On Cycling and Walking

“Cyclists are pedestrians really, since they are leg-powered. They’ve just added a few levers and cogs to improve their own efficiency.”

James May, BBC Top Gear

Since it was formed six years ago by a group of parents concerned about the dangers of cycling to school, Bespoke has tried to help make it safer and easier for anyone to ride a bicycle around Eastbourne. That includes people who don’t currently cycle. Like other groups across the country, we are responding to a situation in which the bicycle has effectively been designed out of our towns and cities. Over the past 50 years, highways departments and traffic engineers have prioritized the car to such an extent that it has become the default mode of transport for most people for even the shortest trips.

But it has become clear that it is not all plain driving. There are downsides aplenty, from traffic congestion and costly delays, to pollution, serious health issues arising from inactivity, communities divided by busy roads, town centres withering at the hands of car-oriented out-of-town malls and children kept inside because of very real fears about their safety on and around our streets.

There are much better ways of organizing how we get around towns like Eastbourne, which would genuinely benefit everyone. Examples can be found in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and even some British cities such as Cambridge and London. The lessons are that the best, most livable towns and cities with the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous citizens are those that put people – and people-powered transport – first.

We wholeheartedly support this vision. Bespoke is a cycling lobby group but we are, of course, all pedestrians. It could be said that cyclists and pedestrians are two sides of the same coin. We are passionate about improving the public realm in Eastbourne and have been at the forefront of the debate about making traffic-blighted Little Chelsea a far more convivial and pleasant place. We are heartened by the news that East Sussex County Council has at last begun a review of the 1970s ring road.

While we are campaigning for safe cycle routes linking residential areas to the town centre, the station, leisure facilities etc., we also want to see measures such as wider pavements, more crossings and slower traffic near schools. Bespoke members were a key force in an epic four-year battle to get a Zebra crossing on Eldon Road, Old Town, making it much safer for children to get to Cavendish and Ocklynge schools.

We would love to see separate cycle tracks installed alongside Eastbourne’s busiest and most dangerous roads, such as Marine Parade. But we are under no illusions about the difficulty of persuading cash-strapped councils to bankroll the kind of infrastructure that has been built in the Netherlands over decades. Shared spaces, or those that use painted lines to separate pedestrians and cyclists, offer a good compromise.

We are impressed by just how well pedestrians, people on mobility scooters, skateboarders and cyclists can coexist, be it on more than 100 British seafront promenades or in thousands of towns and cities across Europe. There will, inevitably, be the odd inconsiderate person, just as there is in any area of public life. At very busy times, it may be prudent to restrict people on wheels, but for the vast majority of the time we are convinced that simple signs such as “Pedestrian Priority, Responsible Cyclists Welcome” are sufficient. Let’s do it, and move on!