Tuesday 15 July 2014

Southend-on-Sea. Missed opportunities to create a better environment for cycling and walking.

I spent last weekend in Southend-on-Sea. My daughter and I went there for a short break at the sea-side. This was not a cycling holiday. We mainly walked around the town, and we enjoyed it. However I couldn't help but take photos and videos during our stay and to look up some facts and figures on our return. The result is below. Most of the points that I make could be made about many towns in the UK:

Cycling to the airport with my daughter
There are cycle-paths much like this
for the entire 18 km distance from
our home to Groningen airport.
How we got there
A few months ago we entered a competition at a "business contact day" and were lucky enough to win a pair of tickets for the very convenient flybe service direct from Groningen airport to London Southend Airport. Groningen airport is only 18 km from our home in Assen, easy cycling distance, so we travelled by bike to the airport on Friday to get the flight.

On arrival at Southend-on-Sea, the most straightforward way to travel to the town was by rail. The railway station is conveniently located opposite the airport terminal. It cost £2.90 per person to cover a distance of just over 2 miles (3 km).

A13 Queensway Urban Realm and Cycle improvements
"Cycle Improvements" ? Where ?
How much worse could it have been
before the improvements ?
Directly outside the railway station we came to one of the most confusing road layouts in the town. The huge Victoria Avenue / Queensway junction, recently renamed "Victoria Gateway" is the only place in Southend where an obvious claim had been made that it was improved specifically for cyclists.

The junction has a sign which lists organisations involved in providing funds and even has a couple of words of Dutch on it. But there is little if anything here to benefit cyclists. A short stretch of shared use pavement, a very slow toucan crossing and a couple of ASLs would seem to be all that cyclists are provided with here, though the road is enormous and very busy.

I made the following video, showing how its actually a huge empty space dominated by motor vehicles:

It being the parlance of present day planners, I can't help but imagine that this new design was sold with a promise that it would "create a place". But there is no "place" here which anyone wants to be in. What we actually have is a huge area of asphalt dedicated to motor vehicles alongside another huge anonymous concrete area which is dedicated to absolutely nothing at all. No-one stops here unless they have to. Everyone who you see here is desperate to get away as soon as they can. This is not a destination, it's merely an inconvenience on the way to a destination.

What this also is is a terrible missed opportunity. Rather than a genuine advance in infrastructure to encourage cycling, Southend built this. However, there's nothing here which comes even close to best practice with regard to cycling. It will take an awful lot more than this to truly turn Southend into a "Bike Friendly City".

A huge four lane wide Advanced Stop Line is as much as has been done for cyclists here. It apparently cost 7.5 million pounds to do this. Move this around to take a better look yourself or show a bigger map

This is claimed to be a "Shared Space", but there is clearly nothing remotely "shared" about it. The safety of this area has been questioned, and there are complaints that it is being "ruined" by skateboarders who use it because facilities specifically for them are distant. This conflict of uses could have been avoided by building a decent skate park nearby for a small fraction of the cost of this development. Rather, this is an example of wide pavement syndrome.
A drawing of what Victoria Gateway was supposed to look like according to the council. One car. Lots of people walking, Trees. Blue sky. It doesn't reflect the reality
Next day update: I predicted yesterday that someone would try to make out that this was "a place" and I was right. Further investigation reveals that none other than Sustrans now refer to this as a "pocket place". They've recently produced a newsletter about it, referring to the lighting installation which is to come.

A local blogger, Ria, already wrote about an interactive light show on the open concrete area and discusses the area further. She had "lazily dismissed it a few times during the day as it was slightly off-path from between Southend Victoria and the high street. And my small curiosity didn’t beg at me to take a few seconds detour from the fast-paced crowd to even ask" and said that "The Victoria Gateway doesn’t generate a lot of footfall as is. And why should it? Even without the skaters there, people have no reason for going beyond the short walk between Southend Victoria and the high street."

Ria is absolutely right ! This is not the sort of place that anyone would want to stop in, no matter how much money is spent on a lighting show. It's a desert in the middle of a large road junction. It's not a nice place to be and won't become a destination for anyone.

Also interesting to read Ria's views on the skateboarders: "Many even go so far as to complain, if not about the unruly appearance of Southend’s skaters loitering in the area, then with concerns of safety for the young skateboarders attempting tricks and falling off their skateboards so close to the traffic. You may complain about the skateboarding there, but you have to admit that they tend to keep to themselves and they seem to be the only ones utilising that vast area at all."

