The first consultation to appear in Sutton Living Streets inbox in 2014 related to a proposal to construct a “raised table” outside St Dunstan’s Primary School in Cheam. Charles Martin thinks this a great idea, but asks whether the associated signage and clutter, that the traffic engineers propose to include with it, are really necessary.

Early in January 2014 Sutton Living Streets was asked to comment on plans to introduce a raised table in Anne Boleyn’s Walk, outside St Dunstan’s Primary School, in Cheam village. Here are links to the Notice and the Plan (both referenced as T28009), and below is our response.

20140130_1415_T28009_Plan

Sutton Living Streets believe that the proposed raised table crossing at Anne Boleyn’s Walk will be an improvement to the streetscape. Indeed, the Google Street View at this location (http://goo.gl/maps/4XqCH) clearly shows that the pedestrian desire-line currently cuts across the grass verge at the intended location of the raised table crossing. Furthermore, the existing build-out on the west side of the road has always been a contentious issue for some cyclists, given its proximity to the junction with Kingsway Road, so its removal will not be a disappointment.

However, we are not sure why the raised table needs to come with the additional clutter of posts and signage. Is it really necessary for a quiet residential street to have three “Hump 50 yds” signs installed? Is it likely that traffic will be travelling at such a speed on Anne Boleyn’s Walk or Kingsway Road that signs are required? Will anyone notice the signs? If they are necessary, why are there no “Hump 50 yds” signs on the approach to the other existing raised table further along Anne Boleyn’s Walk at the junction with Ewell Road? And near the school isn’t it the children, rather than humps, that we should be looking out for?

The proposed additional signage will just make Anne Boleyn’s walk and Kingsway Road look more like thoroughfares for traffic. If the maximum speed limit here were to be reduced to 20mph, as is Living Streets policy for residential roads, (and which here, given the alignment of the streets, is probably rarely exceeded anyway), then the proposed raised-table would sit quite nicely without the requirement of additional traffic signage. Put simply, the area would take on more of a sense of place without the signage. And surely a sense of place, somewhere for people to stop and talk and walk and cycle, is just what you need outside a village primary school.

Could Wallington become a cycling destination? Sutton Living Streets supporter John Kinnear considers some options that, if implemented, could help unlock Wallington’s potential as a more attractive place for cycling.

Wallington ought to be a honey pot for local cyclists. Its bustling town centre has the major shopping chains, but on a human scale. There are plenty of smaller shops and varied eating places, plus a regular farmers market, along with a post office and a railway station which is popular all day, not just for commuting. And there are large secondary schools just north and south of the town centre too. The town centre is surrounded, literally encircled, by residential areas made up of quiet roads, all of which easily link together to make pleasant cycle routes, some signed and some not. You can link up to the north with the signed route 75 from Sutton to Croydon through Beddington Park, and to the south an alternative route between the same areas. To the west there is national cycle route 20 which runs north and south. All those residential streets should be full of cyclists riding from home to their local town centre.

However, you don’t see too many cyclists cycling from home to Wallington town centre. It is not surprising why.

National Cycle Network route 20 along Park Lane is a busy, heavily trafficked road, with a nasty piece of cycling infrastructure on the Boundary Road rail bridge which forces a cyclist out into the fast flowing traffic. At the southern end of Boundary Road there is a busy roundabout with unhelpful cycling provision; at the northern end (Park Lane) there are busy road junctions. In Wallington, after the recent refurbishment of the town centre, Woodcote Road has been narrowed through the shops. As a cyclist you would share the one lane in each direction with buses that have stopped to load up in the middle of the traffic flow, other traffic stopping and starting at the traffic lights and trying to overtake the buses in both directions, and cars reversing out of the new parking places, not to mention pedestrians darting over the narrowed road. After the recent refurbishment, there are nice new cycle hoops for more cycle parking, but poorly designed. Each new hoop has a semi-circular metal panel, inside the hoop, with a P sign and a bike silhouette cut out. These bits of metal may look good but make it awkward to lock your bike to the hoop if you try to use the TfL-recommended D-lock. After the refurbishment of the area, there is also a cycle contraflow by Lidl in Beddington Gardens. Nice idea- it could be copied in so many places where there is one-way traffic. But what does it lead you out to in Wallington? Manor Road/ Woodcote Road, full of cars, buses, lorries- often moving off at speed from traffic lights just north of the rail bridge and also just south of the bridge. Crossing over into Ross Parade means a nasty right turn too. No wonder some cyclists going north just cycle along the wide pavement under the railway bridge. Probably illegal but no doubt feels a lot safer.

So Wallington may be surrounded by good cycling areas but the town centre, despite its attractions, is like a fortress designed to keep the cyclists out.

Is there an alternative to gain access to Wallington? One of the roads parallel to Woodcote Road is Shotfield (to the west). It could be an alternative access to the shops on a bike, but it is often full of traffic, usually larger vehicles, buses, coaches etc., and usually moving fast, along with cars eager to get in or out of the car park.

Strangely there is another alternative, which – with one exception – requires only a relatively small amount of attention, to create a cycle superhighway from Beddington Park all the way south almost to Woodcote Green, allowing a cyclist easy and safe access to all the shops and other facilities. It provides a way of opening up the cycling potential of the whole area, because it links with other routes, with residential areas and it provides safe and easy access on a bicycle to the Wallington town centre area.

Map of the Wallington Superhighway

A cycle superhigway for Wallington?

Route description and action needed table

Route description and action needed

1 Beddington Park, from signed route 75 to the car park
To formally allow cycling on the very short distance between route 75 and the road to the car park; perhaps improve the surface.

2 Car park to Croydon Road
Signage needed

3 Crossing Croydon Road
There is already an island refuge for pedestrians. This could be adapted to accommodate cyclists.

