A brand new section of road in Horsham – widened and rebuilt at the location of a new development – tells you everything you need to know about how ‘the highway design machine’ across the vast majority of this country still trundles along in its complacent way, taking no account of the needs of people who might want to cycle, or even those who are currently cycling.
The site of this development – Parsonage Road – has dreadful cycle lanes along it, barely 70cm wide.
Industrial units along this road mean that there is plenty of HGV traffic on it. The photograph above is a typical reflection of traffic levels at busier periods of the day.
The new development – which has seen the road being widened, at the expense of the greenery seen on the left in the photograph – should have been a perfect opportunity to build-in high quality cycling infrastructure for at least the short stretch of road being improved.
But evidently that was too difficult. The new road has cycle lanes that are exactly the same width as the dreadful pre-existing ones. 70cm wide.
A new verge has been created; the implication here is that grass is more important than the safety or comfort of anyone attempting to ride a bicycle down this road.
The road has been widened by around 50% – but only to make space for a turning lane for motor traffic, so that nobody is held up while driving. The cycle lanes are exactly the same width as they were before.
How this location looked back in 2012, courtesy of Google Streetview.
All the trees on the right have gone. The 2015 equivalent of those kids cycling on the footway will still be cycling on the footway today, rather than attempting to use a paltry 70cm strip right at the edge of a thunderous road.
Prior to this development going in, the local cycle forum had asked for protected cycleways as part of the highway changes, and subsequent to that had been promised 1.5m lanes.
Plainly, cycle campaigns and cycle forums shouldn’t even have to be doing this job. They shouldn’t have to chase up highway engineers and developers in their spare time in an attempt to persuade them not to build total crap. It just shouldn’t happen. Doing a proper job, in this instance, would have cost nothing extra, but institutional inertia within West Sussex County Council – that essentially amounts to not giving a toss about cycling as a mode of transport – means that the pre-existing crap is simply reinstated.
I’m not even jumping to conclusions here. Here is the actual defence that West Sussex County Council have produced in response to complaints about these cycle lanes.
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “These highway works are associated with a new residential development of 160 dwellings on the former Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited site.
“The works are not yet fully complete. They involve adjusting the existing kerb lines to improve pedestrian facilities and refuge islands, and a new right turn lane access into the site.
“The designer has had to manage competing demands for road space. The advisory lanes are below the desirable 1.5m – however they were like that before the scheme was implemented and this is not out keeping with the advisory lines on the remainder of the marked advisory route (beyond the scope of these works).
The ‘competing demands for roadspace’ explanation is both glib and bogus. Glib because the finished product tells us plainly that the designer weighed up the ‘competing demand’ of removing potential minor inconvenience to motorists against the ‘competing demand’ of the safety and comfort of anyone cycling, and plumped for the former. And it’s bogus because high-standard cycle provision could have been included in this design anyway; it’s just that nobody bothered to do so.
More telling, however, is the spokesman’s comforting explanation that the cycle lanes ‘were like that before’.
Well, yes. They were. They were crap before, and they’re crap afterwards. (In fact, in context, they are slightly worse, given that pinch points in the form of crossing refuges have now been added to the road). Quite plainly, West Sussex do not even think that this is a problem. They think that pre-existing crap cycle lanes, or crap cycle lanes elsewhere, mean it is perfectly acceptable to keep on doing the same terrible job.
So here’s what I’m proposing. I’m going to call it The Gummer Test, named in honour of the Minister of Agriculture who, at the height of the BSE crisis, attempted to feed a beef burger to his daughter.
The Gummer Test would involve highway engineers, council officers or developers involved in these kinds of decisions to put their young child on a bike, and letting them cycle independently on the ‘infrastructure’ they think it’s acceptable for ‘cyclists’ to use.
Not only would this quickly bring into sharp focus the shortcomings of a bit of paint 70cm from the kerb line on a main road, it would also change the mindset of these people before any design decisions are made. Complacent shrugs about something tokenistic for ‘cyclists’ would necessarily have to be replaced by hard thinking about genuine, safe, comfortable and inclusive design for all potential users.
Highway engineers, councillors and planners in the Netherlands would, I suspect, happily sit this kind of test – because they build cycling infrastructure that is suitable for all ages and abilities.
The failings of dreadful infrastructure like 70cm cycle lanes, bus lanes ‘for cyclists’, narrowed carriageways on busy roads, Advanced Stop Lines, ‘Quietways’ that really aren’t anything more than a bicycle symbol painted on the road, and so on, would quickly be exposed by The Gummer Test.
These various forms of rubbish are only tolerated because those responsible are not exposed to the consequences of their designs. They can put a bit of paint at the side of the road, safe in the knowledge that it’s exactly the same as it was before, and besides, isn’t this kind of thing that gets splashed down everywhere else?
A Gummer Test – or something like it – would rapidly change that attitude.