The idea that anywhere like this can become a vital "place" that people want to go to just because a huge amount of money has been spent on a new road surface is patently absurd.

Crossing the road
One of the other things that struck us as we walked from the railway station to our bed and breakfast was how long it took merely to cross the road in Southend.

Southend has a lot of traffic lights and pedestrians are required to wait behind them for a very long time before they can cross the road. The majority of the crossings have excessive waiting times for pedestrians. We often had to wait more than a minute to cross the road. By the sea-front we found just one example which was actually designed to prioritize walking, just like their equivalents in the Netherlands. Why aren't they all like this ?

Multi-stage crossings with railing cages in the middle were a common sight in Southend. These make progress slow for pedestrians, effectively increasing the length of journeys. They make driving more attractive than cycling.
When crossing times are so long, this greatly increases journey times by foot. It is the equivalent of making walking journeys several times longer, and for that reason long delays also make walking several times less attractive.

Where it's not convenient for drivers that pedestrians should be able to cross, Southend has erected barriers to prevent pedestrians from making efficient and direct journeys. We wanted to cross the road at this point but it was made impossible by railings so we had to keep walking and make a less direct journey. These are an artifact of 1960s road design to encourage driving. They are hostile to walking. Assen had railings just like this in the 1960s, but got rid of them decades ago, along with the through traffic which made them "necessary".

More railings at the corner of what seemed to be an excessively large junction. Not only are railings like this inconvenient for pedestrians, they also are dangerous for cyclists. who be squashed against them by larger vehicles.
Another road with no safe crossing. There are three lanes to cross here with an unusual layout. Islands which could have provided a small refuge and a little assistance to pedestrians have instead been given an uncomfortable surface to discourage pedestrians from standing on them.
Pedestrianized main shopping street
Pedestrianized street in Southend. This is a thriving area. People like to be where the motor vehicles are not.
Southend pedestrianized its main shopping street in the 1960s. That was relatively advanced thinking. The same street remains pedestrianized. Sadly, unlike many equivalent streets in the Netherlands, bicycles are excluded. This results in cyclists having to make longer journeys around the shopping street on roads which are busy with cars. Not only does that make journeys longer but it also makes them more stressful and more dangerous and this makes cycling less attractive.

This cyclist dismounted to cross the pedestrianized street. Previously Victoria Circus, this huge open space really ought to allow cycling as it provides an alternative route west-east to avoid the busy A13 junction shown above. All alternatives to riding across here are detours on busy roads.
Very small children rode scooters through the pedestrianized area, but even on such a safe machine and in a supposedly safe environment, parents feel that helmets are warranted.
At this point, the pedestrianized street is crossed by a road. Cars are given priority and pedestrians have to wait quite a long time to get a green light. Just as in other parts of the city, most people cross the road against a red light because waiting times are excessive. Note no cycling sign in the pedestrianized street. In Assen we have pedestrian priority signs instead or forms of street which exclude motor traffic but allow cycling.

Unfortunately, even this pedestrianized street is not entirely car free. Pedestrians are required to wait at a pelican crossing even when walking along their pedestrianized street in order to cross a fairly busy road taking cars across the pedestrianized area. That this doesn't really work successfully is illustrated by the existence of signs which warn that it's a "Pedestrian Accident Area". These signs at least show the true cause of danger, which is motor vehicles and not cyclists.

Just outside the pedestrianized street we're back to normal British road design, hostile to cyclists and pedestrians. The one modern innovation on this street is a charging point for electric vehicles, the fuel for which is subsidized by the local council (and local tax-payers). Cyclists have been forgotten about and many take to the pavement for the sake of their own safety.

Shared Space on the sea front
The sea front area is a "shared space". This changed in 2011, with the area being renamed "City Beach". A small sign requests that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers should "Share space".

Regular readers will know that I'm skeptical of the benefits of shared space. I've seen many shared spaces now, both in the Netherlands and in the UK and I've yet to see an example which is better than other possible arrangements. Claims for safety are unfounded, the needs of vulnerable road users are neglected. Nothing that I saw in Southend changed my view.

This area is adjacent to the quicker pedestrian crossing shown above. It has a 20 mph speed limit controlled by speed cameras and I think it's fair to say that the speed limit has actually made it relatively pleasant given the enormous flows of traffic here. However, the traffic is still a problem. If this is truly supposed to be a place for people travelling by foot or by bicycle then why is it still dominated by a continuous and heavy flow of through motor traffic 24 hours a day ?

