Thursday, April 05, 2007

Which Way from Newton Aycliffe?

Following up on Tuesday's post about a route from Newton Aycliffe, two Campaign members have checked the various options.

Tuesday was a miserable day, intermittent rain, cloudy and cold, but even so we set out to Patches lane to see whether that was a viable option. Basically - no chance. This former railway line should not be designated as anything but a bridleway, with mud up to the hubs at numerous places. Apparently, this is the case all year, apart from a few days at the height of summer.

Tim advised that the bridleways to the east of the A167 were in a similar state, so we declined the chance to try these. Instead we had a look at the A167 itself. Interestingly, there is a shared cycle/foot path on the Newton Aycliffe side of the motorway roundabout (southern side of road). The crossing of motorway-leaving or bound traffic is not as onerous as it might be. We then hit the footpath on the Darlington side of the motorway featured in the video.

This is officially designated "walk your bike", but we believe that this could easily, and justifiably, be upgraded to a shared-use cycle/foot path. Bear in mind that, until Harrowgate Hill, this is a rural area. We didn't encounter a single pedestrian all the time we were filming this route. And we even came across some expensively paved parking space as we approached Darlington. Whose money financed THAT folly, I wonder? Surely, if there was ever a case for a shared path, this is it.

Issue will be raised with the local authority imminently.


miketually said...

Upgrading the footpath seems like a no-brainer to me. Even the council should be able to manage a no-brainer ;)

There's lots of work like the block-paved parking spaces going on all over town. It's official name is "verge hardening". It's what is done when car drivers park on the grass verges and make them a mess. Rather than stopping the drivers doing this, they pave or tarmac the verges. I feel this makes the footpaths less safe for families to use: the verges used to act as a barrier keeping younger children further from the road. I'd also argue that if we're going to pave verges it should be to allow bike lanes, not car parking.

An Inconvenient Truth said...

Thanks for clarifying, Mike. This confirms Tim's explanation to me as we were cycling past. If we were to remove the jolly Rutles sound track, you'de hear my expletive deletives as I pointed out these parking spaces. I was genuinely gob-smacked that anyone could consider pandering to the car in such a way in this day and age.

Jeffrey said...

Excellent video, I’m having a re-think after a couple more return journeys from my place of residence in Newton Aycliffe to Darlington Town Centre.

I like you also used the shared footpath approaching the Motorway but having to give way to vehicles going in and out of the services, but more about that later.

I also rode up the narrow path to Coatham Mundeville, illegally I suppose!

But after crossing the road at the top of Coatham Mundeville bank to all the way to Darlington I took my chances and rode on the road keeping in the side lane marking where it was available, I have a high visibility waistcoat and if I didn’t I wouldn’t risk staying on the road I would be on the path as you were.
I recently invested in a rear view mirror which I would highly recommend if anyone’s thinking about it, I don’t know about you but I tend to veer in some dangerous directions when I’m trying to look over my shoulder!

Looking at the way they’ve re-designed the road since overtaking was prohibited by the creation of a red zone in the middle of the road and central islands at certain places I can’t help wondering.
Instead of taking that space in the centre of the road why didn’t they narrow the road by putting a double white line down the middle and increasing the space at either side and make cycle lanes?

As you say the expensive block paving vehicle parking as you approach further towards darlington could well have been shared use path, but I think this was done prior to Darlington’s Status as a Cycling demonstration town so it might not have been thought of.

I wanted to check out the Skerne Bridge option on my way into Darlington so I turned in left down “The Leas”, crossed Thompson St E and went down Pendleton Rd this wasn’t too bad at all traffic calmed with speed humps that aren’t the right across the road type, which is good for cyclists.

After Crossing Fitzwilliam Dr. I wasn’t sure which way to go, there’s a path down to the left which seemed like the right route to take, but it was difficult to determine if it was shared cycle use or not there were a couple of sign posts but that was it just the posts nothing on top!
So anyway went down that way, it started to get very remote I’m not sure how secure it would make people of a nervous disposition feel, but its not exactly overlooked by any housing etc.

A little further along there is a well defined cycle path lowered and adjacent to the footpath this smart good design, similar to how roads are at a dropped level from pavements, top marks for that.

Approx halfway along there is a path off to the left again no signs but it seemed like the right route to have a look at the Skerne Bridge, so negotiating the tubular bars sunk in the ground I ventured down it, it doesn’t go far before it just abruptly comes to an end, and the side arch of the Skerne bridge is all bricked up, there is a mud track down and under the bridge next to the river but I thought it wise not to venture down there!
Again this is all rather remote again, I was pleased when I was back up and onto the original cyclepath.

So, up to Albert Rd and along to North Rd traffic lights turn left and down through the railway bridge, although it is a sort of pinch point the one good thing is its approach from both directions is downhill so at least you can get a bit of pace up and are through quite quickly.

Along the shared Bus Lane Cycle lane no problems, and down John St to check out the Magnet side of the Bridge.
I cycled along Magnets car Park right up to the wall, I wasn’t sure if I was trespassing or not but nobody came out to take issue.
Anyway there’s just a short distance from that wall to the bridge, I wouldn’t have thought it would be too big of a job to get this opened up and restore the link to the other side which must have been there some time in the past hence the path leading down to it on the other side.

The only thing that bothers me is the nervousness I felt being alone in those areas maybe I’m over-reacting to too many media stories I don’t know but I definitely feel safer up on North Rd, even with its traffic, its swings and roundabouts.

