Experimental town centre cycle lane to be removed

Church Street, Reigate, on Saturday 4 July reigate.uk

 

The experimental pop-up cycle lane installed by Surrey County Council in Reigate town centre is to be removed, although details of the timing have not yet been announced.

The scheme was only installed on Friday night (3 July), as part of county council plans to support walking and cycling during the pandemic.

However, in its first two days of operation the project caused something of a storm on social media.

Criticism centred on the removal of one of the vehicle lanes from parts of Bell Street, Church Street and the High Street, to make way for the cycle lane.

Although traffic on the High Street itself appeared to flow relatively smoothly over the weekend, Church Street and Bell Street were more problematic, as drivers had to merge into one lane.

Topics debated on social media included the extent of the delays, how that compared to pre-Covid and post-Covid traffic, what it would be like on a weekday, and how things would change as drivers and cyclists became more aware of the scheme

Even among the cycling community the scheme did not appear to win much love, although some people did say they were pleased to see a new idea being tested to promote greener travel.

Others were unhappy with look of the red and white water-filled barriers in the town centre conservation area.

Many also wondered whether more could have been done to improve cycling facilities across Priory Park.

Originally the cycle lane scheme was due to remain in place for three months, according to Surrey’s highways bulletin and ‘active travel’ map.

However, County Cllr Matt Furniss, Surrey’s cabinet member for transport, tweeted on Saturday that the minimum was just three weeks, and that changes could start to be made after only one week.

News that the experiment would indeed be short-lived came from Zully Grant-Duff (county councillor for Reigate and a Surrey cabinet member), in an e-mail sent to residents’ groups and Reigate Business Guild on Sunday evening (5 July).

Cllr Grant-Duff wrote: “This is to let you know that the temporary lane will now be dismantled and traffic flow restored to 2 lanes.

“This morning the Leader of Surrey County Council, Cllr Tim Oliver, visited Reigate to see for himself the installation and its effect on traffic. Several residents, including senior representatives of the Reigate Business Guild, met with him to voice their concerns and views directly.

“Many of those present, including myself, are not only long-time residents, but active cyclists.

“There is a clear community consensus that however well-intentioned the installation of the cycle lane may be, in terms of assisting travelling on foot and bicycle while allowing for social distancing rules, in practice the difficulties it creates far outweigh any benefit.”

Cllr Grant-Duff added that there had been support for the 20mph limit in the town centre, and a parking restriction on the A25 stretch near Reigate Grammar School, and that those measures would continue to be trialled.

Any permanent changes would be subject to consultation, she said.

It’s not yet clear which bits of the town centre scheme will be removed (or exactly when), and in particular what will happen with the High Street loading bays that were closed to help pedestrians stay two metres apart, and which some shoppers were making use of over the weekend.

The scheme as a whole was installed as part of Surrey’s plans to support walking and cycling during the pandemic, bearing in mind the lower take-up of public transport.

Surrey’s projects across the county were 50% funded by the Government’s emergency active travel fund, set up to help local authorities implement such plans.

County Cllr Matt Furniss, Surrey’s cabinet member for transport, said when the plans were announced last week: “These schemes are important to give people the confidence to travel back to our town centres, and to support the people who rediscovered walking and cycling during the lockdown. “

“I hope the new cycle lane in Reigate town centre will encourage more people to use their bikes to get around the town.

“Transportation is responsible for 46% of Surrey’s carbon emissions, so it’s essential we find innovative ways to help people find cleaner ways to travel.

“And for individuals, walking and cycling are good for physical and mental health.”

But fellow-Conservative Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, was unconvinced by the plan.

In a Saturday blog post he called the scheme an “absolute howler” and urged residents to write to Cllr Furniss.

He also published an e-mail he had sent to Cllr Furniss last week calling on him to abort the scheme.

The MP did say that “to his credit” Cllr Furniss visited the town centre on Saturday.

Reigate Business Guild also spoke out against the scheme in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying that the overwhelming majority of businesses that they had spoken to “were upset and dismayed” at the impact of the scheme.

The guild, and others, criticised the lack of consultation before the scheme was installed.

County Cllr Zully Grant-Duff last week said that this was caused by having to meet government funding deadlines, and that any permanent changes would be consulted on.

 

Surrey County Council graphic published last week