The opportunity to fix the problem at source wasn't taken. As a result, there is little "sharing" going on. Drivers have a road to drive on, pedestrians have pavements. While the bravest cyclists ride on the road, others stick to the pavement.

In this "shared space" there's a very obvious distinction between the space for pedestrians and the space for motorists and it was quite obvious which of these areas most people on bikes thought was safer

A woman with children on the back of a tricycle provided another example of where most people feel safe to cycle .

This cyclist clearly found it more pleasant to make her journey on the pedestrian area than on the road "shared" with cars.
Redeveloping this short stretch of road cost 7.5 million pounds. There are claims that despite its high price, this was a "bodge job". According to a local paper, the fancy paving was supported by blocks of wood instead of a proper foundation and the new surface is already sinking. This has "affected the drainage and led to flooding".

Next day update: As is commonly the case with "Shared Space", this one needed to have pedestrian crossings retrofitted to it so that people could stop the traffic and cross the road. There has been at least one injury already on the pavement. You may also enjoy a local cyclist's video of "sharing" this road with drivers who overtake even at the speed limit.

NCN route 16
There is a Sustrans National Cycle Network route through Southend. This goes along the sea-front, using the pavement rather than the road through the "shared space" area. As is so often the case with these routes, it's not designed to allow efficient and safe cycling.

I only saw roughly a mile length of the route because we were walking, not cycling. But even in this short distance there were obvious problems. Under the pier, cyclists go into a blind corner. Further to the west it consists of a path which is far too narrow for safe bidirectional use and positioned so close to car parking that it creates a "dooring" problem.
There's plenty of space here for a cycle-path of sensible width for bidirectional use and to place that cycle-path further from the doors of legally parked cars. In this case, the passenger was actually standing on the other side of the car on the cycle-path as the cyclist passed. This isn't pleasant or safe for either party.
There's no problem due to a lack of space. I estimate that nearly 30 metres in width is available to be re-arranged, currently occupied by wide pavements on both sides of the road, the cycle-path, two lanes of traffic, two lanes of parked cars and a wide verge in the centre of the road. There is simple no reason for this cycle-path to be so narrow or positioned where it is.

While we were walking along the sea front we noticed something that seemed a little odd. People would occasionally ride bikes past us, and then within a few short minutes we'd see them return again. No-one seemed to be going very far at all. The explanation came when I looked at the map on return from our holiday:

It turns out that the other problem with the Sustrans NCN path is that is doesn't actually go anywhere.

This cycle-route is approximately 6 miles long along the sea front. Try to turn towards the city centre and you would instead find yourself riding either on a shared use path alongside, or on the enormous "Queensway" dual-carriageway, leading to the advanced stop line at the huge junction in the last section. Due to the central streets excluding bicycles, you can't usefully reach many of the shops by bike. There is no sign at all in this town of the dense grid of high quality cycle-paths required for a high cycling modal share.

None of Sustrans' suggested routes could have taken us so far as the airport on any quality of infrastructure.

Shared-use path alongside Queensway. This is actually one of the better bits as its reasonably wide, but there are obstacles even in the short distance between giving way to this side road and negotiating the crossings near the upcoming roundabout. In that distance we have to avoid posts in the shared use path, steer clear of blind corners and make sure we don't ride too close to the wall.
Next day update: The door zone route along the sea front is supposedly a "hybrid" path. This is a low quality design of cycle-path which exists in the UK only as the result of a misunderstanding in 2008 by Cambridge Cycling Campaign members. How on earth did Southend pick this up as a good example to try to copy ? If you're copying from the Netherlands, it's important to look for the best examples.

Cycle-lanes, contra-flows and filtered permeability
Southend's smaller streets offer some utility for cycling and here there is some good news for cyclists resulting from low cost measures. On-road contra-flow cycle-lanes and other filtered permeability improve the convenience of cycling. Unfortunately, it's not comprehensive and design standards are not high. It's not enough to create the comprehensive and subjectively safe network required for everyone to cycle.
By the sea-front, this contra-flow lane allows cyclists to descend one of the steepest hills in Southend  in a narrow lane against the direction of motor traffic, picking up considerable speed as they do so.

