New cycling infrastructure, repeating the mistakes of the past

Last week a group of tireless cycling campaigners in West Sussex organised a Cycling Summit, attended by councillors, officers and influential people within the county, to hear presentations on the importance of cycling and cycling infrastructure from Rachel Aldred, Phil Jones, Mark Strong and Ranty Highwayman – names that will almost certainly be familiar to you. (You can see their presentations on the website).

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-10-56-35It seemed the message did sink in, as much as it could. Everyone stayed to the end of the summit, and the questions from the floor were, generally, informed, and showed interest. Whether it will lead to substantive change is another matter.

And the need for change in West Sussex is urgent. In a county with a population of close to a million people, living mostly in large towns that are rapidly expanding, there is essentially almost no urban cycling infrastructure to speak of – certainly nothing of high quality along main roads. Continuing to build for mass car use is simply storing up trouble for the future, given the limited capacity of our existing urban road network to accommodate increasing motor traffic.

In this context, one unfortunate tendency on the part of councillors and officers is to assume that we are a ‘rural’ county and that therefore priorities for cycling infrastructure should be in rural areas, connecting up villages and small towns. These kinds of routes are of course important in their own right, but focusing on them at the expense of the county’s many large urban areas betrays a failure to look at the most pressing problems, and where there is most potential for cycling gains.

It is also perhaps natural to focus on these kinds of ‘rural’ routes because they present the least political difficulty and are also (should be) the easiest to get right – there are fewer decisions to make about reallocation of space, and fewer junctions to negotiate.

But going by a video released by West Sussex, it seems that even these kinds of routes, ones that present the least difficulty, can’t be got right. Next year it plans to build a ‘missing section’ of National Cycle Network 2, between the towns of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – a distance of about 3 miles – along the A259. This is an important path because at present there isn’t any cycling infrastructure at all on this stretch of NCN2– you have to cycle on a busy A road. And it’s an opportunity to get things right, because there are only a small number of problems to deal with on that 3 mile length of road.

Unfortunately, going by the video, it seems those problems haven’t been dealt with at all well. Here’s one of them, the crossing of Climping roundabout.


A shared use path, crossing multiple lanes of motor traffic, without any assistance, close to the perimeter of the roundabout. It’s obviously hard to tell from a visualisation, but the refuge in the middle doesn’t appear to be long enough to safely accommodate a cycle either. This is pretty dreadful design – the lack of priority isn’t necessarily the issue, but the hazards involved in crossing at this kind of design certainly are.

Here's how this roundabout could be designed. Crossings of single lanes, with a suitable refuge, set a vehicle length back from a roundabout designed for slow speeds

Here’s how this roundabout could and should be designed. Crossings of single lanes, with a suitable refuge, set a vehicle length back from a roundabout designed for slow speeds

The only other crossing of a road along this new section of route is also a big fail.


Should we really expect people walking and cycling to go so far out of their way?

People walking and cycling are expected to go some distance out of their way to use a crossing set some 50 metres back from the junction. Why? There’s already a very long slip road for drivers to come almost to a complete stop, separate from the flow of traffic on the major road; it would be very, very easy to put the crossing close to the junction itself, with tighter geometry to keep drivers’ speeds low. Note also that pedestrians who want to cross this road have to dash across four lanes of fast motor traffic.

As for the path itself, it will be ‘shared use’, which isn’t necessarily a problem on this kind of route between urban areas. Numbers will, I expect, be low enough that separation between the two modes isn’t required, provided that this path is designed like a cycleway which people can walk on, rather than a footway people are allowed to cycle one. It’s going to be the latter, of course – see how it gives up at a minor entrance –screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-21-54-42

But I worry that the path isn’t wide enough, and won’t have a good enough surface. The visualisation appears to imply it will be composed of what looks like a bonded gravel. A path like this really needs a smooth asphalt surface, just like the road it runs next to.

And the width will be a problem, especially at this (cough) bus stop bypass.


Apparently the path will be three metres wide, but it doesn’t look like that at the location above, and in other places the usable width will be reduced by the path running alongside walls and fencing.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s good that this path is being built, and that the council is (starting) to engage with design for cycling. The problem is that, going by the design of this path where it actually has to deal with difficulties – like crossing side roads, dealing with roundabouts, bus stops, and so on – there is a serious lack of knowledge and experience about best practice. This is largely the fault of central government, which continues to fail to lead on infrastructure, providing clear guidance to local authorities to West Sussex on how to design properly. It shouldn’t cost any more to do things properly, yet we continue to see the same mistakes.

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19 Responses to New cycling infrastructure, repeating the mistakes of the past

  1. Two Wheeled Andy says:

    To get such a potentially important route so badly wrong is typical of WSCC at its finest. Why the useless shared use path? The roundabout crossing is also especially awful. Confident cyclists will continue to use the road (at risk to themselves) and slower, less confident (or children) cyclists will be lumped with pedestrians giving up their priority at evey side junction and slaloming around people walking in the middle of the path. It’s just so frustrating that this kind of rubbish is still being built in 2016. The Dutch could do 100 times better with their eyes shut.

