Right! First things first. I shall be leading a seaside Infrastructure Safari from Worthing to Brighton on Saturday 18th August. We shall be meeting at Worthing Railway Station at 12.30pm to give everyone a fighting chance of making it down to the South Coast. The pace shall be leisurely with frequent stops to discuss, take photos and sometimes just laugh at various cycle infrastructure issues throughout the route.
Everyone is welcome to join me and I shall ensure that there is a pub at the end (more details on that nearer the time) with a chance to stop for snacks en route.
Anyway, apologies for not writing in a while, dear reader, but my wife and I decided to head to Corfu and Paxos for a week. My Mother in Law stupidly volunteered to look after our son for a week so we could get away for a bit. Although we love our son above everything else, opportunities like this do not come readily. This led to a flurry of research and planning from my wife probably not seen since the planning of the Apollo 11 Mission.
We decided to go to Corfu City for an evening. It has a population of around 30,000, it serves as Capital for the region of the Ionian islands and is very, very beautiful feeling Venetian in character. Whilst wandering around a park (next to the only Cricket pitch in Greece – a legacy of British Empire on the Island), I spotted some vague, ethereal lines painted on the wide pathways, barely visible in the simmering Ionian heat. ‘What’s this?’, I thought. It would appear that modern Britain may have left a legacy too in the form of really average cycle lanes. Since I arrived back in Britain, I encountered these rather good blog posts here and here explaining in more detail what cycle infrastructure was installed in the city. I can only comment on what I saw, which was by sheer chance and I have captured for you in the pictures below. I was going to mention to my Wife how I should have brought a tape measure to check the widths of the path but she might have accurately, firmly and, on balance, correctly kicked me in the testicles.
Yes, a car parked beautifully across the lane! I encountered this at almost every access/egress point making it an equally hilarious experience for wheelchair users, shoppers and parents with buggies.
So, we have seen vague paths which are a bit narrow in places with even more vague signage, cars parked blocking them and pigeons everywhere. Actually, reading that line back, I’ve just described London with the heat turned up.
I strongly recommend you pay the island a visit.The chilled beers also have the Lo Fidelity seal of approval. Infrastructure nerds in particular have a pretext now, if one were needed.
If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday 18th August, why not pop down to the South Coast of England as I’ve decided to lead a Seaside infrastructure Safari and you’re all welcome. Yes, even you.
It will be a very leisurely run between Worthing and Brighton, stopping frequently for chats about infrastructure of different qualities and, weather permitting, we can stop for a picnic midway on the beach and a drink or two afterwards. There is a high probability that it will run from Worthing to Brighton as opposed to vice versa due to the strong chance of a prevailing tailwind straight off the sea which, as I find on the daily commute, makes an 11-12 mile jaunt between two seaside resorts a little more pleasant. There shall be a Twitter Hashtag available for those in more distant lands that wish to follow us in spirit and all pictures and data shall be added to the wonderful Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Wiki as well as CycleStreets.
I intend to show you some of the interesting facilities that I face (or could face if I was a bit more into Masochism) on a day-to-day basis such as this, this and this as well as some gems such as this, this and the ultimate Grand Finale – the wonderfully progressive (if slightly flawed) diamond that is this. I am currently working on a map for you to link to which will be available shortly as the route is pretty simple with lots of talking points and genuinely nice sights. It’s a cycle ride by the sea – what’s not to like?! It will also go up on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.
The reason I’m letting you know early is because, if you are a campaigner, Sustrans Ranger, Local Councillor etc in the Brighton [& Hove] & Worthing areas and would like to help talk us through various bits of infrastructure and how they came to be, please contact me and we can sort out the timetable of the route. If you can’t make it, but would like me to read anything out, please also get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the About page, and it would be lovely to hear from you, especially if you’d just like to come along of course.
Finally, I sometimes read out the questions at a quiz held occasionally at a pub in Worthing as I have a beautiful speaking voice. Apparently. However, last week I was tasked with compiling the questions. I would like the George Cross as I dropped this nugget into the General Knowledge round…
Although ‘Road Tax’ is still used as a colloquialism, it was in fact abolished in 1937. Which famous politician abolished it?
(For more details on the answer to that question, I wrote here and of course Carlton Reid is custodian of this gem of a website).
Because I was dressed like ‘one of them’, which is funnily enough how I look when on a bicycle, it was simply an interesting talking point as opposed to me being manhandled into a Wicker Man in the pub garden (it would have been outside because, despite the obvious Health & Safety hazard, you also can’t smoke inside a British public premises anymore).