When those same cyclists get to the bottom of the hill at the new shared space area they have to enter this narrow chicane with hard kerbs and give way to cars. There's no useful straight on here, you must turn either left or right. A better junction could surely have been designed than this.

Southend has narrow cycle-lanes on some of the minor roads but they're often in "the door zone" like this one. Faced with such poor cycling infrastructure, cyclists will often use the pavements instead although those are not ideal either. Pavement cycling problems are usually in reality poor cycling infrastructure problems.

A contra-flow lane in a residential street. This is relatively usable because it creates a more direct route by bike.

Poor implementation (kerbs, between car-parking areas so risk of reversing cars) but useful none-the-less. Cycles can go in a straight line here while cars cannot. This idea, but very much more of it and very much more evolved, makes up a good part of the Dutch cycling network.
On-road cycle-lanes are rarely truly beneficial to cyclists. This cycle-lane creates an expectation that cyclists will dive to the kerb immediately after passing parked cars. At a junction, the kerb is the wrong place to be, even for a left turn.

This cycle-lane and ASL are simply not of any real utility. The feeder lane is short and narrow and the space between the central island and the kerb is not side enough to be shared safely between a motor vehicle and a cyclist. The overall environment here is hostile to cyclists, this follows from a corner with railings featured above.

Car parks
Car parks in Southend were full and overflowing with cars. This is something we're not used to seeing. A successful transport policy which convinces people to walk or cycle instead of drive greatly decreases the need for car parking. This can especially be seen in Dutch cities like Assen where car parks don't fill up despite low cost parking.
Southend has many car parks and every one of them that we saw seemed to be full during the day. When people have no real choice but to drive, they will do so almost regardless of the cost of parking. This enormous use of cars is part of what keeps the roads full of moving cars. A real alternative would take away the problems of trying to cope with such high car usage.
It's clear that the people of Southend have little alternative but to drive, and so driving is the main way that they travel around the town. It's a small town so journey lengths will in many cases be relatively short, but the alternatives to driving are not attractive enough to encourage people out of their cars.

Providing such a large number of car parking spaces is a huge cost for the town. All this driving also costs the people who live in the town. Good quality cycling infrastructure costs less to build than not to build, but for that to apply the quality level needs to be much higher than that of what I saw in Southend.

Return journey
On Sunday morning we walked back to the centre of Southend and took a bus to the airport. This was slightly less expensive than the train but took more time. If we'd set off by foot instead of waiting then we would have reached our destination sooner.

The bus journey took us the two miles back to the airport along roads which had almost no cycling infrastructure at all. This being Sunday morning there were a few recreational cyclists in evidence, riding on the roads, and we also saw one child riding on the pavement. There were a few very narrow on-road cycle-lanes and a few shared-use paths but nothing which added up to a useful network, nothing which would have made cycling to airport into a safe and pleasant experience.

Unfortunately, we didn't recognise the airport entrance as we went past it and the bus driver didn't automatically stop at the airport. We were dropped off at the side of the road a little further along and had to walk back to the airport. At this point we had to deal with walking near Southend airport. The entrance is guarded by a huge roundabout. This has no cycling facilities or assistance for anyone crossing the road:

The area immediately outside Southend Airport. Very hostile for cycling and walking. Larger map

On arrival in Groningen we found my daughter's boyfriend had ridden from Assen to meet us so we cycled 18 km back home together on cycle-paths which stretch the entire distance.

My daughter and her boyfriend. They rode hand in hand most of the way home. This photo was taken right outside Groningen airport (that's their wire fence). This is a unidirectional cycle-path, its the same on the other side of the road, and as it happens this is the worst quality stretch in the 18 km between the airport and our home in Assen. I'm not cherry-picking Dutch examples to make the comparison seem more convincing, this is genuinely as bad as it gets on this journey. The reason why an 18 km journey to the airport is easier to make by bike here than a 3 km journey is to make in Southend is that we have this infrastructure. It's that simple.
Southend Summary
So what is holding Southend back ? It's not the weather, it's not that journeys are long and it's not that it's a particularly hilly place either.

Local newspaper clipping.
The crash happened on a road
near the airport
, not far from the
roundabout shown above. No
cycling infrastructure along
here. I hope she recovers.
There's plenty of evidence of suppressed demand for cycling in Southend, as there is elsewhere across the UK and other countries. You see it in such things as children riding scooters in the pedestrianized zone, people who go for short rides up and down the sea-front, the occasional teenager riding a BMX bike through the town, the mum who waits for a gap to cross the road, the occasional roadie who cycles in front of the bus until he's overtaken a bit sharply. You even see it in the frustrated faces of people looking for somewhere to put their cars in overloaded car-parks as well as when they reach into their pockets to pay for parking.

