Fears of speeding 'competitive road cyclists' leads to protests against proposed cycle path upgrade

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Fears of speeding cyclists have led some residents of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan to seek a court order to prevent a gravel walkway and cycle path from being paved over and widened. The story echoes recent reports here on road.cc of some riders travelling at excessive speeds on shared facilities including Ashton Court in Bristol causing alarm to pedestrians.

One of the leaders of the campaign, Hazel Bransfield of Sully Terrace, Penarth, told BBC News Wales that she was concerned the newly surfaced path would lead to what it termed 'competitive road cyclists' riding at speed on it. "The ordinary cyclists don't want the path changed and we all get along together," she added.

Sustrans Cymru is not involved in the Penarth project, although spokesman Matt Hemsley told road.cc that it had conducted a feasibility study several years ago and supports Vale of Glamorgan Council’s aims to provide a shared use path built to National Cycle Network (NCN) standards that could eventually link parts of the network.

But he reiterated that such facilities required all users to act responsibly, and being aimed not just at people on bikes but also pedestrians, perhaps walking their dogs or with children in a push chair, they’re certainly unsuitable for cyclists looking to train or engage in virtual racing against others through apps such as Strava, who are urged to seek quiet roads instead.

Outside Wales, concerns have been expressed recently about a small minority of cyclists riding too quickly on shared paths such as Ashton Court in Bristol, the new Two Tunnels route in Bath, and the Bristol-Bath path, where speeds in excess of 28mph have been registered close to a school.

Protestors against the proposed upgrading of the walkway and cycle path in Penarth, which is intended to form part of a wider route along a disused railway line from the town centre and Lavernock Road, have applied for village green status for the section passing along Sully Terrace.

The location in question is a strip of grassland no more than 50 feet wide, bordered to the west by back gardens and to the east by Sully terrace. Trees flank each side of the existing path, which from Archer Place to where Sully Terrace swings off covers a distance of no more than 250 yards, the path continuing south between back gardens.

As village greens go, it’s certainly not one you could play a game of cricket on, but Hemsley says that securing village green status is a tactic now often favoured by opponents to such schemes after some successes in the past.

He told us that as yet, no formal plans have been released by Vale of Glamorgan Council for the project, but that it does plan to hold a consultation later this year.

What has prompted the current campaign against the path is that the council earlier this year carried out some preliminary ground clearance, having to spend the money allocated for that purpose, and failed to hold a consultation prior to doing that.

Hemsley added that the issue underlines something Sustrans highlighted in its responses to the white paper outlining plans for the Active Travel Bill, and the bill itself –that local authorities needed to engage with not just local communities but also potential users of the facilities it envisages at an early stage to avoid this kind of conflict from arising.

It’s that lack of consultation that seems to underpin opposition to the path as much as the prospect of fast-moving cyclists does.

Last week, some 50 protestors met in Cardiff with Andrew Davies, leader of the Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly and who lives locally, who told the Penarth Times afterwards: “It is troubling that the council do not seem more engaged with this issue and a situation of us and them appears to have been created with the residents.

"We all want better and more environmentally friendly modes of transport but they cannot drive a bulldozer through the views of local people.

"Their priorities seem completely wrong."

Quoted in the same article, Sustrans Cymru's Hemsley said: "We support high quality sealed surfaces which don't wear and tear, minimise ongoing costs, and are safe for all to use, from cyclists to wheelchair users.

"We also support continuous routes because those that aren't, or have breakages in them - diverting onto roads for example - tend to discourage people.

"But we do agree with the residents in this case that there has not been enough consulation. That is regrettable and full consultation is something we always encourage."