When a junction turns people cycling into lawbreakers, how do you fix it?

As with many British towns in the wake of the 1963 Traffic in Towns report, Horsham responded to the coming age of the motor car with a mixture of enlightenment and destructiveness. In doing so, it largely reflected the nature of the Report itself, which presciently diagnosed the enormous problems mass motoring would present, but offered damaging remedies that essentially accommodated ever-expanding demand for driving right in the heart of our towns, alongside a more benign banishment of it from limited areas within them.

In Horsham, that destructiveness involved the construction, in several stages, of a four-lane inner ring road that now encircles most of the town centre, and the construction of several large multi-storey car parks to accommodate increasing numbers of private cars.

The red line indicates the approximate route of the four lane inner ring road, over the previous street pattern. Original map here.

Although that ring road was (and remains) a blight on the town, the area within it has fared rather better, with a fairly deliberate policy of either complete removal of motor traffic, or minimising its levels. Through-traffic is discouraged by means of a 20mph zone (one of the first in the country) combined with a winding, circuitous route through the town centre, while many other streets have been either fully pedestrianised, or part-pedestrianised.

While these changes within the ring road are largely to be applauded, the enlightened planners and councillors who implemented them sadly neglected to consider cycling in any way, shape or form. One of the biggest issues is that the one-way flow through the centre, while successful at keeping motor traffic on the inner ring road in an east-to-west and north-to-south direction, also completely excludes cycling. I’ve previously written about this specific issue here.

Another longstanding problem for cycling lies to the western edge of the town centre. Here the former main north-south road across the town (shown in green and blue in the overhead view below) has been bypassed to the west by the four lane inner ring road (in red), leaving short sections of road with a pedestrianised area in the middle (highlighted in green), that still allows cycling in a north-south direction, but in a very half-hearted and ambiguous way. In other words, it’s not at all clear that it’s legal to cycle there.

This is actually a fairly important area for cycle journeys, because as well as potentially allowing you to cycle in a north-south direction avoiding the unpleasant, fast and busy four lane inner ring road (which naturally makes no concessions to cycling at all), it should also allow journeys in an east-west direction – particularly, people coming from the north and the west to enter the town centre. All these potential routes are shown on the overhead view below.

The red lines indicate entry and exit points for cycling. To the left is the large inner ring road.

The real difficulty lies at the southern end, where a new bus station was built around twenty years ago. It lies in the middle of the red ring, above. The building itself is attractive, but once again there was absolutely no consideration of cycling when it was planned (are you sensing a pattern here?).

The area where buses arrive and depart is buses-only – so the area ringed in green, below, is a no-go area for cycling.

That means all the movements through this area have to pass through the gap between this green area and the building on the corner, which is at present a pedestrian crossing, connecting the pedestrianised area with the bus station. This is a very awkward fit for cycling.

The video below shows me cycling along the line of the red arrow. This is at a particularly quiet time of day, early in the morning, so it is free of the potential conflict with people walking to and from the bus station.

It’s not even clear to me how legal this is. I take the option of crossing into the bus station and then moving across the solid stop line (the lights will only change for buses, so jumping the lights is unavoidable). The alternative is to cycle onto the pedestrian crossing, but that doesn’t seem particularly appealing either.

Short of rebuilding the bus station and starting all over again from scratch, to my mind there are no obvious fixes here to formalise cycling through this area. Perhaps a short term bodge is simply to convert the pedestrian crossing into a toucan that is at least legal to cycle onto, but then you are left with the inelegant solution of cycling off of it to join the road where the heads of the red arrows are located. Furthermore this toucan crossing would not help with cycling in the opposite direction, where people have to cycle (the wrong way!) into the bus station entrance from a signalised road junction, and then somehow ‘merge’ onto a toucan crossing which may well have people walking on it.

To demonstrate, here is another video of me on this desire line, cycling from the east, then heading north, along the line of the upper red arrow. Currently I take the approach of cycling onto the footway before the red light, to avoid conflicts with the pedestrian crossing. Although cycling in the pedestrianized area is legal, it probably isn’t on this bit of footway. But I’m not sure what else to do.

For pure north-south cycling journeys, the most obvious option is some kind of route running down the western edge of the bus station. There is a new-ish hedge that could potentially be sacrificed, and some parking bays that are occasionally used by service vehicles from the bus companies.

Here is a family walking south down the footway along the western edge of the bus station, with the hedge and the parking bay to their left.

This would solve these purely north-south journeys. However, it wouldn’t do anything to address the most of the journeys across the area, which will involve some east- or west-component, and therefore will involve the difficulties shown in my videos.

Indeed, the junctions around the bus station are an almost perfect case-study in how people cycling are turned into lawbreakers (or at least flexible rule-benders) because nobody has given any thought into how people would actually cycle through the area.

From the east, the ‘least worst’ option is to cycle on a short bit of footway (which may or may not be legal), and from the north the ‘least worst’ option is either to cycle onto a pedestrian crossing, or to cycle through a red light designed only for buses.

It’s a mess. And without a total redevelopment of the area, I’m not sure how it can be substantially improved. But any thoughts on how it might be done would be welcome! This area is important, as it is right in the town centre, and dealing with how to cycle across it in at least a legal manner needs to be solved.

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2 Responses to When a junction turns people cycling into lawbreakers, how do you fix it?

  1. hanneke28 says:

    If you take away the parking lane for the service vehicles you could create one spot for a service vehicle at the north end of the row of bus parking places. There’s obviously a large car parking just across from the station so if they want to have more service vehicles near, they could rent/reserve two spots on that.
    The shorter vehicle bay near the north curve of the bus station would enable a tighter curve around there for the bus exit, gaining some space right where the pavement is so narrow.
    That extra roadwidth taken off the bus exit at the northwest end of that curve, maybe a metre, could be used to make the narrow bit of pavvement wide enough so it could be officially shared, like in the pedestrianised zone; or you could make it a bike lane if you shave a bit off the pavement where it widens, at the northeast end of that curve – if the width in the northwest corner is considered adequate, keeping that same narrow width a little further to the east should be considered okay.

    The repurposed parking bay for service vehicles lane could be turned into a cycle lane even without moving the hedge and trees over into thst spot (I don’t know what limitations might be imposed by underground pipes and conduits). In that case it would need strong crash-barrier type separation from the manoeuvring busses! Moving over the hedge and trees into the parking lane, and putting the cycle lane or wider legally shared pavement into the spot now occupied by greenery would be much better.

  2. janekleo says:

    a small first aid kit. we all need.


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