Do you cycle on the pavement? I do. Sometimes I just want to enjoy my ride home without the fear that it might be my last. West Sussex may lack cycling infrastructure but it has plenty of pavements. You may have noticed that people of all ages and gender are cycling on Worthing’s pavements. Get near a school or college and the numbers shoot up. There is a good reason for this.
West Sussex County Council, to its credit, has been running Bikeability (previously Cycle Proficiency) for all year 6 or 7 children. Good news you may think. However, none of these children are allowed to ride on the roads. Most adults, parents, teachers, school governors and Councillors all agree that the roads of West Sussex towns are far too dangerous for year 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, in fact all children to cycle on. The County continues to push cycle training in its recent Walking and Cycling Strategy 2016 – 2026. As a consequence we have several generations of children that have grown up only having ridden on the pavement. Some of these children are now parenting their own would be pavement cyclists.
I am based near Worthing College which has a fantastic cycle path that goes as far as to
cover a good 50% of the circumference of the Warren Road roundabout. The students do not seem to realise this and so cycle on the pavements feeding onto or off the aforementioned cycleway. This prompted me to attend the first meeting of the recently elected councillors to West Sussex County Council and put a question to the CLC meeting (County Local Committee). WSCC has a very good Walking and Cycling Strategy for the next 10 years but has no time frame, budget or, from what I have heard, no will by the councillors to action it.
This was my question: “Does the council welcome the increased use of the pavements in Worthing by cyclists and does it accept that West Sussex County Council’s tolerance to parking on the pavements could cause conflict? If there is not a policy to allow pavement parking why is it so prevalent in Worthing?”
The answer came in two parts. First to be answered was, of course, the car bit. The councillors said that they had no powers to prevent pavement parking unless there was a parking restriction such as a double or single yellow line. They then said that if there was a parking restriction they lacked the resource to police the restrictions. Here is the Catch 22, if they increased the numbers of enforcement officers, first Worthing could become an undesirable town to visit and second, if the enforcement officers were successful in preventing illegal parking then there would be no fines and with no fine income there would be no budget to pay for the enforcement officers. The enforcement department is self financing! Catch 22.
Then came the issue of cycling. Mike Thomas from WSCC Highways quoted that Cycling on footways (a path at the side of a carriageway) is prohibited by Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835, amended by Section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1888. This is punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £30 under Section 51 and Schedule 3 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.
He went on the add that on 1st August 1999, new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway. However the Home Office issued guidance on how the new legislation should be applied, indicating that they should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others. The then Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued a letter stating that:
“The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”
I then reminded the Councillors of my question, “Does the Council welcome the increased use of pavements by cyclists.
Mike Thomas said we can’t say “welcome”, so I asked again, do you condone it? His reply was, “We can’t condone but………” I read between the lines.
It was pretty clear to me with the 9 local County Councillors there and the Highways Officer that West Sussex accepts that the people of Worthing can and will cycle on the pavement. This is not a victory at all as pedestrians have priority and the right to feel safe on their pavements. It merely highlights the problem that the town, county and country has in prioritising the car over people in urban areas.
For more information on the very complicated issue of cycling on foot paths go to Bikehub.
Why do I bother? To highlight the failings of West Sussex County Council in protecting its voters and our urban spaces because of its continued emphasis on car travel whatever the cost.