Thursday 7 February 2013

So the Highways Agency ignores cycling? I hadn't noticed - much!

I see today’s Times cyclesafe pages feature an admission from the Mike Wilson of the Highways Agency, giving evidence at the All-Party Cycling Group’s hearings yesterday, that they don’t consider cycle safety  in their plans.

Well, that is not exactly news to me.  I wrote recently about the cycle path across Hindhead Common, and its provenance in the statutory obligations of the Agency when they prohibited cyclists, pedestrians, horse and horse-drawn vehicles etc from using the new Hindhead Tunnel.  As it seemed to me that they were wasting an opportunity here to do something more for cycling, I decided to write to them about one proposal I had dreamt up which fell within their purview, as agency responsible for trunk roads such as the A3 – other proposals would fall to Surrey as the local highway authority.

So, I wrote the email below to the information line quoted on the HA website, “HAIL”.

From: M, Paul (UK - London) [mailto:
Sent: 18 April 2011 16:10
Subject: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Sirs

I am a resident of Haslemere, close to the A3 tunnel under Hindhead Common which is due to open this summer. 

I have been reading on your website here* about cycle path provision around the A3 Hindhead Tunnel development.  From this I note that there will be either dedicated off-road or kerb-protected cycle lanes or paths on prepared surfaces effectively alongside the entirety of the “retired” old A3 road after the tunnel opens:  from the Canadian War Memorial through to Hindhead village there will be an asphalt path adjoining the road, and from the National Trust Cafe down to Thursley there will be either a hard-surfaced bridleway or an access road largely free of traffic.

This connects a number of small villages (Hindhead, Grayshott and Thursley) together, but doesn’t connect them to either of the two local market towns, Godalming and Haslemere.   Do you have any plans to extend the link from Thursley to Godalming? 

I should imagine this is relatively easy to do:  cyclists coming down from Hindhead on the new access road on the northern verge of the A3 could cross the A3 at the Thursley road bridge and join a path alongside the road verge on the southern side of the A3, to join the slip road from Milford onto the A3 southbound.  Similar paths already exist alongside the A3 by Longmoor Camp to the west of Liphook, and by Liss/Petersfield from the Liss/Selborne roundabout.

It would be a real boost to local sustainable travel if these locations could be joined together by a continuous facility suitable for road or hybrid bicycles and cyclists of all ages, especially if the routing can be made as direct as possible by aligning with the A3 as it currently exists (pre-tunnel) in this area.


*  This originally went to a link on their website.  Like everything else it seems to me, restructuring of the website has buried information in an “archive” deeper than what is needed for Sellafield’s toxic waste.  You get led to a new page which links you back to the old page which takes you to the… get the picture

The initial response came from Paul Arnold, who had served for many years as the project manager for the tunnel project itself, and became something of a local celebrity in the process.  I believe that Mr Arnold is now enjoying a well-earned retirement, having delayed his retirement to see the tunnel through to opening in August 2011. 
I have redacted the email addresses and phone contact details for Mr Arnold, and his colleague Paul Benham (so many Pauls!) but not their names – after all, they are public servants, not private citizens in this respect.

From: Arnold, Paul [mailto:
Sent: 20 April 2011 16:30
To: M, Paul (UK - London)
Cc: Benham, Paul
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Mr M

The provision of the additional facility to Milford would fall under the responsibility of the A3 Route manager as it would not be part of the A3 Hindhead project.  Unfortunately there are two reasons why it may be not able to be provided.  One is that I believe the south verge between Lea Coach Road is part of a common and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Secondly  I doubt there are funds available in the near future.

Cyclists with suitable cycles could go over the Thursley Bridge and use French Lane and then the bridleway which leads out onto Lea Coach Road near Witley Manor and thence onto the A286.

I have copied this to the route manager, Paul Benham, in case there is anything he wishes to add
Paul Arnold, Senior Project Manager
Highways Agency | Federated House | London Road | Dorking | RH4 1SZ
This prompted me to write to Mr Benham, following up on my email to Mr Arnold.  You will see that my request was not exactly hugely ambitious, quite modest really

From: M, Paul (UK - London)
Sent: 20 April 2011 17:00
To: Arnold, Paul
Cc: Benham, Paul
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments

Dear Mr Arnold

Thankyou for your response.

In fact my next port of call is to the local National Trust estate manager.  Most of the land between Thursley bridge and Milford is National Trust land, as is all of the land which connects the old A3 near the National Trust Cafe and the nearest quiet road down to Haslemere, Farnham Lane, which is how I imagine that the link would be completed from Haslemere to Hindhead to Thursley to Milford.

