St Helier effectively says no to cycling

Following an uninspiring delivery from Gary Smith, Sutton Council’s Head of Highways and Transport Services, ward councillors representing the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee have said no to a recommendation from Council Officers that, had it been agreed, could have started the process of bringing transformative cycling infrastructure to the borough.

St Helier Avenue, west side., looking south towards Rosehill roundabout. Will this always be the end of the road? When the going gets tough, dismount. Photo: Charles Martin, 22 August 2014

St Helier Avenue, west side, looking south towards Rosehill roundabout. Will this always be the end of the cycling road? Will it always be a case of when the going gets tough, dismount? Photo: Charles Martin, 22 August 2014. Approximately the same location can be viewed on Google Streetview

At the committee meeting on 8 October 2015, audio recordings of which are available on the council’s website, Chair of the Committee Cllr. Jean Crossby, (Liberal Democrat, St Helier), introduced the report “Proposed cycle facilities on the TfL Road network” under Agenda Item 8 (a link to the audio recording for this item is given below). The report was being presented to seek support from the committee regarding two cycling infrastructure schemes on Transport for London roads in the St Helier ward that had been recommended, and agreed in principle, by Council Officers. The schemes related to Rosehill roundabout [Open Street Map | Google Maps | Street Map] and to Reigate Avenue (A217) [Open Street Map | Google Maps | Street Map], and had been derived from our Space for Cycling ‘ward asks’ of June 2014.

Support from councillors would not automatically guarantee that the proposals would go ahead. The report was simply a recommendation for consideration. The report included details of other proposals at locations elsewhere in the borough, to be brought to the appropriate Local Committee over the coming weeks.

Fundamentally, the report was all about passing on the Space for Cycling ideas associated with ‘red routes’ to TfL for their comments. The report does not include any outline designs, or layout drawings. Essentially, it was about starting the process of looking at the feasibility and the options for Rosehill roundabout. Importantly, it was about engaging with TfL. It was about demonstrating that the borough has aspirations for cycling so that, should a future Mayor of London follows the current mayor’s lead and ask boroughs to bid for funding from part of a £1 billion cycling investment programme, Sutton would be in a better position to secure funding.

Essentially, it was about starting the process of looking at the feasibility and the options for Rosehill roundabout. Importantly, it was about engaging with TfL.

The councillors agreed that the proposal relating to the A217 cycle paths should be presented to TfL, but that the proposal involving Rosehill roundabout (potentially involving, ultimately, a major redesign in order to facilitate stress-free cycling) should not.

To read more about these proposals, and our reaction to the news that they were on the agenda, see our post “Major cycling schemes for TfL roads to be presented to councillors”. The reports “Proposed cycle facilities on the TfL Road network” and “Appendix A: London Cycling Campaign ward asks on TfL roads”, are available from the same page.

StHelierSaysNoToCycling_Screenshot_StHelierTheWrytheAndWandleValleyMap_MarkedUp

The St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee map, as downloaded from Sutton Council’s website on 1 November 2015 (annotated by the author to highlight Rosehill roundabout and Reigate Avenue, and make correction to wards).

Disappointment and concern

When we first heard that Sutton Council had decided to prioritise the presentation of recommendations relating to roads that form part of the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN), i.e. the A24, A217 and A232, over ideas that we had for borough roads, we suggested this could be considered either as “passing the buck” or a “canny move”. Nevertheless, it was hoped that the discussions would help put cycling higher up the agenda for Sutton’s councillors. In that regard, it probably has achieved the objective. It is just a pity, though, that this is not now going to be seen in such a positive light.

Now that the proposal for Rosehill roundabout has fallen at the first hurdle, we are, as would be expected, disappointed. But, having listened to the recording of this agenda item, and the items that preceded it, it really is not all that surprising that the proposal for the roundabout was rejected. A full transcript of the events, along with the audio clip, is presented below. The conclusion from this is that the whole process was a total shambles.

If that were not bad enough, there is another worrying aspect. The printed minutes of the meeting were released on the Council’s website on 29 October (after the audio recording), and these do not appear to reflect the outcome relating to the cycling report (item 8 in the agenda, becoming item 22 in the minutes).

