: The overflow valve for my mind
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Cycle Campaigning - Should I carry on?

Update 15th June 2006:- I recently spoke to the sustrans rep mentioned below, he told me that remedial work was currently in progress and would be completed by mid June. I was planning on revisiting this site after that in the hope that this page can be deleted/updated.

I have now received an email from the Council containing this sentence "If you would like to correct the facts and incorrect statements made then I would be more than happy to advise you on suitable corrections so that any readers are presented with the true facts". I have responded explaining that I was both hoping the path would soon be corrected, as well as offering a 'right to reply'.

In case there is any further confusion, I would also like to remind readers of the final paragraph of the page about this site where I explain that this site is purely my own thoughts and feelings, and that I welcome feedback.

Update 16th June 2006:- As I have been told twice in public meetings by Southend Council that they intend cycle commuters to use the Prittle Brook Greenway rather than the roads, I cycled home from work via this route last night. The original article, below, was written following my experiences on the path nearly one month after the completion date (as advertised by signage on site as well as in an email from the sustrans rep).

Last night I found that work has been continuing, access points are now narrower (I doubt I could get a trailer or touring bike with panniers through them easily) and the grey gravel surface shown in the photos now has a surface covering of loose wet mud which affords little traction. As a commuting route it is unpleasant and made the bike and my clothing dirty.

A new path has been created since the below article was written. This is wider and surfaced with what can only be described as sand. Since the grey path below is now signed with posts with a horse shoe logo on them, I am assuming that that is to be a bridleway (and cyclists are entitled to use bridleways). The orange sandy path is wider, and I wonder whether this is to be the cycle route; if it is I won't be using it as my tyres sank deeper into this sand than they did the grey path. However, having said that, the path petered out in the woods and I know from the Council's email that there are two weeks to go until the path is completed (ignore the signs on site saying the completion is the end of March 2006).

I have replied to yesterday's email from the Council with my concerns, as well as questioning whether this sandy track is to be the cycle route.

I will reattend the site in a fortnight and see how the works are progressing. I may then change the below web page. Meantime, it remains as it was, with the main theme as my depression and bitterness of how so often we, as cyclists, have to put up with schemes that offer us less attractive and more inconvenient routes than any other section of society. Drivers get lovely well surfaced roads with no obstructions, pedestrians get footpaths, we often get rubbish that just is not suitable for our preferred transport option.

That theme continues, and if the particular scheme that depressed me so much back in April is resolved it won't take me a second to replace the words and photos with another scheme; they're just all too common in the UK today.

Update 17th June 2006:- I have today taken a bike I don't mind getting muddy and revisited the woodlands and examined them in great detail. I am now more confused.

The grey path, as I explained yesterday, is marked with "Horseshoe" signs on posts. These posts, which I interpret as marking a bridleway are interspersed with "No Horseriding" signs. The yellow sandy path is unsigned. There is a muddy rutted and horribly surfaced track (it looks simply as though a bulldozer has been driven through the woods) and that has a post alongside it showing it is a shared use cyclepath.

As it stands the clearly marked cycle path is no improvement over the woodland before this work started, and I would never consider using it, unless I was on an off road bike (in which case I'd be interested in more challenging routes than a muddy track). However, I will not comment further as there are two weeks remaining according to the Council employee. I will return to this site with interest at the end of the month.

end update

I despair, I really do! I’m sitting here depressed at yet more money poured down the drain in the name of cycling and cycle farcilities.

Over a year ago I was approached to take part in stakeholder consultation for the Prittle Brook Greenway in Southend. I won’t bore you with the long responses to that project, maybe I’ll write about it on a rainy day, but in summary the proposal was for a 2 mile long, 2 metre wide shared use path that involved 19 road crossings. Of course, being so narrow (below minimum width) and being so hazardous (yes, they decided to use cyclist dismount signs at most crossings); I didn’t support the designs.

I tried working constructively with the project, and didn’t put in an official objection when they tried to get the cycle tracks act of 1984 implemented to allow cycling on the existing footpath (after all, it wasn’t cycling I was objecting to, it was the detail in their substandard plans). Fortunately, from my point of view, objections were raised and so the path couldn’t be implemented in the timescales required for the funding.

Of course, this left a quandary, money was available and was about to be withdrawn. In their wisdom the project decided to push ahead with spending the money on a different section of the route, where it passed through Belfairs Woods (labelled Great Wood on the map). I wasn’t involved in the detail of this design as I was unable to attend the initial meeting (and I think things were rushed through with limited public consultation due to the timescales).

I thought this approach was an excellent idea, after all, who wants to see funding withdrawn?

At the end of February this year I contacted my local sustrans rep, asking to be brought up to speed with the project. I was delighted to read his response of “…The paths from Woodlands Park ( including the new bridge) to the stables and parallel to the service road will be completed by March 31st….”

I didn’t get a chance to do any more about this until Sunday (9th April) when finally I got away from both work and the decorating and went for the first leisure cycle ride in months. As I climbed into the pilot’s seat of the tandem my wife asked “where shall we go?”
“Ah ha!” I thought “The greenway should be open now, let’s go for a ride in the woods”.

That’s when I really started getting depressed.

