Cycling in Horsham – a newcomer’s perspective

Ben Peterson recently moved to Horsham. Here he muses on the lack of adequate cycle infrastructure in the town and why that leads to frustration for everyone.

Six months ago, I wisely joined the great migration and moved from Croydon down to the green fields of Horsham. I’m not entirely a stranger here – I’d always known Horsham as a convenient spot to begin or end a cycle journey, a stone’s throw from the Downs Link and positioned in the kind of pleasant and flat countryside that everyone should be jolly glad about.

And so I had rosy visions of family trips through the countryside, healthful exercise and my small daughters spontaneously saying things like “Daddy, this is such a healthful and yet enjoyable way to experience the quiet and heritage of our lovely countryside.”

Hobson’s choice

This hasn’t really happened – partly because my daughters are far more likely to be discussing Bruno Mars, but also because of some strange features of cycling in the Horsham area. Mind if I hold forth for a moment?

Ring of Steel

One of Europe’s longest and best cycling paths, the magnificent Downs Link, runs right past Horsham. The only problem is, when you live in Horsham you can’t really reach it! It’s easier to travel up and down the Downs Link between Guildford and the sea than it is to pop over from Horsham – and this is because the general problem of getting into and out of Horsham by bike (or foot or horse) is a surprisingly difficult one.

The A264 forms a pretty much impassable barrier to the north. Having seen the locals sprinting across with their Labradors, I don’t think small children on bikes would survive the attempt. On the west side of Horsham there is a single tunnel under the A24 [Ed: through the Rookwood Golf course], but only a minority seem to know about it and it doesn’t really take you anywhere useful.

To the south, the road to Southwater is a death trap, leading into a roundabout whose atmosphere of malice and danger is amply borne out by its safety record. I’ve cycled across many challenging parts of the world but I wouldn’t try and get from Horsham to Southwater by bike without a pretty serious incentive. To the east, there’s no specific impassable barrier, so the good news is that if you’re an experienced adult and can deal with a few hills and narrow, busy roads you can eventually reach the Gatwick corridor. Hooray!

This invisible barrier surrounding Horsham is all the more remarkable given that a few footbridges and some provision – any provision, really – for non-car traffic at the intersections would go a long way towards fixing it. Currently though, living in central Horsham the possibility of cycling to the Downs Link or anywhere else outside the town seems remote. It’d be easier to get the family and their bikes into a van and go to Henfield or Billingshurst or Hassocks – or Sardinia! – or in fact anywhere outside the Ring of Steel.

Danger in the Darkness

Soon after I moved to Horsham, I was given a lecture by a well-meaning local concerning the delinquency of local cyclists. “They’re everywhere,” he warned portentously, “without lights, without morals, without brakes. They even come down the pedestrian street. There are No Cycling signs, but they’re too high up. Nobody sees ’em.”

Family cycling in Horsham

I must admit that at the time, while I was grateful for his advice I thought he might be taking things a bit too much to heart. After six months, I’m not so sure. I’ve never been anywhere in the world where bikes ride as diagonally, lightlessly, randomly, as they do in Horsham – on and off the pavements, through the pedestrian crossings, up and down North Parade and Hurst Road, forcing the persecuted pedestrian to maintain constant wariness.

I really had no idea why this should be the case, until I began cycling around Horsham myself. It turns out that while there are quite a few small signs with pictures of bikes on them, there really aren’t any useful, labelled routes around the town by bike.

To this day after making a serious effort I have no idea if cycling on the pavement on North Parade is the “right” thing to do, or what the “proper” way to leave Station Road at the south end of it is, or how to get to John Lewis without pretending to be a pedestrian. There’s quite a lot of space and not too much of a traffic problem, but the available resources don’t seem to be organized to actually allow anyone to get to and from key locations by bike in a pleasant way.

I suspect there’s a vicious cycle at work here: Horsham cyclists mainly cycle at random, so they aren’t seen as a desirable group to cater for, and so there is no provision for cycling. But since Horsham is a perfect size and flatness for cycling people cycle anyway, and they do it all over the place. It seems like the sort of thing some benevolent outside entity, such as local government, could probably fix.

The future generation

I’ve cycled in much worse places than this – Horsham in the 1980s, for example, or any ordinary steelworks. But still, I’m coming to feel that there’s a bit of a missed opportunity here: somewhere so flat, so open, so abundant in pleasant spots, really should be accessible in this day and age. Otherwise, what’s to really separate Horsham from Croydon – or, dare I say it, Crawley?

Picture credits: http://horshampeoplecycling.tumblr.com/

Comments

  1. Philip Gough says:

    As a visitor I tried to re-enact the trip I used to take with my gran about 60 years ago on the Hants & Sussex service 34 from Carfax to Ewhurst via Rowhook and Oakwood Hill. What a nightmare! from Bishopric heading for Broadbridge Heath I was stymied by a gargantuan roundabout, dual carriageways, another roundaboud and a lack of signage. Eventually I found myself in Broadbridge Heath and the Rookwood underpass, with no indication where it went. I gave up trying to find Rowhook and seeing a sign to Warnham headed off there, eventually getting to the hidden rail station and a train out to escape.
    Is there a safe route to Rowhook?

  2. Jacky Little says:

    I absolutely agree with Ben. As a seventeen year old I cycled every day to work In Horsham from Barns
    Green. Now as a timid cyclist in my seventies I feel trapped in Horsham. I do use the Rookwood course route but it is vey limited. I am angry that all the new development does nothing to facilitate cycling in what should be an ideal town for cycling.
    I have cycled in The Hague where everyone cycles safely including young children. There are so many benefits to cycling in terms of health,pollution etc. It’s a no brainier!

  3. Greg Collins says:

    Ignoring the snark about Crawley, it is possible to get to the Downslink safely by bike via Tanbridge House School and the Tesco’s bridge, then Old Wickhurst Lane. Of course this eventually deposits you on the worst stretch of the Downslink possible, the road NW of Christ’s Hospital, unless you are heading north when you can avoid the tarmac.

    As one who relatively recently returned to Horsham after a spell living/working in Scandinavia I can only really call out the problems as being speed and volume of traffic on the towns roads (enforced 20mph limits where people live anyone?), the gargantuan sense of entitlement that Horsham motorists seem to have in respect to shared road use, their apparent addiction to using their cars at all times, the idiocy of the HDC and WSCC planners who built Albion Way and still see it as a good thing, and the inevitable perception of cyclists as an “out group” of weirdos as in nearly all the small towns I visit.

    All that said I ride my bike to Waitrose/John Lewis regularly. It isn’t fun, it is sometimes scarey, I wouldn’t want an inexperienced cyclist to try it, but it is do-able, without becoming a pedestrian, and, I’ll carry on, because, frankly, I’ll be damned if I’ll be bullied off the roads of the town in which I was born by eejits in SUVs.

  4. Jill Shuker says:

    Quite agree with your comments Ben. And considering them, it is amazing that so many people and families actually take to the roads, or pavements, on bicycles. Despite the discouragement everywhere, we still see cyclists cycling. So if people are cycling despite all these discouragements, just think about how many more cyclists we could have cycling if it was actively encouraged. People want to cycle. it is such a great activity to do with families.
    I have cycled a lot abroad and there walkers and cyclists manage to share paths very easily. I wish we could find a way of persuading our councillors that walkers and cyclists should be the
    priority instead of the car. The John Lewis development has taken no account of cyclist at all. It is a challenge to get there on a bicycle and yet it should be really easy.

  5. Mike Croker says:

    Oh good, it’s not just me, then!
    (Speaking as one who spent his early working life in a steelworks…)

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