The minutes relating to the report “Proposed cycle facilities on the TfL Road network”, state that “….the scheme involving Rosehill roundabout would not be presented to Transport for London for consideration”. But in support of this, there is just one sentence: “Members were not happy with the proposal for Rosehill roundabout due to safety concerns”. Apart for the ambiguity of “due to safety concerns” (because improving the safety of people on bicycles is one very important reasons for the proposals, so safety to whom exactly?) this implied reason is very different from the story that the transcript tells of the proceedings. Consequently, the limited detail provided in the minutes could be considered to be misleading and disingenuous. This, arguably, brings into question the integrity of the reporting aspects of local committee meetings.

“Members were not happy with the proposal for Rosehill roundabout due to safety concerns”

A lack-lustre presentation

The presentation of “Proposed cycle facilities on the TfL Road network” under Agenda Item 8, by the Head of Highways and Transport Services, was rushed through in an apologetic manner that suggested Mr. Smith had no interest in the proposals and was sorry to have to bring them to the attention of the committee. Listening to the recording, there appears to have been a cavalier feel to the proceedings. Indeed, Mr. Smith did not even complete the presentation, stopping mid-sentence and then adding “don’t blame me”. Importantly, he made no reference to the part of the report that provided the background to the proposals. So, all in all, it is not clear what the role of Sutton Council’s Head of Highways and Transport Services was in this shambles. Presumably his job is to report the schemes brought forward by his employer (the Council), not to criticise them.

A mockery of the Sustainable Transport Strategy and Cycling Delivery Strategy

There is little to suggest that the councillors present were conversant with the proposals. Presumably all had received the Agenda Pack prior to the meeting, but there was no meaningful discussion that suggested they were aware of why these proposals were being made. It could be said, therefore, that the councillors were making decisions on proposals that were not fully presented, and on which they appeared to know little about. It all makes a mockery really of the Council’s new Sustainable Transport Strategy, and the emerging Cycling Delivery Strategy. If any of the councillors present would care to share their views on this, we would love to hear from them.

It could be said that the councillors were making decisions on proposals that were not fully presented, and on which they appeared to know little about

Some context

The transcript to the agenda item requires some context. Firstly, it should be noted that this agenda item started approximately one hour and forty-five minutes into the meeting and that the meeting continued for another hour after the item had been reported. Consequently, there was a lot to cover during the evening, (and arguably too much on the agenda). Cllr. Crossby had mentioned at the start of the meeting that it was necessary to keep to the times outlined on the agenda.

Secondly, it is important to be aware that Rosehill roundabout had featured strongly in a prior item on the agenda, Item 6 ‘Transport for London’, presentation by Stephen Heeley, TfL Borough Engagement Manager (South) in relation to the SCOOT Active Traffic Management system. During the question and answer session that followed the presentation, one or two members of the public said that the situation had deteriorated at the roundabout as a result of the changes (despite Stephen suggesting that monitoring had indicated otherwise). Consequently these, and other conversations on Rosehill roundabout associated with agenda Item 6, probably explained (but did not excuse) the instantaneous, and negative, responses to the roundabout in the cycling report agenda Item 8.

On the same wavelength

Whilst on the subject of Stephen’s presentation to the committee (which is also available to download from the committee meeting web page), there are a couple of points worth mentioning arising from that. Stephen noted London’s rising population and constrained road space, but a primary focus in his presentation appeared to be on the role technology could play in easing traffic congestion. Given TfL’s commitment to transform cycling in London and to improve the environment for all road users by implementing innovative designs, I think it was a pity that Stephen did not mention the role cycling could (and needs to) play to reduce traffic levels, alleviate traffic congestion, mitigate poor air quality, and give a boost to public health. After all, in this outer London borough, and probably in most other similar suburban areas too, many trips by car are not over particularly taken over long distances. To quote from the borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) “over 50% of car journeys in Sutton are less than 5km (3 miles)”. Incidentally, the strategy also mentions “Sutton’s reputation as a pioneering borough for sustainable transport…”. To be fair, Stephen may have been given a brief for his talk to try and assuage concerns about “the thing of the moment”, or “thing of the recent past”, (but, either way, it is “the thing that is not going away”), and that is, of course, Rosehill roundabout. He may also have tailored his presentation for an audience for whom cycling is a mode of transport that is so far removed from their psyche (the reasons for which are clear) that it is simply not on their radar. (And, of course, given the outcome of the meeting, that is exactly how it is likely to remain). Interestingly though, the cover to his presentation included a mosaic of twelve photos, four of which proudly illustrated the new super-cycle highways currently being constructed in central London!