People don't need to be persuaded to cycle. They just need the infrastructure to change so that they are not continuously persuaded not to. While cycling means indirect journeys in the close company of motorized vehicles and is neither convenient nor safe, you can't just tell people to cycle and expect them to take it up as if they'd never thought of the idea themselves. What's needed is infrastructural change which enables people to ride bikes without feeling like they are in mortal danger as they do so.

Cycling doesn't have a training problem. It doesn't have a PR or marketing problem. What is being faced in the UK is an infrastructure problem. Southend, like many towns, actually demonstrates very well how infrastructure influences behaviour. Changes made in the 1960s resulted in the town which exists today and resulted in the traffic patterns which were planned for. Historical photos of Dutch towns in the 1960s look just like photos from the UK at the same time. However Dutch towns no longer look like that. They changed again in order to make cycling attractive once again. That is what resulted in the surge in cycling and Britain could do exactly the same thing.

Unfortunately British towns, including Southend, are not doing it. They are trying to change while also trying to stay the same, repeating the same errors as have been made elsewhere.

Southend local newspaper
is "cynical" about the
intentions of politicians
So what are they doing ? Southend-on-Sea borough council's website doesn't have very much to say about cycling, but what it does say emphasizes such things as "encouraging cycling across the wider community targeting groups and individuals [...] cycle training, working with employers to persuade employees to cycle to work, recycling bicycles, cycle routes and cycling events". The council's Cycle Southend website ("We've got it all!") talks about "helping you get on your bike [...] lessons on learn to ride, getting back in the saddle and fun themed guided rides." Their "Ideas In Motion" site has a few "ideas" for cycling and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund application says they will look at "Reducing traffic congestion, Working with public transport companies to improve information on times and tickets, Encouraging people to walk more, cycle or use public transport rather than using cars, Build on the success of the Cycle Southend, Encourage more use of electric vehicles." It also says that five million pounds is available to businesses to help them with this. Meanwhile, over on the "Bike Friendly Cities" website, Sustrans' claims to be helping Southend with "a cross border user group analysis, enabling local key stakeholder groups and an awareness campaign."

The motherlode of sustainability jargon is to be found on another council LSTF page which contains all these words: "The focus of the 2015/16 revenue programme will be to build seamlessly on the current LSTF programme, improving sustainable transport connectivity, thus enabling people to travel conveniently in and between the growth areas of the JAAP, Southend Central Area and east Southend development sites without reliance on the car. The programme comprises complimentary work streams delivered with established partners: Marketing, raising awareness, and information provision: through the development of a PTP smartphone application, targeted marketing for walking cycling and PT, and supporting a further social enterprise led Travel Hub, providing on-site Personalised Travel Planning (PTP), information and advice; Access to work and education: supporting employers and SMEs to embed workplace travel plans, providing PTP at workplaces, higher education establishments and Job Centres, and delivering “Learning in Motion”, a joint Sustrans/SBC programme embedding cycling in the curriculum with primary/secondary schools; Improving sustainable transport links: through wayfinding, and encouraging use of new walking and cycling routes". Wow.

An awful lot of organisations are involved in maintaining an awful lot of websites and producing an awful lot of paperwork. Unfortunately, it's all nonsense. No-one reads this stuff and decides to ride a bike on the back of it. The value of these words does not add up to the value of one metre of cycle-path (and one-metre on its own is not very useful at all).

It's very obvious why towns and cities like Southend are not making progress in cycling. They're doing a lot of talking and even spending quite a lot of money but they're simply not making the investment that they need to make in the things that they need to invest in. The path to world class results is simple: follow world class best practice. We'd be delighted to show you how.

Is cycling too expensive ?
From what I've been able to make out from a variety of sources, redevelopment of the two "Shared Space" areas, neither of which offer much in the way of benefits to cyclists, together cost around fifteen million pounds. These two schemes alone consumed enough money to have cycling at Dutch levels (€30 per person per year) for about four years in Southend.

Spent well, this money could have achieved a great deal. Unfortunately, Southend cyclists got nothing more than a few ASLs, a very slow toucan crossing and a short length of shared use path.