4 Bute Road
No action needed apart from signage

5 Right into Belmont Road
No action needed apart from signage (Melbourne Road could be used as an alternative)

6 Left into Bridge Road
No action needed apart from signage

7 Across the railway bridge
No action needed apart from signage

8 Ahead up Clarendon Road
Road markings need to be improved at the southern exit from the railway bridge. The current situation leads a cyclist on this route to believe they have right of way over Ross Parade traffic; motorists approaching from Ross Parade are also led to believe they have right of way over the junction with Clarendon Road. This is an extraordinarily dangerous situation.

9 Towards the south end of Clarendon Road:
existing cycle route is signposted into the shopping centre. (Diversion from the main proposed through route) Dropped edges needed to facilitate cycling into the shopping centre. More bike hoops needed in Woodcote Road making use of the very wide pavement.

10 South end of Clarendon Road:
slope up towards Stafford Road. Need for dropped edges and signage to make this a cyclable route.

11 Crossing Stafford Road.
Although there are traffic lights here, to control cars using the supermarket car park, this is currently a major barrier for cycling. It is not easy to cycle across Stafford Road; it is not easy to walk your bike across Stafford Road either. It is the one point on the route that needs significant attention. This is the only major work needed on this route.

12 The whole length of Onslow gardens to its junction with Shirley Road, where it is possible to join other established cycle routes or simply make use of the quiet back streets to continue a journey to the west, the south or the east.
No action needed apart from signage

Last week, the report from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry “Get Britain Cycling” was published. A few weeks earlier, the Mayor of London had produced his “Vision for Cycling”. In light of these ground-breaking documents, Charles Martin, Sutton Living Streets’ supporter, and borough co-ordinator for the London Cycling Campaign, considers where Sutton stands politically when it comes to cycling issues in an open letter to Sutton councillors. This letter is also available to download as a pdf: GetSuttonCycling_April2013

An open letter to all Sutton Councillors:

Cllr. Pathumal Ali, Cllr. Eric Allen, Cllr. Sheila Andrews, Cllr. Sean Brennan, Cllr. Malcolm Brown, Cllr. Mary Burstow, Cllr. Moira Butt, Cllr. Anisha Callaghan, Cllr. Dave Callaghan, Cllr. Richard Clifton, Cllr. Monica Coleman, Cllr. Colin Hall, Cllr. Margaret Court, Cllr. Tim Crowley, Cllr. Adrian Davey, Cllr. Ruth Dombey, Cllr. John Drage, Cllr. Nick Emmerson, Cllr. Stephen Fenwick, Cllr. Peter Fosdike, Cllr. Peter Geiringer, Cllr. Bruce Glithero, Cllr. Sunita Gordon, Cllr. Stuart Gordon-Bullock, Cllr. Marlene Heron, Cllr. David Hicks, Cllr. Lester Holloway, Cllr. Heather Honour, Cllr. Miguel Javelot, Cllr. Gerry Jerome, Cllr. Kirsty Jerome, Cllr. Edward Joyce, Cllr. Paddy Kane, Cllr. John Keys, Cllr. John Leach, Cllr. Janet Lowne, Cllr. Wendy Mathys, Cllr. Jayne McCoy, Cllr. Joyce Melican, Cllr. Pamela Picknett, Cllr. Hamish Pollock, Cllr. Jonathan Pritchard, Cllr. Roger Roberts, Cllr. Alan Salter, Cllr. Tony Shields, Cllr. Colin Stears, Cllr. Sue Stears, Cllr. Stanley Theed, Cllr. Roger Thistle, Cllr. Graham Tope, Cllr. Simon Wales, Cllr. Myfanwy Wallace, Cllr. Jill Whitehead, Cllr. Graham Whitham

Dear Sutton councillors,

Get Sutton Cycling: Introduction

You may remember that last April I wrote to you all [1] to ask for your support, in regard to walking and cycling related issues in your ward, in the run-up to the 2014 council elections [2]. I am writing to you again, a year later almost to the day, because last Wednesday (24 April 2013) was a landmark day for cycling (and for walking, and for the public realm, and for a happier and healthier nation).

Get Britain Cycling: happier and healthier – cycling makes life better for us all

Last Wednesday the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group published the Get Britain Cycling report [3] which, as a result of an inquiry looking at extensive public evidence from over 100 individuals and organisations (including cycling organisations, the Automobile Association, and a wide range of government departments and ministers), is able to conclusively demonstrate why the whole of Britain needs to, essentially, get cycling. And this is a reference to the whole of Britain, not just healthy people or sporty young males, but people of all ages and backgrounds, in urban and rural areas, and of course in Sutton not just in Cambridge or York, Hackney or Lambeth. It’s about broadening the cycling demographic. So it’s for those who currently say “you will never get me on a bicycle” because they just don’t feel safe, as much as it is for the “Bradley Wiggins” type of cyclist. It’s about those who find mobility difficult, and it’s about 8 to 16 year-olds, 60 to 100 year-olds, many of whom are effectively being deprived of the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle anywhere other than in the local park.

Key recommendations from the Get Britain Cycling inquiry include the need for vision, ambition and strong political leadership, plus the creation of a cycling budget to spend at least £10 per person per year increasing to £20. This follows closely on from the Mayor of London’s Vision for Cycling in London announced last month [4] [5], which invited outer London boroughs to apply for relatively substantial funding to create “mini-Hollands” in the suburbs – and more on that in a moment.

Clearly therefore, since writing to you a year ago, cycling has climbed the political agenda. And this is summed up quite nicely in a quote reproduced in the full Get Britain Cycling inquiry report from one witness, Andy Salkeld, of Leicester City Council, who said, “cycling is the mode of transport ‘on the cusp of greatness’”.