    • HivemindX says:

      Don’t forget, that if any cyclists dare to use the road rather than take a 100m detour down a side road where they lose priority this will enable car-centric people to moan that cyclists are in their way when there is a ‘perfectly good’ cycle path right there. Paid for with their tax money! This then leads on to either demands that cyclists be forced to use cycle lanes regardless of quality (or if they are going in the right direction) or demands that cycle infrastructure spending be eliminated on the ground that ‘they’ don’t use what they are given anyway.

  2. Paul Luton says:

    How frequent are the buses at that stop ? If once an hour or thereabouts it would probably be better to have the bus pull into the cycle path giving a clear route 58mins in every hour.

  3. Paul Luton says:

    If they can’t get the roundabout down to single lanes then traffic lights with cycle/pedestrian phase.

  4. Jon France says:

    From the linked page, “It follows a survey which concluded the proposed cycle route would not harm wildlife habitats or species.”

    I expect this is the usual excuse for not providing a smooth asphalt surface.

    Every road that has ever been built has harmed wildlife habitats and species, and does so with impunity.

    • fonant says:

      The “habitat survey” was also used as an excuse for lack of progress. This project was awarded funding 18 months ago.

  5. fonant says:

    Judging by past experience, I fear a hand-laid lumpy surface that is a pain to cycle along, and widths nowhere near wide enough for two-way shared use. Especially where there are fences right at the edge of the path. And requiring cyclists to Give Way to every possible side entrance as if they were pedestrians. Watch out for “CYCLISTS DISMOUNT” signs that would confirm this.

    I agree with others that, unless this design is turned from being a footway allowing bikes to being a cycleway, we will quickly see unnecessary aggression from motorists aimed at people who prefer to cycle on the road. Followed by continued refusal to fund cycleways “because cyclists don’t use them”.

    This stretch of road has massive potential for attracting large numbers of people for utility, commuter, and leisure trips made by bicycle instead of by car. There is ample funding available from the Coast to Capital LEP, even if WSCC refuse to spend their own money on it. This is a wonderful opportunity for a really good cycleway, displaying Best Practice design. Let’s do something that will reduce road traffic for once: go on, WSCC, surprise us!

    The problem is that WSCC are institutionally motorist, and they really, really, don’t like investing in cycle infrastructure. For an accurate flavour of their opinions, talk to the “County Cycling Champion”.

  6. Danny says:

    There’s a cycle path like this going west out of Cambridge to Barton: shared path, poor surface, the few road crossings (two roundabouts and a few other roads) are dangerous. I don’t use it.

    Surely the issue here is one of incentives? At the minute, it seems project success is simply is it built to spec (however flawed) and on budget. There’s no credit for good design, only political/career risk. What if there was some contractual clawback so that those people responsible for the designs had a financial incentive to produce a good design. E.g. % of cyclists using the path vs the main carriageway over 90%, or X% increase in cyclists in an absolute sense? The first of these in particular should be very motivating and as the London Cycle Superhighways have shown, if a decent design is in place, virtually no one chooses to ride on the road, you only get the occasional person who’s missed the path or something.

  7. Bmblbzzz says:

    I like the distinction between “cycleway you can walk on” and “footway you are allowed to cycle on”. Very useful and clear way of expressing it, especially in conjunction with your earlier phrase that a cycleway should be “a road for cycling on”.

  8. awjreynolds says:

    We need national design standards. This stuff is awful.

  9. Clive Durdle says:

    Is it really a matter of national standards? Are not highways engineers and contractors professionals? Do doctors say we follow national or international best practice? Surely as professionals how can they possibly have indemnity insurance if they cannot show they are using best practice? I cannot see how they have done an equality impact assessment nor how they take into account needs of disabled. U lists and mobility scooter users. West Sussex does have a high older and disabled person population. How would children cycle to school?

    This urban rural
    Concept has not existed in uk for 150 years.

  10. bigK says:

    A few notes on surfaces. Alongside a main road it should of course be super smooth tarmac. If the road get the nicer surface, the faster, thinner tyred among us will cycle on the faster, smoother road, and get abused for it.
    But away from roads, tarmac may not always be the best material, at least not some that I regularly ride on. On NCN 4 between its start at the horseshoe bridge up to Caversham lock, along the Thames, tarmac was laid, and for the first year, wonderful. Before it was hardpack next to Tesco and dirt through Kings meadow. But in less than a year flooding had ripped up large sections, and plant life has created rather awful corrugations. The fallen leaves create a mulch that is incredibly slippery. And the frosts make it icy. I would nor want to be riding on a road bike on it, and have seen a cyclist getting up from a seeming fall caused by the lumps.
    The mulch has been removed for the past couple of years but only after all the leaves have fallen, giving months of slipperiness, before that it would just be allowed to wear away and was mostly gone by late spring. The potholes cause by the flooding get larger and the lumps get worse.
    The hardpack seemed to pretty much look after itself, it would self level, forming around the roots and wearing off the peaks, and it provided more traction with the leaf mulch and frosts, it seemed undamaged by flooding. The dirt became wet but never seemed to develop into a muddy morass, and stayed smooth.
    My point is that the badly laid tarmac that was done on this section is worse than what was there before. It was laid too thin and with no foundation. With a little more thought and effort it could have stayed smooth for decades, though the leaf mulch and ice would still be a problem. The bonded gravel, if laid with foundations, may have been the optimum surface, slower initially but because of the state of the tarmac now, it cannot be ridden on quickly. This was not Sustrans’s doing, the blame lies with Reading Borough Council.
    And of course it is too narrow for shared use.

