Although officially part of Brighton & Hove, Portslade has a strong separate identity, with a close-knit, friendly community centred around the lively shopping street of Boundary Road. It’s ideally placed for cycling, with central Hove just ten minutes away by bike, and both Shoreham and central Brighton reachable in around twenty.
Portslade suffered in the 1970s from car-centric planning, with houses and business bulldozed to make way for roads. The result is a network of intimidating roads which are noisy, unpleasant to walk along and often dangerous for cycling, meaning that many residents drive out of Portslade for shopping and leisure.
However, things are changing. Last May, pop-up cycle lanes were installed along a treacherous stretch of the A270 (Old Shoreham Road) allowing children to cycle to school for the first time, and a consultation is underway to extend these lanes westwards to the city boundary, unlocking parts of the town that were previously inaccessible by cycle for most people.
Portslade scores highly on the Propensity to Cycle tool – a statistical website that shows how many people would cycle to school or work if the roads were safer.
We spent a sunny spring afternoon in Portslade, talking to the people who live and work there and travel by bike.
On Boundary Road, we met Ruth, who lives in round the corner and cycles along the seafront cycle path to get to work. ‘I don’t cycle around here because I don’t feel safe – I’ve pushed my bike along this bit. I don’t use the pop-up lanes on the Old Shoreham Road because I don’t like the roads that lead up to them.’
Jasmine lives to the west and comes coming to Portslade for its parks, ‘There’s lots of traffic and not much space for bicycles. Lots of streets are narrow, and it feels like you could be mown down at any minute. In central Brighton, they’ve made room for bikes but that hasn’t reached Portslade yet. The pop-up lanes on the Old Shoreham Road are handy as they make me feel safe.’
Cora started cycling on her mum’s bike during the first lockdown but has her own now. ‘I love cycling around – particularly the Undercliff and the seafront. I have to pick my route according to where the protected lanes are, as I feel unsafe elsewhere. I’m working from home now but would like to be able to cycle to work in Lewes. It’d take about an hour each way but it’s worth it as it’ll keep me fit.’
Maggie had stopped cycling due to chronic joint problems, but started again during lockdown, thanks to the pop-up lanes on the Old Shoreham Road. ‘I live in Mile Oak and work in Seven Dials, and have to push on the first part of my journey, as the traffic is very scary. The extension to the cycle lanes will mean I’ll be able to cycle all the way. Cycling has hugely improved my physical and mental health, my joint pain has almost gone and I’m mobile again.
Danny lives in Shoreham and works in Portslade. ‘The temporary lanes are great for me, but they make some drivers angry. It’d be good if drivers and cyclists were better educated, as sometimes it feels like drivers haven’t seen you. On Boundary Road, lots of people just stop where they want and put the hazard lights on, which is dangerous if you’re cycling. They could do with reducing the traffic here somehow.’
We met Sue outside Aldi, where she’d just been shopping. ‘I ride because I can carry more shopping than on foot, but don’t usually go north of Boundary Road because the roads are scary. At the worst junctions, I get off and push. I don’t use the pop-up lanes on the Old Shoreham Road because I don’t feel safe on the roads that feed into them. One thing we need more of is bike storage – people who live in flats often have nowhere to keep a bike.’
Jack cycles because it’s quicker than walking and he loves being outdoors in all weathers. ‘I live at the end of the Old Shoreham Road in Portslade and get to work in Hove using the cycle lanes. The extension will be good for me, as the traffic gets hectic and I feel unsafe without protected lanes. Boundary Rd is great for shops and stuff but it feels unsafe because of congestion and the level crossing.’
Ed lives in Portslade and commutes to central Brighton, which takes him about 20 minutes. ‘I tend to use my bike for short local journeys as it saves me money, keeps me fit and it’s usually faster than driving or taking the bus. I get a lot of punctures because the cycle paths aren’t always surfaced properly, and there are lots of potholes.