Cycling towards 2014, one year on

With all this activity around cycling, and with just over a year to go to the local elections, I thought this was perhaps a good opportunity to reflect on where the London borough of Sutton stands in relation to all things cycling. Is, for example, Sutton worthy of funding from Transport for London (TfL) to become one of the three trial “mini-Holland” outer London boroughs? I would like to say yes, but from my viewpoint, the available evidence on this at the moment would probably suggest no, and I’ll endeavour to explain why in this letter.

But I would like to start by thanking those of you who responded directly to my Cycling towards 2014 email last year. A total of 13 (24%) did so, and I give special thanks to Cllr. Jill Whitehead (Carshalton Central) for not only taking such a positive lead and suggesting that her ward be the first to “Go Dutch”, but also for inviting Sutton Living Streets and Cyclism (London Cycling Campaign in Sutton) to hold a stall at an event in Carshalton in July 2012 that celebrated the arrival of the Olympic torch relay to the borough [6]. Thanks, also, to all three councillors in Sutton South ward (this was the only ward where all the elected representatives responded); and to the South Sutton, Cheam and Belmont local committee for inviting me to talk at their committee meeting on 5 July 2012 [7].

For the record, the overall response rate to Cycling towards 2014 by local committee area was as follows (with number of councillors responding directly given as a percentage of the total number of councillors in each committee area):

Beddington and Wallington: (3/12) 33%

Carshalton and Clockhouse: (2/6) 33%

Cheam North and Worcester Park: (0/9) 0%

St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley: (1/9) 11%

Sutton: (3/9) 33%

South Sutton, Cheam and Belmont: (4/9) 44%

This level of response, although not all bad, certainly does not suggest that there is (or was) a particularly high level of interest in cycling by councillors across the borough. It is worth mentioning that, one or two exceptions besides, there have been few on-going conversations since. Although perhaps not all that surprising, this apathy and low priority given to cycling is a pity. It’s a pity because many of the problems and issues that residents are often concerned about, and which re-occur time and time again at local committee meetings (such as topics around parking and the school-run), are all subjects that could, to a greater of lesser extent, be resolved if cycling became more mainstream. This general dis-interest in cycling is even more worrying, given how the borough is proud to declare itself as the first London borough to sign-up to the principles of One Planet Living [8], and likes to be seen as taking the lead across London in promoting green-living, advocating healthy lifestyles and championing sustainability. Also of course, low interest could be said to indicate a lack of understanding on the existing status of the cycling debate (and my April 2012 letter had attempted to give the heads-up on this), which, in turn, could be interpreted as being slightly out-of-touch on current thinking. 

How smart is travel in Sutton in 2013?

Four years ago, the behaviour change initiative “Smarter Travel Sutton” reported a 75% increase in cycling in the borough in 2009 compared to 2007. This increase was subsequently given the qualification “from a very low base”. Nevertheless, the program went on to deservedly win a number of industry awards, and the fact that it took place showed the borough had ambition. In Enabling Smarter Travel Choices – Sutton’s Sustainable Transport Policy and Action Plan (June 2008) [9] the initiative was seen to have had good public support, and the borough was keen to build on its success. Specifically, the document notes: “It is now necessary to “lock in the benefits” of Smarter Travel Sutton to ensure that these gains are not lost”. Well, have those benefits been locked-in? When I asked that question to the Head of Smarter Travel Sutton at a One Planet Sutton event in January this year, he gave the answer “no idea”. But I didn’t have long to wait to find out. Last month the Department for Transport published a statistical release Local area walking and cycling statistics England 2011/12 [10]. This data set includes the proportion of adults who cycle at least once a week across all 326 local authority areas in England in the year to October 2012. The average for England was 10% (down from 11% the previous year), whereas in the London borough of Sutton the figure was 7% (down from 9% the previous year). So the answer, as to whether the benefits have been locked-in, is probably no. Incidentally, across London the figures ranged from 19% in Richmond to 4% in Enfield and Redbridge.

Has Sutton made the case for “Going Dutch”, taken up the challenge, or began the discussion with residents?

These arguments alone may not be good enough reasons for depriving Sutton of “mini-Holland” funding. But there are other indicators. For example, is there robust and plentiful evidence that the borough would spend any funding wisely if it were to receive it? After all, there is absolutely no point in being awarded, and attempting to spend, any substantial funding for Dutch-style cycling promotion if the conversation and discussion with residents, as to how best to take forward what many will perceive are challenging and difficult ideas, has not yet even began. Such potentially challenging topics for discussion would include 20 mph maximum speed limits on all (or at least most) of the borough controlled roads and some TfL roads (although this need not be all that challenging) [11]; the need to close certain roads to through-traffic, except for those on foot or bicycle; the requirement to convert some streets to one-way operation, allowing contra-flow for cyclists (in order to give people on bicycles some advantage over those in cars and so help encourage the switch from one form of transport to the other); ideas on reducing road space for motor vehicles in order to facilitate cycle paths, and, most contentious of all perhaps, parking constraints (again to make space for cycling). However, from reading the notes of local committee meetings it would appear that any controversial discussions such as these usually result in councillors succumbing and acquiescing to the vocal few who attend such meetings, rather than making the case in a coherent and policy-driven way as to why sometimes these ideas can be advantageous (especially in the longer term).

Meanwhile, “TfL and the boroughs lack sufficient expertise”…

Last week (22 April 2013) I received an email from CaroIine Pidgeon, Leader of the London Assembly Liberal Democrat Group and Chair of London Assembly Transport Committee, in which she gave an update on her work at the London Assembly on the issue of safer cycling in London. Caroline said she had continued to push to make sure that cycling is a key priority for the Mayor and that he spends his budget wisely. She went on to note that the previous week the Assembly had quizzed Peter Hendy, the Commissioner at transport for London, about how the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling would be implemented. Peter had replied that TfL and the Boroughs lacked sufficient expertise to start multiple projects and that therefore their approach will be to focus on a handful of projects and learn as they go.

