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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Update

So, you want cycle infrastructure based on the Dutch model and Philip Hammond thrown on the fire behind me.....

Firstly, yet again a very big thank you for all the messages, debate and this wonderful blog post from Mark at IBikeLondon.

This is where we’re at so far as you deserve to be kept up to date;

Website & Forum: Under construction and the domain will be www.cycling-embassy.org.uk . This is obviously taking time (although to be fair, it was only set up on the weekend) as it is being hosted and created for free, but the best things come to those who wait. There are things that need to be sorted out such as editing capability and admin rights etc so it’s best to get it sorted out from the beginning. Anthony Cartmell, the creator is a cyclist through and through and his websites are as reliable and stable as the Batavus he rides. To assist, I may be learning Drupal as well as conversational Danish & Dutch.

So far I believe the website should comprise the following:

Mission Statement with key strategies/actions

A Forum

Document Library of Design Standards by Country

Map where people may report bad infrastructure (if we can find a server big enough) and also good infrastructure. There should be a facility that allows one to write why it works or doesn’t work.

Cycling Newsfeed

Suggestions always welcome

What you can do to help:

Whilst this is taking place, I’m collating design standards from the UK and other countries to put into a document library. If you can think of any links, data and info that you feel should be included, please let me know. This includes any urban planning and masterplanning documents or guidance that architects, engineers and designers out there might think are pertinent. Also, thanks to Freewheeler on Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest for this link to a very interesting document indeed.

What I especially want from you however is the following. Imagine you are sat on Santa’s lap – it could be Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton dressed in a Santa outfit. I don’t mind, whatever works for you – and you are asked what your wish would be for this new cycling campaign to achieve, what would it be? Basically, I’m developing a wish list and I need wishes. Wish away.

Onwards and upwards. In the meantime, enjoy your cycling and look out for the following:

Expert motorists who only need to clear the frost and ice from their side of the windscreen and nowhere else on their car (presumably so noone can see them operate a mobile phone).

Expert motorists who can drive well and truly under the influence of Christmas Cheer. Especially now the funding has been cut for awareness adverts.

Manhole covers. As my back wheel informed me twice this morning, they are very slippy.

Middle Age Men In Lycra – So What?

 

Freddie Mercury. A Man who knew how to rock in bib tights. Sort of.

 

In July, the Government published its National Travel Survey data. It confirmed that cycle use has increased to the highest level in decades. What was greeted with surprise was that the key area for growth was the highest income bracket. What I personally found surprising was that people found this surprising. The highest income bracket has always produced keen cyclists, some of whom have represented cycling interests in the Houses of Parliament. Intelligent, well paid people have long known that the velocipede is a civilized, no nonsense form of conveyance and that the simplest ideas are always the best.

At about the same time, Mintel, a market research firm published its own report (Bicycles in the UK 2010). It points out what cyclists and other handsome, intelligent people have known for years; that most adult cyclists are motorists too. This creates a problem for mainstream media and marketing companies. It makes it more difficult to compartmentalise ‘Cyclists’ & ‘Motorists’ as they are essentially one and the same.

However they were instantly thrown a lifeline; the report produced a new type of cyclist and even gave them an acronym. Step forward the ‘MAMIL’ or ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’. This is a cyclist in the 35-45 age bracket that may own…wait for it…. two cars!! They are more likely to read broadsheet papers, shop at Waitrose and have a household income of £50,000 per annum. They’re twice as likely to be male as female (which was a surprise to me as I had no idea that a woman could be a ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’ but there you go).

As if by magic the two agencies of cyclist hatred (BBC News and The Daily Mail) leapt onto this, in particular the suggestion that this upsurge in higher end bike sales is a “noughties version of a mid life crisis” and is the modern equivalent of buying a flashy sports car. Only they could put negative spin on a person buying a bicycle. Focussing on this group conveniently sidesteps the bigger story which is that more people are cycling generally.

In reality there are many factors at play; the explosion in the amount of charity bike rides and organised events such as ‘Sportive’ rides has probably helped fuel this surge along with better coverage of events such as the Tour de France and the Halfords City Centre race series, both shown on ITV4. The success of Team GB and the escapades of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish cannot have gone unnoticed. Women now have incredible role models in Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke and Shanaze Reade on the BMX track.

If middle aged affluent men want to spend thousands of pounds on a new bike for sporting pursuits then good for them and even better for the local bike shop they buy it from. I’d rather they did that then get a new set of golf clubs or donate the money to UKIP. Welcome to the family. Other cyclists may sneer but if it means more people out and about enjoying themselves on bicycles (even if just on a Sunday) then that means less badly driven sports cars on our roads and increased road awareness.

