A disabled people’s advocacy group says it is “outraged” that an experimental order allowing cycling in Woking town centre has been made permanent, but insists that it is supportive of most of the work carried out by Cycle Woking.
The Surrey community is one of Cycling England’s Cycling Towns and as such received a grant of £1.8m from central Government, funding which was matched by Surrey County Council, to help improve cycling facilities and to promote the activity.
A major part of the plan being implemented by Cycle Woking has been to make the pedestrianised centre of the town accessible to cyclists. They had been banned from riding through the Town Square area until the 18 month experimental order was implemented in April 2009.
During a meeting with Cycle Woking just prior to the order coming into effect, the Surrey Disabled People's Partnership had voiced concerns about the issue of shared use of pedestrian areas and about the lack of any previous consultation with them.
Once the experimental order was in place, however, the Partnership largely withdrew from the consultation process on the grounds that fair and transparent consultation had not taken place beforehand.
Clive Wood, chief executive of Surrey Disabled People's Partnership told road.cc that, after a formal complaint, Surrey County Council had conceded that it had failed to complete a statutory Equality Impact Assessment document prior to the experimental order being implemented.
“We are not anti-cycling, we have no issue with cycling and we advocate the promotion of cycling so we don’t want this to be perceived as an issue between cyclists and other groups,” said Mr Wood.
“But we are concerned about the potential for harm to come to vulnerable pedestrians through being hit by bikes and also about the fear our members have of coming into conflict with cyclists even if they are not hit by them, simply through having near-misses or through seeing cyclists bearing down on them at speed.
“It’s partially an issue of being able to feel confident in these areas. If a vulnerable pedestrian could walk through the town centre with confidence, knowing any cyclist would be separated from them on a clear delineated path, then that would be fine,” said Mr Wood.
Now that the order has been made permanent he said that any further consultation is merely a cosmetic exercise “We feel now it is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, it’s already a done deal,” he said.
Cycle Woking manager Paul Fishwick told road.cc that the experimental order was basically a “rehearsal” for how a permanent scheme would operate, given that the only possible options once it ended was to make it permanent or to scrap it.
Consequently, he said, it had been in the disabled group’s interest to fully engage with Cycle Woking during the experimental order period. But even now the order has been made permanent, consultation is still ongoing said Mr Fishwick.
The public and special interest groups have been encouraged to provide their feedback on the new arrangement by filling in questionnaires either online or at the Cycle Woking gazebo which will appear on Fridays in the Town Square for the next six weeks he said.
"A permanent order can, in fact, be rescinded at any time, so the consultation exercise is important," insisted Mr Fishwick.
“Following consultation we hope to come to an agreement with all parties that cycling within the town centre is safe and that the area can be shared by all,” he said.
“If there are any disagreements we will be looking to find a solution. After all, why should Woking town centre be any different to those in towns like Exeter, Darlington and Brighton that allow cyclists to ride through pedestrianised areas?”