There has been a great deal of public debate about the Sea Front Cycle Route (SFCR), some of which has been based on incomplete information. Members of the Portsmouth Cycle Forum (PCF) have for a long time been advocates of the SFCR and are well placed to make an informed contribution to the discussion. Below are typical questions and our answers (Q&A).
Questions and Answers
Why does Portsmouth need the SFCR?
Portsmouth is part of the ‘Healthy Towns’ initiative and the ‘Change4Life’ programme and is working to improve levels of fitness and reduce obesity. Encouraging people to exercise including cycling instead of using their cars will contribute to our overall fitness and health. The new seafront cycle route will be a safe, attractive and enjoyable route for experienced and inexperienced cyclists, young and old and of all levels of fitness. It will therefore give a great opportunity for the residents of Portsmouth to build enjoyable exercise into their daily routines and to access the seafront in a new way.
Portsmouth is committed to a reduction of 30 per cent carbon emissions by 2015 in order to contribute to national targets to minimise the effects of climate change. In order to achieve this ambitious target many ‘green’ environmental measures need to be introduced, one of which is to achieve a modal shift of traveller choice of mode of transport from the private motor car to sustainable transport – buses, cycling and walking – and this modal shift will have the benefit of reducing road congestion. This has also been PCC policy for several years. The SFCR will make commuting easier along a key east-west route through the city.
The UK is criss-crossed by many routes in the National Cycle Network (NCN) promoted by the environmental charity Sustrans. NCN2 runs along the South Coast from Folkestone to Exeter but there are a few gaps, notably in Portsmouth. As Portsmouth City Council (PCC) policy documents frequently state “Portsmouth is a flat and compact city ideally suited for cycling” this incomplete section in Portsea Island is an embarrassing omission. Completing the SFCR (to extend from Eastney to the Gosport Ferry) has been a Council objective since at least 2004.
These advantages are recognised in Portsmouth’s Second Local Transport Plan summary of measures to improve accessibility:
“Promotion of cycle use as an alternative to car for work and school journeys has a positive impact on individuals, the local community, the environment and economy.”
Why couldn’t the council leave things unchanged?
Much of the car parking along the sea front is echelon parking where cars drive in at an angle of about 45 degrees. Getting out is difficult for drivers because often they can’t see what is coming and so they reverse almost blind into the traffic flow. The problems are increased with many of the parking spaces being shorter than the Department for Transport recommended length of 4.2 metres which means that vehicles stick out more into the vehicle lane. Reversing out is also dangerous for cyclists because drivers are even less likely to see cyclists than cars. Accidents happen periodically and there was a nasty accident in 2009 when a driver reversed into a cyclist who was knocked off his bike and was taken to Southampton with severe head injuries. Fortunately he recovered, but the incident demonstrated that echelon parking is inherently less safe than parallel parking where cars are parked parallel to the traffic flow (sideways on to the kerb or wall).
Echelon parking requires people to stand in the busy highway to remove the push chairs etc. This is a danger to them and to passing traffic. With parallel parking it is safer for car occupants to remove things from the rear hatch/ boot.
Why can’t I sit in my car and look at the sea anymore?
Very few old echelon spaces actually “looked at the sea”. Most faced the sea wall, stony beach, shrubs or Castle Field.
Why can’t cyclists use the promenade?
One of the original options was to permit cycling on the promenade. This is already permitted by some 60 seaside local authorities around the UK such as Brighton, Bournemouth, Worthing and Blackpool. These successful promenade cycling schemes embrace the four ‘E’s of road safety strategy (Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Encouragement).
A public consultation exercise was carried out in Portsmouth and it was reported in The News that there was a huge majority for the option for allowing cycling on the promenade, although PCC never released the results. However, it appears that the popular vote was overruled by some senior councillors reacting to safety concerns about cyclists using the same space as pedestrians. Whilst such concerns are valid, we believe that these risks could have been minimised using the four road safety ‘E’s reflecting best practice widespread in Europe and some UK towns. In our view the risks were greatly exaggerated by a vocal minority with people claiming to have seen accidents or near misses even though these accidents seemed never to be reported to the police or to the Council.
The PCF has always argued for a SFCR whilst emphasising that it has to be a practical and safe route for all users – cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Individual members had their own preferences e.g. the promenade option would have appealed mostly to leisure cyclists and families, the separate cycle lane would have been preferred by commuters. Even so, we support PCC in recognising that the scheme being implemented is the best compromise in the circumstances.
Are cyclists allowed to cycle on the promenade?
No, the red circular No Cycling signs will remain. The PCF stands for observance of the Highway Code by all road users (cyclists, drivers and pedestrians) and once the SFCR provides a safe route along the entire seafront there should not be any excuse for cyclists to use the promenade (excepting maybe small children being accompanied by their pedestrian parents).