The front page to Stephen's presentation. What a great cover, lot's of things for cycling on the outside (zone 1) but alas not on the inside (zone 5)?

The front page to Stephen’s presentation. What a great cover, showing lot’s of things going on for cycling on the outside (or the inside of zone 1) but, alas, not on the inside (or outside of zone 2)…… yet. The full presentation (along with items on Rosehill Traders, and the Sutton Local Plan, plus in separate files the Wandle Valley Big Green Fund and latest options on Hackbridge), are available from the Committee’s meetings page. It’s amazing what goes on at Local Committee meetings – but perhaps just a little too much was packed in this time?

Joined-up thinking?

Stephen left the meeting before the report on cycling was presented. Whether he was made aware of the cycling report is not known, but it would have been helpful if those tasked with forming the agenda had actually recognised the opportunity to link the two items. After all, Rosehill roundabout can feel very unsafe and uninviting even for experienced “cyclists”, and the existing cycling “infrastructure” is simply not fit for purpose. Importantly, the provision of high-quality protected Space for Cycling could transform the area and be good for business. And that would be something that The Blossoming Rose: Rosehill Traders Market (agenda item 9 of the same meeting) would have been interested in. After all, a bit of joined-up thinking can work wonders.

A bit of joined-up thinking can work wonders

Presentation of Agenda Item 8 “Proposed cycle facilities on TfL Road Network”

So, how did the conversation pan out when the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley local committee came to the point in the proceedings on 8 October 2015 when it was time to discuss Agenda Item 8, Proposed cycle facilities on the TfL Road Network? A transcript follows to enable us to find out. The two primary speakers are the Chair, Councillor Jean Crossby, and the Head of Highways and Transport Services at Sutton Council, Mr. Gary Smith. One other speaker is heard (in may be two), mainly off-microphone. It is believed that Cllr Colin Steers, Vice Chair, may have spoken, but this has yet to be ascertained. Again, if any of the councillors present would care to share their views on this, we would love to hear from them.

The councillors who attended the meeting where:

Cllr. Jean Crossby (Chair) (Liberal Democrat, St Helier)
Cllr. Colin Steers (Vice-Chair) (Liberal Democrat, The Wrythe)
Cllr. Margaret Court (Liberal Democrat, Wandle Valley)
Cllr. Doug Hunt (Liberal Democrat, St Helier)
Cllr. Callum Morton (Liberal Democrat, The Wrythe)
Cllr. Nail Patel (Liberal Democrat, The Wrythe)
Cllr. Jason Reynolds (Liberal Democrat, Wandle Valley)
Cllr. Hanna Zuchowska (Liberal Democrat, Wandle Valley)

As an aside, there is some disappointment that Cllr. Hanna Zuchowska did not speak up in favour of the proposal for Rosehill roundabout as she is one of the eleven councillors in the borough have shown their support for Space for Cycling (see “And then there were ten!” –  although there are now eleven, with the inclusion of Cllr. Tim Crowley, (Conservative, Carshalton South and Clockhouse), as noted in an update on the page). Also, in October 2014, Cllr. Zuchowska and Cllr. Callum Morton both abstained when the decision was taken by the Local Committee to convert part of the Green Wrythe Lane pavement into a footway cycleway. Given the impact this conversion has made to the cycling landscape, I would suggest that Hanna and Callum’s decision at the time transpired to be the right one (or the next best thing to voting against). “Green Wrthye Lane, one year on”, is likely to be the title of a forthcoming post, so keep a look out for this. To be fair to Hanna, and the other councillors present on this occasion, they may have been so washed along in the commotion that immediately followed the very mention of Rosehill roundabout (as will be seen) that they therefore thought it better to say nothing. I think I would probably have done the same, in similar circumstances!

