Many people hoped that in 2016 Eastbourne would finally join the vast majority of Britain’s seaside towns and get a traffic-free seafront cycleway. But after four years of consultations, debates and detailed, costly work by planners and engineers, the plan to amend a byelaw was blocked by the government in September 2016.
Their decision reflected concerns about pedestrian safety. This, we think, relates particularly to the fairly narrow section of promenade between Eastbourne Pier and the Healy shelter, opposite the Langham Hotel (about 500m in length).
How might we move on from this impasse?
1. Widening the promenade or constructing a boardwalk on the beach.
These options have been explored at various points but rejected on grounds of the high cost and the challenge of maintaining a boardwalk on shifting shingle. There is also the issue of providing regular access to large machinery for replenishing the beaches
2. Making space for a segregated, two-way cycle track on the busy and dangerous Marine Parade
This could be achieved in several ways, such as narrowing the road to one-way traffic. But given the geography of Eastbourne and its status as a large and growing seaside town with only two east-west main roads in this area (Marine Parade and Seaside), this may not be supported.
But what about creating a two-way cycle track on the road, right next to the promenade?
Designed and built to a high standard such as London Cycling Design Standards (2014) to allow for future growth in cycling, it could make use of the existing tarmac, but be fully separated from the traffic. Planters could be used as part of the barrier, which would enhance the area – echoing the vibrant blooms of the Carpet Gardens near the pier. What’s not to like?
Well, as things stand, the area that could be a peaceful, pollution-free cycleway is used for car storage; parking spaces for up to 80 cars. But is this really the best use of the space? Yes, car parking on Marine Parade can be useful for hotel guests, staff and visitors to the town. And it clearly provides revenue for East Sussex County Council. On the other hand, there are plenty of parking spaces on the “inland” side of Marine Parade, which could be reserved for hotel guests and disabled badge-holders.
Furthermore, there is no obligation for authorities to provide parking on public highways – large sections of the seafront roads in Hastings, Brighton and Bournemouth, for example, are parking-free. Indeed, many towns and cities around the world are rethinking their approach to car parking in order to align their public realms with 21st century needs.
Even now, plenty of hotels survive without car storage immediately opposite them.
Eastbourne’s own Burlington Hotel, for example, overlooks the Carpet Gardens.
The Royal Victoria Hotel in St Leonards also manages.
Not all plain sailing
Most of the time, parking a car along this part of Eastbourne seafront is a tricky manoeuvre. If you can find a space, you generally have to stop in the middle of the road, and then carefully reverse in.
And on a street as busy as Marine Parade, which often carries more than 1,000 vehicles an hour, that means traffic quickly backs up.
When motorists become pedestrians
Once you’ve parked beside the sea wall, it’s time for another tricky manoeuvre: getting out of the car into a stream of traffic and walking safely around a line of parked vehicles to the few places where you can join the promenade. Needless to say, this is especially challenging for the elderly and children. The other option is to try to cross the road to the sanctuary of the pavement on the other side. But there are only two pedestrian crossings on Marine Parade.
Visual and environmental impact
Cars and vans can be beautiful, but many are not – and a row of 80 of them arguably detracts from both the natural beauty of the seafront and the architecture – even if they all happen to be classic Ferraris. And that’s to say nothing of fumes and noise pollution.
Car parks galore
Within a 10-minute stroll, or a five-minute bike ride, of Marine Parade are dedicated car-storage options galore. Most are owned by Eastbourne Borough Council and they are greatly underused. The nearest to the pier-end of Marine Parade is the huge, and oddly hidden – just behind Harry Ramsden’s – Trinity Place multi-storey:
Recently refurbished, with a new lift, it boasts 546 spaces – and the upper floors are completely empty most of the time. The view from the top must be one of the best in Eastbourne:
In the other direction, just past the Redoubt fortress lies the tree-lined Redoubt car park, with 120 spaces.
From there, a short stroll along the promenade, past the Beach Deck and Treasure Island, will bring you to the broad expanse of Fishermans Green. The two car parks provide 200 spaces.
Not far beyond are extensive parking facilities at Princes Park (170 spaces) and the Sovereign Centre (300 spaces). The latter will soon benefit from a £25 million swimming pool and leisure complex.
That adds up to 1,336 dedicated car parking spaces – available year-round for a reasonable charge. And that’s without mentioning the many parking possibilities on nearby residential roads. In many cases, these official car parks are as cheap as Marine Parade and using them is far less of an ordeal than the on-road option.
So there are plenty of parking options – and getting from them to the seafront, hotels and shops requires only a short walk, a ride on the 99 bus or, in summer, on Dotto trains. Additional public transport could be laid on without too much difficulty, perhaps even electric buses? They could link the ever-expanding Sovereign Harbour with Eastbourne town centre and each of the seafront car parks could have a bus stop.
Park and Ride
Bicycle-hire stands could also be located at the seafront car parks, enabling a new form of Park and Ride. A local entrepreneur is already in discussions about establishing the App-Bike scheme in Eastbourne.
Greener, cleaner, healthier and happier
In return for directing motorists to the many underused but well designed car parks and a modest amount of engineering work – paid for by S106 monies that have already been allocated – we could get a safe, secure cycleway linking the town centre, the Redoubt area, Princes Park and Sovereign Harbour. It would also complete the missing link in the Coastal Culture Trail – a mostly safe cycle route that connects Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery with the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. Cycle tourism already contributes £650 million a year to the UK economy, and has considerable potential in sunny, seaside towns like Eastbourne.
It would form the much-needed backbone of a proper cycle network for anyone from the age of five to 95. And that includes Michaela Strachan, who has been hired by Eastbourne Borough Council to promote tourism. Sadly, the ride from where she was photographed into town remains unpleasant and dangerous – and not surprisingly, few people attempt it.
High quality cycle infrastructure, which is the norm in the Netherlands and Denmark and increasingly in British cities including Cambridge and London, is not aimed at the 2% of people who already cycle regularly, but rather the 98% who would if they felt it was safe enough. More people cycling and walking means fewer cars and cleaner air (Eastbourne has been identified as a blackspot for air pollution and, shockingly, for injuries to cyclists as a result of collisions with motor vehicles). And a healthier society will reduce pressure on the beleaguered NHS – illness as a result of physical inactivity is estimated to cost the health service up to £1 billion a year.
So how about it, EBC and ESCC? Time to join Bexhill, Hastings, Seaford, Brighton, Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor, Bournemouth – or Vancouver
or even Nice…