This post first appeared as ‘Decisions on cycling have a lasting legacy, so the bar has to be set high at the outset’ in the September 2015 edition of the ‘Sutton Borough News and Update’. The ‘Sutton Borough News and Update’ can be downloaded from our Newsletters page.
If there is one thing that the Green Wrythe Lane saga tells us, it is that cycling schemes in Sutton (good or bad) currently take years to come to fruition. The latest proposals for Green Wrythe Lane were received at the end of July, and these outline the third stage of footway conversion to shared-use due to be implemented in 2016. Considering that the first stage was completed in 2012, it is likely that councillors who were serving in the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley committee area during 2011 were responsible for agreeing to, or deciding on, the original concept of a footway cycleway route along the length of Green Wrythe Lane. Consequently, by completion next year, it would have taken nearly five years, and perhaps funding of around £500,000, to widen a footway along one side of the 1.5 km or so of Green Wrythe Lane just to get a few more people cycling around the margins. Of course, the derisory levels of funding for cycling, associated with the LIP process that is arguably in need of reform, has not helped.
But with the Cycling Strategy on its way, are projects for cycling in Sutton about to significantly improve, and be delivered more quickly? Well, something may be delivered more quickly, but there is now concern that getting things done quickly will come at the price of not doing things properly. The “next big thing” for cycling (arguably the “first big thing” as far as Sutton is concerned) is Quietways, and there are currently two planned for the borough. The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling (March 2013) describes Quietways as high-quality routes created on low-traffic backstreets, where rat run-type streets will be blocked to through motor traffic, where complicated crossings of big roads will be removed, where segregation will, wherever possible, be provided (e.g. if the Quietway briefly joins a main road), and where new cycling and pedestrian bridges will be built across barriers such as railways to link up side-street routes (pages 14-15). The sort of things, indeed, that are outlined in Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton (June 2014).
Surely, therefore, there are some grounds for optimism? Well yes, except that Sutton Council’s Draft Cycling Delivery Strategy (July 2015) suggests that “the overarching principle for the Quietways infrastructure is ‘lines and signs’ rather than major new infrastructure” (page 11), and appears to have a vision for Quietways as simply being “upgraded” LCN routes (page 14). As to whether the delivering of these routes will be managed in accordance with the latest London Cycling Design Standards, the strategy adds a caveat “as far as possible” (page 13). To cap it all, the strategy’s Action Plan gives a timeframe of “short to medium” (page 24), for the delivery of the two Quietways that, when combined, have an end-to-end street length of 20 km or more. Put simply, it seems there are high aspirations for delivery time, but low aspirations on what is actually being delivered.
If the outcome of delivering a step-change in cycling is to be realised, the development of these first routes is going to require much more than ‘lines and signs’. Some rat-run type streets are going to have to be blocked to through motor traffic, for a trial period at least, in order to reduce traffic volume (e.g. in the vicinity of Browning Avenue, Worcester Park), and some major new infrastructure is going to have to be constructed to remove complicated crossings of big roads (e.g. a significantly improved cycle facility spanning the A24 at North Cheam). For a cycling delivery strategy to be truly strategic in approach, it needs to make the case for these types on interventions. One advantage of Sutton being on of the last boroughs in London to receive funding for the ambitious Quietways programme, is that we have time to learn from other boroughs on the issues that they are inevitably experiencing (e.g. Croydon’s trial closure of Norbury Avenue). So let’s do things more quickly than in the past, but let’s not trade quality for speed of delivery. Whether Sutton is a borough with the “cycling-vibe” in ten years time, depends on the decisions made today. The opportunity must be taken now to set the bar high.