Transcript of Agenda Item 8 “Proposed cycle facilities on TfL Road Network”

The audio recording is available on the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee audio recordings page or can be played below:

Cllr. Crossby: “[Now we have got Proposed cycle facilities on the] Transport for London Highway network. Is that you?”

Cllr. Crossby is referring to Gary Smith, Head of Highways and Transport at Sutton Council. Some laughter follows when Mr. Smith returns to the microphone, having just spoken on the previous agenda item 7 – Minor parking requests – which sounds like it had sped through at a fair rate of knots.

Mr. Smith: “Yes. Thank you, chair. It’s me again!”

Cllr. Crossby: “Be quick then!”

Nothing wrong with a bit of banter to lighten up proceedings. In fact, for a three-hour long meeting, thank goodness for it! But when it comes to the “serious” stuff (that is serious in the sense of decisions that are made in a matter of minutes but which could have an impact for several years to come), a little more decorum and professionalism is in order.

Mr. Smith: “I will. There’s a bit more words in this one. So I apologise for this one, but I will be very quick. So the report outlines a number of cycling infrastructure schemes on the Transport for London highway network. That’s the A217, the A232 and the A24, that have been suggested by Sutton representatives of the London Cycle Campaign supported in principle by officers. With the support of councillors, the cycling infrastructure schemes will be presented to Transport for London for consideration. We have one scheme in your area. The report details all the schemes that are covered for the whole of Sutton. For the one scheme in your area is, er, St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley local committee. The theme is to protect space on main roads and at junctions. This is the A217, redesign Rosehill roundabout… which I just thought I would mention..”

So here we start to go off the rails…. Incidentally, it is the London ‘Cycling’ Campaign, and the theme is ‘protected’ space on main roads and at junctions.

It would have been much better if the full citation, as set out in Appendix A to the report, has been read: “Main roads are often the worst places for cycling because of fast moving and heavy traffic, yet they are crucial to so many journeys in London. Creation of protected cycle lanes and the redesign of major junctions are needed to create safe Space for Cycling on main roads. This is high on the wish-list of many people who currently already cycle in Sutton. The provision of protected space is through segregation from motorised vehicles and pedestrians. Different types of segregation includes full segregation using full height kerbs etc. to provide a continuous route for cyclists or ‘lightly segregated’ or ‘kerbed’ cycle paths”.

Before the half-hearted attempt to detail the proposals for the St Helier ward (again, provided in Appendix A), it would have been useful for Mr. Smith to have given some background to the Space for Cycling initiative. Appendix A provides this through a link to “Creating Space for Cycling: a guide for Councillors” (which, as an aside, features Eleanor Purser, Sutton Council’s Executive Head of Economic Development, Planning and Sustainability, on the cover). This guide aims to showcase the kind of policies and measures that help to create safe and inviting space for cycling that will enable all types of people, of all ages and abilities, to cycle safely. (It is worth noting, especially as our population ages, that nineteen out of twenty people in London over the age of 65 never cycle, and therefore are being denied the health benefits and the joy of cycling. This is something that all councillors present would have been aware of, had they read Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton, printed copies of which they had all personally received, delivered by hand, in the summer of 2014). “Creating Space for Cycling: a guide for Councillors” defines Space for Cycling, sets out the benefits of cycling (benefits for everyone, whether they cycle, or whether they will cycle, or not), and provides a host of emerging, best practice design solutions.

Anyway, instead of that, we get this:

Cllr. Crossby: Cries of “No! No!”

This response suggests (or confirms really) that Cllr. Crossby was unaware of the details of the proposal. The proposal is simply to recommend that TfL consider innovative designs for cycling at the roundabout. The proposal is all about starting the process of looking at the feasibility and the options for Rosehill roundabout, nothing more. TfL have not produced any designs, and traffic engineers are not arriving next Monday (or even next year). Our aspiration is for the very best cycling infrastructure in St Helier, so this would be a redesign from the ground up. Therefore, we do not expect the transformation of Rosehill roundabout (the transformation that Rosehill and St Helier deserves) to begin any time soon. Even if the recommendation by Council officers had been approved at this meeting, the chances of any significant work commencing before the next council elections in 2018 would have been slim. In addition, decisions around the possibility of a tram route here would have to be taken into account. Mr. Smith ought to have made all of this quite clear. Now, of course, the chances of Rosehill being a cycle-friendly place, even post 2018, are potentially severely reduced. Obviously, we are talking about TfL roads here, so there is no requirement for the approval of councillors prior to TfL making any decisions. However, a very loud and clear message is being sent to Transport for London from Sutton that transformative changes for cycling are not wanted in this area.

