Last Sunday, Ranty Junior and I went for a ride along the seafront at Southend-on-Sea in Essex between Chalkwell and Shoeburyness.
It was a ride we had been thinking about doing for a while as I had been told there was a pretty good cycle track we could use. Before I go any further, please take time out to read David Hembrow's take on Southend which deals with the town at a strategic level - I am sticking to the the engineering of kerbs and tarmac, as there are positive things which can be taken away.
As I have done before with a photo-heavy blog post, I will simply add comments to a set of images and round up with more general comments at the end. Before I start, some background. I have been going to Southend for years, since I was small in fact. It was the place for a day by the sea for many people from East-London. I was a regular as a teenager, taking the train there to hit the arcades and this continued when I learnt to drive, although my friends and I tended to drive there. The trip last weekend was the first time I had ever taken a bike.
Sadly, our trip started on four wheels - it is just too expensive by train and so we stuck the bikes in the car (Ranty Junior on his usual bike, me on the fold-up Tern). We parked at Chalkwell which is west of the main town centre and the ideas was to head east, through the pier area and out to Shoeburyness to the east (6 miles away). After an ice-cream, we would then retrace our tracks. We arrived at Chalkwell, parking was £1 per hour and so we stuck in £4. It was a wonderful sunny day and so we were raring to go, although we were going to detour to the main shopping centre for some lunch. So, to the photos:
|At the Chalkwell end (west) of our safari we were presented with|
a cycle track which was 2.5 metres wide and bi-directional.
A bit of a sod to get on if heading east though.
|Approaching another zebra crossing. The white line on the right|
seems pointless, but I guess some use at night.
|Getting closer to the pier and in this area, the road becomes a bit of|
a dual carriageway affair with basically a car park in the middle.
Welcome to the Western Esplanade. 2.5m starts to feel too narrow
for a bi-directional track when people are coming towards you and you
need to avoid going into the carriageway or hitting the kerb (for the
|Door zone dealt with (ish). We didn't have any problems and people|
opening doors would have a better chance to see you, but a bit
|See, sign says share. Imagine the crowds in August.|
|After lunch in the shopping centre (where bike parking was a rare|
species indeed) we came back down the steep Pier Hill expecting
to somehow rejoin the route on the shared-use cycle track. Except
we didn't. We turned onto the carriageway in the shared space.
|With me as a rolling road block, we continued east on Marine Parade.|
This area used to be a dual carriageway with staggered
pelican crossings and a wide central reservation. It was popular with
drivers of hot-hatches and there were often cruises and sometimes
the odd drag race. There is no denying that this new layout is so
much better, but why wasn't the through traffic sent around the long
way on the nearby A127 leaving this area for people and access?
|This is just getting stupid. The area behind the planting is vast, so why|
this is all getting so squeezed is beyond me. You will share the space!
|And with the dome of the exotically-named Grade II listed Kursaal, we|
have a "courtesy crossing" (otherwise known by its proper term as a
uncontrolled pedestrian crossing). At least that driver was being courteous.
|Actually, this bit was superb.|
|Here, we were on the seafront proper, no idea if we were allowed to|
cycle, but we did for a little while.
|Then we found the cycle track again - yay!|
|This track is much older than the one to the west, perhaps 1990s?|
|It is machine laid in red asphalt (nice) which is faded, but on the|
whole in a very good condition. The track was 2 metres in width and
with very unforgiving full-height kerbs on both sides as we now had
a buffer between us and the carriageway.
|Looky here, a floating bus stop! It is accessible with a high kerb to|
meet a low floor bus. The bus stop island is a bit narrow and the
fencing makes for an over-engineered layout. But ahead of its time.
|Less good for pedestrians here. Cross the track onto a refuge in the|
buffer area, cross onto the narrow refuge in the carriageway and then
finish crossing. A mobility scooter user or someone with a pushchair
needs a 1.8m wide waiting area.
