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A clutch of councillors listened to both sides’ views: from left, Labour’s Heather Bishop, Julia Hilton, Glenn Haffenden, Tony Collins and Claire Carr, all Green. Labour’s Sabina Arthur was also in attendance.

Pro and anti cyclists come face-to-face in Alexandra Park

The proposal to give active travel in Hastings a boost by routing a cycleway through Alexandra Park has not been to everyone’s taste. As both sides held rallies at the weekend, HOTs Chris Connelley headed into the park to hear their points of view on the controversy. He also took the photos.

 Alexandra Park is a jewel in our outdoor crown, a listed green flag park in the centre of Hastings, cherished for generations by a rainbow alliance of dog walkers, families and residents looking for tranquility, a break from the everyday and a private moment with mother nature.

And in the autumn there is a chance that all these audiences will be joined by cyclists, as plans for a cycleway through the park look set to be finalised by Hastings Borough Council after eight years of consultation and discussion.

That’s certainly the aspiration of campaigners in Hastings Urban Bikes (HUB) and the Hastings Greenway Group, who hope changes in parks bylaws will conclude a set of protracted discussions with East Sussex County Council, the highways authority for the area, and Hastings Borough Council, which owns and manages Alexandra Park, to finally give a green light to cycling in the park.

2014 agreement

In a joint statement, the groups trace the extended journey to this point, noting that a cycle route through the park formed a critical part of the Hastings Walking and Cycling Strategy agreed by both authorities way back in 2014, subsequently forming part of the approved Hastings Local Plan. Initial designs for the cycleway were circulated and consulted on a year later, with unanimous approval at Hastings Council Cabinet in early 2016.

Detailed route planning followed, with a further review in 2021 following the submission of a petition to oppose it. A counter petition in support of the cycleway was also submitted, and in March this year, at a meeting convened by the County Council Lead Member for Transport and Environment, it was decided to proceed with the project, the plan being for work to begin this autumn. Full funding for the programme is already in place courtesy of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

In an attempt to demonstrate public support for the route, HUB and Hastings Greenway Group invited supporters to rally on Saturday afternoon ( June 25) at the iconic bandstand in the park to show their support for getting the cycleway started. Green Group leader on the Council and Cabinet member for Climate Change and the Natural Environment in the new co-operative alliance with Labour, Cllr Julia Hilton, addressed the gathering, stating that “We all have to make changes to reduce the use of the car and one of the ways is to have safe routes and to allow for all ages to use the park as part of a wider cycleway network”

Protesting against the cycleway: from left, Adey McKellar, Paul Kavanagh and Ellie Wenham.

As she was speaking, she was heckled by a member of a group of anti-cycleway protesters who had assembled across the bridge in another area of the park at their own rally and had started making their way across the bridge to the bandstand as the HUB/ Greenway event got underway. The heckler suggested bylaws need to be changed to allow for cycling, while other members of the counter-protest, a number carrying home-made banners, identified concerns about safety and threats to the way the park has traditionally been used.

“Dangerous”

Ms Parkinson, from Ashford Road, a former cycling proficiency officer, considered it dangerous to site a shared cycle path in the park, whilst Paul Kavanagh, whose mother is partially sighted and had encountered issues with aggressive pavement cyclists in the past, doubted they would stick to half a lane.

Other protesters such as Frances Hinton and Richard Tunningley professed support for cycling whilst distancing themselves from the specific route forming the basis of the cycleway plan. They were supported by Ruth Gregory, who worried that the adaptations required for the route diminished the tranquility and established layout of the park. They suggested that a more strategic approach was required and that thought be given to siting the cycle lane outside the park on neighbouring Lower Park Road.

HUB’s Anna Sabin spoke in support of the cycleway.

In response, Anna Sabin, from Hastings Urban Bikes, said that this option had been considered and discounted, and was not going to happen. She conceded that the proposed cycleway on the St Helens Road side of the park had been adopted following an objection to the original proposal, and that this was not her preferred first route, but that “You have to start somewhere. We don’t want to delay things anymore and have to get started”.

She also kicked back against the idea that a shared path was unsafe, noting the absence of major incidents on existing shared routes, including the one on the seafront. With cycling in parks well established elsewhere, including in busy London parks, she claimed that “It is not extraordinary at all. What is extraordinary is to object to it.”

“Massive over-reaction”

She was supported by local resident Phil Wilson, who had turned out with his bicycle in support of the new route. “Alexandra Park is a lovely environment and I don’t see why it should only be pedestrians that benefit from it”. Asked about safety concerns, he pointed out that the park is a large and uncongested space, and that “To try to ban cycling full-stop is a massive over-reaction”.