…so, in 2013, we get a dropped-kerb, raised junction entry and some paint

I have to say that if a recent joint TfL/borough cycle improvement scheme is anything to go by, Peter is absolutely right about this. The Grove Road proposal [12] [13], on the border of the Sutton Central and Sutton West wards, developed with the intention of improving facilities for cyclists at the junction of the A232 Grove Road and Bridge Road, was completed a week or so ago. This improvement (which allows cyclists to share a section of pavement (which they did anyway), and provides a dropped-kerb and a raised junction entry, may well make life easier for those who already cycle (under 2% of journeys), but in my view will do little to get those who want to cycle on to their bicycles. This is reflected in the response to the consultation from CTC and Cyclism: “We have been campaigning for this contra flow track to be installed for several years and are pleased that you are now proceeding to implementation.” I see this not as a success, but more as a major criticism. After all, if this is all we get after several years of campaigning, what hope is there of ever “Going Dutch”? I was going to add that there is absolutely nothing Dutch about this scheme, but actually, for a short section, cyclists could in theory pass each other cycling on the right-side (i.e. the wrong as opposed to correct side) of the road – so I guess that might count!

An invitation to find out what “Going Dutch” actually means

I think that Sutton would stand a much better chance of being awarded “mini-Holland” funding if councillors and planners in the borough could demonstrate to TfL (and to LCC) that they have an understanding of what “Going Dutch” actually means. There is no better way of experiencing what the Netherlands has to offer than to actually visit. As I have mentioned previously, I can highly recommend a cycling study tour given by David Hembrow [14]. If you are concerned about the cost to tax-payers of such a visit, or what the Sutton Guardian might say, you could pay for the trip from just a small proportion of the £10,000 that was proposed (or possibly is still proposed) to be spent on widening a path in Beddington Park [15], and then everyone would be happy! As a precursor to such a visit, interested parties may wish to liaise with Hackney councillors to see what has been achieved there. I understand that invitations for such a visit have been offered by Hackney. It’s just £2.90 each way Sutton to Hoxton outside peak times using Oyster, with simple same-platform interchange at West Croydon. And they serve a lovely cup of tea at the Geffrye Museum.

Cycling towards 2014, the final twelve months

I understand that you are all very busy people with a lot of demands on your time. But as we now enter the final year in the run-up to the elections next May, I would be very grateful if one councillor from each ward (or at least one councillor from each local committee area) would be prepared to be the point of contact for cycling and/or walking issues in their part of the borough. If you feel this is something you would be happy to do, please get in touch. In the meantime, one of the best ways to keep abreast of cycling issues is to view the weekly blog from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain [16]. Who knows, you may even find a link to this letter there. 

Get Britain Cycling – and please don’t leave the London borough of Sutton behind

Finally, there is one favour that I would like you to consider doing today that would be very helpful. That is to sign the The Times’ e-petition ‘Promote cycling by implementing the recommendations in the Get Britain Cycling report: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49196 [17] (thank you if you have already done so). As Ian Austin and Julian Huppert, co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group note in the foreword to the summary report: “This generation of politicians has the chance to be long remembered for having a vision for cycling that includes us all”. This could include you of course, and I hope it does.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Martin

Sutton Living Streets; Sutton borough co-ordinator, London Cycling Campaign

30 April 2013

Notes and references:

[1] As detailed at the head of this letter, with the exception of Cllr. Nick Emmerson. Nick was subsequently elected as Liberal Democrat ward councillor in a by-election in Stonecot ward (Cheam North and Worcester Park local committee) in December 2012, following Brendan Hudson’s decision to stand down as Liberal Democrat ward councillor in November 2012. Welcome Nick.

[2] Sutton Living Streets, Cycling towards 2014, (23 April 2012): http://suttonlivingstreets.org.uk/2012/04/.

[3] All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Get Britain Cycling (24 April 2013): http://allpartycycling.org/2013/04/24/one-in-ten-of-all-journeys-should-be-by-bike-press-release-and-links-to-the-reports/.

[4] Greater London Authority, The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London, an Olympic Legacy for all Londoners, (7 March 2013): http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/transport/publications/mayor-s-vision-for-cycling.

[5] London Cycling Campaign, Mayor’s new Vision for Cycling is “ground-breaking” says London Cycling Campaign, (7 March 2013): http://lcc.org.uk/articles/mayors-new-vision-for-cycling-is-ground-breaking-says-london-cycling-campaign.

[6] Sutton Living Streets/Cyclism, Some analysis and findings from the Carshalton event questionnaire, July 2012 (working title, not yet published). 68% of the respondents to this small-scale survey indicated that they did not currently cycle, but only 18% of these stated that “cycling was not for me”. This suggests that a substantial majority (82%) of the respondents would consider cycling. Of these “future cyclists”, 76% said that they would be encouraged to cycle through the provision of segregated cycle paths on busy roads or high-quality cycle paths. Effectively, respondents told us that they would cycle if they felt safe doing so.

[7] Sutton Living Streets, Love South Sutton, Cheam and Belmont, Go Dutch: as yet unpublished presentation given to South Sutton, Cheam and Belmont local committee, 5 July 2012  

[8] Bio Regional, What is One Planet Living?, (accessed 24 April 2013): http://www.bioregional.com/oneplanetliving/what-is-one-planet-living/

[9] London Borough of Sutton, Enabling Smarter Travel Choices - Sutton’s Sustainable Transport Policy and Action Plan (June 2008): https://www.sutton.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=11905.

