On Saturday, 6 February 2016, Get Sutton Cycling joined Cycling Champion Councillor Manual Abellan for the seventh (and last) neighbourhood cycle tour of the 2015-2016 series. This time we were pleased to be joined by Carshalton and Wallington MP, Tom Brake, and the focus was on just two, well-chosen, locations.
The first of these locations was Woodcote Road (A237), effectively Wallington’s High Street, running north-south through the centre of this busy shopping, business and residential district. Although Woodcote Road is classified as an ‘A-road’, it is controlled by the council (unlike the nearby A232 which comes under the jurisdiction of Transport for London). One of the issues we wished to highlight here relates to private vehicles being parked in loading bays, and the impact that this antisocial behaviour (by a few) has has on everyone else using the centre of Wallington.
The second location was just 400 metres to the west of Woodcote Road, in Boundary Road/Park Lane (B271) by the railway bridge. This tree-lined residential ‘B-road’, which carries an inordinate amount of traffic, runs parallel to the A237 and is known to some as part of the National Cycle Network route 20. It is also known, to just a very few cycling geeks and tourists, as the Avenue Verte. It would be interesting to know how many of the residents living here are aware that the London to Paris cycle route passes their front door! Again, parking in cycle lanes, this time residential parking, is a primary issue.
There were very good reasons for selecting these two locations, quite apart from the fact that neither location is cycle-friendly (for from it, in fact).
Woodcote Road had been subject to a series of improvements in 2009, a key objective of which had been to enhance access by bicycle and encourage sustainable travel. The reality, however, is that ever since the completion of this scheme Woodcote Road has been plagued by parked vehicles across a (derisory) painted cycle lane on the east (uphill) side, and vulnerable road users have been in trepidation of vehicles reversing out across their path (photos 2, 5).
Meanwhile, an attempt (or rather, several attempts over the years) to make cycling safer on Park Lane and Boundary Road, at a point where these busy roads meet at the railway bridge, has resulted in failure. Painted cycle lanes, which have been adapted slightly on one or two occasions, have not made cycling here feel any safer at all. Again, this largely relates to parking issues (photo 3).
Both locations, though, have great potential for cycling. It is time to reimagine these roads, so that people can choose to swap their car for their bike for some of their local, often quite short, journeys. Parking is the immediate issue, but essentially this is about making better use of space. It is a challenge, but it can be done. That was our over-arching message to Manuel and Tom.
The seven cycle tours of the 2015-2016 season with Councillor Manual Abellan:
Between 2006 and 2009, Wallington town centre received significant (but never quite enough) funding to put in “infrastructure that makes walking, cycling and public transport the preferred way to travel and cuts congestion on our roads”. This transport improvement scheme was funded by Transport for London, but designed by consultants approved by Sutton Council. The consultation document Improving Travel In Wallington gave two objectives:
- Improve the look and feel of Wallington Town Centre in order to boost its attractiveness to residents, visitors and shoppers
- Enhance pedestrian, cycle and bus access in and around the centre whilst improving traffic flow.
The transport scheme, also known as the Wallington Integrated Transport Package, was in part about “locking-in” the benefits of the 2007-2009 Smarter Travel Sutton behaviour change initiative. This initiative had delivered increases in the number of trips residents make by bus, bicycle and on foot, and so had helped everyone (if only by taking the pressure off parking). The Wallington scheme was to “lock-in” these benefits “by ensuring that our roads and district centres encourage sustainable travel choices as much as possible”.
The consultation went on further to note, under a realistically titled section “Difficult decisions: Parking proposals”, that “Our cores scheme for Woodcote Road involves removing general parking from Woodcote Road during the day (from 8am to 6pm) and only allowing some limited disabled parking adjacent to Wallington Square. We have studied levels of parking in the town centre and there is sufficient space in the Library and Shotfield car parks to accommodate this parking. This has several advantages – it allows us to fully develop the new proposed community space; with no parking on Woodcote Road, cars will now immediately head to the car parks. This will reduce the levels of traffic on Woodcote Road and eliminate delay caused by traffic manoeuvring in and out of parking spaces, improving traffic flow; it allows us to reposition and extend loading bays on Woodcote Road to make it easier for lorries and other loading vehicles to come quickly in and out.”
