Horsham People Cycling

I’ve started a photo blog, consisting simply of people cycling in the town of Horsham.

I started snapping these photographs about a year ago, mainly inspired by hostility from councillors to the notion of cycling in the town centre. Department for Transport funds, won by West Sussex – which could have made a small difference to the quality of the cycling environment in Horsham – were not put to any good use, and indeed were actually used in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of the town centre.

So the idea of the photo blog is to show that people getting around by bike are, essentially, just ordinary people – citizens of the town like everyone else.

While there are what I hesitate to call ‘hardened’ cyclists in the town – the people who (somewhat understandably) dress up in protective equipment, and cycle on main roads without thinking too much about it – I have, for the moment, focused on a broader range of users, essentially to counteract the stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are an odd outgroup, whizzing around, and putting people at risk.

Cycling levels are very low here – cycling to work in the 2011 census was below 3%, and at a guess the overall cycling share will be a fair bit lower than that. But what I see is, essentially, suppressed demand. There is no group of people who are not cycling in Horsham; all groups are represented, particularly the old and the young.

‘Cyclists’ here clearly don’t fit any neat stereotype – they are just ‘us’.

But the problem is that they are only present in very small numbers. And the reasons for this are also clear from the photographs. A large proportion of the people on the blog are breaking the law in some form. They are cycling on pavements, or in pedestrianised areas, or the wrong way down one way streets.

These are people who are cycling despite the conditions. They aren’t criminals – they’re just people trying to get from A to B in the safest way possible. Their lawbreaking would disappear if the environment was designed to reward their choice of mode of transport, rather than ignoring it altogether.

These are also people who aren’t really ‘cyclists’. They are wearing ordinary clothes; they are just using their bike as a tool; they are cycling for transport. Their cycling is just an extension of walking.

In that sense, they are remarkably similar to the kinds of people you see cycling in Dutch towns and cities. They just look like pedestrians. The major difference from Dutch cities is instead the types of bike being used. Mountain bikes – really ill-adapted to urban utility cycling – dominate in Horsham, and that means people are carrying their items on handlebars, or in bulky rucksacks.

Helmet-wearing – and hi-visibility clothing – is also notably low amongst this form of utility cycling. It’s clearly just too much of a faff for people who are meeting up with friends, or going shopping, or cycling in to town. This is a difference from commuters, who have a fixed routine and are more likely to add clothing and equipment to it.

Unaccompanied teenagers don’t wear helmets, nor do most adults.

The exceptions are young children, especially when accompanied by adults (young children have to do what they are told), and adults when cycling with their children, presumably because they feel they have to set a good example.

But in general cycling looks remarkably normal. There are even small clues that the people cycling around town aren’t just cycling around for the fun of it. Cycling is a helpful tool for them, one that makes their daily life a little bit easier.

Horsham is a relatively compact town, with around 60,000 people within two to three miles of the town centre. It’s flat and temperate, and has a high proportion of children (who of course can’t drive). My personal view is that cycling levels could, and should, be enormously high in the town. The photographs here demonstrate that potential. I see young children, teenagers, women and men of all ages using cycles to get about, despite the obstacles in their way. The environment should be designed to support them, and to reward their behaviour. Doing so would open up cycling to everyone, not confine it to the current minority willing to put up with inconvenience and hostile conditions.

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8 Responses to Horsham People Cycling

  1. Mark Ellerby says:

    As ever, an article so full of common sense that it makes it hard to believe that others can see cycling in any other way.

  2. John S says:

    A pretty good review of Horsham’s cyclists. Adults riding on the pavement and going the wrong way on the roads. Don’t they think the law applies to them? They certainly give cycling a bad name.

    • Mike says:

      John, of course the law applies to them, but they do it because there is no safe alternative (as the article points out). Do you think that all motorists obey the law all the time?

      They don’t give cyclists a bad name at all. What they do is highlight the lack of safe infrastructure for cycling.

    • Tim says:

      Did you read the article John? Did you look at the blog, where the vast majority of people riding on the pavement are accompanying kids? I cycle on the pavement when I’m with with my young daughters and our route forces us along a busy road. Can you understand why? Would you prefer it that I make them ride in the busy road, or that my family take the car for every short journey?

      We always stop to let pedestrians past, and actually I don’t like cycling on the pavement. Apart from the legal awkwardness – and I am aware of the government guidance that the fixed penalty notice isn’t intended to be used against people in our situation – the pavement is uneven and we have to stop for pedestrians. So if you really want people on bikes off the pavement, perhaps instead of leaving snarky comments on blogs you could campaign for giving people like us a better option?

      As for “giving cyclists a bad name”, there’s a word for judging everyone in a group based on a perception of a few members of that group. The word is prejudice.

  3. Marco says:

    Kinda sad I wasn’t spotted in any of the photos! Completely agree that with the type of population Horsham has, cycling could be a HUGE form of transport – I live around the corner from Leechpool school, which has awful motor traffic come school time. There are a few brave souls who cycle, and even one mum who scoots – but when the pavement and road is so congested, there’s not really a viable route for people wanting to use bikes (even though it might be the quickest and cheapest travel option, especially with the new traffic lights installed at the end of Woodland Way!). But I guess (and this is a guess) the best way to improve cycling to the school would be to get the PARENTS who currently drive to pick up their kids to cycle, and that would require better cross town cycling infrastructure rather than local – that might them lead to decreased congestion and encourage more walkers to bike.

