A growing number of birdwatchers are considering cycling rather than driving for their regular, local birding trips. While this can work for some birders living in areas with quieter roads or good cycling path networks such as Exminster marshes, cycling in places with heavy traffic can be daunting. Amy Robjohns writes about her mixed feelings and her longing for safe cycling paths.
In April 2022, after much thought, and admittedly putting it off for too long, I bought a folding bicycle. The pollution and high congestion within my hometown of Fareham had bothered me for years, and finally I accepted that by borrowing my family’s car and driving around locally when I didn’t need to, I was part of the problem. Most of my car journeys were local and a lot of my local birding has been on foot. So cycling was the missing link for journeys which weren’t possible by bus (poor local network) or could be done quicker than walking. Chatting to locals, including a couple who cycle everywhere and a friend pleased with her ‘e-bike’, and seeing various tweets from birders inspired me to give it a go.
The experience has been mixed. Fareham’s roads are busy, and in all honesty rather unpleasant, even more so on a bicycle. This is not helped by the borough having one of the highest levels of car ownership in the UK—it was the highest in 2014. The A27 runs through the borough linking with three motorway junctions, but alas the provision for cycling is fragmented and mostly lacking. Some short sections have shared use paths which don’t connect, leaving busy junctions to tackle. Even walking and crossing the road is a challenge when dealing with busy roads and dual carriageways which adds to the frustration. Many of the smaller B roads or lanes are similarly busy. Too many uncomfortable close passes have reminded me of the barriers and knocked my confidence of using roads. I long for improved infrastructure—protected paths to remove the danger and to allow more people to travel locally without driving. Currently what little cycling infrastructure there is in Fareham doen’t meet the latest standards set out in LTN 1/20 (guidance to local authorities on delivering high quality, cycle infrastructure).
On the positive side, though, Fareham has one connected shared use path linking the Stubbington farmland with Lee-on-the Solent and Stokes Bay (about 7 miles to either location), just east of my local patch. Using these paths is a joy—a chance to travel in a relaxed way and only watch out for walkers and wheelchair and mobility scooter users. Being safely separated from cars, buses, HGVs and other large vehicles is wonderful. You also connect with other path users—a friendly smile or ‘hello’—in a way that doesn’t tend to happen on roads. You see people, not vehicles. I’m not the most social person, but little interactions like that are lovely. I’ve found cycling is good when safe infrastructure is provided connecting residential areas with shops and leisure facilities. The rack and panniers make carrying birding gear and other items simple, though I have found my panniers don’t seem so big when attempting to fill them with food for four! The little folding bike is still impressive for its size. My plan is to invest in a small cargo bike to help with running errands.
Hampshire County Council is in the process of implementing some better walking and cycling routes and is working towards a ‘significant reduction in car use’ so I hope that soon more journeys will become safer. Fareham’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan was approved by the county council in November 2022 with the aim of providing better walking and cycling connections between amenities and residential areas. The plan includes a mix of protected cycle lanes, shared use paths, improved crossings and some 20mph zones. I’m sceptical about the 20mph zones, though, having seen the lack of enforcement in Titchfield village; but otherwise I support the plan. It will mean the busy A27 dual carriageway will finally become safe to cycle along and hopefully nicer to walk along too. Fareham has had millions spent on multiple new roads in recent years and extra lanes added to the A27 and motorway—none of which will reduce congestion—so switching to investing in other transport is definitely welcome. In the same way that building new roads or lanes induces demand for driving, building good, protected infrastructure for cycling and walking encourages people to switch. I look forward to making better use of the borough and my bicycle hopefully in the near future.
In addition, the county wide Local Transport Plan 4 has been adopted which also focuses on reducing car journeys and improving public transport. There are also plans for ‘hubs’ where people can hire cars, bicycles (including cargo), and e-scooters to help them get around. Portsmouth and Southampton cities already have e-scooter and bike hire, and the first new hub is planned for Eastleigh. Cars do have a role for transport (just not as big a role as we’ve been led to believe) so having better car share and car hire plans would allow people to use cars when they need to, while not having the burden of costs associated with owning a car. EVs still contribute to congestion and produce some pollution (the pollution linked to tyres is a problem, plus environment impacts linked to production) so don’t solve all car related issues.
A high proportion of car journeys are short and could, with investment, be replaced by alternative modes of transport. Young people and others who are unable to drive also benefit from safe routes and being able to travel more independently without relying on lifts for local journeys. We should support efforts to move to more sustainable travel as it’ll be better for our heath as well as wildlife and the climate. Reducing pollution, clean air and reducing congestion are within everyone’s best interest.