[10] Department for Transport, Local area walking and cycling in England 2011/12 (16 April 2013). Table CW0111: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-area-walking-and-cycling-in-england-2011-12.

[11] Despite the government’s announcement in June 2011 that 20 mph had become easier and cheaper to implement (http://www.normanbaker.org.uk/pr/2011/110616_20mph.htm); despite the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to 20 mph in April 2012 as part of Brian Paddick’s bid to be Mayor (page 25: “extend 20 mph speed limits to dangerous busy streets controlled by TfL where Londoners live, work and play – so reducing accidents and saving millions of pounds from the health service budget alone”), despite the implementation of 20 mph as the default speed limit for residential streets in 37 local authorities from Portsmouth to Glasgow and including the London boroughs of Camden, Greenwich, Islington, Hackney, Southwark and Waltham Forest (equating to a total residential population of nearly 9 million) (http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk/ 30 April 2013), and despite speeding traffic, or road safety, being a concern to Sutton’s residents in nine of the eighteen wards across the borough (as reported by the Metropolitan Police Safer Neighbourhoods team in December 2012 (http://content.met.police.uk/Page/YourBorough > ‘Sutton’ > ‘Sutton has 18 teams…’), the introduction of 20 mph as a default speed limit in the borough seems to be amazingly slow in coming to fruition. Is this due to a weakness of local politicians to make the case? And, given that it will happen sooner or later, how will Sutton explain in the future why the local authority delayed borough-wide implementation?

[12] Sutton Living Streets, Proposals to improve facilities for cyclists in Grove Road: but will they encourage you to cycle? (26 February 2013):  http://suttonlivingstreets.org.uk/2013/02/26/groveroad/.

[13] Transport for London, A232 Grove Road – Cycle improvement scheme. Consultation report, (March 2013): https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/cycling/a232groveroad.

[14] David Hembrow Cycling Study Tour: http://www.hembrowcyclingholidays.com/studytour.html.

[15] Sutton Living Streets, As easy as taking a walk (or bicycle ride) in the park, (14 January 2013): http://suttonlivingstreets.org.uk/2013/01/.

[16] Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, CEofGB blog, (latest post 29 April 2013, archived weekly, on-going): http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/blog

[17] The Times, Cameron climbs aboard cycle revolution, (25 April 2013), http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3748181.ece

 

Transport for London (TfL) and the London Borough of Sutton have jointly developed proposals to improve facilities for cyclists at the junction of the A232 Grove Road and Bridge Road in Sutton. Charles Martin has taken a look at the proposals, which include allowing “cyclists” to share a key section of pavement, and he is not all that impressed.

20130226_120156_OpenStreetMap_GroveRoad

“Cyclists”, don’t you just love ‘em! Who are they? What do they want? Why are they in my way? Why are they on the pavement? You would never get me on a bike! All that traffic – you must be mad to cycle, it’s so dangerous!

But, hold on a moment, does it have to be like this? The answer to that question is emphatically no. Unfortunately, however, I can’t help thinking that these sorts of negative perceptions of cyclists and cycling are more likely to continue if the best options that can be offered as “improvements for cyclists” are similar to that recently developed by Transport for London and the London borough of Sutton for implementation at the junction of the A232 Grove Road and Bridge Road.

The proposed improvements at this location close to Sutton town centre, will, if implemented, allow cyclists to share the area of footway between Grove Road and Bridge Road with pedestrians. This will enable “cyclists” to bypass the Sutton town centre gyratory system when approaching from the west (Grove Road) to access the relatively quieter roads to the south (via Bridge Road).

To a degree, this all seems quite reasonable. After all, the area of footway is arguably wide enough to be shared with care, especially when you consider that the number of cyclists using it is likely to be very low. And the ability to cycle here will effectively provide a link that some people will find useful (avoiding a long detour and enabling two-way cycling effectively on the same alignment). But that’s about as far as it goes, and that is a pity.

Simply enabling cyclists to share an area of footway (that a small number currently use unofficially anyway), falls far short of the sort of improvements that are really required if more people are to ever take to the bicycle (particularly, perhaps, at locations adjacent to a fast moving one-way gyratory system). Therefore, it will be no surprise if, post-implementation, many people continue to feel dissociated from the very idea of cycling, and, sadly, never get to sample the simple pleasure that taking a ride by bicycle can, and really should, be like.

And some of those people could be the pupils of Sutton High School, situated just two-hundred metres or so further along Grove Road.  Some girls attending the junior section of the school were enjoying their cycling proficiency course last week during the half-term holiday. I suspect, however, that if you asked the parents of these 10 and 11 year-old children whether they would be particularly happy for their daughters to cycle from the school into Sutton town centre (a distance of under 500 metres) the answer, even post implementation of the nearby “improved facility for cyclists”, would likely be ‘no’. This is because these proposals do nothing to improve access to the town centre from Grove Road by bicycle. The two-lane, one-way, gyratory will continue to act as a barrier to everyone except traffic-tolerant cyclists. To get the full benefit of the cycle training sessions, more needs to be done on the streets to make the streets feel safe and inviting for these children and for their parents.

The proposals also demonstrate a lack of ambition. The existing footway area (particularly at the intersection with Bridge Road) is not adequate to accommodate high levels of cycle usage and so, as no additional space is to be provided, it would be reasonable to presume that the proponents of the scheme do not foresee any great increase in cycling levels here post implementation (a prophecy which could be self-fulfilling). This lack of aspiration also tends to indicate that all the talk about encouraging more trips by bicycle or on foot, by a borough clearly seeking to be seen as green, really doesn’t come to very much after all.

