Southsea cycle scheme still on hold despite fatal accident

Cycle campaigners and friends of killed cyclist fail to sway council

by Martin Thomas   July 22, 2010  

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Portsmouth cycle campaigners have failed in their attempt to change city councillors’ minds about postponing a cycle scheme in Southsea, despite the death last weekend of a cyclist where the proposed new cycle route could go.

Friends of the cyclist who died, 55 year-old Judith Hitchings, had also asked Portsmouth City Council members to change their minds about postponing the scheme – the second phase of a project that was initially approved in November 2009.

But the council’s transport boss says it’s too early to say whether a cycle lane would have made any difference to the accident. He said phase two of the scheme has been postponed for financial reasons, and so that the first phase can be properly assessed. He said the council was looking into providing an interim cycle route and promised to meet with local campaigners to discuss the issue.

Judith Hitchings, from Brackley in Northamptonshire, died after being involved in a collision with a bus close to Clarence Pier in Southsea on Saturday afternoon. She was airlifted to hospital, where she was pronounced dead at around 4.30pm.

A 53-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving. He was later released on bail until October 20.

At a council cabinet meeting earlier this week Jon Spencer of the Portsmouth Cycle Forum asked councillors to reconsider their decision to postpone the scheme.

He said, “I gave a deputation asking that the decision to defer the seafront cycle route for two years be reversed but I was unable to sway the opinion of the councillors and the decision to defer the route was made. The reason being that the cost of £250,000 could not be borne in light of recent government cutbacks to local authority funding.

“You can draw your own conclusions from the fact that the preceding item on the agenda was the approval of £350,000 to renovate a fountain in the shopping centre. This approval was given. I don't think the fountain will save any lives.”

Councillor Jason Fazackarley, Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transportation on Portsmouth City Council, said, “We remain committed to extending the seafront cycle lane, and improving cycle facilities across the city, but we‘ve had to make some tough decisions as a result of cuts in government funding.

“The extension has been postponed for two years, mainly for financial reasons, but also because we’re still evaluating the first section of the cycle lane and deciding a final route for the extension.

“The decision on the fountain was taken because the city centre is in great need of work to keep it as an attractive destination, while we wait for a general redevelopment scheme, postponed because of the recession. Maintaining the whole city’s economy has to be a priority.

“The death of Ms Hitchings is, of course, terribly tragic and our sympathy goes out to her friends and relatives.

“At the moment, while police investigations go on, we don’t know the circumstances of the accident and whether a cycle lane could have affected what happened. If there are lessons to be learned when the full details are known, then of course we’ll take them very seriously.

“I’ll meet with the cycle forum to discuss this issue.

“Last week, before this tragic incident, anticipating the decision to postpone the extension scheme, I asked officers to start looking at an interim route for cyclists along that section of the seafront.”