Essex County Council has defended road closures that will happen in the county this September when it hosts the debut edition of Vélo Essex after a local newspaper warned of “traffic chaos” associated with the event.
No-one quoted in the article in the Braintree & Witham Times is actually predicting that – although you’d best have your anti-cyclist bingo card to hand if you decide to dip into the comments beneath.
The 100-mile, closed road sportive takes place on Sunday 20 September and also comprises a shorter 50-mile route option, both starting and finishing in Chelmsford and with a total of 15,000 participants.
There will also be a family-friendly ride in the county town itself, which could attract up to 10,000 riders, with the event as a whole set to be the biggest ever sporting event Essex has hosted.
Essex County Council said it is holding “detailed and ongoing communication” with local residents and businesses on the route, adding: “As with any mass participation sporting event, there are some risks with running this event the most likely being resident complaints about the closed roads”.
The article quoted Finchingfield parish councillor Jane Welsh, who said that they had not been consulted on the route or the road closures.
However, she drew favourable comparisons of the visit to the town of the 2014 Tour de France, when the peloton passed through the village on its way from Cambridge to London.
“If it was like the Tour de France it would be good for the village,” she said. “The only thing it would be bad for is for people wanting to get anywhere.
“But we managed it on the day of the Tour de France when they shut all the roads coming in.
“It has been done before. And bear in mind the Tour de France was on a weekday.
“If the crowds come and it’s planned well then I think it will be more of an issue with travel – not the village per se.”
Prospective road closures did not faze one resident of St Edmund’s Lane in Great Dunmow, where parking will not be permitted on that road from 5.30am to 11pm on the day of the event.
“On the face of it the Dunmow carnival is more disruptive when we can’t turn left or right at the bottom than this event when we can park in St Mary’s Church car park the day before and then walk up to get the car if we need it,” he said.
A spokesman for Essex Highways explained to the newspaper how the road closures would work.
“An event of this nature means road closures will need to be in place, but this will be for a few hours only and they will be rolling road closures,” he said.
“As the cyclists pass each point, the roads will be opened up behind them. Being able to cycle on closed roads through amazing countryside is a key attraction of Velo Essex and is why interest levels are already high.
“We will make sure that all residents and businesses are fully aware of road closures before the event, as well as local diversions, including any bus rerouting.
“As the event takes place on a Sunday, a quieter day for traffic than a weekday, there will be much less disruption.
“There will also be arrangements in place for both spectator car parking and alternative parking arrangements for local residents.”
One criticism often levelled by opponents of sister event Vélo Birmingham & Midlands, and other closed road events such as the RideLondon-Surrey 100, is that road closures may impede emergency vehicle access.
The spokesman explained however that they would retain access, saying: “Emergency vehicles will of course be able to access streets as required and the SAG (safety advisory group), convened for all events of this nature, will have oversight of all road closure plans.
“Essex County Council and all partners in Velo Essex are committed to the health and wellbeing of all residents during this event.
“All of this will be communicated directly to residents before the event, and this communication will involve key partners such as parish councils and district councils.”
Given the headline of the newspaper’s article – Fears Vélo Essex cycling event in mid Essex will cause traffic chaos – it’s perhaps surprising there weren’t more anti-cyclist comments below it, although this one, from someone calling himself Van Man, certainly ticked most of the anti-cycling boxes (and saw a number of people making point-by-point rebuttals to his claims).
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.