Following on from last week’s discussions I decided this
weekend to give a Sustrans route another chance. I know that some people
won’t believe that this was unbiased, but it was and here is my
- I decided that I would use the nearest route to me,
except those I had already ridden and disliked.
- I also decided, that
as Sustrans work closely with the local authorities I should use a path
outside of Essex, as I had been criticising the Essex facilities within
- I also thought that I should avoid the fiasco of paths
already discussed as route 1 (or 51) in the Harwich/Ipswich/Felixstowe
- Preferably I’d choose an off-road facility, as on road are
just normal roads.
- Since one of the main points raised on the thread
(and by Sustrans) was that these are “leisure” routes, I decided to drive
to the start and to take my wife (an average new cyclist) and our two
Bromptons; rather than take my decent proper bike with skinny road tyres
I hope everybody agrees this is fair?
argument has never been against Sustrans, it has been against this idea
that off-road cycle tracks, or dedicated cycle infrastructure is required
for us to cycle. It is my belief that it is safe to cycle without any of
these; and worse, that by groups such as Sustrans installing so many cycle
routes it implies it is dangerous to ride anywhere but on those routes.
Finally it is my belief that the enjoyment of cycling is being spoilt by
impractical and long winded routes.
On Saturday, I spent nearly an
hour and a half on Sustrans’ website trying to get route information. I’m
sorry, but this has to be a big black mark to Sustrans. I struggled a lot
to find the information. Last time I was on the site you could enter the
route number and get told where it went. This time that option didn’t
appear to be there. All I could do was enter place names and then zoom in
and out to look at the routes on the map. Not easy on dial up! I could
enter a county, such as Kent, which gave me lists of open routes. However
I couldn’t get to see that route information.
Eventually I decided
to look at the area around Gillingham as this appeared to be on route
number 1 (the same “1” as in Harwich? That’s confusing!) as well as
meeting my criteria. My main point of interest was the traffic free route
which appeared to go from the Medway tunnel to Rainham. Out of interest
and fairness though I decided also to look at the on-road route at each
end of this. We decided to drive the route, then ride back.
summary, to prevent readers here getting bored.
-We didn’t ride the
sections out near Cliffe, but they looked no different to the normal roads
I ride on a Sunday with the CTC; with the exception these had blue cycle
signs and my normal roads don’t.
-As we drove alongside the off-road
path between the Medway tunnel and Gillingham, I decided I had no desire
at all to waste my time riding on a pavement, heading down every side road
and looking for the crossings, and generally being forced to take a longer
route with a worse surface.
-The first section of bad traffic
congestion we came to was as we passed the area on the map which said
there was an on-road route (Lower Rainham Road). Here there were many
“traffic calming” signs and obstructions, together with many non-calm
drivers! I was disappointed to see that although I thought I was in the
right area according to the map on the Sustrans site, I could see no
evidence of this on the road.
- We never got to see the off-road
section I had gone to look at, as we couldn't find it at first, and we'd
given up with sustrans by the time we'd returned from the rest of the
Finally we found a yellow Sustrans route 1 sign (a
diversion?), so parked up and followed it. It took us past a “Private - footpath only” sign, and then disappeared. No
more signs. I was not willing to try to cycle across a muddy public
footpath through an orchard, so we turned back to see if we had missed a
sign. If we had we couldn’t find it.
Out of fairness to Sustrans
(and I was still trying to be unbiased and fair minded) I suggested that
as these were yellow signs, and the map did have a proposed route in that
area, maybe they were part way through signing the area. (Mind you, when
we came back, the official blue signs turned yellow and sent us this way,
so we’d have come to this dead end with no signed way around
So we decided to ride the NCN 1 away from Gillingham,
heading for Sittingbourne. I was disappointed with the first road as it
was so narrow that even though we dived into the hedge the van
coming the other way hit my elbow and knocked the mirror sideways. We then
came to the end of the road and weren’t certain which way to turn, but
eventually spotted the sign – a small red sticker on a post. We followed this, passed
another sign that confirmed our route, and then lost all signs. We stopped
after a while, checked the map and decided we’d lost our way. On
backtracking we found that the sign had been turned around, and we should
have turned onto a gravel track.
We took this gravel track, and it
was rideable although not as comfy or good as I’d have liked. At the end
of the track we came to a T-Junction, complete with sign lying in ruins on the ground. Another bit of
map-work and we guessed the correct route. I was glad of the route
confirmation signs as this was nothing more than a narrow footpath.
However, had the route been negotiated to continue ahead at that T
junction on a different footpath, a much shorter and easier route could
have been taken to Newington.
The rest of the ride was on road.
This is what surprised me about that gravel section, according to the map
there’s a parallel road with a slightly longer route could have been taken
through Upchurch (which we rode by accident with no problems) and even
possibly Lower Halstow. The chosen route seems to be in between a route
which links places and a route which goes to places on a sensible
In fact, and in complete agreement with the comments I have
made to date, I found no advantage at all in Sustrans having labelled the
roads. Judging from the large number of vandalised signs, there’s some
people in the area who also dislike Sustrans, coupled with a lack of
Sustrans rangers to fix the problems.
The hour and a half I spent
on Sustrans web site could have been achieved in 5 minutes with a road
atlas and OS maps. The roads we rode on were no different in any way from
normal roads. Even the 60mph one (at Nether Toes)! The shortcuts didn’t really
cut any distance off. In fact on one classic photo I took the 2¼ miles by road was 5¼ by NCN and signed in different
Finally, having been thankful we were on Bromptons and
not full sized bikes so were able to get through the obstructions, having seen one sign that said 2¼ miles to
Sittingbourne, and the next sign that said “Town Centre 3½” miles. My wife
said that she’d had enough and that I was to tell you that the signing and
idea of cycle facilities was appalling and not worth it. She then turned
round and headed back to the car.
That is my final say on the
matter. If Sustrans really have spent the money they claim to have spent
then they have been taken to the cleaners well and truly. All that has
been provided are signposts which indicate that you are capable of cycling
on roads. The off road paths are not suitable for serious cycling (i.e.
long distance touring, transport from A to B or for fast rides), they are
only suitable for leisure and playing.
Worse, these signs attract
cyclists to those roads/routes (and we saw quite a few in the area around
Lower Higham) and away from other, just as safe, roads. Off of the NCN I
saw one near miss as a cyclist tried turning right and traffic was just
ignoring him and overtaking on the wrong side of the road despite the
double white lines. His wife had already given up and was standing by the
kerb. These two elderly folk had all the hallmarks of new/novice riders
and I wondered whether they had been attracted to the area by the prospect
of the NCN and the “Other signed on-road cycle route”.
was pleased to see them out cycling and enjoying the fresh air, I was
worried by the fact that they appeared to have little skill in coping with
other road users – a skill they will be unable to develop if they
continued using traffic free routes.
I was also unhappy with the
inability of car drivers to cope with cyclists, something that they will
not learn if they do not encounter cyclists on a regular basis. Therefore
to keep routing cyclists off of the roads onto traffic free routes, or
onto roads which are quieter than average roads is not the way forward for
Statistically (and I don’t like stats as they can be skewed
to prove any point) as the number of cyclists on the road increased, the
number accidents reduced. This is a good thing. However, as the BBC point
out, the number of cyclists on the road appears to be dropping – I hope we
don’t see a corresponding increase in accidents as a result. I certainly
hope that the reduced number of cyclists has nothing to do with the
implication that roads are dangerous and that there are no "cycle
facilities" in the areas that cyclists used to use…