Councillors’ Views Show Uphill Struggle for Bedworth Cycling

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Bedworth is on track to receive new leisure cycle facilities in its Miners’ Welfare Park, along with a rebuild of its leisure centre located on the edge of that same park – a much needed and welcome investment into the town. As part of this, there is a discussion around the establishment of a new “green corridor” to link the town centre to the park for car-free access – but what this means for cycling at present is unclear.

Overview of Bedworth Town Centre (Google Earth)

The town, located between Nuneaton and Coventry, is an extremely hostile place to cycle today with no significant cycling infrastructure to speak of and a very busy and dangerous road network where sadly at least one fatality has been reported in recent years. Even a dedicated bus lane doesn’t actively indicate that cycling is permitted within it. The pedestrianised town centre forbids cycling, and as such there is no safe and easy route for anyone wanting to access shops and facilities there, nor to continue on beyond from the north of the town – including to access the new facilities at the Miners’ Welfare Park.

This is a problem not only for everyday cycling, but especially with regard to those new leisure facilities. A lack of safe routes means people are likely to drive to the park with bikes fixed to their cars – hardly an advertisement for sustainability, addressing air pollution, or tackling the climate emergency. Alternatively, people might not even visit and use the new cycle facilities if they consider them to difficult to access.

A Borough Council Scrutinity Panel was held on Thursday 9 December 2021. In this session, within an agenda item relating to the regeneration of the town centre, a discussion involving Councillor Downs (Cons), Councillor Hammersley (Cons), Councillor Kondakor (Green), and Councillor Wilson (Cons) commenced on the subject of creating a green corridor to join the town centre to the large and popular park. However, it quickly turned to points being made by the predominantly Conservative councillors in attendance about the alleged dangers of cycling in an environment with pedestrian priority such as a town centre. Anecdotal reports were given of people sustaining injuries through collisions with inattentive riders, and even an emotional personal report from a councillor whose relative had died following injuries sustained in a collision.

Sadly, there was no consideration given for how to provide safe cycle access through the town. Rather the prevailing opinion was that Bedworth must instead remain “cycle free” in the town centre and that cyclists have no place there. This is despite the desire to regenerate the town and increase its footfall.

I would expect, in terms of respect for people within the town centre, for cyclists to actually dismount and secure their bikes in a suitable facility rather than actually riding their bikes through the town centre, which is actually off-putting for a number of pedestrians.

[…] They have to acknowledge that this is still, technically, a mechanically propelled vehicle with the danger to do significant harm to pedestrians if it goes wrong. I’ve actually seen for myself and know of people who have been injured because a cyclist has gone crashing into them when they weren’t paying attention.

So, what I do expect is for there to be a respect between pedestrians and cyclists through the town centres. That’s all any reasonable user of our town centre expects. If it’s a busy pedestrian area, don’t go cycling through it. Dismount and walk through until it is safe to actually resume cycling again. I think that is a far better way of progressing than anything else.

Cllr Kris Wilson (Conservative), 9 December 2021

There was no need to move the discussion in the direction it did, where the debate started out around what provision for cycling should be made on the proposed new green corridor. This was an opportunity to say that cycling should be accommodated in a safe manner alongside people walking – perhaps a separated foot and cycle way in green space, and separated on-carriageway provision on existing roads where necessary. Instead, it was diverted to talk about cyclists showing respect for pedestrians by dismounting through the town centre; about reckless behaviours; how pedestrians don’t want cyclists “whizzing past”; and an outgrouping of those who cycle, whilst forgetting that cyclists are local people from the town and surrounding areas and that people on bikes are also pedestrians too.

people do want to feel safe in the town. They do want to amble around. They do want to sit and chat etc. without somebody whizzing past them […] it would be a pleasure for the local people not to worry about somebody zooming past them

Cllr Brian Hammersley (Conservative), 9 December 2021

In my view, efforts can and should be made to accomodate safe and considerate cycling through the town centre whilst maintaining pedestrian priority. Enabling cycling to improve easy and direct access to local shops and services has an economic benefit to Bedworth as well as broader benefits to health and well-being of the local population. There is a clear desire to improve the town centre and its footfall. Bringing cycling into the heart of the town is an important aspect of this.

We are trying to introduce people back into the town. Footfall saves a town, so we’re trying to introduce [them]. We’re also trying to link it with, rather than be fragmented from, the park.

Cllr Brian Hammersley (Conservative), 9 December 2021

So, how would I improve things? I’d focus on two routes – one that bypasses the town centre which is designed for faster riding, creating a good north-south connection, but also a second route through the town centre designed for slow and considerate riding. In this way, the desire to cycle through the town centre when not actively accessing that space is reduced in favour of the route designed for faster traffic.

For the slow route, I would suggest creating a clearly marked, fairly narrow cycle lane intended for two-way cycling through the currently pedestrian only area. I would surface the lane in brick to create a slightly rougher surface than tarmac, and turn it at frequent intervals creating a wave design to minimise the opportunity to build up speed. The route should move behind benches and planters which should always face in alternate directions so that cycling is behind seated pedestrians. In this way, pedestrians can rest and enjoy the town without feeling hassled by cyclists passing by them. Clear demarcation makes it obvious where cyclists are likely to be, reducing risk of collision. Clear signage should indicate that cycling outside of the marked lane is prohibited, whilst the entire area (including the marked cycle lane) is always pedestrian priority and that riders must “share with care”. This should be backed up by enforcement.

Given the comments made in the scrutiny panel, it seems there is a definite uphill battle to improve cycling in Bedworth, but it is extremely important that changes are made for the better. Cycling has noted economic, health, and environmental benefits. It is a predominantly safe activity accessible to almost everyone regardless of age and ability, and well-designed infrastructure can further improve safety significantly. Occasional incidents, no matter how serious and traumatic, must not become reasons to ignore a sustainable, clean, and healthy mode of transport.

Most cyclists are reasonable and responsible and just want safe routes and connections. There will always be idiots about but we must not let the behaviour of the few irresponsible people become the basis for ongoing hostility to cycling in Bedworth and other towns where similar views are prevalent.

“No Vehicles” signage on access to Bedworth’s pedestrianised High Street (Google Street View, 2015)

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