Continuing…

Mr. Smith: “Don’t blame me. Come on!

Unknown: [not clear] “I would certainly say no! I would not action that’

Mr. Smith: “I’m happy….. If you want to say no, I’m fine”.

Cllr. Crossby: “We will say no.”

Mr. Smith: “Excellent! I fully agree with you on that one”.

Okay, so there is some joviality and excitement in the air. But is it really the place of the Head of Highways and Transport Services to proffer his views like this? Is he disagreeing with Sutton Council officer recommendations?

Cllr. Crossby: Are we agreed?

Chorus: Yes!

Not clear whether this is from members of the public, or the councillors.

Cllr. Crossby: “Are we saying no?

Unknown: Yes

Cllr. Crossby: Thank you, we are saying no”.

Mr. Smith: “Thank you very much chair, I humbly accept that”

Cllr. Crossby: “Thank you” and laughs.

Mr. Smith: [not clear] without…(?).

Cllr. Crossby: “Thank you very much Gary”

Some generally muttering then takes place for about ten seconds. Perhaps Mr. Smith thinks his work is over, and so has left the floor. Then….

Cllr. Crossby: “Hang on Gary, there are two parts of that apparently.’

“Apparently”? Is that the confirmation that Cllr. Crossby has little idea of what this is all about? Some further confusion entails…

Cllr. Crossby: “There’s the roundabout and then the….

Some prompting is heard…

Mr. Smith, “..and the upgrades to the segregated cycle paths from Reigate Avenue and St Helier Avenue…”

Cllr. Crossby: “Are we saying no to that?”

Unknown, off microphone: “No, because they are there anyway”

“They” presumably referring to the existing, largely unfit for purpose, cycle paths

Cllr. Crossby: “They are there anyway. So it’s just an extension? Yes. We are saying no to the Rosehill.

Who said anything about an extension? Oh dear, not looking good.

Mr. Smith: “Yep”

Cllr. Crossby: “But yes to the …”

Mr. Smith: “upgrades..”

..without knowing what any of it’s about?

Mr. Smith: “…but yes to the upgrades”

..and without knowing what that entails either?

Mr. Smith: “…upgrades”

Cllr. Crossby: “Yes, yes the upgrade”

Unknown, off-microphone (difficult to hear completely): “The first part is likely to reduce the width available to the amount of traffic isn’t it?”

 Excuse me? The designs are not on the table. Furthermore, TfL would undertake traffic modeling. What are you saying here?

Mr. Smith: “It would do, yes”

So, an absolutely unsubstantiated, and unfounded, comment from the Head Of Highways and Transport Services!

Unknown, off-microphone: “So it is going to make Rosehill roundabout even worse?”

This is leading question, your honor! But it is also the usual presumption. Even if space that is currently being used by general traffic were to be reallocated to cycling (and, again, we are nowhere near that sort of scenario), some local short journeys that people currently make by car could be switched to sustainable modes. This would remove some pressure from the road network. And that seems right for a borough that has the aspiration to be “London’s most sustainable suburb” (Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015)).

Cllr. Crossby: “Worse”

Mr. Smith: “It would do, yes”

Cllr. Crossby: “Yes. Okay, stay as we are with that one. But yes with the..”

Mr. Smith: “…but go forward with this second one?”

Cllr. Crossby: “Yes”

Mr. Smith: “Right thank you very much”.

Cllr. Crossby: “Thank you”.

Mr. Smith: “One final thing chair. I didn’t say on the Hackbridge thing, but the plans are at the back if anyone wants to have a look at after the meeting so we will leave them up. Okay?”

Cllr. Crossby: “Okay.”

Mr. Smith: “Thank you.”

Cllr. Crossby: “Thank you.”

