Ride around the town of East Grinstead - a town choked with motor vehicles with little or no cycle infrastructure.

UPDATE 20/12/16: A meeting of the EG Cycle Forum will take place on Saturday 14th January at 11:00am in the activity room of East Grinstead library. Please contact Paul Brown (brownempaul@gmail.com) for further details.

Inspired by the West Sussex Cycle Summit and frustrated at the lack of safe space for cycling in the town, local residents Paul Brown and Ros Furley have started the East Grinstead cycle forum.

On December 10 2016, they organised a circular tour of the town so people could witness first-hand what conditions are really like for riding a bike. The decidedly damp conditions didn’t deter over a dozen people from turning up and showing their support.

It was striking that the majority of those who currently cycle were experienced and hardened cyclists. We saw very few people on bikes, other than the odd racing cyclist braving the roads or the occasional shopper scuttling about on the pavement.

Gathering outside the Dorset Arms

We convened outside the Dorset Arms, a 16th century coaching inn on the High Street. To the deafening noise of a delivery truck manoeuvring behind our backs, Paul outlined the goal of the forum: to make the town “a safe place for children, women and families to cycle” – precisely the sort of people who currently don’t cycle in the town, and with good reason. Even by the already low standards of West Sussex, East Grinstead is an appallingly bad place to ride a bike. The town is choked with motor traffic and has hardly any cycle provision.

Pointing out where it all went wrong

We began our tour heading north along Church Lane where there is a short section of one-way street that could easily benefit from a cycle contra-flow. On the busy A22 London Road we saw a cycle lane that ends just at the point where the road narrows. Along Park Road on the bridge over the railway we witnessed a cycle contra-flow that ends half-way across, and on Railway Approach we could only gape in disbelief at the newly installed on-pavement cycle route that guides you on a tortuous dog-leg past the entrance to a timber yard!

Believe it or not, this is brand new cycle infrastructure

Sustrans route 21 runs east-west through the town. This is a major regional route and forms part of the Avenue Verte from London to Paris. In the summer months especially this is hugely popular with cycle tourists from the continent. It was therefore surprising to see that no effort has been made to welcome these visitors into the town. Cyclists are rapacious consumers of cake, coffee and beer and the town seems to be missing a trick here.

The route does provide direct off-road links to Crawley in the west and Forest Row to the east but lacks an all-weather surface. Paul regards putting a proper tarmac surface on the route as long overdue and an easy win to encourage more people onto their bikes.

Gravel? Check. Unnecessary bollards? Check. Yes, you’re on the cycle path!

The town is blighted by motor cars, both moving and stationary. We were bemused to watch the driver of a Range Rover holding up traffic while attempting (and failing) to squeeze into a too-small space on a row of illegally parked cars on a central street. There is clearly a total absence of choice in how to get about the town: it’s “use the car” or nothing.

Although some of the problems are particular to East Grinstead, such as the blatant flouting of town centre parking regulations, the fundamental problems are depressingly familiar across the whole of West Sussex: the lack of political leadership, an absence of design standards and no consistent year-on-year funding for cycling.

Part of a trans-national cycle route

A major catalyst for starting the forum was the missed opportunity for improving cycle provision when the railway station was redeveloped in 2013. A 21st century station was built next to a trans-national cycle route and the best they could do was some steps leading to a footbridge. It’s easy to become depressed looking at this, but on the bright side the only way from here is up!

The latest Grayson Perry?

We made frequent stops on our tour to discuss how things could be improved. There was no shortage of ideas for how to make conditions better for people on bikes from those who know the town intimately and there is clearly a huge enthusiasm for change.

If you live in East Grinstead and would like to get involved please contact Paul Brown on brownempaul@gmail.com.