|Zebra crossing of the carriageway and then a stagger to give two|
crossing points over the cycle track. Again, over-engineering to try
and deal with pedestrian/ bike conflicts.
|At last, a bit of greenery in an otherwise harsh street scene.|
|The track got a touch wider in places, but remained very smooth indeed.|
|Pedestrians benefit from a big buffer from traffic.|
|Another floating bus stop...|
|...and its cycle parking. We are about to bypass a roundabout too.|
|Ranty Junior cycling in perfect safety and at the pace he chooses.|
|Oh dear. This is just an access to a slipway. No need at all for a|
give way here.
|The eastern track surface is red AC6 (asphalt concrete with a 6mm|
nominal stone size - previously known as 6mm DBM). These days
I would specify AC10 or 55/10 HRA (hot rolled asphalt with 55%
10mm stone) as both are more durable.
|I think the track was routed onto the green. Still machine-laid and|
with the verge rather than a high kerb, the full width could be used.
|So, the track has just bent away from the road at the access to|
Thorpe Bay, which is a car park, a cafe, some loos and beach huts.
It could have been designed to carry the track straight through the
|Another access to a slipway, with a handful of parking spaces. The|
track and footway should have carried on through.
|This is Ness Road which bends in away from the sea, but at least|
we still have a separate track and footway. The track doesn't feel
as smooth which might be the affects of tree routes.
|Now we are off the cycle track onto a 3m wide path. No idea if we|
are meant to cycle, but a few people were. There is new housing
being built on the background.
|Passing an old fort - I assume Second World War.|
|Just before we had a rest before turning round, we are back by the sea.|
|Heading back west, bike traffic increased and it was hard to overtake|
with the kerbs on either side.
|Ranty Junior gave up and went round!|
|So, at the western end of the eastern (red) cycle track, we rejoined|
the carriageway as we were supposed to and it wasn't particularly
|A slightly weird panoramic shot of the shared space for what it's worth.|
|Traffic was at a standstill, so we stuck to the shared footway/ |
cycle track area.
|Just too narrow.|
|Back on the western (green) track and having to keep right of the|
low but vertical kerb.
|This line of palm trees looked in-keeping given the sunshine!|
From a designer point of view, a good way of giving some informal
buffering space between bike handlebars and pedestrians.
|Yes, the zebra crossings were kind of working.|
So, what did I learn from this safari? Well, it continued to reinforce the fact that I enjoy being segregated from busy traffic, that should be a no-brainer by now. The western (green) cycle track was wider and felt nicer in terms of space and ability to overtake, but with Old Shoreham Road in Brighton being between 1.8m and 2.5m on each side of the road (uni-directional) it did feel mean. There was space to get to at least 3m which would have been good.
The eastern (red) cycle track was quite old, but the surfacing was superior. The 2m width and high kerbs made it feel tight and overtaking was a pain, but I preferred it in the round because of the buffer from traffic. A minimum of 3m with a buffer and chamfered kerbs would be pretty good in my books. The floating bus stops and pedestrian crossings on the eastern track were over-engineered. On the western track, bus stops were ignored and the crossings squeezed in.
I will write a blog post about shared space in the next few months and so I won't talk much about it here, but Southend's was basically useless for cycling and it did not tie the two cycle tracks together. Southend could have had a connected the pair and got nearly 6 miles of continuous cycling. I did like the loading bay kerbs and could see them being used for vehicle crossings of cycle tracks and footways - that is how they do it in Copenhagen and elsewhere.
Of course, because of a lack of network, the seafront tracks will only be of use for people who live and work in close proximity to them as beyond that, they are really just something for leisure. Although there are flaws with the two tracks, they are far better than the conditions on my daily commute and most importantly, they were being used by a wide demographic. I think we can learn some engineering from Southend's sea front, both what to do and what not to do. The challenge will be making things wide enough (so complete new layouts rather than bolt ons) and then building them into networks. After all, having the sea on one side means no junctions to worry about!