As a sweetener “to minimise inconvenience to car users” the Library Car Park would be made free for the first 30 minutes, it would be resurfaced and tidied-up, and the pedestrian link between the car park and the shops would be improved.
To give this more context, it’s worth noting that many of the ideas that were outlined in the overall scheme to provide improved pedestrian and cycling links to Wallington Town centre were never delivered (and this remains the case today – although, of course, a line delineating a cycle lane has subsequently been painted on the tarmac as a, presumably, half-hearted attempt to provide sort of cycling infrastructure – see photo 5).
So, were the objectives met? Well, Wallington town centre does look and feel better, but cycle access in and around the town centre has arguably seen very little improvement.
Furthermore, although, in theory, general parking has been removed from Woodcote Road, in practice the loading bays have simply become car-parks. And the knock-on effect of this is that the painted, and ineffective, cycle lane on the carriageway, is now often blocked by protruding parked vehicles (photos 5 and 6).
Hardly a ringing endorsement of an aspiration to ensure “that our roads and district centres encourage sustainable travel choices as much as possible”.
On our tour, Tom Brake said he was aware of the issue regarding parking in the loading bays on Woodcote Road. It was not clear what he intends to do about it though, so we are going to have to watch this space (excuse the pun).
Of course, we have been watching this space for quite a while. Woodcote Road, and the poor parking that takes place here, first appeared on this blog with No more taxpayer-funded facilities until they obey the traffic laws in January 2015. Meanwhile, we continue to receive notifications of badly parked vehicles in these loading bays, most recently last week, so it is not something that is going to go away.
Wallington could be so different, and so much better, if the parking was dealt with. Not just in the sense of enforcing parking regulations in the Woodcote Road loading bays, but in the wider sense of getting our priorities right. Although Andrew Gilligan, Cycling Commissioner to former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, has been quoted as saying “parking is like the third rail, touch it at your peril”, (in recognition of contested space – a reference to which we also made when considering improvements on the A24 Epsom Road – photo 23), it is clear that unless options for parking are developed, cycling is never going to become main-stream. Owners of vehicles need to understand how some small changes to their lifestyles could make a big difference to how everyone goes about their day-to-day business.
We also have to ask ourselves what do we actually want from our local town centres, and what do we want them to look like in the future? Do we want our local centres to adapt and survive, or do we want them to just become large parking lots and deteriorate under the competition from larger centres and internet shopping? Improving Travel in Wallington had the right ideas, but it looks as though the initiative has failed to follow through.
It’s all very challenging, no one is saying otherwise. After all, many of us are in the habit of jumping in the car to make short journeys. The borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) noted that half of all trips by car in the borough are for journeys of less than 3 miles. Given this context, the question, as to what sort of streetscape would enable and encourage more liveable lifestyles and allow people to walk and cycle, was a theme explored in Waalinden – If Wallington were in the Netherlands in September 2015. Clearly, despite being challenging, it can be done.
There had been hope that the borough’s Cycling Strategy (November 2015) would have formed a robust platform from which to start to have the conversations that would make the difference. But six months after its approval, and three months after its delayed publication, nothing appears to have changed. A great disappointment. Let’s hope the forthcoming, anticipated, Parking Strategy will change the landscape. Clearly, as described here (and below), providing for cycling and parking is intrinsically linked.
Woodcote Road – our recommendations
Firstly, three immediate priorities:
- Instal temporary, additional, signage displays in the loading bays to reinforce the message
- Ensure the parking conditions are enforced
- Begin the process of redesigning the parking bays
For delivery in the medium term, start to draw up proposals for dedicated, fit-for-purpose, cycling infrastructure on Woodcote Road. In tandem with this (again, excuse the pun), take forward our ideas for safe and appealing cycle networks on streets in the vicinity of Wallington town centre. This will inevitably require exploring ways of preventing rat-running on streets not intended for high traffic flows.
