Although never as simple as pro or anti bike, visitors to Alexandra Park last Saturday may have gained that impression. Once again, the vexed question of a shared use cycleway through the park raised controversy as around 40 people on each side of the debate met separately on opposite banks of the central stream.

On one side HIP encountered HUB (Hastings Urban Bikes) and the Hastings Greenway Group, congregated around a table of explanatory leaflets. “This is information-giving, not a demonstration,” said Gordon Russell, Greenway Group chair. Accompanying members emphasised the long history of cycling (albeit illegally) in the park and claimed not to know of any reported incidents. They stressed the bigger context of the struggle to establish Hastings Greenway as a car-free, mainly off-road route across town over the last 25 years.

‘You’ll always get some problem cyclists, and we don’t condone anyone who is inconsiderate,’ added Russell. “No-one wants high speeds.” 

Claire Carr and Glenn Haffenden; Dave Smith; Justine McKellar

Green party councillors Glenn Haffenden and Claire Carr had come to observe both perspectives. “There need to be safe routes for everyone participating in active travel,” said Haffenden, going on to reassure a questioner that in order to widen existing paths, “there’d be no cutting of trees, only moving of turf.”

Hostile mood

Among those opposed to the cycleway the mood was less calm, with protestors asserting shared use to be unsafe and claiming direct experience of bad behaviour from cyclists. Older people, the mobility-impaired and small children were seen as in jeopardy.

As counterpoint to continual references to rudeness and aggression from cyclists, when two people on bikes passed slowly by, the mood instantly became hostile. Angry shouts of “get off”, “selfish” and “against the law” rose from this crowd. As further indication of the tension, two people at the HUB table said: “We’re for it [the cycleway], but didn’t dare bring our bikes here.”

Justine McKellar, visually impaired and using a white stick, felt that a shared user cycle route would “ruin the park” for her. Already frustrated by cyclists, as well as cars half parked on pavements, this should be a space where she could feel safe. “Cyclists should have segregated space, but they want our space. Lots of vulnerable park users feel intimidated,” said Justine. “I’m not anti-bike, I ride on the rear half of a tandem with my sister, but we dismount in shared spaces.”

Dave Smith organiser of the ‘Supporters of Alexandra Park’ protest said: “We’re anti this route. not anti-cyclist” He felt divisions over the plan were exacerbated by Hastings’ remoteness from East Sussex County Council (ESCC) HQ in Lewis. “They don’t come and get involved… ESCC spend millions on the Brighton to Polegate cycle route but nothing here.”

Contradictions

Suggested alternatives, opinions and, frequently, contradictions abounded. Some thought funding was agreed, others claimed otherwise. “Why not make Upper Park Road one way with diagonal parking and put the cycle route there?” suggested a voice from the crowd. “Too expensive,” replied another.

People arguing against a dual pedestrian/cycle path repeatedly stressed an age divide: older walkers, younger cyclists.  Yet those present on the day contradicted this view with a widespread of ages in both groups. Cyclists ranged from parents with toddlers to over 70s, and included people with disabilities.

Of concern to all were possible ‘pinch points’, such as outside the main toilet block (focus of the anti-cycleway gathering) and in the steeper northern section of the park. There was ubiquitous fear of vehicle traffic, despair at potholes and concern at continual transport underfunding. “It’s cars that damage people,” said Russell. 

Currently the project has the approval of both ESCC and Hastings Borough Council. Work is due to commence later this year.


Correction: 15 July 2022

In the news report Shared route, little common ground in HIP 204, reference was made to a potential alternative cycle route on Upper Park Road.  This was incorrectly reported: the proffered alternative was on Lower Park Road.


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