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.

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“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”.

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