Attendees at the rally were joined by a number of councillors from across the political divide, including Sabina Arthur, whose Braybrooke Ward covers Alexandra Park. She was joined by her Gensing Ward Labour colleague, Heather Bishop, and by all five of the Green Group bar Amanda Jobson, who is currently housebound with Covid.

Not Mary Poppins but Hastings’ own Twig Goodyear lending support to the cyclists’ cause.

In a statement issued after the rally, Hastings Green Party commented, “The plan for cycling through the park has yet to be scheduled for discussion at Hastings Borough Council but our councillors are interested in finding out more about the plans as well as hearing from the residents they represent on both sides of the discussion.

“Some people have already expressed safety concerns and our councillors will work hard to find the answers people need and to raise those issues to the right people so that when a decision is made all the facts are before the council”.

With dates for a Hastings Council discussion on the cycleway still to be scheduled, and with both sides lining up to make their points, there is a sense that achieving a consensual cycleway in our leading outdoor location is anything but a walk in the park.

HBC has confirmed to HOT that the bylaw changes required to route a cycleway through the park have been accepted by central Government and meetings are being scheduled with East Sussex County Council for officers and councillors before a further Cabinet meeting and discussion are planned.

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Posted 22:07 Thursday, Jun 30, 2022 In: Local News

8 Comments

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  1. chris hurrell

    I don’t think it’s a question of “pro and anti cyclists”. I am a cyclist and of course a pedestrian. My experience of shared use cycle paths suggests that they are unsuitable in our antagonistic culture (the level of hostility towards cyclists from drivers safe in their tin boxes is incredible) – shared use might work well elsewhere but here in the UK it doesn’t work.

    A shared use cycle path in the park is likely to be disastrous and led to conflict and accidents. It would be far better to keep cyclists and pedestrians seperate.
    Cycle paths in the Netherlands and Germany are usually seperate.

    The route through the park is only being chosen for reasons of costs. With a decent budget (remember ESCC knicked the cycling budget a few years back?) the cycle path could be built on the verge of Lower Park Road.

    Comment by chris hurrell — Tuesday, Jul 12, 2022 @ 14:05

  2. David Woolf

    I am a cyclist and I defy anyone to cycle up St Helens Park Road, past cars parked on bends and avoiding lethal potholes without fearing for their safety. I also cycle the coastal ‘cycleway’, noting that ‘shared space’ without lane markings is a dangerous nonsense for both pedestrians and cyclists, whereas wider stretches with a good surface and clear markings works remarkably well. My final observation is that the park is a big space and one cycle route or lane-marked shared route is hardly a bit ask.

    Comment by David Woolf — Thursday, Jul 7, 2022 @ 08:57

  3. ken davis

    Just like cars on the roads (particularly in urban areas) the problem is speed. Had we not left the EU all new cars would now be fitted with speed limiters. Easy enough to fit such devices on electric bikes of course but surely not beyond the wit of UK inventers to come up with a push bike limiter?…..or do they exist already?

    Comment by ken davis — Monday, Jul 4, 2022 @ 11:28

  4. Enid

    Walking and cycling are words should not be used in the same sentence. As Jerry says, walkers stop walking to avoid the dangers of irresponsible cyclists. How about green transport going out of town? Couldn’t ride a bike on those roads and can’t walk when there’s no pavements.

    Comment by Enid — Monday, Jul 4, 2022 @ 08:48

  5. R G Claughton

    When I’m driving on our crowded roads, I expect to be slowed down by cyclists and to wait till it’s safe to pass them, as do others in my family and most responsible drivers, albeit there is a substantial minority of selfish drivers who don’t make allowances for riders’ vulnerability.
    In my experience walking on the Promenade, sometimes with grandchildren, the same applies. Most cyclists ride at moderate speed and slow down when they have to pass pedestrians at close quarters – but a substantial minority don’t. Many race at speeds of 20mph or more (I’ve seen some not holding their handlebars), and swerving to the edge of the cycle lane and beyond to pass slower riders. On a couple of occasions my shoulder has been lightly brushed by a speeding cyclist, and several times I have jumped aside in self-presevation, or pulled a grandchild out of possible harm’s way.
    In the same way that some cyclists say they feel apprehensive riding on roads shared with cars, vulnerable pedestrians – the old and unsteady, people with young children – can’t relax and enjoy the Promenade, they have to stay alert themselves, and prevent their children straying into the traffic lane .
    That is why there is opposition to cycle lanes in the park; the Promenade has been lost as a safe place for a carefree stroll – we don’t want to lose Alexandra Park too.
    I expect cycle lobbies would feel the same if it were proposed to allow motorcyclists to use cycle lanes.

