Friday, 10 October 2014

Sunny Sunday Southend & Shoeburyness Safari & Shameful Shared Space

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.

The track has a normal but lowish kerb upstand above the
carriageway, is surfaced green (more on than in a bit) and has
a low, but vertical upstand to the footway. So it is a hybrid track.
The upstand to the footway looked like the original carriageway
kerb and so this is a retrofit scheme, but that upstand is not
forgiving to 2-wheels, so best keep away!

Heading east and our first interaction with pedestrians. On this
cycle track, cyclists are meant to give way to pedestrians (which is
fine with me) but it is quite clumsily done because of the lack
of space between the zebra and "give way" area. Messy if lots of
people are on the tactile area too. On a bike, you also have to dodge
the Belisha beacon.

This track was machine-laid and so would have been very smooth.
However, it had been coated in green thermoplastic surface dressing
which gave it a "rumbling" quality. Would have been far better done
in red machine laid asphalt rather than with surface dressing. Red
asphalt would have probably been cheaper than black plus the
green surface dressing.

The kerb on the seaward side has changed to a kerb drain. You will
still want to keep away from it (not forgiving), but gives a good level
of surface drainage. Note the tiny drainage gaps which would normally
be twice as deep which shows that the track would bolted on and
levels lifted to make the crossfall acceptable.

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
oncoming rider).

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
tight really.

What the hell? We are invited to join a shared-use, unsegregated
cycle track just as we approach the pier which is probably one
of the busiest areas for pedestrians. Yes, that is 2 traffic lanes and
a parking lane you can see. Why the track didn't keep going, I have no

See, sign says share. Imagine the crowds in August.

"Welcome to City Beach - Share Space" - how would I get from this
side to that side, even if I fancied sharing? If it is a shared space, why
the heck is there a staggered Puffin crossing? Mind you, there is an
average speed camera (yellow on top of the black post) to enforce the
20mph speed limit which I only realised when I put this post together!

There is a highway pinch point under the pier, but there is space for
driving lanes, cycle tracks and footways. Besides, we are *meant* to
be sharing this space - probably wouldn't work if we had decided to
cycle towards traffic to keep on this side where the shared-us track was.

OK, we want to turn left now to go up the hill to the shopping centre.
Shall we bounce down the kerb from the shared-use cycle track into
the shared space carriageway? No, too much traffic, so we will backtrack
and use that Puffin crossing in the shared space area in the previous
photograph and then jump back into the road then. Yes, we were
ready for a spot of lunch!

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?

Kerb Nerd Klaxon! This was pretty cool. In a few areas, there were
loading bays built onto the widened footway which was not an issue
at all for occasional use - businesses need servicing. The kerb
upstands in the shared space were 50mm and the kerbs were 300mm
wide. Where the loading bays were placed, the kerbs were chamfered.
This gives a slope of about 1 in 5 which was really comfortable to
cycle up and down, but less useful for people with reduced mobility
who would need a maximum slope of 1 in 12 (1 in 20 is better).

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!

This is the junction with Hartington Road which is an access to the
large Seaway car park (yes where Radio 1 used to pitch up for its
summer Roadshow - remember Smiley Miley?). The kerbs are gone
and we are into "single surface" territory, you know, like Exhibition Road
in that there London. Why here? I guess for all the people walking back to
their cars at the Seaway.

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.

So after a bit of stop/ start through the shared space for me to take
photos, we were unceremoniously dumped at the Eastern Esplanade.
I don't think we should have been cycling here, but there was no help
for us, so we slowly carried on and turned right at the Sealife Centre.
(the blue building)

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. 

We then worked out what we should have done at the Kursaal. We
should have swung across the shared space onto the northern side of
the road and then cycle through a busy junction and then used this
jug handle to access the refuge to join the cycle track on the southern
(seaward) side of the street. Actually, this has been here years, it is
the shared-space designer who didn't think about cycling continuity.
It was kind of OK, but a bit tight and with a trailer, forget it.

The western (green) track only had a couple of side roads on the
opposite side of the street, but no access to and from the cycle
track is provided. On the eastern track, there are lots of (tight) little
junctions so that people can feed into it from side roads.

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.

Interesting. At each bus stop, there is a little cycle parking area.
Was this a Dutch idea brought over so that people could park their
bike and catch a bus? Not sure, but the track doesn't seem to go
far enough and there is no wider network to feed into it to make one of
these park and ride sites much use (at least from what I could see).

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.

Further east, the track is still separated from pedestrians, but with a
grass verge on both sides, the kerbs change to basic edgings.
Basic edgings are not a patch on larger kerbs which do a much
better job at supporting the structure of a machine-laid track. Edgings
are much more likely to move.

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

Transition between the chamfer kerb and the full height (50mm) kerb.
This looks like the perfect way to keep a cycle track level and allow
vehicles over to private drives and small estate roads. Pity this was
for access to a loading bay rather than a cycle track :(

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!


  1. The "give way" at the slipway is an interesting one that I know myself- from the point of view of what you're expected to give way to!

  2. The "old fort" you saw in Gunners Park at Shoebury is actually a Victorian Heavy Quick Firing Battery (1898). There are now information boards to explain the history and individual info. plaques are planned (when finances allow!). Also, you will soon be able to stop off at the Shoebury Heritage Centre for a coffee near the HQF - with dedicated cycle parking.

  3. The "old fort" you saw in Gunners Park at Shoebury is actually a Victorian Heavy Quick Firing Battery (1898). There are now information boards to explain the history and individual info. plaques are planned (when finances allow!). Also, you will soon be able to stop off at the Shoebury Heritage Centre for a coffee near the HQF - with dedicated cycle parking.

    1. Older than I thought! I'll be doing the ride with my daughter when it warms up, so I'll look out for the details!