Unknown, off-microphone: “Sorry chair. May I just ask? We have gone against the recommendation…. of officers. What will that mean? Because obviously it was recommended that this be accepted. So what effect is that going to have?”

Cllr. Crossby: “We are saying no.”

Unknown: “Because we said no now, does that mean to say that it is not to go through?”

Mr. Smith: “That won’t go through. I will cross it off. All we have…. We have gone through everything…evaluated…, just like the parking request. We recommend it, right. At the end of the day you will take the political flack for it”

Laughter

Yes, it is laughable! Is there any meaningful evaluation during that dialogue?

Mr. Smith continues: “….so therefore, (pause for general laughter) ….therefore if you don’t want it, I’m not going to propose it! Right! So it’s dead.”

Unknown: “I just wanted it clarified…”

Cllr. Crossby: “Will we give you the flack back!”

Mr. Smith: “So I’ll get the flack now for TfL because they wanted it. But…”

TfL know (or knew) nothing about these recommendations surely? This is the process of seeking councillors’ agreement to recommend them!

Unknown (councillor?): “Sorry chair. Because quite often when we talk about decisions that effect TfL, it comes back and bites us because they say you really haven’t got the powers to do that anyway. It’s a TfL decision. So that’s really why I wanted it clarified. If we make a decision here, can it be overturned anywhere along the process by TfL?”

TfL clearly cannot overturn something that has not been proposed (or recommended as was going to be the case here)! They can come up with their own proposals though. The thing is, after this debacle, will they bother?

Mr. Smith: “We will not be proposing it to TfL. Okay”

Cllr. Crossby: “Okay, thank you Gary”

Mr. Smith: “Cheers”.

Yes, cheers Gary!

What to make of all that!

How impressed are you with that? Is this what we expect from our elected representatives?

It has occurred to me that an alternative title to this blog post could have been “how to kiss goodbye to a potential £30million in four minutes”! The £30million referring to the sort of level of funding that successful cycling boroughs (Kingston, Enfield and Waltham Forest) are in the process of receiving following their successful mini-Holland bids in 2013. If you want the cash, you have to make the case. We have said that somewhere before, haven’t we? It looks like, here in Sutton, we are going to have to stick with 70p/year/head for the foreseeable future. There is likely to be some additional cash for Quiteways, but giving TfL the wrong message may, who knows, have implications for that. And we have already said that it is important for Quietways to be delivered to a high standard. Talking of cash, did you know that spending on cycling is highly cost effective, yielding £10 of economic benefits for every £1 invested? Cycling and the economy, CTC, May 2015).

Let’s now turn our attention to the printed minutes of the agenda.

The printed minutes to Agenda Item 8 “Proposed cycle facilities on TfL Road Network”

On 29 October, the printed minutes to the meeting were published. These minutes were entitled ‘draft’, although are taken as ‘final’ because the minutes from all previous meetings are shown as ‘draft’ too. As already noted, these minutes suggest that the reason given for councillors not supporting the idea that Sutton Council should approach TfL around ideas for transformative cycling infrastructure at Rosehill roundabout (or, to put it another way, to let TfL know that “Sutton gets cycling, and at some time in the future would like some cash please”) was because there were concerns of safety. “Members were not happy with the proposal for Rosehill roundabout due to safety concerns”.

Now, having read the transcript (or listened to the audio) of the proceedings, is that the conclusion that you draw? What aspect of safety (and of course the safety of everyone travelling is of great importance) did members actually specify in reaching their conclusion? There is talk of making the roundabout worse. On what evidence, and for whom, you may well ask.

It is clear that the decisions being made were based on an incomplete understanding (or misunderstanding) of what was being proposed. There were no design proposals. These were simply recommendations to be put forward to Transport for London. Recommendations that could, ultimately, lead to the area around Rosehill roundabout becoming considerably safer for all users and visitors to the area. In other words, quite the opposite to what the printed minutes would suggest the members were not happy about (interpreted here as conditions becoming less safe). This is why I suggested at the beginning of this post that the minutes could be considered to be misleading and disingenuous, and that this, arguably, brings into question the integrity of the reporting aspects of local committee meetings. When we are writing the minutes let’s just say that there were concerns with safety. Who can argue with that?