And finally finally, the family car was taken away for its annual MOT test earlier this week. Despite the car being 10 years old, the startled mechanic informed us that not only did it pass with no complaints but the emissions tests came out far better than newer cars. Probably because it barely gets used.
…and the two posts I wrote during the construction period are here and here.
Below is the Old Shoreham Road stood close to the Dyke Road Junction looking west whilst the path was in construction
And this is how it looks now…
As you can see in the new photo above, the line markings have been painted except the centre line. I have been reliably informed that the line will not be painted immediately as part of a road safety trial to see if traffic speed drops as a result. You will also note that the cycle lane starts away from the Dyke Road junction. I assume this is because the original purpose was to link the schools and colleges and BHASVIC to the right so, job done. Below are a couple of photos of Chanctonbury Road with its bit of cycle permeability
…and this it now…
Stone setts announce (albeit vaguely) that we are entering a shared use area. This to me poses problems, especially when you consider the Belisha Beacons indicating the zebra crossing just ahead.
On the plus side, the central ‘holding pen’ with guard railings has been removed which is a definite improvement. However, cyclists are going to have to negotiate around the Belisha Beacons and pedestrians are going to be needlessly on guard as they cross the road. I personally would have extended the zebra crossing across a cycle path that I would have continued right through. That way there is no ambiguity or confusion, particularly for partially sighted pedestrians. The tree marked the edge of the old carriageway anyway – I assume that the designers wanted to give the feeling of widening the pavement at this point but in doing so they may have increased the potential for conflict.
The radii at junctions have been tightened considerably to slow traffic making left turns reducing further the chance of a collision.
Stencils were made to get the message of continuity across in a fun, graffiti way in lieu of coloured paint. These were spray painted on the approach to each side turning, presumably because people on bicycles need a little bit of time to adjust to not being treated as second-rate citizens. Cars I encountered waiting to pull out all waited patiently behind the ‘give way’ markings.
Another criticism of the cycle path is the way it becomes shared use on a railway bridge, as illustrated in the picture below, just beyond the tree. Even here however, space has been taken from the main carriageway to keep the shared use area as wide as possible and, with the sight lines so good, it just requires a little common courtesy, which should be mandatory in an area where people live and go to school anyway.
One of the particularly interesting features of this scheme is the new phase on the traffic lights installed on the two main junctions. There is an auxiliary bicycle light that turns green a few seconds before the main lights to give cyclists a head start
I think it’s an attempt to replicate the this type of light seen below, which I photographed on the David Hembrow Study Tour in Assen and Groningen last September..
In Assen, cyclists and pedestrians are given their own separate phase as opposed to optimistic head starts. I assume there had to be compromise in the British version so as not to impede on ‘traffic flow’ (although that is conjecture). It will take a while for British cyclists (and motorists for that matter) to adjust to even this simple change in signalling but it is an improvement from just an Advanced Stop Line. My slight concern is – does it really give a more nervous cyclist time to make a right turn before motor traffic comes steaming through in the opposite direction? In the interests of infrastructure nerdism and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, I filmed the lights in action, just for you.
Overall, I personally think this is an excellent, progressive scheme. It is not perfect – there are problems as outlined throughout this post (as usual with a British scheme it’s the conflict points) but these can be remedied. At least they didn’t build a narrower track which would then cost a prohibitive fortune to widen. Cycling along this facility, just for a short while, it almost felt as if the Netherlands or Denmark has infiltrated this little part of the South Coast and this was also reflected by the variety of people I saw using it including parents with young children which was encouraging. The width of the vast majority of the track means that, unbelievably [for Britain] people can ride side by side to chat, casting my mind back to seeing groups of Dutch children and young adults cycling to school and college in social groups (always important) or groups of elderly people out for a mid-morning ride to the shops and a natter. To me, this is a crucial element of making the bicycle look inviting to the masses as opposed to part of a heads down specialised sporting rat race it often becomes here.
I cycled London Cycle Superhighway 2 (Bow to Aldgate) in its entirety on Tuesday evening on my way back from a presentation in Stratford. It just felt like optimistically placed blue paint allied to a too narrow segregated path and confusing lights at Bow Roundabout. At no point did it feel as though any attempt had been made to improve the lot of cyclists at all in terms of comfort or safety on what is still a hysterically busy thoroughfare. It was like eating a McDonalds Big Mac Meal – a lot of money had been spent on branding and advertising but after trying it, I was left still feeling hungry. However, the Brighton & Hove scheme has actually taken considerable space from motorised traffic. They have made the bicycle look like an inviting mode of transport that is taken seriously. To be fair, it’s obviously nowhere near as long as the Cycle Superhighway, but it doesn’t give itself an undeserved grandiose name either.
