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

Riding a First World Bike through the Third World [of Cycling]

As you are probably aware, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is and purchased a Dutch bike (Batavus Old Dutch) for my daily commute between Worthing & Brighton. Here are some initial thoughts from my notepad into riding a utility bike for utility purposes;

  • One of the first things a Briton will notice about a Dutch bike is the weight. Some Americans like to wax lyrical about old Cadillac’s and T-Birds – this is the bicycle equivalent. However, you will be comparing it to every other bike you’ve owned when you were a ‘serious’ commuter and that’s when you realise that you will never be followed by a team car or presented with a bunch of flowers and kissed by a beautiful woman on a podium because you made it to your office in a ‘Personal Best’ time. The rules change utterly as soon as you pedal away on a Dutch bike or roadster.
  • The riding position is far more upright with nice wide handlebars. I found myself discovering new and interesting leg muscles I never knew existed.
  • If you are making the switch from a road bike to a Dutch bike or roadster, a major problem will be training oneself to slow down. These bikes are built for utility with gentle speeds. I found for the first few outings I was still getting quite sweaty before I realised that I was subconsciously matching my previous pace which is lunacy. Cycling in heavy traffic makes me pedal faster for some reason, as though I’m being goaded back into the rat race. To escape the hoi polloi, I’ve started using more sections of the National Cycle Route 2 between Brighton & Worthing (most notably, the Shoreham to Worthing stretch). Free from traffic, one can relax, slow down and enjoy the view. For the commute home in the dark, the integral front light is never going to compete with Shoreham Lighthouse but I’ve found that it creates strangely romantic ‘mood lighting’ when cycling along the traffic free route with no street lights. Just the lights of Worthing Pier in the distance and the crashing of waves below an inky sky.  
  • You will become familiar with an occasional quiet jangling sound when you’re cycling a Dutch Bike. That’s because the vast majority have an integral lock which means you put your keys in to release the lock and take them out when you reach your end destination. This will be quite hard for many Britons to grapple with –in our Culture of Fear, we like keys trussed up in the inside pockets of a courier bag or another secure place. Bear with it though as this is one of the first steps to relaxing and enjoying your cycling. I had to smile when I got to my front door and had that frantic 20 seconds of checking my pockets to locate my keys before I realised that I had to lock the bike to release the keys to unlock the door to unlock the bike to get it through the house. Less haste, more speed.
  • The other area that would put British cyclists’ teeth on edge is if you elect to ditch carrying luggage on yourself and purchase some panniers instead. You will need to purchase Dutch panniers if you, like me, end up with a bike with a heavy-duty rack – these can carry a massive load (in my case, up to 16 stone, or a smaller sized British motorist that campaigns against speed cameras if you like). This is because they won’t take standard pannier clasps. However, Dutch panniers are robust and generally cheaper but they remain fitted to the bike at all times…..see, the Culture of Fear has kicked in again, hasn’t it? The idea is that you can go shopping with your bag for life and then just slip it in the panniers and pedal away. The bike really is your beast of burden.
  • I’ve been using my Dutch bike for far more chores around town. Because it has an integral lock, mudguards, integral lights (often powered by hub dynamo) and a big shiny bell, all you need to do is hop on and go about your day.
  • The other factor that allows you to go about your day is that you must ONLY wear normal clothes. You wouldn’t wear lycra to drive a car (unless you’re driving to the gym or you are a superhero from the dreams of Philip Hammond MP). You become a person on a bike as opposed to a cyclist.
  • Not only have I put the lycra away for a leisure cycling day, I’ve also decided to ditch the helmet. This combined with being on a large, upright graceful bicycle in normal clothing with wide load panniers has resulted in being given a surprising amount of  space and courtesy by passing motorists. A complete overhaul of British Cycle Infrastructure to bring it in line with the Netherlands, Denmark and parts of the USA wouldn’t go amiss however, just so everyone gets a decent choice in how they travel as opposed to just the few.
  • Oh, and lots of elderly people will walk up and talk to you about your bike which is pleasing but Worthing has a lot of elderly people.

A more technical review will follow if or when the smile wears off. To summarise however, it is the sheer joy of discovering a different type of cycling that harks back to a more civilised age that I have to doff my hat to (in lieu of a helmet). This is not to discredit other types of bicycle or cyclist – each style has its merits from fixed wheel to racing to touring to mountain bike and it’s just part of one big family. However I firmly believe that utility bikes in their various forms have the greatest potential to make our family very big indeed.

I leave you with yet another video of the Rush Hour in the Netherlands. This one is simply entitled ‘Bicycle rush hour in the dark, ‘s-Hertogenbosch’ by ‘Markenlei’. His other stuff on YouTube is well worth a look if you are British and can stand looking at happiness for a few minutes. Enjoy.