Yesterday (13 June 2015), newly elected Sutton and Cheam MP, Paul Scully, held surgeries at several locations across the constituency for the first time since his election on 5 May. I took the opportunity to go along to Paul’s afternoon surgery, being held at Sutton Central Library, as I wanted to try and ensure that cycling was on his agenda from the outset.
Although I had not made an appointment ahead of my visit, Paul was kind enough to make time to see me during a five-minute window between those who had.
Not just about cycling
I introduced myself as the borough coordinator for the London Cycling Campaign in Sutton (borough group Get Sutton Cycling), and began by saying that Get Sutton Cycling was as much about making Sutton a better place to live, work, go to school and do business, as it was about cycling. Furthermore, cycling was rising up the political agenda (noting that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, had appointed Andrew Gilligan as Cycling Commissioner). Politically, we didn’t want Sutton to get left behind!
It was gratifying to learn that Paul remembered a tweet that Get Sutton Cycling had posted in the days following his election, which mentioned the Mayor of London: “Congratulations Paul. We hope you bring some of Boris’ enthusiasm for cycling to Sutton and Cheam”.
Achieving cross-party support for cycling
One of the main points I wanted to make to Paul was that I thought it was important to try and ensure that, by the time of the 2018 local elections in three years time, there was cross-party support for cycling in the borough. I am not sure whether Paul took that idea fully on-board. Paul did say, however, that he wanted Sutton to offer something different, and not compete head-on with Kingston and Croydon. I agreed with that!
Delivering ‘Space for Cycling’
I presented Paul with a printed copy of the text version of our ‘Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton‘ document from 2014 and mentioned that at the time of the Space for Cycling ward asks campaign, Sutton had had the lowest support amongst borough councillors across London (with the exception of Bexley and Hillingdon). Paul was surprised at this, mentioning all the work that went in to the Smarter Travel Sutton initiative (2007 to 2009) when he was a councillor.
Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton (text version) (Get Sutton Cycling, June 2014) is available as a pdf here.
Reviewing ‘Smarter Travel Sutton’
Smarter Travel Sutton was certainly a very worthwhile initiative. It had produced some useful research around travel behaviour. Interestingly, though, most attention had been on the subsequently reported 75 per cent increase in cycling. This increase in cycling was continuing to be banded about, however, without noting that the increase was relative to a very small base. In other words, 75 per cent of ‘next to nothing’ was ‘next to nothing’. I suggested to Paul that it was disappointing that only now, six years later, were we reading that the borough was to build on the success of Smarter Travel Sutton – see the foreword to Sutton’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (approved in March 2015 but, three months later, still not on the council’s website).
Sustainable Transport Strategy (LB of Sutton, June 2015) is available as a pdf here.
Smarter Travel Sutton – lessons learnt in the delivery of a behaviour change programme (LB of Sutton / TfL, November 2009) is available as a pdf here.
Discussing parking and the local economy
We briefly discussed one of Paul’s action plans about boosting the local economy by making parking easier. I pointed out that there was now a lot of evidence and research to suggest that plentiful car parking did not necessarily mean greater commercial success. Our recent blog post Heart of Hackbridge and space for cycling, discussed whether kerb-side parking, as a must for local shops, was fact or myth. I suggested that making parking easier was one thing (noting that technology can help with this, possibly through apps to inform people where to park), but greater priority needs to be given to walking and cycling short distances to High Streets. Cycling will only be an option for most people if cycling is perceived as a safe, comfortable and viable option. One way to help deliver that is to provide protected cycle tracks on busy roads. Clearly, when space is contested, there are challenges. But when the choice is between making space for kerb side parking or making space for protected cycle tracks, parking is prioritised. At Get Sutton Cycling, we think it is time to review that approach.
All too soon, time was up. It was good to have a chat with Paul, and I left thinking that he appreciated what I had to say. Hopefully, in the months and years ahead, our new MP will, as the Get Sutton Cycling tweet on 8 May suggested, help bring some of Boris’ enthusiasm for cycling to Sutton and Cheam.
So, thanks again Paul. And let’s remember, this is not just about cycling….
Does cycling in Sutton feel comfortable and safe?
One thing that I did not mention to Paul, and perhaps I should have done, was that on my way to see him at the Central Library (a short journey on foot) I happened to see someone cycling from Cheam Road (eastbound) on the wrong side of the road! They were crossing to Sutton Park Road (southbound – one-way gyratory) against traffic through the hatched-out area of the carriageway, in order to reach the safety of the central pedestrian island. Then the cyclist proceeded southbound on the footway of the northbound, one-way, Sutton Park Road.
Crazy, you say! Yes, I agree. Not a good idea at all and certainly not something to be recommended. But, this, in a sense, this just goes to show how bad things are for cycling in Sutton. There is little dedicated, robust, fit for purpose infrastructure for cycling, and the road network is designed for the movement of motor vehicles not for the movement of people. The cyclist was simply taking a short cut, to avoid the additional distance required on the heavily trafficked gyratory. The additional distance, of around 400 meters, would hardly be noticed by a motorist, but to a vulnerable road user with up to three lanes of one-way traffic to contend with, believe me, is not good.
[14.06.2015]; Tweets linked 05.02.2020