A councillor singlehandedly responsible for a decision to remove a popular pop-up cycle lane in West Sussex had never officially visited the temporary route to see it for himself, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
The pop-up cycle lane on Upper Shoreham Road, in Shoreham-by-Sea, which was installed in September, saw cycling levels triple; but West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for highways Cllr Roger Elkins twice voted to remove the route in November, before the trial period was complete or the route was finished, overriding a council scrutiny committee calling for it to remain in place.
The lane, which was funded with government money as part of an emergency COVID-19 transport response, was featured in a government promotional video and was supported by leaders of local schools and hospitals. Although the lane was scheduled for removal in December, due to ‘operational reasons’ it still remains in place.
Adam Bronkhorst, of Shoreham-by-cycle, the campaign group who lodged the FOI request, said: "For the people in Shoreham-by-Sea who have really made the most of safer cycling on Upper Shoreham Road - particularly children, parents and people new to cycling - the fact that Cllr Elkins made the decision (twice) to remove the pop-up cycle lanes without even coming to see the project is particularly appalling."
The FOI request, dated 11 December, asked for dates of visit to the scheme, and the council responded on 5 January 2021 to say: "I can confirm that Cllr Roger Elkins has not officially visited the popup cycle lane on the Upper Shoreham Road."
Prior to the cycle lane’s installation there were 768 cycle trips in a week on Upper Shoreham Road. That number peaked on the week of 23 November, the week of the final decision to remove the cycle lane – a boost in numbers thanks in part to a protest ride supporting the route. Over the New Year week, when schools were closed, counters still logged double the cycling numbers than prior to construction.
In November Cllr Roger Elkins argued the lane was an emergency response to a unique set of circumstances, and that the transport network had changed with public transport options restored. His initial decision to remove the lane was called in to the Council’s scrutiny committee at the end of November. Although the subsequent scrutiny committee voted 6:2 in favour of asking him to reconsider his decision, it was later confirmed the lane would be removed.
In addition, WSCC told road.cc "Cllr Elkins was able to make his decision on the basis of comprehensive reports, prepared by experienced council officers, and feedback from the council’s online survey". However interpretation of the survey was criticised by those familiar with the scheme for lodging any desire to change the temporary layout, including to improve it, as an objection to the overall scheme.
The Shoreham-By-Cycle group said virtually every school in Shoreham had co-signed a letter to Cllr Elkins prior to his final decision, extolling the benefits of the project and pleading for its retention, while WSCC's own report said the scheme was a huge success, with thousands of additional cycle journeys.
Cycling UK has launched a judicial review on decisions to remove both the Upper Shoreham and Kensington High Street pop-up lanes, both scheduled for removal despite their popularity, amid public outcry.
Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, said the charity was alarmed some councils’ decisions to rip out cycle lanes seemed like “knee jerk responses to objections from a vocal minority rather than upon consideration of the evidence and benefits of the schemes.”
Dollimore said while cycle lanes are efficient at moving people, and good for local businesses and reducing congestion, “changing engrained travel habits doesn’t always happen overnight, so when councils introduce temporary cycle lanes they need to leave them in place for long enough to carry out an effective trial. ‘Who shouts loudest’ should not be the basis of their evaluation.”
Bronkhorst expressed dismay at the latest revelation. “I’m really surprised that someone who made such an important and divisive decision hadn’t even taken the time to drive the short distance to look for himself at the lanes”, he said.
He added that although the cycle route received a stay of execution, he isn’t sure how long it will last.
A spokesperson for West Sussex County Council said: “We recognise the support and enthusiasm shown by some people for the Shoreham scheme, which is why we are looking to see if a redesigned, permanent proposal can be progressed, subject to Department for Transport funding. Any proposal would require consultation with all stakeholders, including residents, the cycle forum, schools, emergency services and businesses. We remain committed to our long-term aims of promoting sustainable transport, as outlined in our Walking and Cycling Strategy 2016-2026.”