Today was a long day spent raising awareness of #space4cycling and #ridesutton by giving out leaflets, stickers and flags on Sutton High Street. We gave out hundreds of flyers and spoke to dozens of shoppers about cycling and what it’s like to cycle in Sutton. The great thing is people are very receptive to cycling (it would be no fun if they weren’t!), and so days like this are great for getting in touch with how much people want to cycle.
So I arrived home to find the latest newsletter from my local Conservative Team in Beddington South. At the top it has the names and pictures of Neil Garratt, Jim Simms and Andy Williams, who are all hoping to become Conservative councillors for Beddington South come May 22nd. A little preamble: a few weeks ago they wrote to residents, one issue being congestion on Mollison Drive, outside Wilson’s School. They were looking for resident led solutions, so naturally I wrote and suggested that if more pupils cycled, it would help no end to relieving congestion at the beginning and end of each school day. I thought that was that, but having been to the #space4cycling website to voice my support, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Mr Neil Garratt, not only detailing his support for for our ward asks in Beddington South, but also suggesting that the junction with Sandy Lane South, Forester’s Drive, Wordsworth Road, Waterer Rise needs looking at. I completely agree, and if the kids at Bandon Hill are to be able to cycle to school safely, this junction will be an important part of making it safe!
So to the present, and the newsletter l have in front of me. The first issue addressed is titled Mollison Drive Traffic Update followed by five of the ideas for solving the congestion congestion. These are
- Parking restrictions in Plough Lane to avoid gridlock when two large vehicles try to pass.
- Making the junction with Stafford Road a box junction, to keep it clear at all times.
- Resequencing the traffic lights to coordinate timings between traffic and pedestrian crossings.
- Investigation whether Wilson’s School can create a pick up/drop off area off the road.
- Parking restrictions on Mollison Drive near Wilson’s School, to avoid drivers waiting to pick up the students causing congestion.
Andy Williams said ‘Thank you for your ideas. We will raise all these suggestions with the Traffic engineers to see which is most likely to solve the problems.’.
Here’s the real problem: None of them will. They won’t even get close to solving it. I know it, you know it, I expect even Andy knows it. It will just be more faffing about with consultations and minor changes, shifting the cars from one road to another. The fact is – none of the roads are wide enough to accommodate so many cars. In five years time, the will still be congestion outside Wilson’s. Whilst politicians like Andy and the traffic engineers are obsessed with cars and traffic flow, nothing will ever change.
The answer is of course, bikes, with pupils on them cycling to school. Put simply – more bikes = less cars = less congestion = faster journey times = more time for other stuff! More bikes = healthier population = less money needed by the NHS = more money for other stuff! More bikes = cleaner air = more pleasant neighbourhoods = more pleasant space to enjoy other stuff! I’ll not go on.
As I said, Neil gets it, but it seems Andy and the unspeaking Jim (email address: firstname.lastname@example.org) don’t get it. Of course I’m sure the pupils of Wilson’s would love to cycle to school. But cycling in the vicinity of the School is not safe enough when other kids have 1.5m of metal in front of them. Stafford Road heading East towards Croydon is, despite being a single lane B road, very wide – there is plenty of space for segregated cycle lanes. Stafford Road heading West towards Wallington has Mellows Park on one side, and if that isn’t an invitation to create good space for cycling I don’t know what is. Mollison Drive is also not a small road, but by taking a metre or two from the school grounds it’s easy to imagine space for cycling. Wilson’s occupies over 65,000 square metres and taking a metre off the site on Mollison Drive would, at 290 square metres, be less than 0.5% of the total ground area. To put in in perspective, the smaller of the two car parks is 1400 square metres. There is space for cycling. It’s peanuts really, and we all know that messing round with traffic light phasing isn’t going to do anything in the long run.
Sutton, of all 32 London Boroughs, has the highest percentage of households owning 2 or more cars, and in terms of percentage of households which don’t own a car, Sutton has the second least (Page 42 Table 9.2). In the 2001 census, Sutton residents owned 88,301 cars or vans. By 2011, it had grown to 91,266. In 2001 1128 households had 4 or more vehicles, by 2011 – 1429. In 2001 3750 households had 3 or more vehicles, by 2011 it too had grown to 4018. Vehicle ownership is going up – the evidence is clear. The residents of Sutton don’t feel safe cycling or walking and therefore ‘have’ to have a car. Residents insist on having a parking space directly outside their shops and outside local schools. Residents would like to cycle, and of course kids would love to cycle. But people don’t feel safe, so nobody gets anywhere. The most worrying aspect is Sutton is getting worse. Yes – WORSE. I’ll say it again – messing round with parking restrictions and box junctions isn’t going to help.
We need proper space for cycling. Space that is adequate so that, like in the Netherlands, kids can stick aero bars on their bikes, not so they can go faster – of course not, but so they can text on their way home. It’s unimaginable here – but cycling infrastructure is so good in the Netherlands that kids can do it and KNOW that they will be safe. Remember they don’t wear helmets or hi-viz there either. If Wilson’s were in Holland, 750 if the 1000 students would cycle to school everyday. In recent years the total number of students cycling to school in the whole borough was 128.
So people want to cycle, the space is there, the need is there, the potential is there. The question is – is the political leadership there? Neil, Jim and Andy – over to you.