Tuesday 26 November 2013

Dartford Crossing by bicycle

The road that passes through/over the Dartford crossing is the M25 in all but name (officially it's the A282), and as such only suitable for motorway traffic. However, if you are cycling and need to cross the river at this point, they do have a solution. Arrive at one of the crossing control points and you can be transported free of charge across to the other side of the Thames.

Kent - Essex

When approaching the crossing from the southern side of the bridge, cyclists need to head for 'Crossing Control'. The roads leading up to the crossing are not really that cycle friendly, but there are plenty of shared use pavements which will keep you away from the dual-carriageways and motorways. There are a few points where cyclists can join this path and it will take you right down to the crossing.

the start of the shared use cycle path

Upon arrival (10.30am) at crossing control, there is a 'Cyclists wait here' sign. What it doesn't tell you is that just waiting there will not get you a ride across the Thames. For this, you will have to walk around to the back of the crossing control building and pick up the telephone to ask to be collected. After finding this out, I dialled the 'cycle transport' extension number and I was collected within 5 minutes.

the path running adjacent to the motorway

The bike goes onto a rack on the back of a Highways Agency vehicle and is secured with a few straps and a clamp. It all felt nice and secure. Going into Essex, the crossing uses the tunnel and once through the other side, the vehicle takes a private road to get you to the Essex crossing control booth. Here you'll simply jump out, release your bike and continue your journey. 

crossing control (kent side)

I had a great driver and we chatted the whole way. I was very impressed and could not fault anything about the service offered on this occasion.

all secure and ready to go

On the Essex side, there is a cycle path that runs along the edge of the motorway, but I would seriously think twice about using it as it is full of all kinds of random debris, including shards of broken glass. It seems that whoever is supposed to maintain/clean this path clearly doesn't.

Essex - Kent

Arrival (approx 11.55am) at the Essex crossing control booth is via the extremely badly maintained cycle path. However, there is another route which involves going through the adjacent retail park, and while the roads aren't the greatest, they are certainly not filled with the amount of debris that I found on the main route.

the cycle path on the Essex side (full of debris, I'm afraid)

I used the phone to request the vehicle and waited. And waited. And waited. After about 25 minutes I picked the phone up again to remind them that I was still waiting. Again I was assured that someone would be there soon. Another 10-15 minutes went by and a fellow cyclist arrived. He uses this crossing daily to travel between home and work and told me that it is not uncommon to have to wait 40 minutes or longer to be picked up.

the signs opposite crossing control (Essex side)

After a third phone call to the Cycle transport people, they finally sent someone over to collect us. This time the service was a little less friendly, with no real enthusiasm and no chatting. For the journey back across into Kent, I felt like I was a passenger in a racing car rather than in an official highways agency vehicle. I expected a calmer, more relaxed kind of drive from a representative of a motoring agency.

crossing control (Essex)

Something that I did not know about beforehand was that this service is not available at all times of day - fortunately I avoided the times with 'no service'. I found the following trial notice posted at the waiting points (I would draw your attention to where it says 'for the benefit of cyclists' - I think someone will need to explain the benefit of not being able to use the crossing at certain times of the day from Monday to Friday), but I am told that it is now permanent due to them receiving no negative feedback at the end of the trial. This is despite the fellow user of the service telling me that he did give them some well written negative feedback - this is someone that has to use this crossing twice-per-day to get to and from work and he sometimes has to leave home 3 hours before starting work to get to work on time despite only living a few kilometres away.

the revised timings of operation

Despite my initial positive impression of the service, I have been left with on overall feeling that cyclists aren't really welcome here and are an annoyance to some of the staff that have to deal with our requests to cross. Plus, it is clear to me that whoever is in charge has no problem with cyclists that arrive at 9am waiting for 90 minutes before they'll even get a chance to cross - Could you imagine the outrage if they tried to treat motorists this way? And, if the restricted timings mean that cyclists have a more efficient service, how is it that I had to sit in the cold for an hour waiting to be picked up?

This was never intended to be a review of the service, but rather a guide of what to do if you want to use the crossing. The fact that it got sidetracked by a bad experience is unfortunate but something that I can't just ignore.
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