So my Re-think, although I do like traffic-free routes, I’m beginning to see the point our European colleagues have with regard to well defined and in the case of Bremen Prioritised Cycle Lanes actually constructed on the existing roads.

The biggest trouble with cyclepaths in this country is although the cyclist is travelling on a major route they have to give way at every minor junction and driveway, continually disrupting the cyclists flow, we should have cycle lanes as I said above which preserve the priority of the route just as if the cyclist was travelling on the road, where in that case the motor vehicle has to give way and they are aware of it.

In the Case of the pinch point Railway bridge we should have clearly defined cycle lanes at each side of the road and signs telling drivers to give way if they are following cyclists towards the bridge and the width of the road is going to be so compromised that they won't be able to get through without encroaching on the cycle lane, they would have to slow down and follow the cycle/s through!

I’m a cyclist but I’m also a driver, its not hard to slow down and speed up when all you’ve got to do is press a few controls and the engine does all the work for you!

I now understand why there’s a lot of cyclists will still use the roads when there’s a perfectly good cyclepath provided at some expense running alongside them.


An Inconvenient Truth said...

Thanks for that comprehensive analysis, Jeff. It tallies very much with a number of the Cycling Campaign's conclusions.

The Magnet gap is frustrating, but we have been discussing this with the council for nearly 2 years, and they are doing their best to sort out the legal issues to get access to it and complete the Skerne route. After Magnet, the plan is to take it along Chesnut Street rather than Northgate, all the way to the pedestrian crossing on the ring road behind M&S, where a new gap in the wall is being made for us.
But your thoughts about safety etc echo ours for these routes. Many non-cyclists in the UK, compared to the rest of Europe, are women. These fears - and the fear of dangerous road traffic - put many off cycling. So if we want to get more people on bikes, we need to be aware of this.

The point you mention about disrupted travel by give way signs etc on our cycle paths is exactly the same conclusion we make. This has been the focus of a recent national petition to Downing Street - to get the national law changed so that cycle paths (and pedestrians!) have priority at these "side road" junctions. But the politicians are not responding. We just have to keep pushing. If they are serious about reducing carbon emissions and encouraging more cycling, it's practical measures like this that will have to be taken - right now they just don't have the guts to challenge the car's dominance.

Not sure if you got a copy, but you might find the paper we wrote for our recent Symposium interesting on this point. You can download a pdf version at

Anonymous said...

I cycle from West Cornforth once or twice a week and stick to the road all the way - it's not too bad until Coatham Mundeville then the 'safety' islands cause problems narrowing the road too much for a lorry and cyclist. As I ride a hybrid I've found the paths along the A167 too rough to ride. Another danger point is approaching the mini roundabout at Salters Lane North and North Rd due to the the lane markings - it's far too dangerous to move into the correct lane. Also the lights near Morrisons cause problems sometimes when traffic is busy. I've not noticed any signing or indication of a cycle route as an alternative to North Rd.

miketually said...

Thanks for the comment anonymous.

There is an official alternative to cycling down North Road, using Pendleton Road. This will take you on quieter streets from Thompson Street to Albert Road, if you carry on onto the Riverside Path.

However, at Albert road, you've no alternative but to get back onto North Road, so it's not really worth bothering with.

Anonymous said...

Why not organise 'protest' rides? For instance several riders riding legally in the road in places where protection or prioritisation is required. Newton Aycliffe to Darlington would be a prime canditate! Only problem may be a negative impact on motorised users but may be offset by increased publicity and pressure on the council to spend their grants. (As an outsider I've seen no noticeable impact of Darlo becoming a demonstration town.)

An Inconvenient Truth said...

Protest rides are a good idea, as long as they are properly targetted and well carried out.

Before a protest ride, we'd need to make sure that we've lobbied the council fully for the appropriate route - why protest if the council are willing to provide what we need? We'll now raise the Newton Aycliffe issue, so let's see what response we get.

Maybe more appropriate is the Pedestrian Heart issue. The council know our views, there has been a long debate, and we are now going into a "trial 6 months" (from July 1) when bikes are allowed.

We have always said that the alternative - the ring road - is far more deadly than the Ped. Heart. If cyclists are forced on to the ring road after all this, a protest on the ring road would be the next logical step.

But to make an impact, I think we need more than a few riders - 20 or more would make people sit up and realise that there is a bike lobby.

We will be assessing how many of our members would be willing to take part in such a protest if the need arises - there are many shy cyclists in our ranks, so don't hold your breath!

But if you would be an active supporter of such a protest, please make sure and join the Campaign so we can keep in touch!

Marianne Taylor said...

I'm joining this blog at a late stage but nothing seems to have changed on the Newton Aycliffe route. I cycle this route and on to Spennymoor once per week and I think the only way to manage the A167 is on pavements, often illegally. My daughter and I recently cycled up the rough track/bridleway that is on the cycle map parallel to the road. Apart from fallen trees, overhanging bushes and a stream to cross, we spent much of the route hauling our bikes behind us through deep mud. At one point I suggested she leave me and save herself but she kindly pulled me out of the mud. It would be ideal as an off road route if there was a better surface.

Both of us are now very keen to join a protest cycle.

miketually said...

Thanks for the comment Marianne. I'm usually happy to ride on the roads, but the A167 into Darlington is one road where I always ride on the pavement.

I believe that there are plans to make some of the routes into the town more bike-friendly in the future...