The bottom line is this. Acting on Woodcote Road will show willingness and ability. Not acting on Woodcote Road will just signal an indifference and an ineptness. The former could get us funding for big projects, the latter may (quite rightly) markedly reduce that likelihood. It really should not be that difficult, especially in the light of current policy. If the borough really has a strategy for cycling, then now is the time to prove it. Although the loading bays are currently exploited by a very small number of people, their behaviour has a disproportionate impact on everyone else. It’s about reimagining, reinterpreting, the street. If cycling is provided for and facilitated, people will cycle.
Boundary Road / Park Lane
Tom Brake is a keen, and well travelled, cyclist. At the Sutton Cycle Summit 2014 in January 2014, Tom said that he often cycles on Boundary Road and that he could guarantee that on one trip out of ten a car driver would pass him leaving “precisely the length of their wing mirror between my ear and their car”. Many people have said similar things, and there is no doubt that the stretch of road formed by Park Lane and Boundary Road is not a particularly pleasant place along which to cycle. There was no surprise, therefore, particularly given that this alignment forms part of the National Cycle Network route 20, that the area featured in our Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton in May 2014.
So, it made sense to make the next (and, as it transpired, last) point of call on the tour the railway bridge where Boundary Road meets Park Lane.
To set the context, the sequence of eight images in the slideshow below are provided to show the view “from the handlebar” when cycling south to north along Boundary Road, Wallington, into Park Lane, Carshalton (about 150 metres in total). The starting point in the sequence is the view that includes the signalised crossing, just south of the intersection with Beddington Gardens. Then continuing over the railway bridge into Park Lane, across the intersection of Grosvenor Avenue (to the left) and Grosvenor Road (to the right) and on towards Carshalton (with the cycle symbol and “24” painted on the carriageway – it should be “20”, of course). All images were recorded during the middle of a weekday afternoon in March 2014. From a cycling perspective, it’s a complete mess. “Build-outs” force the rider to switch position on the carriageway, then an element of safe space is provided only to give-up due to parked vehicles and other build-outs. Central islands provide pinch points, and traffic speeds past at close range. effectively a demonstration of how not to provide cycling infrastructure (and much of it completely at odds with the latest London Cycling Design Standards).
On the day of our visit, Tom initially gave the impression that he thought the downhill sections away from the apex of the bridge were alright for cycling, and that it was only the uphill sections that were an issue. We hopefully managed to convince him that the requirement was for dedicated space for cycling along the entire length of the Boundary Road and Park Lane (perhaps taking the form of stepped tracks when adjacent to residential properties, but protected on the bridge). The point here being that although the existing carriageway may be alright for those prepared to do battle with traffic, the sheer volume, type and speed of traffic using this road, ensured it was not alright for anyone else. Indeed, Tom went on to admit that he often avoided the road, and instead walked his bike over a footbridge nearer to Wallington station instead. We reminded Tom that this busy road forms the NCN 20, linking the Wandle Trail in the north with Oaks Park in the south, and there were no real alternative routes for cycling north-south due to the east-west railway line.
The main issue here, of course, is parking, because kerb-side parking removes the ability to provided dedicated space for cycling. In the case of parking on the bridge (where painted cycle lanes are provided, only to be parked on), it was noted that one or two households had built parking bays/platforms over their front gardens. Could this be something the Council funded for other residents? (Not really, as sight-lines are poor). Another thought was to look at making more efficient use of the road space in nearby Grosvenor Road to accommodate parked vehicles, perhaps though the use of echelon or perpendicular parking. Tom said he would look at this.
A quick count of parked vehicles on the kerbside north of Grosvenor Ave/Road towards the traffic lights at Ruskin Road suggested there were only about twelve vehicles in total on both sides of the road. Again, it came down to efficient use of space. Could parking be facilitated elsewhere?
Measurements of the carriageway were taken at three locations. Boundary Road (just south of the bridge) 9.50 metres; Park Lane (just north of the bridge) 10.1 metres; Park Lane (just north of Grosvenor Ave/Road junction) 10.45 metres (including, from this point northwards, a large hatched-out area in middle of carriageway).
