By Chris Geeson
Cycling is a potential answer to everything from obesity, to climate change, to congestion. Sadly the Government’s approach to harnessing this answer has been a failure. In quick succession we’ve seen £2 billion put into emergency COVID pop up cycling lanes, an updated cycle-friendly Highway Code, and our first Dutch-style cyclists’ roundabout.
But this new people-powered era is in crisis already. Half a dozen pop-up cycle lanes across West Sussex are being slated for traffic gridlock, unsafe design and perhaps most damning of all, sheer lack of use.
Sadly, it turns out that ‘pop-up’ just means “foul-up”. In central Newcastle they successfully converted a dual carriageway into one lane plus a cycle route, boosting cycling by 300%. What made it work? Because this design was carefully planned out long ago, before the pandemic even started.
It’s not just a town problem
Lack of preparation isn’t the only problem. According to the Office for National Statistics, more cyclists are killed on country roads than in towns. West Sussex is mainly rural – but where are the schemes to improve safety? Billingshurst cyclists might as well be invisible as far as WSCC and HDC are concerned.
Billingshurst is a classic example. Cycling in the village itself is a largely positive experience, with quiet roads and a lovely gravel track encircling a large section of the village. But for longer journeys you have to battle with speeding commuters and lorries on the A272 or the A29. All these narrow, winding roads, with tight bridges and blind approaches, are literally an accident waiting to happen.
Billingshurst needs action
So, how do we fix things? Is it wider roads, or stopping points, or new country trails? Could Billingshurst connect to the popular Downs Link, or Pulborough and Wisborough Green? WSCC and HDC aren’t even thinking about this at the moment, they’re focussed entirely on the town centres. On the other hand, the village Local Plan has plenty of ideas, but no funding for any action.
There’s no doubt, cycling has the potential to make a fantastic impact. Let’s not let our rural communities get left behind.
Chris Geeson is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Billingshurst, West Sussex County Council