    Anyway, it is a shame people don’t use their bikes more; I normally cycle the 90 seconds from my house to the Roffey shops rather than take the car, as anyone who goes there knows the hassle of competing for parking (but then bike parking is at the opposite end to the Co-op which is the main shop, so not well placed and only just a bit easier). Little things like moving the bike parking closer to the shop might help!

    One final note, I noticed most of the photos are from the town centre. Is there a way of submitting photos to blog?

  4. Jitensha Oni says:

    Putting Horsham in the wider context of English utility cycling, here’s some stats.

    Looking at the cycling and walking tables published by the DfT in June (table cw0107), we can see that Horsham has higher recreational cycling levels than nationally. I presume this reflects, at least in part, the pleasant countryside around. In stark contrast Horsham has low utility cycling levels (even for West Sussex), and is in the bottom 20th percentile for utility cycling nationally. Surely this largely reflects how pleasant the prospect of cycling is in the town compared with alternative transport. The fact of high recreational use shows people want to cycle (it’s 13 % recreational vs 3% utility on the most generous measure).

    This leads me to think that one possibly useful measure of local utility cycling environment pleasantness to include in the evaluation mix is the utility/recreational cycling ratio – the higher the better – it may help in assessing where to focus resources. So for a few selected areas this ratio is.

    0.3 Horsham
    0.7 West Sussex
    0.9 Elmbridge, Surrey (where I live)
    1.1 Kingston-upon-Thames (nearest town to me)
    3.0 Cambridge
    3.1 Oxford

    Horsham scores in the bottom 10th percentile of English LAs on this measure. Other things to note from the DfT tables is that *any* cycling in Horsham showed a decrease of a size which puts it in the 10th percentile across the spectrum of decrease and increase (i.e. one of the largest decreases) in 2014-15 compared with the average for previous years, with most of this being due to a decrease in utility cycling from an already low base.

    Clearly the town is failing utility cycling in a big way. Those involved need to pull their socks up and make the cycling environment more pleasant for utility cycling.

    PS 0.1 % of the Horsham populace cycle for utilty purposes 5 times a week or more. That’s about 6 per hour distributed through the town. OK, ALL the utility riders – that’s 180 per hour. So on any given day, we’ll be somewhere inbetween – 50 per hour? – but remember, distributed through the town. So, on how many kilometers of road? The DfT figures stop at West Sussex with about 4000 km. 100 km in Horsham? So 2 riders per km per hour? 10 km of road? So 20 per km per hour? One every 3 minutes per kilometre. Seems rather few to cause the angst some commenters report. Gotta be all the recreational riders ;p.

  5. Excellent thought about the utility/recreational ratio. I will pass your comments on to Dr Rachel Aldred as they seem right up her street.
    One caveat is that in Horsham (and of course most other places), the official figures of cycling rates are very dubious. Self-reporting on the census is less good at catching the more marginalised (who may rely disproportionately on bikes for transport), whereas others may exaggerate how often they ride (by tending to put down how often they intend to ride).
    Actual physical counts are very occasional, so rates can be very distorted by something as simple as a sunny or rainy spell. They are also mainly on the busy, cycle-hostile roads that people on bikes often avoid. I simply don’t know how/whether these checks include people the footway or shared-use paths -if they don’t, then current figures are getting increasingly underestimated as more and more people ride on the pavement.
    I think Horsham’s higher recreational cycling levels may reflect the high number of relatively affluent middle classes: men and, to some extent women who go on club and training rides and Horsham’s large number of families -many go out with their children at weekends and in the holidays (a significant number putting bikes onto the back of the car to do so).
    In contrast, the typical utility riders seem to include a quite high proportion of middle-aged/older women with no car/never learnt to drive, the elderly, young people in low paid jobs, youngsters from those families which don’t own a car, recent immigrants and people with disabilities.

  6. beicsberno says:

    It seems a good idea to me to make a photo collection of ordinary people on bikes. There’s nothing like pictures to explain one’s viewpoint, and it is also important to be clear about what kind of cycling we are advocating. I wonder how you are going to promote your photoblog so it will reach the people concerned. How are those councillors, and other people who need their perception changed of what cycling is, going to find them?
    As a Dutchman I find it painful to see that most of the people in the pictures have to make do with awkward, uncomfortable and impractical bicycles. If, as you suspect, there is a suppressed demand for cycling, I wonder how many more ordinary people you would find using bicycles around town if there was somewhere in Horsham where they could try and buy nice upright Dutch bicycles? With a population of 60.000 I suspect there is quite an opportunity for someone or a group of enthusiastic cycling advocates to start a project importing (used) Dutch bicycles. I have scores of happy customers in my own (hilly, poor, thinly populated!) area of North Wales. It is really easy to do. Prices on the Dutch second hand market are reasonable, the quality is fantastic and the choice is overwhelming. Anyone interested is welcome to contact me, I’m very willing to give advice and could even help you set up by supplying you with a first batch. The more ordinary people we can get on bikes the better (giving more photo opportunities as well!).

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