The Old Shoreham Road should be an easy win, being the former A27 but it has been many years in the formulation and execution. I have to doff my hat (in lieu of a helmet) to those who had the determination to see it through. I now incorporate this into my commute (which is now an almost totally segregated route within the Brighton & Hove city boundary).
On that note, I’m thinking of doing an Infrastructure safari on a Saturday in July covering this and other Brighton schemes followed by the ride that I would normally take as my commute followed by a ride around the best and worst of my adopted home town of Worthing. Here is a picture taken from my commute this evening..
If you’re interested, do let me know. Just bring suntan lotion and money for a pint of beer and 99 ice cream (with flake).
A little while ago, I wrote this post on the National Cycle Network Route 2 between Worthing & Brighton. More specifically, this point where the approach to a junction opens out to 3 lanes heading westbound into Worthing on a 30mph road, perfect for putting your foot down, sticking your finger up to ‘the man’ (or ‘society’ as I like to call it) and competing in testosterone fuelled gladiatorial combat for the road ahead. This stretch of cycle path runs along a converted pavement (sorry, ‘shared use facility’) and is wide enough to intimidate pedestrians or for two cyclists to pass with enough space for a Kleenex tissue, laid side on, between handlebar ends.
However, extensive gas main works needed to be carried out recently and something so extraordinary occurred that West Sussex County Council and their private contractors could actually be praised for….well, kind of helping cycling a little bit, albeit on an accidental technicality. Firstly, this is how it looked before…
Anyone on a bicycle would have to negotiate a weird slalom of street furniture before picking up the segregated narrow cycle path along the beach. And here is a close up…
To reiterate, this is a National Cycle Network route. The on-road cycle path terminates in a left turn arrow directing a bicycle rider to cross a shared bit of pavement (coloured red) to then pick up the segregated route into town. The bi-directional seafront path is barely wider than the on-road strip of green paint you can see in the picture above but is always far more pleasant than the road and you get the bonus of a beautiful sea view.
However, when the road works had been completed and the barriers cleared away, just look at what they’d done….
Yes! They had realigned the street furniture to allow easier passage for cyclists (and even pedestrians as cyclists were no longer weaving about and the sight lines had improved)!
…and the picture below is looking back towards Brighton, also showing what I meant earlier about the on-road path terminating in a left turn.
Staying with the photo above, what I personally would have done was reduce the carriageway to two lanes (one right turn, one straight ahead), removed the pedestrian refuge and widened the seafront path to not only improve the comfort of cyclists, pedestrians, parents with pushchairs and mobility scooter users (of which there are many in Worthing) but you could even add planting to create a far nicer and sustainable gateway into Worthing. After all, the road is 30mph all the way from Worthing to Brighton.
West Sussex County Council has yet to wake up to the genuine benefits to tourism and local businesses that the bicycle could bring as it remains stuck in a Thatcherite time warp. It provides cycle facilities that constantly look like they were designed as an afterthought or the result of a drunken bet, even despite the highways budget going up this year. That said, I wish to acknowledge that this realignment of street furniture is an improvement however trivial or accidental it may be.
I was cycling my merry way home this evening as I usually do along the seafront from Brighton to Worthing. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed was ticking away like a pacemaker made for Bez from Happy Mondays and the sea breeze was slowly caressing my slowly dwindling hair. Just outside Worthing on the edge of Lancing Beach, I normally encounter this…….
It’s obviously a skip, but it was placed right in the middle of the cycle path to prevent access to the neighbouring greensward by Gypsies and Travelling folk who are despised in Britain slightly more than cyclists, although it’s a very close call. The Daily Mail rule of thumb is that cyclists don’t pay Road Tax (which hasn’t existed since 1937) but Travellers don’t pay any tax (allegedly). We ignore the fact that Vodafone and other large corporations get away with not paying their fair share to the tune of billions because in modern Britain its just easier to pick on minorities. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I came across this…..
The structure on the left already had the seating stripped out to remove the homeless people who would sleep there occasionally and had been given a shiny new coat of red, white and blue, I assume due to the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations. In the patch of brown where the skip was there is now a shiny new blue sculptural bollard announcing that you are now entering or leaving Lancing Beach.
Unlike the other black columnar art installations you can see, there is nothing reflective at all on it. The picture above shows a bit more context – like the fact that cyclists following the path from Worthing have to do a 90 degree right turn (there is a high white wall just set back to the right) so as they accelerate away, provided they haven’t hit any oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, they can collide with the art installation. The words ‘Lancing Beach’ can be the last thing they remember as they gracefully slip into unconsciousness, with the gentle crashing of waves to keep them company. It’s all part of the rich kaleidoscope that is riding a bicycle in Britain.
