CYCLE LANES: Cyclists, residents & businesses divided over plans
Plans to introduce more cycle lanes in Southport have divided residents as the local council pushes to encourage more people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes.
The pandemic saw Sefton Council introduce cycle lanes along Hoghton Street and Talbot Street and Queens Road as part of a government scheme to promote cycling over driving in light of air quality concerns and the ongoing climate emergency.
But now the council has proposed extending the scheme, building bike lanes out to Ainsdale and Birkdale, prompting anger from Southport’s Conservative councillors who claim it will harm businesses in the area.
With opinion split on what could be a major change in how people get around Southport, the LDRS visited the town to find out what was really happening.
Businesses split on impact of cycle lanes
One of the key complaints made by Conservative councillors is that the cycle lanes have harmed businesses by removing parking spaces from Hoghton Street in order to give cyclists a clear run from Queens Road to the town centre.
Newly elected Cambridge ward councillor Sinclair Hesketh d’Albuquerque said: “The cycle lanes in the town centre have damaged small businesses and made life needlessly difficult for local residents.
“Now they want to extend these cycle lanes and close more roads across other areas, which will have a catastrophic effect on Southport.”
Matt Howard, who took over the management of Rueters bar on Hoghton Street, agreed.
He said: “They’re an absolute bloody joke. It just takes all the parking away from people.
“Potentially I’ve got customers that aren’t coming because there’s no parking.”
But on the other side of the road, Hoghton Street Coffee seemed to be enjoying a roaring trade.
Lauren Sheen, one of the waitresses, said: “It’s definitely got better. It used to be empty in here but we’ve made a few bob recently.
“But it is a nightmare for parking. I get it’s important for the environment though.”
Her experience is the one backed up by science as well. Numerous studies in cities across the world have shown that introducing cycle lanes has little to no negative impact on small businesses, with cyclists spending as much or sometimes more than drivers as they spend more time in town centres.
Studies from Bristol and Dublin have also suggested that businesses tend to overestimate the number of customers arriving by car in the first place, with many more choosing to walk or cycle.
Parking restrictions ‘ridiculous’, says resident
Restrictions on driving and parking iare a problem, however, and not just for businesses.
On Queens Road, the council has created a “quiet street”, with restrictions designed to limit traffic not just by removing on-street parking but by making the road “no entry” at either end.
This forces drivers to go the long way round and approach Queens Road from one of the side streets, from which you can still turn onto the road.
Les Ashton, who lives on Queens Road, said: “I think it’s ridiculous. Legally I’m not allowed to drive my car in here to get home, I’ve got to go round.”
He added that the introduction of the cycle lanes had not encouraged him to take up cycling, and said: “We don’t see that many cyclists down the roads, there’s no more cyclists now than what there was before.”
Although the council has not released data for Queens Road, sensors installed to monitor use of the cycle routes in Chapel Street and Talbot Street have identified 72,000 cycle trips on the two streets between December 2020 and April 2021.
Changing travel behaviour is a long-term project, but one problem could be that drivers also don’t follow the rules – the LDRS saw at least one driver ignore the no entry signs and several drivers parked by the kerb, blocking the cycle lanes.
Jon Gordon, head of enterprise at Autism Initiatives which runs cycling cafe and repair shop MeCycle in Ainsdale, said: “If we want to discourage that, we have to look at education and we have to look at fixed penalties being dished out if that’s something we want to support in our borough.”
But Mr Gordon also suggested that it was the ongoing maintenance of a lot of cycle lanes that was the main issue discouraging cyclists from using them.
He said: “In my experience as a cyclist in this area, that’s because some of the cycle pathways aren’t that comfortable to use.
“Either they have tree roots coming across them or they’re not tended properly and people who use them regularly are fed up of getting punctures.
“It’s not just about having them. If you were a driver and your Southport to Liverpool highway had loose chippings and stones all over it, you would complain about it.
“You wouldn’t be able to go the speed you like, you would be worried about your car. What comes with providing these pathways is the ongoing maintenance.”
Cyclists back scheme
One Queens Road resident who does use the cycle lanes is Rasa Kurkauskiene, who took up cycling during lockdown as a way of getting some exercise.
She had mixed feelings about the new cycle lanes, and said they had not really made a difference to her decision to bike to work.
Ms Kurkauskiene said: “It’s fine because it’s more quiet, but when you go on the other roads it’s disgusting because there’s more cars.
“The lanes don’t make a difference to me, it’s just maybe more quiet. I drive as well and when I drive I really don’t like it.”