We couldn’t enter the woods by the Woodlands Park entrance, it was fenced off and the bridge works hadn’t started. {edit: Just tried again on 21st April, still not started} We entered the woods instead by a different entrance, and followed the trotting track down to the start of the greenway at the bridge works.

My hopes and dreams of a cycle path were then dashed. The guidelines in front of me state that a “shared use unsegregated cycle track/pedestrian path” should have a minimum width of 2.5m, but preferably be at least 3.0m wide. It also states that if the path has a physical boundary (e.g. vegetation) 0.5m must be added. Therefore, as this is a high profile path created specifically with the intention of encouraging cycling, being part of a larger network and not being constrained by adjoining buildings/roads, I was expecting at least 3.0metres of width, but going up to at least 4.0metres as it wound its way through the trees. Oh how naive of me!

In reality I was confronted with a path that was no more than 2.0 metres wide! From bitter experience on sustrans and Southend’s farcical NCN16, 2.0 metres wide is not enough to safely pass oncoming cyclists unless they too are skilled and competent. The NCN16 there though is a dedicated cycle track, this joke is a shared use path!

poor cycle path surface
Just 9 days after the path was supposed to be completed the surface had been washed away by the rain. Wear and tear had already allowed mud to ooze through from the foundations (assuming there are any foundations!).

cycle path surface washed away
cycle path surface washed away

bushes overhanging cycle path
Bushes overhung the path and whipped us as we tried getting past pedestrians who had kindly stepped out of our way.

Worse, (or good?) the path had attracted everybody in the woods that day and so there was an ant like column of people walking in a congested queue. It was like the M25! Now don’t get me wrong, I love to see people out in the fresh air, but why install a “shared use” facility that can’t be shared because of its width and congestion? Depressingly, I fear the clipboard holders on the project will see this high volume and claim the path is a success.

Is it a success? Has it attracted more people to the woods? I don’t think so. The woods are always busy on a Sunday afternoon, but the people all used to be walking independently listening to the swish and crack of errant golf balls heading through the trees above them. Now those people are all clustered into one small area.

The situation of people walking on the trotting track has always been a problem in the woods for those who either ride horses or have ignored the bylaws and cycled in there. In fact I have to admit in the past being one of those thousands of cyclists who have ridden in the woods, and have on some busy days found it less congested to cycle on the footpath alongside the trotting track; or just head off into the woodland. This new path though had a much higher proportion of pedestrians than I was used to (and the surrounding woodland was emptier than in the past).

get off the road, use the substandard path instead
Is it a success? Has it enabled people to cycle through the woods and undertake longer journeys? I don’t think so. There is a much quicker route which I often use, and as it is already a bridleway I am legally entitled to do so. There are many other better alternative routes too.

We struggled to get the tandem safely through the pedestrians and past the push chairs and loose dogs. Despite the slow speed I was worried about a loss of traction on the bends. Going back later in the week to get the photos I really struggled on my road bicycle that has narrow racing tyres; again I had a better ride on the ground nearby than on the designated path! This path is really only usable by people on off-road bikes, and those are the people who’ve been using the woods for years and don’t need a specific path! Just amending the bylaws would have been sufficient!

Cyclists who want to undertake longer journeys wouldn’t ordinarily use off-road bikes. The suspension and knobbly tyres make them very inefficient, and so much harder work. People who want to undertake longer journeys will usually be on bikes that cannot cope with this substandard surface.

I don’t have the sustrans design guide to hand, but I’ve been told it contains the basic details of constructing the path higher than the surrounding ground (for drainage), installing drains uphill of the path to prevent water washing across it; but does that really matter? The contractors will be getting paid for building this load of junk and I doubt anybody, other than me, really cares what’s been built. No doubt everyone else just thinks “it’s better to do something than nothing”, and “there’s another tick in the box for cycling”.

Where do I go from here? I have emailed the sustrans rep to find out what’s happening, but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll rip up the path to get the drainage sorted, or that they’ll widen the path up to preferred (or even minimum) widths. {edit prior to uploading the page to the web: Actually, having waited over a week, I’m doubting I’ll even get a response from him}

The cynic in me wonders how much cash has been diverted to consultants and designers and how much was actually spent; how the clipboard wielders will measure the success “nobody used the path, now hundreds do” – of course nobody used it before, they were simply walking in the woods!; how this path will be promoted as wonderful and used in order to source more funding that will be wasted in a similar manner; how long before this path falls into disrepair and cyclists return to just using the woods again; whether the bylaws have even been changed to allow cycling on the path. That's the point my idle thoughts drag me back into that black pit of depression.

As I write this, looking at the crap provided, I am also reading the draft Highway Code proposals which are calling for us to use these facilities rather than the road. (If you haven’t objected yet, please do so before the May deadline!)

To be honest, I’m just so fed up with the whole thing that I almost feel like giving up. Sorry to rant like this, and thanks for reading this far.

Am I being unreasonable in calling for quality cycle ways that can be used by all cyclists? Is it wrong to expect new constructions to conform to recommended standards? Should we, as cyclists, be expected to put up with this kind of rubbish?

Should I continue fighting for cyclists rights, or should I hang my hat up in shame and get out cycling before we lose all our rights to the road?

email me via the usual page and tell me your thoughts.


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