‘Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur…’
‘As they [Surrealists] developed their philosophy, they believed that Surrealism would advocate the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination…’
Although the epicentre of the Surrealist movement is cited as Paris immediately following, and as a reaction to The Great War, I would argue that Highways Authorities in Great Britain in the late 20th/early 21st centuries are a worthy successor through their Surrealist installations across the land, never short on elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-sequiturs.
One would have thought it simple to design for the bicycle. After all it’s so simple, a child can use it. A surrealist juxtaposition forms because Britain excels in making the most complicated mode of transport simple and the simplest modes of transport complicated.
Warrington Cycle Campaign started it’s always entertaining ‘Cycle Facility of the Month’ back in March 2001. They even have a book out first published in November 2007 (proceeds to CTC’s worthy Cyclists Defence Fund). The problem is that it’s a few years on and highways authorities across the land either still haven’t got to grips with the bicycle, or simply see the bicycle as an imposition to ‘progress’, or are utterly hostile to the bicycle based on prejudices that really shouldn’t be lurking in any professional environment. Local cycle campaign groups are only usually consulted when the plans are programmed for construction so even if they object it’s too late, but at least Officials can then say that they’ve consulted with those ‘cyclists’ whilst rolling their eyes and ticking another box.
When a new road is constructed, motorists are drawn to it because it offers speed, directness & quality of surface. It is often touted as the ‘solution’ to a problem that nobody seems guilty of creating but that doesn’t matter anymore because, thanks to the new road, the problem will never, ever occur again, apparently. When a new cycle path is constructed, cyclists shy away from it because they don’t need surrealism on the way to work or school. They are often ponderous, indirect and are often barely converted pavements with poor sight lines, overgrown vegetation and of course, pedestrians, who are probably wondering what they did to deserve such Hell.
There are four classifications of cycle infrastructure in Britain [as I see it based on observations at local cycle campaigning level]:
Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under three days – Directional signs only. Inexplicable Dropped Kerbs also fall into this category.
Cheap and You Should Consider Yourselves Grateful
Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under a day – Combination of directional and ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs, some converted pavements and on road cycle-paths (paint only) – some of it possibly paid for by Section 106 money if it runs past a new development. Tactile paving is provided to catch bicycle tyres and trip the elderly (even more lethal in snow). This is to fulfill standards that the designer may have read. These facilities are defined by lycra clad experienced cyclists who correctly and pointedly use the road next to it, often armed with cameras to record abuse from motorists who think they should be using something that Salvador Dali couldn’t have thought up even after a bottle of ‘White Lightning’. Some ‘safe routes to schools’ often fall into this category – great ideas but the children still have to dress so they are visible from Neptune and are no match for a Land Rover containing children that are more important, apparently.
Ridiculously Expensive [According to Comments Section in Local Newspaper].
This is generally a scheme that has had money donated from an external source such as Sustrans. This fact of course goes straight over the heads of local newspaper letter writers and Wetherspoons Pub Frequenters who never let things like cold, hard facts get in the way of prejudice. Schemes vary from more expensive ‘Town Centre Links’ as mentioned above, ‘Railway Station links’ where at the end of a hard ride we are supposed to have a post-coital cigarette at seeing the amount of cycle parking provided (some of it under cover), converted paths through parks and lightly converted canal paths with strange gates at either end looking like the entrance to Narnia complete with dog walkers. Also Beeching-era railway lines that make great cycle paths accidentally.
F*ck me, HOW MUCH!!
The above phrase is often spoken by both cyclist and member of the general public, but for differing reasons. Still far, far cheaper than a road scheme, this is where we enter Grand Designs such as ‘Cycle Superhighways’ where painting the previous three categories a shade of Barclays blue creates continuity and changes it magically for the better for some reason. This is often the most tragic of categories as so much is often promised and some political will has been found before the cold hands of compromise and lobbying strangle the usefulness out of it, sometimes with the worst possible outcomes. This category also includes well used segregated bi-directional cycle paths that are in reality for unbelievably narrow people or the population of Lilliput, often going from somewhere to nowhere because they aren’t part of a decent, coherant network. These are generally routes that people currently use and would use because they follow the desire lines for the commuting public. As a result, they are generally heavily trafficked and therefore the stakes (and costs) are considerably higher. A lot of the money would have been spent on Feasibility Studies alone.
And we still haven’t mastered junctions.
