We Live in a Beautiful Place Ruined by Cars and Pollution

The beautiful South Downs with the English Channel in the background

We have the sea a couple of miles or so to the south of us, and the hilly countryside about the same distance to the north. You would think that it would be a paradise for cycling in the UK, but unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the case.

Between the hills and the English Channel are houses, roads and cars as far the eye can see. There are no bike paths, but there are drivers in huge cars who hate you because you’re on a bicycle. The air is thick with pollution from car exhausts, wood burning stoves, petrol lawnmowers, strimmers and chainsaws; even bonfires. I don’t know if the pollution gets worse every year, but it definitely feels like that. And it’s not even just when you’re outside that you feel it. During the summer garden work season, but mostly in winter, you get hit with it immediately upon cracking the window.

It’s really unpleasant, and you really get an idea for how bad it is when you go out at night. I used to like going for bike rides at 10 or 11 at night when it was quiet. At that time, there were almost no cars and therefore no exhaust emissions. But even then, the crisp, cool air was still incredibly smokey. You can only get that kind of continuous daily pollution around here because of wood burning.

In terms of open spaces, our parks are few and far between. They’re small, they’re basic, anti-cycling, unlit (and therefore scary at night); and have barely seen improvement since I was born 34 years ago. There aren’t really any nice sights that you’d find on a casual walk around the town either. It’s nothing like in Japan where you’re never far away from the next temple or shrine, or other beautiful piece of architecture or patch of nature.

In terms of alleyways and other pedestrian infrastructure, they’re narrow, dirty, and dark with high walls. Not the kind of place you’d want to go at night, and not really during the day either. They’re also not cycling friendly as you might expect. It doesn’t compare well at all to somewhere like Singapore, which has its PCN (Park Connector Network). The car free routes connect up parks in the city, as you would expect. They’re wide and open, with space on both sides. It never feels closed in like alleyways here, and Singapore is far from a bicycle friendly city itself. The reason for the huge difference is that a town like Worthing was built to maximise every bit of space for homes and other development. Nothing was left unused. Preserving natural beauty was not considered. They only considered a future of cars and houses. Nature didn’t matter, cycling didn’t matter because cars now existed and were supposedly better in every way.

It’s not hard to see how the way the town was designed and built has lead to one of the least progressive councils in the country, where nothing ever gets done. But the great thing is that, while it would be difficult to fix all of the disastrous design mistakes, there are things we could do to make the best of what we have. Banning private cars, banning wood burning, bonfires, petrol garden tools, private fireworks for example. If we only did these things, the difference would be massive and immediate. It’s not going to happen because of politics, but it can happen because of the climate crisis.

Even just in the last week, we’ve seen widespread flash flooding across the country. We’re seeing it more and more this year and it does feel like something has to give soon. We have COP26 coming up, and while I have no faith in any political action at either the local or national level, as I’ve mentioned many times; it does present a huge opportunity for people to realise that politicians and corporations aren’t coming to save us. We have to boycott business and make the lives of politicians a living hell to the point where they don’t want to stay in office. That’s basically our only chance now.

How To Get Worthing Cycling Without Doing Anything

Worthing council is famous for being unwilling to do anything to encourage cycling (aside from literally encouraging it). This is a special post for the powers that be over there. The definitive guide for getting people cycling in Worthing for the lowest possible price: free.

1. Introduce bicycle hire (including electric bike option) with docks everywhere. The Donkey bikes are good but no where near enough.

2. Introduce car free weekends.

3. When people realise the town is better without cars, ban private cars all the time.

You’re welcome.

Is Cycling in Worthing Fun Any More?

I just got back from a night ride at just after 10pm. I’ve gone out riding at about 9pm every other ride since the covid bike lane was removed (every 4 days). Today was the day that the “national lockdown” ended and we went back into the local tiered system. I wasn’t expecting to see a significant difference considering how laxly people took the so called lockdown over the last month, but I actually did.

It was a pretty shitty ride in general, the ground was wet from earlier rain, and I know that even with full mudguards and a belt drive on my e-bike, bikes aren’t designed to deal with dirty water. But then when I saw more cars than I expected, and I went past the local bank to see parked cars back where there had been bollards for the bike lane just days earlier, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me.

I kept on riding towards the bridge, defiantly in the middle of the ex-covid lane, still complete with bicycle logos on the ground. I got over the bridge before any cars came along in the same lane. The other one was free so that makes sense, but then coming to the roundabout was when the second realisation hit me. I looked and saw the bollards were gone, and at the same time I got honked at from behind to get out of the way of the real vehicle. I felt rushed so I went around the roundabout, but as I was doing so, I was considering how much better it felt with the terrible infrastructure that was now gone. Yes, it took longer to get across. But I felt far more protected by temporary infrastructure designed by people who don’t give a fuck about cycling than I do when it goes back to nothing at all.

Once you get used to some infrastructure, no matter how badly designed it is, it becomes incredibly hard to go back to having nothing. Especially as removing the covid lanes gives the drivers a mandate to be even less respectful towards people on bikes than they were before.

How late do I have to go for a ride to be free of cars? 10pm? 11pm? I just feel like I’m done riding on roads with cars, and I’m also done with riding on paths packed with pedestrians and unleashed dogs. If nothing changes, I don’t really feel like I’m enjoying riding my bike enough to do any more than the bare minimum of riding for exercise and running errands. Unless something huge changes, I don’t see myself doing any big rides for quite a while.

Maybe we should invest in one of those Wahoo Kickr Bikes and just ride on Zwift instead.