Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea

Worthing Promenade looking toward Brighton. Now a shared use path and part of NCN2.

When most people think of Worthing, they probably think of the seaside, the elderly, bowls and the place where Oscar Wilde wrote ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. I moved here in 2007 and since then I’ve changed jobs once, moved house twice, got married and now have a beautiful [if loud] baby boy, trained as a comedy new act, kick started the local cycle campaign group back into action, established a town cycle forum, started a national campaign for better infrastructure standards and to try to convince County Councils in Great Britain that the Netherlands and Denmark with their more civilised and superior approaches to transport planning actually exist. It must be the sea air.

The Victorians thought the same way and it became the height of fashion to visit seaside resorts to sample the reviving air, the invigorating water and ‘promenade’. The Promenade (or ‘Esplande’ or the ‘Prom’ to take its abbreviation) was an area where people – couples and families especially – would go to walk for a while in order to ‘be seen’ and be considered part of ‘society’. Nowadays they are just as popular as ever and forward thinking District and Town Councils such as Worthing have allowed the humble bicycle on them.

I have written about Worthing Prom here and road.cc also reported on Worthing Councils decision to reinstate cycling on the Prom (following a dreadful accident that led to the banning of cycling there in 1994)  here

The decision to make Worthing Promenade a shared use facility has been regarded such a success that other resorts like Hastings and Brighton & Hove are taking an interest. I would like to tentatively offer the following advice:

  •  If you are thinking of introducing or reinstating cycling on your promenade, for the sweet, pure, tender love of Victoria Pendleton, do not make it purely about cycling when taking the idea to the public (just like ’20’s plenty’ campaigns). ‘Cyclists’ in the pure British sense of the word means either ‘lycra clad hooligans’ or ‘the unwashed’  or ‘taxdodgers’. By taking your bold decision, you are boosting your town/city’s health and wellbeing, tourism, clean air targets and access for all.
  • This still means that you include your local cycle campaign group in the consultation along with residents and disability groups. Your scheme is going to be heavily scrutinised down to the last slab of tactile paving. Local cycling groups would probably be very keen to assist you with publicity and organising promotional events.
  • Make sure that the scheme is shared use as opposed to a dedicated lane. A cycle lane on a Prom will push cyclists speeds up as they see it exclusively as ‘their territory’ as Worthing once found to its detriment. Promenaders will wander into the lane because they will be [rightly] talking with friends or looking at the sea or guarding their fish and chips from seagulls as opposed to checking where they are putting every single step. Shared use means that cyclists and pedestrians can ‘mingle’ keeping speeds down. Just like everywhere else in Europe.
  • The local press will initially print something negative to whip up their readership. The letters page will become choc full of people stating with a strange authority that there is bound to be a 14 bicycle/pedestrian pile up before long or comparing your new vision of the seafront to the opening 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Be strong, only play to the positives and stress the need for ‘responsible cycling’. Remember that they don’t understand the bicycle as there isn’t a bicycle culture in this country [yet]. 
  • Just because a Council creates Promenade cycling does not mean it can shirk its responsibility to provide decent cycling facilities in the rest of the town/city. The Promenade must only be regarded as a leisure route. Whilst they are great to ride in settled conditions, seafront paths are a grind when pushing into a prevailing headwind for mile after mile. Always look to provide a quality inland route and decent connections from the prom to the centre means local businesses feel the benefit too. This is usually where the schemes are lacking.
  • Bear in mind that in a major public event such as a marathon, carnival or Birdman in the case of Worthing, the Prom will have to be closed to cyclists. Again, the need for an alternate quality route is paramount. particularly when one considers that Worthing Promenade is also supposed to be part of National Cycle Route 2. People may have cycled a long way, often along substandard paths to suddenly get massively inconvenienced.

Finally, here is the newly completed and regenerated ‘Splash Point’ at the eastern end of the Promenade which Worthing Cycle Forum was consulted on. You will notice the blue markings set into the surface treatment indicate without being too obtrusive a route where cyclists and pedestrians can pass through. Now all we need is some sunshine.

Splash Point: Western approach from the Promenade. Seating to the right with fountains. Blue markings to the left to indicate the through route.
Blue shows the way. A bit like a London Superhighway but without the parked cars.
A place to sit. With an umbrella.
Additional bike parking for Splash Point and the cafe opposite. NCN2 to Brighton runs off to the left
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3 thoughts on “Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea”

  1. Great to see my home town doing something right. 20 odd years I have walked and cycled the prom and it’s great to see it having a multi use once again.

    I would highlight the importance of cyclists having bells on their bikes when cycling multi-purpose routes. In Aberdeen where I now live we have the Deeside Line (a disused railway line) running from Aberdeenshire right into the centre of the city. This rather narrow path can be used by runners, walkers, dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders. I used this line a couple of years ago as a 14 mile round commute every day. Even with a bell, lights and full reflective gear I had much abuse from walkers (especially dog walkers, with dogs off leads). Hopefully this will be less of an issue on proms as they are generally much wider.

    Keep up the great work and well done Jim on your acheivements so far.

    Hollie

  2. @Hollie: no need for a bell on Worthing Prom, there’s plenty of space to give pedestrians plenty of space. And, since people on bikes most certainly don’t want to hit anything, let alone a pedestrians, that’s what they all do 🙂

    My favourite part of the “new” Prom is that nice people on bicycles now heavily outnumber the hooligan cyclists. I’m pretty sure this must have an excellent effect on how people view people on bikes, which can only be a Good Thing.

    Oh, and the new Splash Point is fantastic: fewer car parking spaces, and somewhere where people naturally congregate to have a look around, relax, chat, etc. At last some decent urban design, for people, not cars!

  3. @Hollie: My advice would be to give up the bell and use your voice, if you sound friendly, most people will respond in the same way, but sadly not all.

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