It would appear to me (unless something was said later in the proceedings that I am unaware of) that the councillors thought the proposals for Rosehill (as they understood them, or as were presented to them incorrectly) equated to a “done deal for imminent bedlam at the roundabout”. Perhaps the thought process in the moments after hearing Mr. Smith utter the words “This is the A217, redesign Rosehill roundabout… which I just thought I would mention..” went something like: not again, drop it, it’s a hot potato, beam me up Scotty! Actually, it would have been refreshing to see those sorts of phrases in the printed minutes. At least then, the members would only have been found guilty of the charge of not understanding what they were being asked to consider. As it is, the proceedings are further discredited by publishing minutes that do not reflect what actually occurred.

In all doesn’t make sense, what is going on?

Despite agreement of the second proposal, to ask TfL to consider and evaluate ideas around upgrades to the existing cycle paths along Reigate Avenue, it is clear that cycling is still not seen by councillors in this corner of the borough as a transport mode that matters [1]. There is little point upgrading paths on the northern section of the A217 Reigate Avenue, only to do nothing at Rosehill roundabout. Insult to injury really. Reigate Avenue, being the easier option – we’ll have that cash thanks very much, “they” (the cycle paths) are already there, so no problems with disturbing traffic flows, it’s a win-win situation – suggests that only things that will not disturb the status-quo can be agree to. The status-quo, I would suggest, is not an option for the longer term.

[1] Further signs of this have been seen Green Wrythe Lane footway cycleway (St Helier ward and The Wrythe ward), and in the Heart of Hackbridge (Wandle Valley ward)).

Another interesting aspect of all this is that St Helier, and Rosehill, featured strongly in the mini-Holland bid of interest document written by the Council in the summer of 2013 (available from our Publications page). Here are three extracts:

“….we will focus on C2DE social groups in the ‘Northern Wards’ of St. Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley, where there is low car ownership, higher than average unemployment and disadvantage and rates of obesity and ill health. Cycling provides a low cost and healthy means of transport and exercise which can open up access to employment and education in these areas.

Rosehill district centre is at the heart of the St. Helier estate, London’s second largest public housing estate, which has relatively low car ownership and higher than average levels of unemployment and poor health. It also contains St. Helier Hospital, the main hospital in the borough (and serving large parts of Merton), which is a major employer and has significant parking demand. We would therefore aim to work with local residents and the hospital to increase cycling rates as part of promoting healthy active lifestyles and reducing parking pressure.

Rosehill, which is on the northern edge of the borough on the main routes to Mitcham and Morden. It contains a major roundabout at the intersection of six roads, one of which, the A217, is a TRLN road which contains a partially segregated cycle track that could function as a major commuter route towards Morden and CS7 at South Wimbledon. We would like to work with TfL to improve the A217 cycle track and cycle facilities at Rosehill roundabout”. (My emphasis, of course, in the last sentence).

Diagram that features in Sutton's mini-Holland expression of interest document from 2013. Rose hill roundabout -

Figure 4 from Sutton’s mini-Holland expression of interest document (2013). “Junctions requiring treatment” include Rosehill roundabout.

So what, exactly, is going on over two years after the Council submitted this mini-Holland bid?

What, exactly, is going on, six months after the Sustainable Transport Strategy was approved by the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, with talk of Sutton aiming to become London’s most sustainable suburb – a place where people want to live and work for its excellent quality of life? A Sustainable Transport Strategy which refers to a Road User Hierarchy, a hierarchy that sets out how road users and associated transport schemes should be prioritised within Sutton, and which includes the clear statement that the consideration of pedestrians (particularly elderly people, and those with mobility impairments) and cyclists and public transport comes above local and non-local motorised traffic.

What, exactly, is going on, six months after the Sustainable Transport Strategy was approved?

What, exactly, is going on, just weeks before the publication of the borough’s Cycling Delivery Strategy, which will set out how the Council is responding to the renewed focus on cycling in London being promoted by the Mayor in his Vision for Cycling and by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling report? A cycling strategy, incidentally, in which the draft version included Cllr. Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, telling us that this would be a strategy with the aim of making cycling the mode of choice for short local journeys.

