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(Response by Jonathan Vernon. Green Party Town Council Candidate, Castle Ward)
Lewes Cycle Planning
Bikes at the Prison Crossroads on the entry to Lewes. 5 Nov.
Leading up to 5 November parked motor vehicles disappear from the streets of Lewes and in the day during the afternoon all motor traffic clears. Imagine a Lewes like that all the year round. Imagine only pedestrians and cycle ways. Perhaps for a planned hour before the marching a parade of cyclists in fancy dress could take place to celebrate the freedom to move around the streets. Perhaps this could lead the way to changes to limit or restrict motor traffic in favour of pedestrians and cyclists.
Here we mean provision for cyclists age 8 to 80, upright on workaday bikes for shopping, going to school and commuting rather than helmeted, brightly clad racing cyclists.
To be successful a ‘Cycle City’, as they have come to be called in the Netherlands, requires a complete and comprehensive network that is both attractive and comfortable. Partial fixes, barriers and signage can just add to the clutter and confusion. Change needs to be more subtle with wider paths, cycle priority and trees as calming measures.
And some societal and cultural shift too is needed, from cafe culture to cycle culture, with shops reclaiming the streets where parking bays have been removed to allow them to create a terrace environment. The town should be one of 5 minute cycle rides, 20 minute walks and regular trains to other towns. It also needs to be a town centre that is attractive to people free of outsized motor vehicles, their noise, pollution and threat.
a) Hard measures (infrastructure: shared space, improved crossings, dedicated cycle paths removal of restrictions on cycling, traffic calming, new shared pedestrian/cycle routes, safe crossing points)
‘Every location is different, and it’s never as simple as copying and pasting their methods’, write Chris & Melissa Bruntlett in ‘Building the Cycling City’.
Lewes has many narrow, twisting streets and lanes, often with significant pinch points. Achieving the desired separation between motor vehicles and cyclists, and between cyclists and pedestrians will only be possible – some of the time, in some places by taking out parking or even reducing two-way traffic to one-way. This is the challenge for Lewes. Cyclists need a comfortable, safe journey the entire way from home to destination, not just here and there.
FThere are measures though:
Enforcement of 20 mph with roundels on the road and signage.
A significant volume of large vehicles in the 20 mph zone is a deterrent to cyclists. Lorries need to do their deliveries before 7:30am, not parking up on the kerb on the High Street throughout the morning from 8:30am. Buses are a problem and a solution. Cyclists and buses should be kept apart.
Traffic can be tamed with traffic calming to make sure it travels at under 20 mph.
If there’s any major difference in speed (anything over 20 mph), then full separation is required with concrete barriers, a grass median, planter boxes, or bollards.
As we know, the 20 mph speed limit is often broke. Living in the Winterbourne too often vehicles using the rat run between Brighton Road and Bell Lane think they can finally pick up speed along Winterbourne Lane which is already home to closely parked parked vehicles.
This ‘rat run’ down Montacute Road, along Barons Down Rd, Delaware Rd and Winterbourne Lane is circumvented in part by cyclists using the path between Delaware Rd and Valley Rd, just as they will use the pedestrian path through Bell Lane to St Pancras Gardens – with good reason. It isn’t only more direct, it also avoids the dangers of the mini roundabout at The Swan Inn and at the weekend the vehicles parked up on the kerb along Southover High Street.
Here, like so often in Lewes, a narrow road, with a narrow footpath, with parking bays and cars parking up over night and through the day on the single yellow lines at weekends and bank holidays, becomes quickly clogged at various points, made far worse when there are multiple double-decker replacement buses from the station trying to get along here too.
There will be similar stories right across Lewes.
Too many vehicles, large and small, pedestrians and cyclists, mixed with residential street parking and deliveries creating an environment that can be unpleasant for pedestrians, let alone cyclists trying to use the road.
Another ‘rat run’ to avoid the frequently jammed High Street is off Nevill Rd, down Prince Edward’s Rd, then dogleg down Park Rd and The Avenue onto the A2029 into the centre of town. Where else is the quality of the environment and safety for cyclists and pedestrians in residential areas being compromised because of the atrocious state of traffic on the High Street?
All opportunities to improve pedestrian as well as cycle access to the centre of town need to be explored, including a foot and cycle bridge from South Street.
Motor vehicles can be banned from overtaking cycles though signage has to be clear and can be difficult to enforce legally.
Restrictions to casual parking on single yellow line kerbs especially at weekends.
Potentially reduce some street parking to make cycling safer in the already narrow roads.
If feasible limiting access by lorries to hours where cyclists are less prevalent.
The physical size, speed and frequent stopping makes it a problem for cyclists to share the road with buses.
Shared space is a last resort, ideally pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles should each have their own routes.
In France there is often a two way cycle lane on one way streets so that cyclists do not have to go the long way round.
Parts of Lewes appear suitable for mixed use where road-markings are removed and pedestrians and slow moving vehicles mixed. However it is often here that faster cyclists need a dedicated lane.
The pedestrian bridge at the Pells to be wide enough for cyclists and a second pedestrian and cycle bridge from South street across the Ouse.
Better, bolder end to end cycle parking where it is most needed. Close to amenities.
The Dutch model is for cycle tracks that are paved with an easily identified inch-thick top coat of dyed red asphalt. It’s everywhere throughout the Netherlands — you know when you’re on a cycle track. But does Lewes have the space for this? Not without restricting parking and two-way flow of traffic.
On busier roads the cycle ways need to be completely separated – anywhere the speed of motor-vehicles is over 20 mph.
