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