What, exactly, is going on, just weeks before the publication of the borough’s Cycling Delivery Strategy?

What, exactly, is going on? It does not make sense.

The bottom line is this. Rosehill roundabout is a busy intersection, and it can be intimidating place to many who cycle here. So, it is difficult to see how people will be enticed to make short local journeys by bicycle here, unless there is, ultimately, a major redesign to the roundabout. Furthermore, Rosehill roundabout is linked to a district centre and is a gateway to Sutton. The rejection of the Rosehill proposal, which is just essentially about seeking the views of TfL, does little to instill much confidence that the Council is committed to cycling. Especially so, in light of the sustainable transport and cycling strategies.

Closing thoughts

Remember this from the Leader of the Council Ruth Dombey, at the Sutton Cycle Summit on 23 July 2015: “We have the political will, now we need action!”?

Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, attended and spoke at that Cycle Summit in July, and also at Tom Brake’s Cycle Summit in January 2014. In June 2015, Caroline, along with Val Shawcross, was voted the joint Cycling Champion of the Year by the London Cycling Campaign’s members in recognition of her work holding the Mayor and Transport for London to account on cycling issues and for her work on the London Assembly Transport Committee. The LCC Chief Executive Ashok Sinha said at the time: “The London Cycling Awards celebrate the vitality of all things cycling in London. Our winners are pioneers who have strived to make our streets safer for cycling and to attract new cyclists”. Cycling matters to Caroline.

In a little over seven months time, in May 2016, a new mayor for London will be elected. Caroline is standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate. How will her team confidentially prepare a manifesto, that will inevitably feature issues around transport and the role that cycling can play to make London a more liveable city, when the only local authority in London to have a Liberal Democrat administration (celebrating 30 years in 2016) appears to be lagging behind? It would make Caroline’s task much easier if Sutton could demonstrate it was on its way to become a beacon of cycling excellence.

Talking about elections, don’t forget that a pledge to “Implement recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report, including steps to deliver a £10 per head annual spend on cycling” was presented in the Liberal Democrat manifesto in May 2015. Fantastic (although the Dutch spend £40 per head (and have done so for years)).

With the forthcoming planned merger of the Sutton and Kingston transport teams, we must hope that a more positive approach to cycling in our borough will result. With Sutton’s emerging Cycling Delivery Strategy expected next month, we must hope that this will act as a statement of policy, complement the Council’s Sustainable Transport Strategy, and provide ‘top-down’ policy to help direct decisions that councillors make on cycling at future Local Committee meetings. Remember, this is not just for “cyclists”, and it is not just for now. It is for everyone, and it is for the future generations who will live and work in our wonderful borough.

Remember, this is not just for “cyclists”, and it is not just for now. It is for everyone, and it is for the future generations who will live and work in our wonderful borough.

Postscript

Thank you for reading this post. Some of you may have found it uncomfortable reading, and I apologise for that. At the same time, though, I hope you agree that it is considered and fair. It has not been my intention to bring concern or distress to anyone who is mentioned, and I am certainly not endeavouring to apportion blame, or to get anyone into trouble. I think we can all agree, though, that there is some room for improvement.

Anyway, as a reward for getting to the end, and as an antidote to feeling perhaps a little unsettled, I would like to invite you to sit back, and spend eleven minutes in the company of Chris Boardman, Olympic Gold Medallist and British Cycling policy advisor. To hear what Chris Boardman had to say to councillors across London at City Hall in March 2014 is a tonic. The video was originally presented in “A great speech to London Councillors by Chris Boardman”, posted by Ben in March 2014. I, for one, think what Chris has to say makes a lot of sense, and hope you agree. So once again, we say, councillors please take note!

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Posted in Advocacy, News, Proposals to TfL 2015
One comment on “St Helier effectively says no to cycling
  1. Conor McKee says:

    A comprehensive report on a small but significant failure of the Council, thank you. I use the rosehill roundabout every day – its safe enough if you use the pavement, very disjointed. Sutton has an agenda item to get cycles off the pavements, but until there is safe space for cycles in the public right of way the pavement is the only safe place to cycle (especially with kids). Borough desperately needs better cycle infrastructure.

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