Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot of opinions on cycling from local politicians. Not all are founded on fact – be that the evidence base for current policy, as laid down in the government’s strategy document Gear Change, or actually getting on a bike and experiences the challenges and barriers to cycling in Brighton & Hove.
To remedy that, we’ve been sending councillors and MPs links to research and evidence about the rationale behind improving safety for cycling, and the huge benefits this can have on the whole community.
We also invited every councillor and MP in the city on a bike ride with us, and left the choice of date up to them. Unfortunately, none of the seventeen Labour councillors or thirteen Conservative councillors were able to make it, but on the afternoon of Sunday 6 June, six of the city’s twenty Green councillors and Brighton Kemptown & Peacehaven MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle came to ride with us.
Our ride left the Level at 3pm and went down the new cycle tracks on Valley Gardens. The width and surface of the new tracks is great, but they’re not integrated with all side roads, and there are couple of crossings where people cycling and walking are left waiting on a traffic island while crossing, spilling dangerously into the road if there are more than a handful.
We then went towards the Aquarium Roundabout, which is a frightening experience even for experienced cyclists, with multiple lanes of cars, lorries and buses passing at speed. The final phase of the Valley Gardens project is due to begin later this year, and will allow people of all ages and abilities to safely cycle to the seafront from the east of the city for the first time.
Cycling westwards along the seafront, we experienced the difficulties of a two-way track that is just over a metre wide in places, and which snakes in and out of pedestrians. Current design guidance requires at least three metres width for bi-directional tracks, to allow space for passing and for all types of cycle, including cargo bikes and adapted cycles used by disabled people. We continued westwards using the temporary lanes, then went along Kings Esplanade, where we saw a sports car driving along the cycle lane.
We turned right from Hove Street into Church Road, using a junction that desperately needs a redesign, as you have to sit in the middle of heavy traffic to turn. From here, we went eastwards back into Brighton, along Western Road and down North Street, before heading northwards to Preston Park. This part of the journey often felt unsafe, as the road width varied constantly, leaving anyone cycling with the unenviable choice of getting too close to parked cars (the risk of being hit by someone opening a car door) or too close to moving cars (the risk of being struck by a moving vehicle). Western Road and Church Road are both wide enough to accommodate protected cycle lanes.
In Preston Park we stopped for tea and a chat about the long journey ahead of us, to make cycling safe and easy for people of all ages and abilities. When a twelve-year old child or an eighty-year old grandparent can cycle to a friend’s house without having to think carefully about which routes are safe and which aren’t, we’ll have achieved our aim.
The participants found the ride useful, and although most of them cycle regularly, there were parts of the route they wouldn’t normally take alone as they feel unsafe.
Most importantly, the politicians told us they’d enjoyed the ride around town. We’ll be repeating it next year, when we hope to have representatives of all three parties with us.