The report adds that consumers like cycling because it gives them ‘health and wellbeing, a sense of community and environment’. I would add ‘a chance to reflect that The Daily Mail is just a middle class tabloid equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’.

It also states that cycling “lacks some of the less acknowledged selling points favoured by car drivers: personal safety, comfort, style, convenience and speed”. The bicycle provides all that if used safely and correctly. A Stannah Stair Lift  also provides all that if used safely and correctly but we’ll cover old age at a later date.

I Have A Dream…

25 years ago, some friends and I, aged between 13 & 15 decided to go for a bike ride. We packed sandwiches and flasks of squash into bags and cycled from our home village of Elstead, Surrey to Bury Hill, West Sussex. We had intended to cycle further to Arundel or the sea but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We had cycled 40 odd miles (including the stout climb up the South Downs) and had another 40 to get home. The freedom was exhilarating.

The majority of our route was on A roads and it was still a pleasure. We were cycling outside of rush hour on a week day; drivers were courteous, when a lorry slowed down behind us we pulled over to let the driver pass safely and he thanked us with a wave and a toot of the horn. We did all this with no helmets, no high-viz and without fear. Little did we know that Mrs Thatcher and the road building lobby had other ideas.

25 years later, cyclists can still use A Roads (they have a right to) but they aren’t exactly filled with pleasure, unless you’re the Marquis de Sade. Many have been ‘improved’ and ‘engineered’ to the extent that they have become dual carriageways – motorways in all but name that now bypass the very communities the original roads were meant to serve.  They have become incredibly hostile environments for anything that doesn’t have a motor attached to it. It’s strange to think that you can’t cycle in or out of a seaside town such as Worthing due to the A24 being a fast dual carriageway unless you’re Mark Cavendish on amphetamines. There isn’t even a consistant path at the side for pedestrians or horse riders either.

Cycling as a result has become a very schizophrenic activity; on the one hand experienced cyclists claim that we must assert our right to the road and that if enough people do it we will reach some sort of tipping point or critical mass. Others believe that this will never happen all the while that cycling is increasingly perceived as a dangerous activity and that cycle lanes or shared use facilities are the way forward. 

All very engaging stuff, but I would like to propose another way in the same vein as the Conservative road building policy of the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t mean London Cycle Superhighways or the National Cycle Network. No way. That’s for wimps!!

I want Town Planners and Highways engineers cowering in my wake as I pursue with extreme prejudice Cycle Mega Highways across the land as much as 5 metres wide!! I want them to be fast (or slow. It’s not a race), direct, with priority at junctions. Yes! Priority at junctions! I want ruthless planting of hedgerows and trees to act as windbreaks and encourage wildlife (that won’t get run over). I want to see people of all creeds, colours and ages riding to work and school with stupid grins plastered across their faces. I want to see the mass burning of High-viz tabards and helmets when people realise that cycling isn’t a dangerous activity and that they had been lied to by the motoring lobby and ‘road safety’ groups. I want the designers of ‘Shared Use Facilities’ and other crap cycle infrastructure put in large wooden stocks placed at the side of the Cycle Mega Highways to remind them constantly how it should be done. I want all ‘Cyclists Dismount’ and ‘End of Route’ signs melted down and turned into statues of Tommy ‘Angel of the North’ Simpson, Beryl ‘Angel of the North’ Burton, Sir Chris ‘Angel of the Track’ Hoy and Victoria ‘Angel of Angels’ Pendleton.  I want people’s house prices to spiral upwards out of control when a Cycling Mega Highway stampedes nearby with its deafening levels of peace and quiet and obscene levels of fresh air. I want residents to attempt claiming compensation from the RSPB when the sound of birdsong starts becoming too much. I want pedestrians to worry about whether they’re wearing any deodorant due to no cyclists brushing past them on the pavements. I want towns and cities to become liveable and civilized again! I want local businesses, cafes and farm shops to enjoy rampant good trade due to happy people cycling past and local money staying local. I want the Chancellor to say at a budget ‘we don’t need to raise spending on the NHS because you’re all so fit and stress free. We’re diverting money instead to the treatment of the Top Gear fan base as they’re not getting any younger either.’

Like this. But a bit smaller.

Above all, I want a proper legacy for my son and his children to enjoy. Not a sloppily converted pavement. Nor a strip of paint that fizzles out at the precise moment a cyclist would need it most. I mean a proper sustainable transport network. And I bet it would cost less than the proposed High Speed Rail Link too.

Some people say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Please look at this brilliant blog entry from David Hembrow comparing British & Dutch streets.