OPINION: Not Riding into the Sunset
BY TIM GODWIN
To ride a bicycle from Hastings Station to the popular seafront cycle route, without breaking a byelaw and risking a fine, currently involves crossing at least two major ‘A’ roads – the A21 and A259. Incredibly, the sections of those roads within the town limits and with speed limits of 40 mph or less, are the most dangerous roads in the whole county! The website roadcrashindex.org shows these two as the only ‘high risk roads’ in East Sussex. 43 serious crashes and 3 fatalities between 2013 and 2015 tell their own story.
Who remembers 2005 in Hastings? For those of us who ride bicycles, 2005 was when Hastings Borough Council voted to allow a trial of the shared space cycling route in the town centre. That trial never took place.
Now thirteen years later it’s 2018 and we’ve got smart phones, trials of driverless vehicles and Brexit. What we still don’t have is a legal route to cycle safely from the railway station to the town centre and beyond. This procrastination from Hastings Borough and East Sussex County Councils in implementing safe, and proper, walking and cycling infrastructure has a real impact on people.
For almost 5 years I’ve been involved in, a local Community Bicycle Workshop open every Wednesday. It means I’ve spoken to hundreds of people with bikes – experienced and newbies, young children through to 80 year-olds. People regularly donate their bicycles to the workshop, saying they feel it’s too dangerous to continue to ride them.
When you don’t have simple and safe access to walking and cycling infrastructure, when you have to risk your kids’ safety, when walking is made too difficult and there’s no safe crossing nearby, you get back in the car. Well over half of all car journeys are less than 5 miles in length, and almost a fifth are less than 2 miles.
From a local public health perspective, there seems an easy win here? Get people out of cars and walking and cycling for these shorter journeys. It’s a simple way to get the basic level of physical exercise we all need to avoid sinking the NHS. And it would make the air we all breathe a bit cleaner, saving children from asthma and pensioners from lung diseases. Simple, right?
Except it’s not happening. Hastings Borough Council is not increasing or improving pedestrian crossings or paths to give walkers priorities over cars. East Sussex is not building protected cycle lanes. Sussex Police are not prioritising anti-social driving, speed enforcement or danger reduction towards pedestrians and cyclists.
In my six years of riding a bicycle locally I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been placed at significant risk by careless or aggressive drivers. I’ve got tired of filling in the online Sussex Police road incident report form. When I walk with my 5-year-old daughter along local roads, we often dodge dangerous and illegal driving that puts us both in danger.
I love riding my bike, and walking, despite the almost bi-polar nature of it in Hastings these days. Come on councils and councillors – you’re our elected representatives. Why are you not taking action?
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