The Dutch have taken the concept of the protected bike lane and carried it through the intersection. More often than not, there is physical protection on the corners where there’s cars turning right or left. There’s are often mid-block protection provided as well, so that you don’t feel exposed. The raised cycle track is also carried through the intersection. Through design, they’ve made the cycle track a priority — visually and physically. (John Parking, Designing for Cycle Traffic).
To achieve this at junctions in Lewes significant investment, even compulsory purchase orders would be required to remove walls, even buildings. This is unrealistic, therefore restricting speeds, and restricting access by certain kinds of larger vehicles is required.
Creation of clearer routes to Priory School so students can feel they can cycle from the key residential areas.
Give way junctions, roundabouts, signals and crossings all need thought.
b) Soft measures (promotion of cycling and education, driver education)
Parental support for children learning to cycle with group based support.
Have spaces where children can learn to cycle safely.
Promoting cycling in schools.
The concept of cycling starts getting introduced to a lot of kids in preschool. They’ll run around on these push bikes. But the biggest education — while it’s not mandatory throughout the country, it’s done by most schools — is students around grade four or five, in the 10 and 11 age range, start taking cycling skills courses.
Between the ages of 11 and 12 they have to take a written exam to show that they understand the rules of the road. They also do a practical exam. So, every year, dozens or hundreds of Dutch students go out onto the street and travel on their routes to get to school, on a designated pathway. The Fietsersbond, which is their national cycling advocacy group, puts the kids right in real life situations, navigating their streets, knowing when to turn, how to signal, where to stop. (John Parkin, Designing for Cycle Traffic).
Known for closing the centre of town temporarily for marches could this be done to celebrate cycling and have a cycle route circuit.
PR and Social Media Campaign, and online education.
Initiatives such as ‘Car Free Sunday’, even ‘Car Free Sunday Mornings’ would be a start.
Also ideas promoted such as ‘Bike to Shop Day’, ‘Bike to School Day’ and ‘Bike to Work Day’.
c) Current reality – speeding traffic (above 20mph), increase in vehicles using Lewes as a through route and increases in traffic from new developments in town, inappropriate and dangerous parking and close passing often result in dangers to cyclists (and pedestrians)
This reality needs to be tackled firmly. Only at 20mph or less does it feel safe for cyclists to share the road. Though this doesn’t feel any safer where there are a lot of larger vans, lorries and buses. The real need is for a Rapid Transit System linking up Lewes and Ringmer to Brighton. ‘Cars parked here will be removed’ is a sign I have come across that needs to be used around Lewes.
All roads that are one way for motor vehicle traffic should be two way for cyclists.
d) Perceptions that roads are unsafe is one of the main barriers to cycling
The perceptions are real. Unfortunately Lewes suffers from too much traffic, including large vehicles and narrow streets made worse for dual used because of parking provision. Do away with all street parking and a cycle lane could go in – but that would surely prove unpopular and impossible to enact. The incessant replacement bus services has double decker buses forever on Southover High Street and Bell Lane. Vehicles of this size, like the vast freight lorries that sometimes end up in the wrong place, are unsuitable for Lewes Roads.
Convenient, easy and attractive cycleways from somewhere to somewhere – not tokenism. They must be relevant to real travel needs. From homes to schools, to stations, bus stops, shops, the Leisure Centre, Pells Pool and cinema.
With secure parking and signage.
e) Would you campaign for greater investment in cycling to ensure that 10% of the transport budget was spent on cycling?
It has required ‘courageous political leadership’ elsewhere to overturn urban planning of the 60s and 70s and since that has favoured the motorcar. Lewes was saved from having its centre carved out to make way for a wider through road down the High Street. Even the bypass is a comprise too close to town that blights us with noise pollution. Something has to be done to reduce single occupant vehicle use clogging the streets, not least the vehicles coming in to the ESCC buildings as well as measures to dissuade so many parents from driving their children to our local schools that are a short cycle or walk away.
Include pedestrians as well as cycling as two valuable alternatives to the motor vehicle which both ideally requiring separate paths and cycle ways.
f) How would you support the building and maintenance of dedicated cycle infrastructure, reallocate space, redesign of existing road and paths suitable for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
This is a very tall order for Lewes. We are not designing on a flat greenfield site. The challenges in Lewes are considerable because of its history and infrastructure and too much planning in the 1960s and since that put the motor vehicle first.
Getting the volume of traffic down is key, and getting fewer large vehicles too when cyclists want to be out. Seeing the ESCC move to Polegate might reduce incoming traffic to an in town car park … or site this on the edge of town and have a park and walk/cycle scheme at both ends of town.
g) What local action would you support?
The issues with motor vehicles are multifarious : speeds, pollution, volume, size, parking …
Dutch experience: We make a differentiation between the hunched-and-helmeted cyclist and the upright, bare-headed cyclist. Upright, everyday cycling, a form of walking-with-wheels, is far more broad, inclusive, accessible, and appealing to people of all ages and fitness levels. It isn’t just about getting from A to B as quickly as possible, it’s about enjoying the ride.
h) How should the Councils use the experience of cyclists when designing cycle facilities?
The behaviours of cyclists even where they are ignoring restrictions, like pedestrians taking shortcuts indicate a potential solution to a problem rather than something to police and punish.
There are lessons to be learnt from around the UK, but also in Denmark and the Netherlands. New housing and work spaces need to be designed with pedestrians and cycle use prioritized over the motor vehicle.
As well as cyclists, we need to talk to pedestrians as those on foot, on bikes or in motor vehicles need to be given separate provision and as often as possible kept apart.