Next might be Sustrans and Waverley council, to see if funding might be available from those sources.

My objective is to find a way that this link could be made either off road or on quiet roads but on surfaces which could be ridden by a conventional on-road bike – mudguards, panniers etc so ordinary clothing can be worn – and without specific off-road skills, which parts of the route certainly require at the moment.  I would imagine that a firmly compacted surface which does not get muddy in wet weather, and some signposting, would be all that is needed, rather than a major asphalt/tarmac construction.

At the moment some excellent (present or imminent) facilities exist but they don’t really connect anywhere to anywhere.  That is what I would like to see changed.

I would appreciate Mr Benham’s perspectives on this.

Kind regards

This is the response I received:
[                  ]
That’s right, nada.
A little later, I wrote again, as follows.
From: M, Paul (UK - London)
Sent: 09 May 2011 09:35
To: 'Arnold, Paul'
Cc: 'Benham, Paul'
Subject: RE: A3 Hindhead Tunnel - associated cycle path developments
Dear Mr Benham
Further to my email below, I recently made my own informal survey of the feasible cycle links between Thursley and Milford/Godalming.  I found that there are indeed statutory or permissive bridleways which can take you all the way from the Thursley bridge to Milford through the NT land on Witley and Milford commons, however while these would be straightforward for leisure use on a suitable bike, they can be quite marginal for more road-oriented “utility” bikes, especially with panniers etc as the paths can in places be rather narrow and stony.
I also found that there is a footpath, or shared-use path, along the entire length of the A3 on its London-bound side between the Thursley slip road and opposite the Milford South access to the A3 southbound.  The total distance is almost exactly 3 kilometres and apart from perhaps 500 metres or so near the Milford end, it is all asphalt- surfaced.  Apart from this unsurfaced part, which is further from the road verge and up a bank, the path runs immediately alongside the road margin, separated by a fairly standard concrete kerb, and a narrow strip (60-80cm?) of grass except in a few places where  a surfaced slipway into/out of a side road puts more distance between road and path.
This path is however quite narrow – I would guess less than 1m wide for the most part, and its status as footpath or shared use is not always entirely clear.  In fact, there is a section which is clearly shared use but it ends, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere (a common characteristic for cycle paths in the UK, I’m afraid).  It is also rather overhung with gorse bushes which could do with a pruning.
You will no doubt be aware that cycle or shared-use paths border the A3 in a number of places:  along the southern verge at Longmoor between Liphook and Greatham, on the northern verge to the south-west of the Selborne/Liss roundabout and on the southern verge approaching the Petersfield North junction, and on the northern verge between Burpham and Ripley, for example.  I would not have thought that it would pose too much of a challenge to upgrade this path between Thursley and Milford:  trimming back the vegetation would be a start, then widening the path to 1.5-2m, and upgrading/surfacing the short unsurfaced section at the Milford end.
I have read that building a cycle path to the best international design standards costs around £250k per kilometre, including land purchase.  I would like to think that a sum representing less than 0.25% of the cost of the tunnel project could be found for this?
Kind regards

Response this time?
Nada, Nix, Nil, Diddly Squat.  Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.
Below is a Google maps extract to show where I mean.  An existing footpath, part of which is already shared use, could be upgraded at minimal cost, certainly the equivalent of the tea and coffee bill for the tunnel contractors, to connect three villages – Hindhead, Grayshott and Thursley – with the nearby town of Godalming, with its two big supermarkets, shops and restaurants, pubs, and railway station.  For Thursley residents at least, it would make cycling to Godalming (which has severe problems with car parking capacity for commuters) to pick up the train to work in London quite feasible.  It could permit easy sustainable travel by train and bike for visitors to the newly-reunited Hindhead Common which has already started to attract much larger visitor numbers.  It could open up a whole donut of commons – Hindhead, Hankley, Thursley, Witley, Milford, Rodborough, Bramshott – to more leisure visitors without the need for them to bring their cars (car parking is extremely limited anyway, especially on the MOD land at Hankley Common).


View Rodborough in a larger map

Part of the problem here may well be with the status of the land either side of the road, being owned by the National Trust as well as being common land or a SSSI.  A colleague is engaging with the local NT wardens – who have generally been fairly receptive and helpful – but it seems to me that at national level the NT’s enthusiasm for cycling only extends as far as inviting you to carry your bike on the back of your 4x4 as far as the car park in one of their properties, where they can guide you onto a bland pre-signed cycle route around in a circle.

More recently, I wrote to my local MP, Jeremy Hunt, on this and other matters.  He offered to contact the HA on my behalf to move things forward, an offer for which I am certainly grateful, although I have yet to take it up while I think through precisely what I want to say to them.

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