Great Britain – so adept at getting it wrong.

There are two pieces of off-road cycle way that have been created recently (in their current form) not too far from where I live. One of these is the shared path that runs alongside the 4.5 miles long Leigh Guided Busway, shown here:

The installation of a major infrastructure project like this provides a perfect opportunity to create decent, high quality infrastructure for walking and cycling, and so it was nice to see that a wide path was created alongside this route. It seems rare that there is the money, the space, the opportunity, and the political will to create such a cycling facility, so I thought I’d go along and have a look. Well actually, I was trying to follow National Cycle Route 55 when I can across it, but then I decided to give it a go.

You can see the whole ride here:

but I suggest you skip to 1:36 to have a look at an example of the quality of this path. The camera shake is not me waving my head around on purpose; it is a consequence of the quality of the surface on this so-called cycle facility. I don’t have suspension on my bike, but I do have carbon forks and 32C tyres. Goodness knows what it would be like on a road bike. The path is like this for the whole length.

Of course, it’s possible that the quality here was compromised simply due to lack of money. I’ve no doubt that a better surface costs more to build, although I wouldn’t expect it to be that much more. The next example, though, is just beyond belief.

Snatching failure from the jaws of success.

The second example that I want to look at is the branch of National Cycle Route 55 that goes from Bolton to Roe Green. That 3 mile route is shown here:

I showed this route in a video back in April when it was nearly complete. The video shows a beautiful, wide path with a smooth tarmac surface. Almost perfect but for the fact that it is shared with pedestrians, including many dog walkers.

Now, I’d like you to skip to 7:45 in the video above and see how lovely it is as it goes under one of the bridges and continues on its way. Clearly that facility is completely finished, and to a high standard … or is it?

Last week, I went down that route again, and became puzzled when I passed a truck with some workmen. What I saw a little further on, starting from the bridge that I asked you to look at in the previous clip, was completely mystifying:

The lovely, smooth tarmac surface has been covered with stone chips, making it difficult to move at any speed without risking a fall. This is absolutely beyond belief: they have taken a brand new smooth tarmac surface on a “National Cycle Route” and spent money to make it treacherous for cyclists to ride on!

This is not the result of lack of money. This simply stupidity on the part of the designers. The only reason I can imagine for this is to cause cyclists to have to slow down, presumably because of the presence of pedestrians. If that is true, it is equivalent to putting speed bumps along the A6 because you can’t be bothered to make provision for pedestrians (or cyclists for that matter), but I can’t imagine that happening soon!

In my best Victor Meldrew voice: “I don’t bloody believe it!”.

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4 Responses to Great Britain – so adept at getting it wrong.

  1. Stewart says:

    On the second one, I think they may be halfway through applying what is known as “Resin-bonded or tar spray and chip dressing”. They have just put this down on Surrey Canal Path in Lewisham and it works quite well, providing a bit more grip in the west than smooth tarmac but without much extra resistance. According to the London Cycle Design Standards this is “Often used to change the colour or grip of an existing asphalt surface. Has the appearance of loose gravel but the aggregate held firmly in place. It only works on surfaces that are already well constructed and in good condition. Loose aggregate must be swept from the path before use”. The key is in the last sentence: those workmen should be sweeping away all the loose chips at the end of the day once the gravel is bound. I’d be interested to know if they did.

  2. Tim says:

    I complained to TfGM about the Leigh Guided Busway path surface, and got the following reply. It suggests to me that the rough surface might be to help accommodate horses, although I don’t think it’s ideal for them either. It’s a massive shame they’ve made this nice wide direct cycleway and then messed up the surface. 🙁 I would recommend sending feedback to CUSTOMER.RELATIONS@TFGM.COM . Perhaps they’ll realise that it could be much better.

    “I apologise that you feel the surface is not suited to the needs of cyclists.
    During the planning stage for the Busway and associated infrastructure, such as the multi user path, we consulted with pedestrians, cyclists and equestrian groups, along with Wigan Council to determine the best possible surface to use on the path that would balance the needs of all users. As part of this research Wigan Council identified that they have successfully used the chosen surface material in other parks and on other routes used by multiple user groups throughout the borough, and therefore that it would be suitable for use alongside the Busway.
    The surface material used is granular in nature and in the early stages will feel loose under foot/wheel. The manufacturer has however confirmed that as the path is used the loose material will compact and spread and therefore some of the issues you have reported will be resolved.
    I can confirm that work on the path is now complete and that there is no further work on the surfacing planned. Performance and usage of the path will be monitored and I can advise that a significant number of cyclists have already been recorded using the path since it opened. I trust you will appreciate that we have tried to accommodate a diverse range of users along the path, when developing the surface finish.”

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