    Comment by R G Claughton — Monday, Jul 4, 2022 @ 00:06

  6. Jerry Hart

    Golly Peter – a lifelong cyclist? What an extraordinarily profound longitudinal insight you must possess. At least that clarifies why you find opposing views so comical: they are so external to your personal paradigm that any notion of empathy is clearly beyond reach.

    Poor chap! What was that you said about people “doing themselves no favours”?

    I’m not a lifelong cyclist – I’ve been an occasional cyclist, horse rider, serial runner, motorist and pedestrian. I’ve also dedicated most of my professional life to understanding and treating risk, as well as attitudes to it.

    Of course, we are all risk experts in our way because risk is part of staying alive. This is what I mean when I refer to pedestrians taking evasive action, which includes avoiding places that they no longer consider safe. However, part of the human condition seems to cause occasional lapses into concern only for what threatens us, to the exclusion of those we also threaten. This is probably why you simply do not see, understand or consider the pedestrian experience when it comes to bicycles invading their space.

    So, we have law. Even though cyclists are often unidentifiable, untraceable and effectively unaccountable, best they – and that includes you, Peter – learn about the newly established ‘hierarchy of road users’ within the Highway Code. This and the associated rules establish very clearly that there’s a place for everyone, but every must know their place AND their responsibilities. You may howl at the moon about the recklessness of [some] pedestrians, but YOU are responsible for ensuring their safety whenever you get on your bike, just like motorists are responsible for ensuring that of pedal (and motor) cyclists as well as pedestrians.

    Nothing you wrote presents any credible challenge to the arguments I advanced, including your rather lazy plea to ‘think of the children’. My daughter suffered a collision with a cyclist while walking down a pedestrian-only walkway when she was three, so you can shove that where not even the moon shines.

    Definitely zero on the favours index, mate.

    Comment by Jerry Hart — Saturday, Jul 2, 2022 @ 14:21

  7. Peter Bredd

    As a lifelong cyclist, I find Jerry’s comment that the absence of accidents is “likely to be attributed to pedestrian agility than cyclist caution” to be absolutely hilarious. Cyclists generally have to do everyone else’s thinking for them, we are constantly endangered by cars, motorbikes and pedestrians who either don’t look or just don’t care. It may surprise you to know that it is a normal part of any cycle ride to EXPECT other people to thoughtlessly endanger you and to have take action to avoid accidents caused by others!

    It would be impossible to count the vast number of times that pedestrians have stepped out into the road (or cycle path) in front of me without looking, but it happens at least once on every journey I make by bike. And because I am looking out for it, the collision is avoided, often without the pedestrian even noticing that they would have been clobbered if I hadn’t seen them coming. You only have to sit on the promenade for 5 minutes to see pedestrians wandering in and out of the cycle lane with no awareness at all of the risk they are putting themselves and others in – whereas you will see that the cyclists are always scanning for the dangers around them.

    I’ve ridden my bike through Alexandra Park on a regular basis for decades, often accompanying my children on their bikes, without ever having any negative interactions with pedestrians, dog-walkers, partially-sighted people or any other park user. The idea that small children shouldn’t be allowed to use the Park to ride bikes is just awful. It’s a huge park that is perfectly able to cope with all different kinds of uses without threatening or endangering anyone. The extreme and apocalyptic predictions of the anti-bike protestors are doing them no favours at all.

    Comment by Peter Bredd — Friday, Jul 1, 2022 @ 17:46

  8. Jerry Hart

    The historical absence of incidents (on shared pedestrian and cycle routes) is NOT an indicator of future risk. It is more likely to be attributed to pedestrian agility than cyclist caution because pedestrians are likely to perceive themselves at greater risk of coming of worse in a collision and therefore take evasive action. This helps prevent accidents, but is inconvenient and erodes the quality of pedestrian-only spaces as a sanctuary.

    The increase in cyclists’ illegal and unpoliced use of the lower prom in St Leonards is a deterrent to pedestrians, particularly the elderly and those with young children. Reducing pedestrian use of such spaces may also facilitate other forms of criminality, such as vandalism and tagging, because of the reduction in informal surveillance of the space. A cycle route through Alexandra Park will have a similar effect and any council that claims it can police it is deluded or lying. Put simply, the park will no longer be a safe space for pedestrians.

    When traversing the park, those using their bicycles to commute should dismount and include walking time in their journey planning. Those seek to use their bikes for exercise or leisure should do likewise or exercise their freedom of choice and go elsewhere.

    Comment by Jerry Hart — Friday, Jul 1, 2022 @ 07:00

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