This Saturday the Horsham District Cycle Forum are organising a ride along the route of the town’s newest piece of ‘infrastructure’ – our ‘East-West’ cycle route across the town, funded by a Local Sustainable Transport Fund grant from the DfT to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds.
There is so much wrong with this ‘route’ it’s hard to know where to start; indeed it might even be more productive to focus on the short stretches of it that are not disastrous.
Even the route itself is shambolic. It doesn’t address any of the barriers to cycling that already existed in Horsham. Instead, it dribbles around on back streets, aimlessly wiggling its way from one side of the town to the other, quite deliberately avoiding areas where something substantial in the way of physical engineering would have been required.
The original route plan was reasonably direct – a genuine east-west route across the town, along the A281, the main road heading west out of the town (although conspicuously meandering away from the large roundabout across the town’s bypass).
But this would have required some engineering work – ‘widening’, as you can see on the proposals – so this was inevitably abandoned, with the route instead meandering hopelessly around the edge of the town.
This makes the ‘cycling route’ more than twice as long as the ‘driving route’ between the start and end points.
As the Tour of Britain rolled through the town late last summer, this nonsense was proudly on display at a council stand.
While I was taking this picture, I overheard someone chuckling slightly, and pointing out that ‘it’s not particularly direct’. To which the response came, ‘yes, it’s so it avoids the busy roads.’
In other words – avoiding the roads that are the problem.
Which is true, to an extent – this route does its very best to avoid providing new physical improvements to hostile roads. But because of the relatively small amount of money that has been put towards this route, it still ends up resorting to ‘on road’ cycling on roads that can be busy (and are) at peak times. Roads that are hostile enough to force parents with their children onto the footway.
If you are expecting people to cycle on these kinds of roads, then it’s really quite baffling why the route wiggles around in such a desperate attempt to avoid roads of near equal hostility, until you appreciate the process behind developing this route. Namely; two points have been picked on a map, and a line of least resistance has been drawn between the two.
That means giving up at places where it got too difficult. This route involves dismounting and walking in two separate locations.
Both these sections of the route are vitally important in their own right. Safe crossings of the railway line are desperately needed; likewise a safe route from north to south through the town centre is also required.
But both these challenges have been ducked; new ‘No Cycling’ signs have been erected, presumably with the cost drawn from the DfT’s cycling funding. It was just too difficult and too expensive to bother attempting constructive solutions to these problems – it’s plainly easier to ask people to give up, even if that does make a complete mockery of the alleged ‘cycle route’.
The councils’ decision to use the money from the DfT on as long a route as possible, rather than concentrating that cash on concrete improvements to one particular road or issue, has backfired spectacularly. The money has dribbled away to nothing, spread so thinly people who cycle regularly in the town are not even aware that a new route is in place.
The quality of the route as a whole is woeful, with ‘new’ bits that are bodged, and hopeless pre-existing bits of crap remaining in place.
Existing, dire ‘infrastructure’ has been cobbled into use to make up this route. A particular favourite of mine is this bit of shared use footway, with a ‘bidirectional segregated cycleway’ painted on it, which of course gives up at a very minor cul-de-sac entrance, containing only around 20 dwellings.
Attempts to persuade the council to make this a continuous footway/cycleway across this junction fell on deaf ears.
Because the ‘cycling side’ is furthest from the carriageway, that’s naturally the area pedestrians walk on – a recipe for conflict.
Sadly the brand new stuff is just as hopeless.
Meanwhile a brand new bridge that forms part of this route (over the town’s bypass) has come ready made with zig-zag barriers built into it.
This ineptness makes for a tragic contrast with the background in this photograph; here the town’s bypass has been widening to eight lanes from its previous four, and a large grade separated roundabout has been added; precision engineering, at tremendous cost. Yet woeful design when it comes to cycling and walking.
There might be some progress happening in some of Britain’s cities, but out here in the sticks, with pitiful levels of funding, and basic ineptitude when it comes to making decisions about how to spend it, and how to design infrastructure, it still feels like we’re a million years away from getting anything like this in our town.
So please come and join me and fellow Horsham cycle campaigners for a good laugh on Saturday (you have to laugh, or otherwise you’d cry).
We’ll be meeting at 1:30pm at Forest School (the notional ‘start’ of this route, although typically there isn’t actually any infrastructure at all to speak of to connect this school with the town), which is a short five minute cycle from the town’s train station. We’ll be passing back past the railway station (through the aforementioned underpass) if you are late arriving.
The pace will necessarily be slow; and we will be stopping for tea and cake at the end, segueing seamlessly into a pub for those who wish to hang around. Do join us.