  11. This throws up a few conundrums of cycling infrastructure funding and design at the moment.

    Funding via an LEP comes with little quality control. The assessment of proposals for the LEP controlled Local Growth Fund simply looks at the length of cycleway constructed. There is no suggestion that someone should go back and check that the usable width of what is created. In some situations what is being done looks good, wide surface with grass verge either side, in some it’s compromised by directly abutting a fast road or other obstructions.

    Some places there look to be issues with levels and land ownership tackling these means a much more long term approach to getting the detail of schemes right. In others it may be about attention to detail in the design.

    The roundabout and the bus stops look the weakest parts of the scheme, as you suggest it’s at least in part about remembering that you are designing for vehicles, not just pedestrians. It’s also about politics though, you won’t get an optimal design for a roundabout like that without politicians being prepared to put speed and junction capacity on the table.

    The farm access on a 60mph road. Perhaps concentrate on an even surface for cycles, consider having car traffic leaving the farm give way or use another access for entry…… fundamentally to do something much better you’d need to move the speed limit and consider other design changes to the junction which there may not be political appetite for.

    From a campaigning perspective it may be a case of just making a case that this is flawed, again, but pushing for shift the focus to complex urban areas where there is support at ward level for doing something much better? Sounds like this is already happening.

    In my experience it isn’t even a case of looking at local authorities or town councils which are prepared to design better for cycling, it comes right down to who the councilors are for the street in question. Get one or two useful and exemplar schemes built and move on from there, but if you are living in an area where politicians are skeptical or hostile then it means accepting that cash goes elsewhere which can be a tough one.

    • fonant says:

      “Funding via an LEP comes with little quality control.” – no quality control and no accountability here in West Sussex. WSCC and the Coast to Capital LEP have spent £800,000 of “sustainable transport” funding, allocated by the LEP’s Local Transport Body, on repaving an existing pedestrian shopping street. They insisted that this was a sustainable transport project, even though the project documentation said that there were no transport benefits involved at all.

      No-one seems to care about this blatant mis-spending of public money specifically allocated for sustainable transport. The LEP and WSCC insist they’ve done nothing wrong, DfT is not interested, nor is BIS. So the LEP is able to spend transport money on whatever they like, even if it has zero transport benefits. And they wonder why our roads keep on getting more and more congested!

  12. Jitensha Oni says:

    Also interesting to look at and compare with what’s already in place.

    From the western end there appears to be an unused path/road of some kind to the south of the relief road which peters out here:

    Up to that point, why have a path by the road? Lighting I suppose, but should that be a constraint? Put in more lighting?

    And you could have had an underpass here:

    So active travellers get some respite from the noise and fumes. As for the detour on the T-junction on the plans – looks like a copy and paste job from here:

    But in the existing case, it kind of makes sense because it puts you on a service road.

    At the eastern end, the path becomes segregated shared (which isn’t marked properly at junctions – that’s how professional they are Clive) – hope they’ll change that to unsegregated.

    However, the continuation of the A259 east beyond the roundabout is only great if you want to go to Wickes. Crookthrorn Ln-Brookpit Ln-Ferry Rd to the shared bridge over the Arun seems a potentially more attractive way to get to the town centre, and back. This, especially the “and back” is not catered for in the fly-through.

    Finally, the surface. Up to now, including recent road building, the surface has been grey tarmac. Are we now switching to buff? Random, innit.

    PS Good presentations. As you imply, there was a distinct urban flavour to them. While I take your point about going for the greatest potential, it might be worth working up a “rural roadshow” to complement that.

  13. Andy R says:

    In terms of the roundabout, it does appear there is/was scope to convert to ‘continental’ geometry, and with that something much closer to Dutch practice to accommodate cyclists. The AADT traffic flow in 2015 was just under 25,000 (24,379). We can therefore guesstimate a peak hour flow through the junction of 2,500, which just happens to equate to the hourly capacity given in TAL9/97 which first talked about continental geometry and cyclist safety. Extrapolating out to a design year this sort of design might be shown to fall over, but it would be interesting to see if the designers even tried it.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve struggled to get even progressive urban authorities to consider cutting capacity in this way, once there are stacking lanes in place converting to single lane politically difficult.

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