You know that feeling when people are talking about you but won’t talk to you? This is what it’s like for many of the people who cycle around Brighton and Hove.
Bricycles represents everyone who cycles in our city – and the thousands more who would like to cycle but don’t as they don’t feel safe on our roads.
For the last year, we’ve been telling councillors how much safety for cycling needs to improve. The government is aware of this and has radically overhauled its cycling policy, aiming to make cycling and walking the natural choice for short journeys.
We know that most councillors haven’t read this policy, despite us repeatedly shoving it under their noses. They also haven’t read the design guidelines, which set minimum widths for cycle lanes and say what kind of road needs them.
It’s not just about cycle lanes. It’s about speed limits, poorly designed parking bays that force cyclists into the path of oncoming traffic and roads that are just the right width to encourage close passes. It’s about the lack of safe cycle storage. These are all factors that discourage people from cycling.
No councillor who has read and understood national cycling policy and design guidelines would be calling for the lanes on the Old Shoreham Road to be ripped out.
The policy says that cycle routes should be direct, should go where people want to go and should be on space reallocated from motor vehicles if necessary.
The Old Shoreham Road is an essential route for cycling for the same reasons that it’s essential for driving and this is why it’s part of the draft Local Walking and Cycling Infrastructure Plan.
Not only have councillors not read this policy, but they’re ignoring the advice of transport engineers and planners at the council.
They have ignored government guidelines that a consultation should not be used as a referendum and ignored transport minister Chris Heaton’s warning that if schemes are removed without evidence of detrimental effect, there will be a price to pay.
Because they haven’t supplied evidence that the lanes are detrimental, the city is now paying this price in the loss of the £273,000 Capability Fund. We’ll be paying £50,000 to remove the lanes and further funding is in jeopardy.
Councillors have ignored members of the public, who have written to say how important these cycle lanes are for them to travel safely to work, school, college and leisure activities.
Instead, they decided that the negative opinion of 4,000 people was more important. These 3,000 people represent just over 1 per cent of the city’s population. A referendum on this basis would not be valid.
The idea that a pressure group can veto a safety feature is unique to cycling infrastructure. We do not hold a referendum to see whether people like the idea of a wheelchair ramp on a public building or remove the ramp if we decide not enough people are using it. We do not remove handrails on stairs if people complain about them.
Councillors have recently issued statements about “working together”. For this to happen, they need to start taking cycling seriously. They need to start involving people who cycle in decisions about cycling infrastructure and, as a bare minimum, to learn about national cycling policy and infrastructure design.
They need to stop using cycling safety as a political football. They need to stop playing with people’s lives.
Chris Williams chairs Bricycles – the Brighton and Hove Cycling Campaign.