A 'huge green elephant' or a much-needed cycling superhighway - Penwortham folk have their say

Penwortham is fast becoming a cyclists' paradise.

By Brian Ellis
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 4:55 am

But other road users fear the bike is now taking priority over the car in pursuit of a greener way of travel.

South Ribble Council is expected to announce on Wednesday it is now ready to complete the 10k "Penwortham Loop" for riders, joggers and walkers between Priory Park and Howick Green.

So the Post decided to test the feeling in the town for the other recently-opened project - the "Cycle Superhighway" on Liverpool Road - and found locals less-than-enthusiastic about the changes to their main road to and from Preston.

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Solitary cyclist using the cycling lane in Penwortham.

"Too wide" was a common complaint from residents when quizzed about the two-lane channel for bikes. "A huge green elephant" was another criticism, citing a lack of use by cyclists now it is up and running.

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We carried out our own basic test to see just how popular the green track is with riders up and down Penwortham Hill. And we found that in one hour, on a beautifully sunny spring day, just 12 cyclists used it - four of them in one group.

During our stay one other rider completely ignored the superhighway signs and rode up the two lanes set aside for vehicles. And there were reports of several incidents involving motorists thinking Penwortham Hill was still a dual carriageway and driving up the lane now set aside for vehicles travelling down.

Cyclists Heeran and Sarah Rathod are all in favour of the cycle lane.

One local told us: "It's happening all the time. There have been a few bumps with cars driving up the second lane and coming into contact head-on with vehicles coming down. It's a mess."

The main criticism about the reconfigured lay-out of Liverpool Road from the town centre down to the boundary with Preston appears to be the width of roadway taken up for bikes, plus a huge central reservation, leaving drivers with only two narrow up and down lanes.

Many feel it is the latest attempt to dissuade motorists from driving through Penwortham when they should really use the town's £17.5m bypass instead - or, better still, leave the car at home altogether.

More than 14 million vehicles were taken out of the town centre in the first two years of the John Horrocks Way, according to figures obtained by the Lancashire Post. Now cyclists have dedicated cycle lanes all the way from Hutton into Preston.

Priory Park where the Penwortham Loop will be completed.

The next extension of the Cycle Superhighway will be a remodelled junction where Fishergate Hill meets Strand Road and Broadgate, giving more priority for riders and pedestrians over traffic.

The County Council is planning to build a CYCLOPS (Cycle Optimised Protected Signals) junction there. Public consultation has been carried out and work is expected to start this autumn, taking between four and five months to complete.

"As well as providing safety improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users, the new cycle track will encourage sustainable transport between Preston and Penwortham and improve local air quality," says LCC.

"This junction is a key part of the Penwortham to Preston Cycle Superhighway, and also forms part of the Preston Guild Wheel route.

"Currently, pedestrians and cyclists have no option but to cross the traffic, making conflict with vehicles and often creating a barrier to active travel.

"We want to provide safety improvements in this location that will encourage more people to leave the car at home, bringing wider health and environmental benefits."

One local resident John Porter said: "To be fair I have hardly ever seen anyone on the cycle path. I'm all for it in principle and I hope it works, but I haven't really seen it used to any great extent - there hasn't been a fabulous uptake has there."

Another, Martin Wilkins added: "I think the cycle lane is a great idea, I just think they have over-cooked it on this one with the width.

"This is taking out quite a bit of road space and has made it a little bit more congested (for vehicles)."

And Joe Shackleton said: "I'm here a lot and I don't see too many people come down here (cycle lane). It is quite a large cycle lane and I don't think it warrants that.

"You might see two or three people go past (on bikes) in an hour or so."

But cyclist Heeran Rathof, who was out for a spin with his wife Sarah, said: "I think it's a good idea. It needs to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists who are using this road.

"I think if people can reduce their costs in fuel by cycling then that's a great way forward."

A spokesperson for LCC said: "We want to get more people travelling sustainably between South Ribble and Preston and it is vital that we have the right infrastructure in place to provide a viable alternative to using the car.

"To make more space for cycling and walking, the road has been reduced from a dual carriageway to a standard width single carriageway.

"The existing central reservation was utilised to separate vehicles and cyclists, improving safety for active travel users and helping to encourage more people to cycle and walk both now and in the future."

South Ribble Council is looking to spend £314,000 on completing the Penwortham Loop, which will run alongside the River Ribble and give cyclists, joggers and walkers a leisure greenway similar to the Guild Wheel in Preston.

Members of the cabinet are expected to confirm the spending at their meeting on Wednesday, meaning work on the three-metre wide track should go ahead soon.