British Cycle Infrastructure is the result of the end users being treated like flies on a cow – consistently being swatted away as tiny annoyances and occasionally being given dung to feast on (that’s also cheap to purchase). If you look at a Dutch Streetscape, you are often under no illusion what local and national Government thinks of the bicycle. It is also easy to conclude what local and national British Governments think by looking at our streetscapes and this is yet another factor which, to the general public, makes the act of riding a bicycle as appealing as Badger Baiting with Peter Andre. This is yet another reason that makes the simple act of riding a bicycle continue to be seen as a peripheral, specialist and potentially dangerous activity (no movement ever got anywhere telling the general public how they should be feeling. If it looks dangerous, then that, as they say, is that).
Having said that, I do wish to acknowledge at this point that we do have excellent cycle training and trainers in this country doing invaluable work (often for free). I am making the argument that infrastructure done correctly would amplify their efforts a great deal. It’s also worth acknowledging the biggest irony that, thanks to organisations like CTC, there are reasonably good cycle infrastructure guidelines already out there.
I leave you with a film I made for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (our AGM is later this month – be there!!); the first three clips were shot on a David Hembrow Study Tour of Assen and Groningen whilst the final clip is of my everyday commute between Worthing and Brighton. When I arrived at the ferry port in the Netherlands, to make a train connection, I cycled the 37km from Hook of Holland to Rotterdam with a friend without consulting any maps or GPS and without hi-viz, helmets, hassle, fear or intimidation. Now think about the last time you rode a bicycle in the UK. Yes, surreal isn’t it?
This week has been a real reward for those of us that ride our bicycles through all seasons. The clocks went forward to usher in British Summertime meaning no need for lights anymore and we had the sort of sunshine and warmth that made you insane if you weren’t on a bicycle.
Continuing on from my earlier post, I’ve taken some movie footage of the works going on just round the corner from my day job which I’d like to share with you. I’ve made some crude annotations using YouTube’s video editing facility as another five minutes with iMovie would have meant me smashing up my laptop whilst giggling like a maniac.
The first film is of the first section heading east to west. Dyke Road to Upper Drive.
You will note that the top section in particular is very much a work in progress and none of the junction works have been carried out yet along the whole route.
Here is the second film from Upper Drive to The Drive which is a very pleasant width.
I will keep stressing how crucial it is to get junctions right for a couple of reasons; firstly because I have yet to see one done correctly in Britain that contains safe motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian movements and also because of the next two films.
Getting segregated infrastructure along the wide sections should be the easy win, particularly when one considers that not one mature tree had to be removed. A bit different to this shocker from Grimsby which should just be placed in the ‘What The Hell Were They Thinking’ category.
The path here is far narrower with an elevated segregating kerb in places, even stopping for a pinch point (or, to use Council vernacular, ‘Pedestrian Build Out’). The point I’m making here is cyclists at the moment have to indicate and then try to maneuver back into the motorists consciousness across two lanes to make a right turn. I would imagine that this has put many cyclists off using this facility at all – it’s great if you are heading north-south, or wish to make a left turn. It is even worse heading north from the sea as it is uphill and so the speed differential is even greater between motorist and cyclist when a right turn is attempted. This is a critical deal in view of the fact that, for children wishing to get to the new [Old Shoreham Road] path from the old one [The Drive/Grand Avenue], they will have to make a right turn. Forgive the Ford by the way, the driver of which was caught helplessly out-of-place when the Ambulance shot through the junction. Anyway, let’s continue…
Here, we see that not only do cyclists have to move out considerably to make right turn but also from behind parked cars and large refuse bins. Let’s go back to the junction in the Netherlands that we encountered in my last post
Here we see one separate phase for all bicycle movements negating the need for ASL’s or having to move across lanes of traffic. Cyclists in this instance making a right turn (or left turn over here) don’t even have to enter the junction as it’s part of a high quality bicycle network. Many bicycle traffic lights in the Netherlands are triggered by pads so all the cyclist has to do is roll over it on approach to trigger a green light (more on traffic light controlled junctions in the Netherlands here). To do the same at the bottom of The Drive/Grand Avenue would involve the cyclist having to weigh about a ton and may therefore have to wait a considerable time before continuing their journey.
I will of course keep you updated on progress. If at completion, a path has been built that shows continuity of travel for bicycles with priority over side roads and a progressive (dare I say Dutch) attitude to junctions, Brighton & Hove City Council can give themselves a pat on the back. Even if there are niggles, they will be minor as opposed to the path being too narrow which would cost too much money and political will to rectify.
It certainly felt more pleasant cycling the nearly completed sections and it was lovely to see children playing out on the street whilst it’s closed to traffic. At the moment, the people coming to look and try it out are children, experienced cyclists and infrastructure nerds like you and me. Getting the rest of the local population to use it, cherish it and most importantly give feedback on it is the critical bit.