In the centre of town, Southport residents and cyclist Michael Jaeger was all in favour of more bike lanes, both to keep cyclists safe and to help stop the climate emergency.
He said: “I think there should be cycle lanes everywhere, all the time. It would be really cool to see more cycling infrastructure in the UK as a whole.”
Mr Gordon agreed, backing the council’s proposals for new cycle lanes, especially ones that take direct routes for commuters.
He said: “I think we’re very lucky in Sefton in the sense that it’s very flat and there’s existing cycle paths, but what I now know as a cyclist is there’s a lot of perceived facilities for cyclists but they’re not fit for purpose.”
He added that while there were good leisure cycling routes, more practical ones were needed, saying: “If you want to use your bike for a commute, that’s not necessarily a route you want to take.
“It’s OK to amble around but if you want to go to work or to visit someone, you need a better infrastructure and that means roads because roads tend to point in the direction you want to go.
“The problem for cyclists is if the facilities aren’t there, you have to take secondary roads or paths and tracks to get from Liverpool to Southport and that makes a 20 mile journey a 30 mile journey.
“We’ve got to use the quickest routes to get the cyclists from A to B.”
The proposed routes certainly are direct. One would link the Plough Roundabout to the north of the town with the existing Queens Road route via Preston New Road and Cambridge Road, while the other links the southern end of the existing route at Talbot Street to Birkdale and Ainsdale via Trafalgar Road and Liverpool Road.
Mr Gordon said: “I think that’s the start. This has got to be a social change to us as a nation, to start prioritising other forms of transport over cars and I think social change starts with small steps, so all those sort of things combined, starting to make the car user think ‘It’s a bit of a pain to park in town, shall I get the train?’
“We can only gently press car drivers.”
What the Tories say
Southport’s Conservatives are leading the charge against an expansion of cycling infrastructure in the town.
Cllr d’Alburquerque said: “Southport Conservative councillors are unanimous in our opposition to these plans, which have been so poorly thought out by Sefton Council.
“Southport’s Labour councillors have been very quiet on this extremely important issue and we would invite them to join us in opposing this crazy scheme.
“Southport is a tourist town, which attracted over 9m visitors in 2019.
“With the exciting plans we are developing through the Town Deal, thanks to £38.5m in funding or Southport from our Conservative government, we are creating some exciting projects to attract even more visitors.
“So why is Sefton Council making it more difficult for people to drive here and visit? No-one cycles from Preston, Liverpool or other areas to visit Southport.”
He also criticised the lost revenue from parking metres on Hoghton Street and claimed allowing cyclists on Chapel Street had made it a “no go area” for disabled people.
The Conservatives have also warned that changes to roads in Birkdale would lead to parking problems in other parts of the town and congestion on main roads if parts of the cycle route were closed to through traffic.
What the council says
A spokesperson for Sefton Council said: “Emergency Active Travel schemes were introduced in 2020 across the country following strict conditions set down by the Department for Transport.
“Sefton, along with many other councils around the country, were given implementation timescales which did not allow for a normal consultation process to take place.
“This resulted in the necessary traffic regulation orders being made for Tranche 1 of the scheme using the emergency legislation provided by the government.
“Owing to the timescales set to us, there was relatively little time to develop the project fully and we have since held independent reviews to determine which modifications are necessary to ensure the scheme is completed to be as effective as possible.
“The details of these modifications are currently being finalised and will be implemented shortly.
“We have committed to reviewing the scheme after six months following the completion of the works and this will still be honoured as planned.
“Neither the Department for Transport nor the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have provided definite criteria on which to judge the successes of such a scheme.
“Sefton will use detailed and publicly available cycle usage data, along with further survey work, to inform future decisions over whether Tranche 1 becomes permanent, modified further or is ultimately removed.
“Specialist monitors installed as part of the Tranche 1 scheme have identified 60,224 cycle trips on Chapel Street, and 12,097 cycle trips on Talbot Street, between December 2020 and April 2021.
“We have been provided further funding from the Department for Transport through its Active Travel Fund, for an extension to the route in Southport.
“Thankfully the timescales for implementation of the latest funding allow time for a full and detailed consultation with our communities and we have since begun this process.
“All views, including those from ward councillors, will be taken into account and used to shape and develop future active travel schemes to best benefit our communities, businesses and the environment.”
The consultation is open until July 4 and can be found at https://yourseftonyoursay.sefton.gov.uk/yourstreets/.
Words: Chris McKeon, Local Democracy Reporter
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