If cycling is not allowed on the promenade why then do we see vehicles driving along it?
Technically the promenade is classed as a Vehicle Restricted Area (VRA) and essential vehicles such as the emergency services are allowed access, and cleaning/maintenance vehicles are permitted to drive in VRAs if they hold the required permit from the Council. It is more difficult to vouch for the drivers of private motor cars being driven on the promenade.
Echelon parked vehicles often overhang the promenade and encroach on space for pedestrians
What will be the effect on seafront businesses?
Once the SFCR has become well known we predict there will be a net benefit to seafront traders. It is one of the effects of the ‘green pound’. Some visitors to Portsmouth come by car and park on the seafront but when (or if) they’ve paid for their parking they spend hardly any money because they come laden with their own sandwiches and thermos flasks. On the other hand, cyclists carry little food and water because of the weight and so are much more likely to buy food and drinks from seafront traders. One forward-thinking restaurant owner has offered a discount to cyclists!
An increasing number of hotels, B & Bs and attractions welcome cyclists. They have agreed to provide and market themselves with secure cycle parking. Many of these have no on-street car parking yet can easily accommodate cycling business and tourist customers and their bicycles. Cycle parking requires one seventh of the space, and is easily provided off street.
What do you say to the seafront being ruined by the SFCR?
Ruined? We don’t think so. The road layout changes aren’t affecting the promenade. More non-polluting cycling and fewer congestion-producing air-polluting cars will contribute to a quieter and cleaner seafront and so it will be better for everyone.
How many car parking spaces have been lost?
In the first phase of the scheme (Eastney Swimming Pool to South Parade Pier) about 144 spaces have been removed out of 511, overall a 28% reduction. However, surveys done in 2009 over the August Bank Holiday weekend with good weather and high numbers of visitors showed that on very few occasions were all parking spaces filled along the sea front. Almost all the time people will still be able to park, it might just be slightly further from the main attractions. However, as PCC wants people to walk more this might not be a bad thing. Disabled parking spaces will still be provided close to the main attractions. Suggestions have been made about providing more car parking close to the sea front.
What is the cost of the scheme?
Phase 1 will cost £138,000, provided by the Healthy Towns Access2cycling budget, the Local Transport Plan and the Section 106 Sustainable Transport fund.
I was down there last week and didn’t see anyone using the SFCR. Isn’t it a waste of money?
The SFCR is still under construction but even so is still being used a lot. Once Phase 1 is complete and word gets around we expect that it will become very popular.
What about the dangers to drivers and their passengers opening their parked car doors with cars coming up behind them?
Yes, drivers and their passengers will have to look behind them before opening car doors. However, they should do that anyway – the Highway Code article 239 states
“you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic” so this isn’t anything new.
Isn’t there a danger to cyclists with passenger (nearside) doors being opened in their path?
There is a plainly marked buffer zone/ refuge between the parking and the lane. When properly parked a fully open car door makes little or no intrusion into the cycle lane.
Most cars will be parked facing west and occupants will face cyclists heading east. Cyclists will be better able to see car passengers. There is a low risk of a cyclist being hit by a car door. Overall we assess that the danger is less than being hit by a car reversing out of echelon parking.
Isn’t it dangerous for everyone when drivers have to cross the SFCR to get to the parking ticket machines?
The Parking machines are more visible now. Drivers walk securely along the refuge area or the promenade until they reach the nearest machine. This is safer than before when drivers had to thread their way through echelon-parked cars until they discovered a ticket machine obscured by other parked cars
We believe that PCC is considering installing new ticket machines and if these go on the mini traffic islands this should reduce the risks. Another mitigating safety factor is that it is possible to buy tickets from a mobile phone.
Are cars allowed to drive or park on the cycle route?
No. The Highway Code states in article 240:
“You MUST NOT stop or park on a cycle track”
Are cyclists obliged to stay off the road now they’ve got a cycle route?
No. The Highway Code does not require cyclists to use cycle facilities. Cyclists have as much right to use the main road as anyone else. Just as there are several different categories of driver (commuter, leisure, van, HGV etc) so the Department for Transport (DfT) recognises five different types of cyclist. The SFCR will encourage a lot of leisure cycling especially for families as it will make the seafront safer for children to cycle along. However, it is quite narrow for two-way cycling and some sport cyclists and fast commuter cyclists may feel that the road meets their particular needs better. We would, however, encourage them to at least try the new cycle lane before making that decision. Therefore drivers should expect to see some cyclists using the main road and drivers should only overtake cyclists only where safe to do so (see Highway Code articles 162, 212 and 213).