There is also a mind-set issue here. The proposals have been presented as “improved facilities for cyclists”, implying that “cyclists” are somehow a breed apart, and that only existing cyclists, as opposed to people who may like to try cycling, will benefit. This line of thinking not only perpetuates the idea that you have to consider yourself a “cyclist” before, or even when, you cycle, but also effectively overlooks the fact that improving cycling facilities is not solely about making cycling better. It’s about improving the urban landscape too. And that’s good news whether you walk, cycle, or drive along the street.

A major disappointment, however, is that these sort of proposals are still being put forward at a time when cycling is increasingly in the political spotlight. Perhaps just three or four years ago this would all have sounded quite reasonable (although the raised platform across Bridge Road is something that really ought to have been implemented when the gyratory became a “red-route” 15 or 20 years ago). But in the context of the age of the “Boris Bike”, the “cycle superhighway”, “biking boroughs”, “Cities fit for cycling”, “Love London, Go Dutch” and now the “Get Britain Cycling” inquiry (which started on 23 January 2013, just two days after this particular consultation opened), these type of proposals for improvements for cyclists simply feel they belong to a bygone era.

Let’s hope that, following the publication of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry report and the Mayor’s Cycling Vision for 2020 (both of which are expected within the next few weeks), the days of the quick-fix towards all things cycling will soon be over. In its place, we need to think about dedicated spending, political ambition and enlightened planning. Then, when we talk about improving facilities for cyclists, the approach taken will be joined-up, holistic and aspirational. All of which could result in us thinking less in terms of cyclists being in the way, or on the pavement, or seeing cycling as something that is too dangerous to pursue and only for someone else, and rather more as recognising that cycling could be something that many more of us may actually consider trying. Because a “cyclist” is simply someone who rides a bicycle for certain journeys. In theory, a “would-be cyclist” could be any one of us. But for most of us, cycling will only become a real option for some of our journeys when improvements for cyclists are mainstream and focussed rather than marginalised and piecemeal.

A consultation on proposals to improve facilities for cyclists at the junction of the A232 Grove Road and Bridge Road in Sutton, jointly developed by Transport for London (TfL) and the London Borough of Sutton, was held between 21 January and 12 February 2013. Details of the proposals, and the full response submitted by Sutton Living Streets to the consultation, are available in this pdf document (1 MB) “Sutton Living Streets’ response to A232 Grove Road TfL consultation”.

Charles Martin comments on a recent proposal to allow cycling on a footpath in Beddington Park, and recommends that context should not be overlooked when assessing consultation responses. He also suggests that the discussion, as to whether cycling should be permitted on a relatively lightly used footway within a very large park, pails into insignificance when faced with the much larger challenge of how to create a better environment on the main roads and residential streets around the park.

In the autumn of 2012 Sutton Council consulted on a proposal to change the designation of a path in Beddington Park from its current status as a footway to that of a shared use surface between cyclists and pedestrians. It was all quite simple really. Many paths in this wonderful 100-acre space are already shared use, and this appears to be working well. The aim and objective of the conversion of this particular footway was to make it possible for people to enjoy a gentle circular preamble by bicycle around and completely within the park, something that was not permitted whilst the path remained designated as a footway. The path, at nearly 600 metres in length, was, and still is, the missing link in terms of providing this recreational opportunity.

Two posts in Beddington Park. Foreground cycling prohibited, background shared for those on foot and on bicycle

Beddington Park: can paths be agreeably shared?

Living Streets uphold the principle that cycling space should not be provided at the expense of pedestrian space. This is set out quite clearly in their briefing on pedestrians and cyclists (PDF, 2.4MB) which includes the following text: “If it is deemed absolutely necessary to mix pedestrians and cyclists in the absence of motor traffic, space is crucial. We prefer separate, or at least segregated paths – particularly where cycle use is likely to be high – so as to mitigate the worst aspects of intimidation by inconsiderate cycling”. Consequently, the national organisation responded to the consultation in-line with this recommendation saying that they did not welcome the conversion of the footpath unless it was widened and segregated. The Ramblers took a similar view, and gave a preference for widening and segregation. Other respondents to the consultation supported conversion of the footway, with some opting for widening but no segregation and others for simply using the existing path.

I responded to the consultation on behalf of Sutton Living Streets and supported the conversion but, unlike the national organisation, did not give a preference as to whether the path would benefit from widening or segregation. There were several reasons for this, including the recognition that the existing usage of the footways and cycle-paths within the park was low, and that many other paths were already shared and of similar width to the footway. It was also unlikely that the path, once converted, would generate any significant increase in cycling traffic (in the short term at least). Most importantly, however, just the conversion alone could have great potential in helping to encourage a new generation of people enjoying the benefits of cycling. Basically, the proposal to convert appeared to be a very good one, was long overdue, and, given the local context, would be most welcome in whatever form the implementation took at this stage. I believed that on this particular path, in this particular location, at this particular point in time, pedestrians and cyclists (predominantly novice) could co-exist in harmony, and share with due care.

This initial consultation was an agenda item “Beddington Park cycle path” at the Beddington and Wallington local committee on 4 December 2012. In view of the responses received, a recommendation was proposed to undertake a formal consultation to widen the existing path and introduce segregation (although funding for this had yet to be identified). In support of my response, and for expedience, I suggested that a better option at the moment may be to simply change the footpath status to allow shared use. It was pointed out, however, that this could only happen if Living Streets removed their objection to an unsegregated option. Therefore, I agreed to lobby the national organisation to endeavour to make the case as to why the path could satisfactorily be used in a shared-use capacity in this specific case and at this moment in time, and to help with this prepared a discussion document “Beddington Park: a discussion about footways and cycle-paths” (PDF, 4.2MB). Not a very compelling title I will admit, but the document does include photos of the path to illustrate the concepts and explain the context, and hopefully gives a better overview of the situation than that contained in the Sutton Guardian article on the agenda item discussion “Plans to widen cycle paths in Beddington Park stall in council row”!