Southend spent enough money to pay for 100 km of cycle-path
like this. It would have been a good start towards the grid of
very good quality required for a high modal share. Instead,
local cyclists got a few ASLs, the slow toucan and shared
use paths.
To put that into some perspective, here in Assen, a very good quality very safe traffic light road junction cost the cycling budget less than 1/400th of that figure and half a mile of very high quality cycle-path cost about 1/100th of what was spent in Southend. i.e. Southend could have built 80 km of Assen quality cycle-path as well as all the junctions to join them up.

In any case, the only reason why cycling has a cost greater than its benefit in the UK is that the money is spent on a combination of building low quality (though sometimes very expensive) infrastructure and production of copious quantities of paperwork, neither of which achieve an increase in cycling. Good quality infrastructure which actually does result in more cycling pays for itself several times over.

Mistakes already made are difficult to reverse, but it's time to just get on with it. Don't wait another reminded meforty years to make a start. Copy from best practice to achieve world class results.

Next day update
Rachel Aldred reminded me that Southend received extra funding as a "Cycling Town". More examples of the results of this can be found here.

More updates
14 year old buy trapped under bus in shared space.

Geography of Southend
People often wonder if their geography makes their town uniquely unfit for cycling. This is not the case for Southend. Southend-on-Sea has a slightly smaller population than Groningen in the Netherlands. It's a very compact town, approximately half the size of either Assen or Groningen with a population density twice that of Groningen and roughly five times that of Assen. Such a small place should be ideal for cycling. Journeys within the town can only be over short distances. I haven't been able to find climate date for Southend, but given that other places nearby have mild weather we can expect this to be less extreme than these Dutch cities.

Southend does have some hills, particularly near the sea front, but they're not extreme. Roads mostly take routes along the hills and not directly up them. In any case, London Southend Airport, two miles inland is up the hill, but its only 17 m above sea level.

Cycling and walking facilities aside, we really enjoyed our weekend in Southend-on-Sea. In particular I must point out that The Railway Hotel must be one of the best pubs in the UK (excellent music, excellent food, excellent beer) and that The Keralam Restaurant does wonderful Southern Indian food. Both these places were recommended to us by very friendly and helpful local people.


The Ranty Highwayman said...

My closest seaside town and I have never cycled there (walked many times after arriving by car or train). Not sure I want to now! Yes, all we get is the big paving schemes by showman designers. The seafront scheme was pointless as it kept the traffic. The seafront goes nowhere as it is bypassed by the A127 to get to the settlements to the east. Should have been access only.

pearcie said...

As a resident and cyclist of Leigh on sea I frequently use the roads and cycle provision :) of Southend and surrounding areas.
Below is a response from my local councillor after a query from me as part of the recent/ongoing CTC Space for Cycling campaign;

Hi Gary,

Just back from N Wales.
We have only taken an interest in this town of recent years in cycleway provision and safer cycling, like the Prittlebrook scheme.
I think we have spent too much money on gold plated schemes.
If there is a change of administration this May, I would hope we could start a series of cheap schemes involving white paint and a few signs on the routes, such as on Marine parade Leigh
where there are parallel footpaths


At least he replied, I will make sure that he, and my other councillors get a link to your article
Best wishes

Unknown said...

HI there, I live,work and cycle in southend every day. yes there are problems by just posting on blogger it doesn’t help. All it achieves is less and less people feeling safe in their own town. southend is one of the best towns I ride in. I am on the time trials team for essex and also one of the essex road race team so for me to be able to train in southend is very satisfactory. I also would like to thank the person who is improving Victoria gateway, they are trying to help sustainable transport users. If you had seen the layout of the old junction, it was not very user friendly.
kind regards

David Hembrow said...

Chris: I agree that it doesn't help only to blog, and I don't only blog. We're in our ninth year of running educational cycling study tours aimed precisely at the sort of people who make decisions, to show them what the state of the art is, and to also demonstrate them how to avoid making mistakes such as have been made in Southend. This blog is a supplementary resource to the study tours.

It's a nonsense to blame the decline in cycling on people writing about the problem in the 21st century. Cycling has actually been in decline in the UK since before I was born. This decline is not the result of people like myself pointing out where things have gone, but the result of policies and planning which favoured motor vehicles. The Dutch had the same decline, but they reversed it by rebuilding their streets so that cycling was once again a favoured means of transport.

Britain could do the same thing.

