design.
This roundabout is going to be even busier, as it represents the main direct crossing point for motor traffic going into and out of the town (more on the potential problems this will represent later). Again, no grade-separation for walking and cycling is proposed; only a series of toucan crossings. In this case, FIVE of them.
It should be noted here that the developers and their associated transport planners are insistent that people would ‘prefer’ this kind of arrangement to a simple underpass, or bridge. The Transport, Infrastructure and Flood Risk Report carried out for the developers by Peter Brett claims
‘At grade’ crossings are generally more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists due to reduced distances and the avoidance of ramps or stairs, so are the preferred solution.
But this assertion that at grade crossings are ‘generally more attractive’ is not supported by any evidence. What it seems to trade on instead is the legacy of poor underpasses and bridges that have been constructed for pedestrians and cyclists in Britain. Underpasses that are dark and gloomy, with corners, multiple flights of steps, and poor drainage. Underpasses that are (rightly) avoided by most people because of their unattractiveness, which in turn makes them even more socially unsafe. Underpasses that are used in unsuitable locations, within dense urban areas, to allow inappropriate volumes of motor traffic to flow uninhibited.
But this area isn’t a town centre location – it’s a crossing of an existing major road, a bypass that also serves a through-route function, connecting major settlements like Guildford, Crawley and Worthing. Grade separation is exactly the kind of treatment that should be employed on this kind of road, and it can and should be done well. The first picture below shows the direct cycle route between Kloosterveen and the city of Assen, passing under the city’s ring road.
Would people honestly ‘prefer’ five toucan crossings to this kind of arrangement?
Underpasses like the ones pictured above do not involve any delay, or any interaction with motor traffic whatsoever. They would make walking and cycling into and out of the new development an absolute breeze, compared to a series of 4 or 5 separate crossings in the middle of a large, busy and noisy roundabout.
By contrast, the current plans would make cycling and walking less attractive than driving, which is truly disastrous for an allegedly ‘sustainable’ development. Underpasses would redress that balance, making walking and cycling a more obvious option.
Now the developers are proposing a grade-separated crossing for walking and cycling between this large new roundabout and the eastern end of the development. However, they have chosen a bridge, which is a poor choice, because this section of the bypass is built on an embankment, high enough to take it over the railway line connecting Horsham to London (incidentally, this picture also shows another desperately unsafe at-grade crossing of the 70mph dual carriageway bypass).
That means that any bridge will have to gain not only sufficient height to clear the road itself, but also the height of this embankment. It turns out that this will amount to eleven metres of height gain.
… And that means a 240m long plod up a steep 5% slope.
By contrast, an underpass could slip easily under the bypass here on the flat, given that the bypass is already 3-5m higher than the surrounding land. It could look like this.
There are surely very few people who would choose to climb and descend for 250m on each side of an exposed bridge, instead of walking or cycling through a straightforward underpass like this. Or indeed, very few people who would prefer a series of 4-5 separate crossings on busy roundabouts to the other good underpasses pictured in this post.
Getting this right is vitally important, not just for people walking and cycling, but also for those people who want to drive. The more trips that can be made to and from this new development, with the town itself, on foot and by bike, the less congestion there will be on the existing (and new) road network.
The road that has been chosen to form the sole direct connection between the new development and the town centre is already desperately congested at peak times, even before several thousand extra houses are built, with planning that accommodates car trips by those new residents and funnel them onto existing, congested roads. The red arrow, below, marks the only crossing point for motor traffic along this stretch of road – the largest roundabout, already described.
Unfortunately the road into town south of this crossing is really not suitable for accommodating more motor traffic.
I hope the picture above gives a bit of a flavour of Rusper Road – it’s pretty narrow, narrowed even more by residents parking. To top it all off, in the background of the above picture (looking north towards the new development) is Littlehaven railway station, which not only has a large amount of on-street commuter parking associated with it…
… but also has a level crossing, across this road, which closes for eight trains every hour, for one to two minutes. Remember – this road is already congested at peak times. This bottleneck is going to be made even worse.
So it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to funnel more motor traffic down this road, adding more danger, congestion and pollution to a route that already has too much motor traffic. Alternatives to travel by car are desperately needed.
The Transport Assessment for the development notes that
Horsham town centre is accessible within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of the centre of the site.
A short distance, in other words. The centre of the development is just two miles from Horsham town centre. But unfortunately very little is being done with these plans to make cycling a genuinely attractive mode of transport. I don’t want to sit and wait at five separate toucan crossings just to get across one road; nor will anyone else. That means people will plump for the car, clogging up local roads even more.
And that’s not all. The plans will erode the primary function of the bypass, to carry through traffic on a quick route, away from the town centre. If they go ahead, along with the plans for roundabouts on the bypass to the west of Horsham, there will be five separate sets of traffic lights for drivers to negotiate on the bypass.
With lower speed limits, and delay at these sets of lights, driving through the town itself will become an increasingly attractive option, clogging up the town with traffic that should properly be taking the bypass. Driving through the town is already nearly as attractive as using the bypass for many trips; adding multiple sets of traffic lights and lower limits may tip the balance.
So there is a strong case for grade separation at these junctions, not just for walking and cycling, but also for motor traffic – to ensure that through traffic is kept out of the town. This will cost more, but the cost in the long run will inevitably be higher if these junctions are not designed properly now.
The final connection under the bypass already exists – it’s a 2m wide footpath running alongside the aforementioned train line.
Unfortunately this path doesn’t actually connect up with anything on the northern side of the bypass, and the path to it from the town is in a disgraceful condition.
This is the only safe crossing of the northern bypass, and the condition of paths to and from this underpass (or, rather, the lack of paths) is a decades-old issue, unresolved by West Sussex County Council. Local campaigners are putting pressure on the council and the developers to sort this issue out.
This is an absolute no-brainer – it just requires surfacing of the existing boggy path, and a tarmac link running alongside the existing railway line. But the developers publicity material only states, weakly, that
There is currently an underpass which we could improve to provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists and we are also assessing the feasibility of providing a foot / cycle bridge across the A264. [my emphasis]
‘Could’ improve. By contrast, the large new junctions for motor traffic – without ambiguity – ‘will be provided’.
This difference in language is symptomatic of the lack of consideration of walking and cycling in this new development, and the failure of West Sussex County Council to force the developers into providing safe, attractive and obvious connections for these genuinely sustainable modes, along the length of the northern bypass.
A planning disaster in the making.