I have to say that it has been quite useful giving some thought to this conundrum, looking at the process of the consultation, and attempting to put together some ideas. Because in preparing my discussion paper about Beddington Park, it has occurred to me that in some ways we are missing the bigger picture. After all, it’s all very well endeavouring to promote recreational cycling within the park – and having the use of a circular path in Beddington Park should enhance the space and be a great place for mums and dads to cycle with their young children (whilst not diminishing the enjoyment of those on foot) – but what are we actually doing outside the park to improve the public realm and encourage everyday cycling and more pleasant walking conditions? Isn’t it about time we started to address the greater challenge that relates to access to the park for instance? Just think how fantastic it would it be if Beddington Park was a great place to walk or cycle to, as well as within! Perhaps if we started a consultation with that as an objective, whilst taking a few ideas from the Dutch to show that it can be done, and adding some political-will into the mix too, then one day we would find that more of our short day-to-day journeys, for the young and old, able-bodied and less able-bodied, would be as easy as taking a walk in the park.

Charles Martin

With the elections for the Mayor and Assembly Members only days away, perhaps now is not the best time to start thinking about the next time that we will cast our vote. But the local council elections in May 2014 are not actually that far away, and given how cycling is very much in the spotlight at the moment, with The Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign, the inspiring London Cycling Campaign ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ project and the excellent Sustrans Free Range Kids initiative all adding to the debate, now really is the time to give the cycling momentum a local perspective.

That is why I have written to all the elected councillors in the London Borough of Sutton to ask them to start thinking specifically about what could be done in their ward, in the streets where their constituents live, and in the neighbourhoods where their constituents go about their day-to-day lives, to enable people more readily to consider travel by foot or by bike for some of their journeys for some of the time. I would like the councillors to ensure that their constituents are aware of the current campaigns on safety issues for all road users, on why smarter travel can be better travel, and why putting independent and active travel back at the heart of childhood would be a good thing.

So whether our first choice is to drive, take the bus, whether we run, hop or saunter to catch the train, ride the bike or simply make time for walking, let’s hope that the journey towards the 2014 local elections will be an opportunity for everyone to engage in all the issues that could help Sutton become an even better place. And who knows, in the process, we may take some inspiration from The Netherlands as well. After all, when it comes to cycling, the Dutch certainly seem to know a thing or two!

The “Cycling towards 2014″ letter can be viewed by clicking here.

In this blog post Charles Martin suggests that new thinking is required, in terms of how to provide and manage parking provision, if robust proposals for regeneration in our outer London district centres are to be fully realised. The potential for these centres to be even more appealing places to visit would be further enhanced, he adds, if we all considered making occasional changes to the way we travelled locally too.

During September and October 2011 Sutton Council held a consultation asking people who live, work, shop or go to school in Worcester Park or North Cheam to let them know their issues and ideas for improvements in and around these district centres. It was an opportunity for people to express their views on the improvements that had already been completed earlier in the year in Worcester Park (close to the station in Central Road and Green Lane as part of the TfL funded ‘Streets for People’ project), and also to suggest and prioritise ideas for further enhancements elsewhere in Worcester Park and in North Cheam.

This preliminary consultation took place in order to identify the key issues, and the level of public support, for possible infrastructure improvements that could be implemented as part of the Worcester Park Integrated Transport Package. This integrated transport package is similar in many ways to the Wallington Integrated Transport Package (completed in June 2011), where the emphasis was on improving public space (e.g. paving, street lighting and seating), providing support for businesses, redeveloping vacant properties, and improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

North Cheam: Cheam Common Road, south side, looking east.

North Cheam: Cheam Common Road, south side, looking east. Pavement designed with emphasis on motorised-traffic. Access for vehicles is perhaps over-engineered suggesting that a low level of vehicular access is more important than is absolutely necessary.

In view of the consultation, I revisited North Cheam in mid-October (2011) to endeavour to make an assessment of the main shopping street, London Road, largely from a pedestrians’ perspective. Around the same time I also headed over to New Malden High Street, in neighbouring Kingston, just ten minutes from North Cheam by bus or twenty minutes by gentle cycle ride. I knew that New Malden High Street had been re-vamped in 2005, in order to reinforce the impression that the High Street was not simply a thoroughfare. Many of the resultant improvements to the streetscape had been acclaimed by those who lived and worked there, and by transport and urban design professionals. I decided not to visit Worcester Park, largely because the utility works that were taking place at the time may have made any comparative assessment with other locations a little unfair. I was also more familiar with Worcester Park than I was with North Cheam or New Malden anyway.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking north.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking north. Although there has been a good intention to provide wide pavements in places, the space preserved for inanimate vehicles ultimately wins over.

One of my initial conclusions from the visits was that a major challenge for any outer London district centre is likely to be around how best to manage the existing requirement for parking (customer, residential and delivery) whilst maintaining the economic viability and prosperity of the businesses operating in these district centres. I couldn’t help thinking that both Worcester Park and North Cheam are, to a greater or lesser extent, blighted by the prominence given to parking for private vehicles. If the local economy of a shopping district is boosted by free and easy access by car, how much is it deflated by the poor urban realm that can result? I believe that a key requirement for the enhancement of any centre is to get this balance right.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking south.

North Cheam: London Road, east side, looking south. Some may say the pavement width is adequate, but, relative to the total space available, I tend to think there is room for improvement.