I'm very happy to hear that you feel safe to cycle in the UK as it is no and that you enjoy racing. This is a fine activity. However, you'll surely have noticed that you are a member of a small self-selected minority group. The subjective safety concerns which put most people off cycling do not apply so much to you to the same degree as they do to other people. If you want to grow cycling then you have to address these issues which keep people from riding bikes.

As for Victoria Gateway, this may be an improvement over the previous situation at that single junction, but it has not transformed the entire town so that the majority feel safe to cycle. It cannot do so because its scope is far too small.

Victoria Gateway cost seven million pounds. The same amount of money spent in the Dutch city which I now live in is enough to have paid for 50 km of cycling infrastructure built to a truly excellent standard. You could have had the beginnings of a proper network for the cost of the two high price projects in Southend.

Southend's budget is adequate to build a network of real cycling infrastructure which would enable the entire population to cycle, but it seems that they don't know how to spend the money to achieve the best result. I'd welcome representatives from Southend to come and see what proper cycling infrastructure looks like.

Jitensha Oni said...

Couldn't find an explicit reference to this in your various links but from the Southend box on the map on http://www.ctc.org.uk/news/sustainable-transport-funding-announced-england-%C2%A3440m-6-years

we have

"LSTF allocations for 2015-2021

Southend on Sea Borough Council has been awarded £750,000 from the DfT in revenue LSTF funding.

Southend on Sea Borough Council will provide £4,780,000 from local sources, including Local Growth Fund capital, and other funding streams.
The total programme value is £5,530,000 over 6 years. With a population of 174.3 thousand, this equates to £5.29 per person,"

Given the existing infrastructure, the council should just about be able to fit out the whole town like Assen for that, yes? Good time to pay you a visit I'd have thought.

Pedal Pusher said...

Good write up.
You are right that Southend could have done so much better.
No wonder it is a declining town.
It is no doubt better than what was there before, but one isn't going to catch up by going slower! (a point, I am sure, you have made many times).
A missed opportunity.

Unknown said...

You say that a 3 km trip in Southend is difficult but further down the seafront this isn't the case. The other half of NCN 16 (east of the new "city beach" shared space) is actually the best / most useful cycle infra I've seen in the whole country, and it lasts for 3.7 whole kilometres. Locals use it for leisure and to get to/from central Southend from the eastern areas.

It's two-way and segregated from both motor traffic and pedestrians, and it's never in the dooring zone next to parked cars. There are no CYCLISTS DISMOUNT signs or sharing with pedestrians. It even has red colouring that doesn't wear away. This: http://goo.gl/maps/bSKdM

It has bus stop bypasses at every bus stop. http://goo.gl/maps/snvVK & http://goo.gl/maps/mAV8u etc

It crosses one lane of motor traffic at a time, while still separate from pedestrians. http://goo.gl/maps/PeJYV &
http://goo.gl/maps/xJi4z & http://goo.gl/maps/fDEtY

It has well thought-out pedestrian crossing points, often giving cycles priority next to zebra crossings. http://goo.gl/maps/uXjKh

This "CYCLE LANE: LOOK BOTH WAYS" sign reminds walkers to look, since there are bind corners here. http://goo.gl/maps/Re5hS

It is continuous for 2.3 miles each way (3.7 km), from A to B: http://goo.gl/maps/Z5RBl

And, it was made by reducing the width of the road. Before it was installed, cars typically drove down here at 35mph. Now, with less width and the frequent islands in the middle of the road, 25mph is usual.

While it gives way at every minor access, there aren't many of these and it's very rare for a motor vehicle to drive onto the beach.

It is however only 2.0m wide (I've measured it at many points), a bit uncomfortably narrow for two-way cycling! Certianly not wide enough for side-by-side social cycling as your daughter & her partner did, which is a shame. The lack of width seems largely due to the near-constant line of parked vehicles for visitors and residents on the opposite side, and unused cross-hatched zone in the middle of the road.

The other annoyance is it's hard to get to/from it from a side road, like http://goo.gl/maps/mIH5I . This is usually a really busy through route for cars, so giving way to both directions and other cycles all at once is too difficult. There is an abundance of zebra crossings though, so you could dismount and use one of those to get to the cycle track.