In parts of North Cheam, particularly along the west side of London Road (to the north of the intersection with Cheam Common Road), vehicles are permitted to park head-on to the shop fronts. This may enable great accessibility for those driving and may be a requirement for residents, but is likely to be quite a turn-off for anyone contemplating to visit and shop there. It certainly discourages anything like café culture, and does little to promote a feeling of well-being in terms of just wanting to spend time in the area.

North Cheam: London Road, west side, looking north.

North Cheam: London Road, west side, looking north. Pavement, or car-park? Not entirely sure that I fancy spending too much time shopping here.

North Cheam: London Road, east-side, looking north

This location is to the south of the intersection with Cheam Common Road/Malden Road. In many ways the streetscape here looks much more appealing than it does to the north of the intersection, and this could be in part because space is more equitably shared. As the inset photo tries to show, there could be a better approach in how signs are mounted. In this case, for example, there appears to be a perfectly adequate lamppost to attach the "Red Route" sign to. Does it really need its own post?

Meanwhile, in both centres, car-parks are provided close to the general shopping areas which, for most of the time, have ample capacity. In this respect, however, it is a pity that when Sainsbury’s in North Cheam was developed, and the site in Worcester Park now occupied by Waitrose was redeveloped, their associated car-parks were not designed perhaps with more of an emphasis on serving the whole community rather than just their own stores (i.e. linked to their neighbouring main shopping streets in a more pedestrian-friendly way). Providing some car-parking spaces associated with, but not on, the main shopping streets could facilitate the removal of some on-road/on-footway parking, and enable this space to be used for more constructive purposes (in a similar way to the recent enhancements in Wallington).

North Cheam: London Road, east-side looking north.

New Malden: High Street, various locations. Car-park location signs. Sometimes spelling things out might help. Look guys, its only a 1-minute walk from the car-park to the shops!

Charging for parking is inevitably unpopular, initially at least. But, in many ways, not to charge does have a cost. A small proportionate parking fee, in recognition of some of the cost of providing that parking space, could help motorists consider other transport options as well – with the associated benefits this would bring (to both them and to the public realm). Technology can help with this by making the car-park payment mechanism much easier through the use of smartcards, like Oyster, or contactless bankcard. Charging for parking would also work with the behavioural change programme, Smarter Travel Sutton (2007-2009), rather than against it. A reduction in the total percentage of all trips made by car to access these district centres would be a good aspiration to have for the medium term too. And rather than call the payment a parking charge, how about branding it as a community fund?

North Cheam: London Road, east-side looking north.

New Malden parking payment displays. Clockwise from top-left: Blagdon Road multi-storey (90p per hour); High Street parking (60p per hour (maximum one-hour); Waitrose car-park (rear of High Street) free for customers spending £10 or more (otherwise £1 first hour); Malden centre car-park (£1.20 per hour). You pay your money (if applicable) and take your choice!

To give the public realm increased value, and to further enhance the sense of place, the maximum traffic speeds on roads traversing the centres would ideally be set at no higher than 20 mph. Benefits of this would include a safer environment for everyone, a boost for business (as it could reduce the chance of someone not bothering to cross the road to access other shops), and it would moderate traffic noise too.

My trip to New Malden reminded me that it is not necessary to go too far from either North Cheam or Worcester Park to see a relatively good example of what can be done. Along the length of New Malden High Street, for example, the addition of an informal central reservation means that it is easier for people to cross the road. There is a bit more “give and take” between all the users of the street. De-cluttered pavements (of sufficient width relative to the carriageway) give a feeling that space is equitably apportioned between everyone, and this must help give the place a buzz and well-being factor during the day and into the evening.

New Malden: High Street, looking north

New Malden: High Street, looking north. Space for people: An informal central reservation helps improve the street for people on foot with no detriment to other road users.

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north. Space for people: the continental look, almost a mini boulevard.

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north

New Malden: High Street, west-side, looking north. Space for people: Everything here runs at a slower, more comfortable, pace. So with plenty of high-profile cycle parking, why not bike it?

The district centres at the heart of New Malden, Worcester Park and North Cheam are evidentially different in many ways. They will have different demographics, and they have evolved over time to reflect the needs of the immediate area and the roads that pass through them. Traffic volumes are probably greater in North Cheam than they are in Worcester Park, while New Malden probably has fewer vehicles passing through then either of them. Nevertheless, I would like to pose the question – could some of the award-winning principles applied to the make-over of the High Street in New Malden work in Worcester Park and in North Cheam? I am sure the answer depends in part on whether there is the necessary aspiration and determination by politicians and decision makers to recognise what is required, and then to make the case to retailers, businesses and existing users.

Also, to a degree, it will depend on all of us who use these centres to ask ourselves what are we able to do to bring it about. In particular, it may depend on whether those who drive are prepared to consider the benefits that could result from just a little bit of change in their behaviour – so accept a 20 mph speed limit, and accept some changes to both parking location and cost (consider it as a community fund). Maybe instead of taking the car to town for every trip, consider taking the bus or just walk instead on occasion. Town centres will always benefit from the occasional make-over, of course. But they can also be enhanced by how we use them.

Clearly there are a lot of uncertainties in the equation of how Worcester Park and North Cheam can best be enhanced. But I certainly believe that both of these suburban shopping centres have great potential to become “destination places” in their own right. If we let them, that is.

Notes:

(1) All photos taken by the author. The North Cheam photos on Sunday 23 October 2011 (between about 3.30 and 5.30pm), and New Malden photos on Tuesday 25 October 2011 (between about 12.30 and 2pm). It is acknowledged that street vitality will look different on different days of the week (especially between Sunday and Monday) and at different times of day (afternoon and lunchtime).

(2) On 17 January 2012 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced the winners in the Second Round of his Outer London Fund. This included confirmation that the LB of Sutton had been successful in their bid for North Cheam and Worcester Park.

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