Also there are railings, posts and other solid objects right next to the narrow track which seem a bit dangerous/uncomfortable. http://goo.gl/maps/geIZp

You probably didn't see it because it gives up near central Southend, spitting you back into a hostile busy road: http://goo.gl/maps/oraS4 It even has its own GIVE WAY sign post. Most people continue illegally to the left on the wide pavement next to the beach. Having said this, it forms a useful link from central Southend toward Shoeburyness and you can see commuters, shoppers etc riding along it all the time.

It was built in the mid-2000s, with Sustrans funding (I assume). It was actually built many years before Southend was designated as a Cycling Demonstration Town in ~2010. They probably ran out of money to continue it properly along the rest of the seafront, along with the usual motor traffic/parking capacity excuses.

I'm surprised the CEoGB or any of the other cycle bloggers/campaigners haven't mentioned it as an example. As you have thoroughly pointed out, it doesn't connect to any sensible cycling network in the rest of the town. I've lived in this town since I was a kid, if you have any other questions. I like cycling here, as the residential areas are all inter-connected I can use backroad routes that are okay, the issue is memorising them. I could show you one if you want.

Unknown said...

Great article, I cycle in Southend and we don't have enough cycle lanes I also find some of the cycle lanes to narrow and you do have to be aware all the time for drivers opening their doors, getting to close etc. I find the shared space along the sea front confusing and some of the signs telling people that its a shared space are small. In summer I have to use the road for the safety of pedestrians and myself. We don't look at other countries who have great cycle infrastructure and implement there ideas to our roads.

Rob said...

Good article - I lived in Southend for 18 years and now find myself back there again temporarily. Like most places in the UK it suffers from a huge lack of ambition with regards to cycling infrastructure and although there are some bike lanes it's missing a joined up network.

The seafront bike path is (by UK standards anyway) rather good, although perhaps with the exception of the stretch that you saw. It was built in the late 90s/early 2000s, took space away from the road and created a segregated area for cyclists. As another commenter mentioned it's not wide enough but there are no conflicts with minor roads as there's virtually no vehicular access to the beach itself.

The problem stretch is the busier part of the seafront and was built later than other parts. When the east path reaches the central seafront area you're pushed back onto the road, although it seems to be acceptable to continue riding on the promenade pavement (at least 5 metres wide) as there are no signs saying cycling is banned. This leads into the shared space where you can either a) ride on the road, b) continue on the promenade or c) ride on a shared use pavement adjacent to the road. It's just not very well thought out.

Southend had a programme of development in the 60s and 70s which led to the creation of a number of wide dual carriageways, underpasses and other car-centric facilities. Most people prefer to drive everywhere and road improvements tend to focus on that. The old "Victoria Gateway" was a busy roundabout and caused huge queues but as you pointed out it's now a barren wasteland and is not at all connected with the town.

With political will they could build some great infrastructure as there's plenty of space and geographically it's as flat as a pancake.

Andrew Sugden said...

Its nearly 9 years now since your article and yet nearly all your comments remain as relevant as if you had visited last week. However bad the initial schemes may or may not be, the town, now a city, has done absolutely nothing to develop cycling over the last decade. No problems have been sorted, no junctions improved, no changes to the permeability of cycling in the pedestrian areas. In addition one of the effects of Covid has been a collapse in the service levels of the already poor and overpriced public transport offering. All in all Southend will remain a clogged up car based place for many years, probably decades, to come yet. No politicians are trying to do anything useful to reduce car dependency in the town. The waffle and websites will continue to "encourage" cycling and public transport use, but nothing real will ever be provided. I fear UK is slipping further and further behind best practice despite all the hightened modern concerns about global warming, safety and land use that makes the most out of the town. What a waste!

David Hembrow said...

Andrew, thanks for your comment. It is terribly unfortunate that no progress has been made. Cycling remains an easy, inexpensive win for any council or any government in any country that cares to actually do something about it. They can improve air quality, reduce noise, encourage people to become fitter, reduce CO2 emissions, and reduce the cost of transport all in one. But does it happen ? Sadly not. It's not just Southend which has failed to do this. Unfortunately the UK as a whole is also set to miss all the targets set in the 2017 cycling and walking investment strategy.

Jessie said...

I've recently moved to Westcliff-on-sea and am attempting to commute on my bike to Rochford (about 4 miles inland) everyday. It's a difficult task which is such a shame given how relatively small, sunny and scenic Southend is! Thanks for posting a great article, doesn't seem like much as changed since sadly. Wish the council could see the long-term benefits of alternative infrastructure and finding a way out of the vicious cycle that is car dependency.