Later, after Tom had left, we talked with a lady who resided on Park Lane close to the railway. As a result of this conversation, the idea of constructing a “pocket park”, to include car parking for local residents, over the railway line and built out from the railway bridge, occurred to us. Alternatively, the railway bridge could be widened to accommodate new pavements, so that the space currently occupied by the footway could be the cycle track and the current cycle track converted to car parking bays. Costly, but if we are serious about making a real difference, these ideas need to be explored.
Grosvenor Road – Grosvenor Avenue
In terms of the east-west cycle route Grosvenor Road – Grosvenor Ave (and intersection with Park Lane), Tom mentioned the issue, a couple of years ago, with residents on Grosvenor Road regarding 20 mph. Some residents had requested a 20mph maximum speed limit to make their residential street safer, but this was rejected by councillors when a vocal few had been against the idea. We suggested that part of the reason for this rejection was that the Council had prevaricated for so long, without a strategic or clear vision on 20mph, and this had given those against the idea time to come out in force. It has to be remembered that it was not just an isolated issue on their street, and that a holistic approach is required.
Tom said that he would take this route forward, and look at the junction. If this progresses, it will be very welcome. We made it clear that this could involve a signalised junction, with low level cycling signals and possibly a form of filtering, and that it would be necessary to ask TfL engineers to look at the options. Whatever happens with the Grosvenor Road to Grosvenor Avenue route, it was important that Park Lane was not forgotten.
In the summer of 2015 we carried out a traffic count at the Park Lane / Grosvenor Road intersection. These counts are still awaiting full analysis, but an initial review would suggest that in excess of 700 vehicles an hour (total, both directions) use Park Lane / Boundary Road in the morning peak. A fair proportion of these vehicles are classified as Heavy Goods Vehicles, which considerably affects the degree of feeling of safety for vulnerable road users. Consequentially, the road is unlikely to reach the basic Cycling Level of Service set out for cycling provision in the London Cycling Design Standards (December 2014).
This leaves the question as to why Park Lane / Boundary Road is so busy, given that it is situated just 400 metres west of the parallel route A237 through Wallington (Woodcote Road)? It was suggested that the traffic levels on Park Lane/ Boundary Road are so high because this route offers a quicker journey time than Woodcote Road. So there you have the answer really! Could just leave things as they are, but would the situation get any better?
Boundary Road / Park Lane – our recommendations
To start the process of making Park Lane and Boundary Road fit for cycling, our main recommendation is the same as it would be for any part of the borough. And that is to strongly promote Sutton’s cycling strategy, so that residents in the local community are aware of the strategy’s existence along with its aims and ambitions. This is an essential pre-requisite that is required before any consultations on specific schemes. It costs little to undertake, and that is why we are so disappointed that six months after the strategy’s approval in November 2015 this appears not to have been progressed.
Take forward the strategy’s remit and objectives to:
- work closely with residents and stakeholders through local committees and the Environment and Neighbourhood committee to gain support for cycling schemes and promote the wider benefits of cycling
- work closely with TfL, neighbouring boroughs and other key stakeholders to ensure a joined up approach and maximise funding opportunities and synergies
- aim to ensure that the Strategy achieves a step-change in cycling infrastructure and participation in the borough in order to deliver the Council’s Cycling Vision and leave a long-term legacy for future generations
Think out of the box. Specifically, for the challenges that are faced on Park Lane, could a “pocket park” really be built on top of the railway line to provide dedicated and safe parking space for residents? Would it be achievable and desirable? Would it work? What options are there for providing alternative parking arrangements away from the kerbside? Could Grosvenor Road be closed to through motor traffic, with the section by Park Lane transformed into a mini-park with an area set aside for residential parking? Could kerbside parking on Park Lane and Boundary Road be limited to one side of the street only? Run through the ideas, and let’s get ready for future mini-Holland (i.e. people friendly places) type funding.
After all, you have got to start somewhere. Why not start with Park Lane / Boundary Road?
The bigger picture
We mentiononed to Tom that by the time of the 2018 local elections we needed to see cross-party consensus on cycling, and that pro-cycling should not be seen as anti-motorist. Meetings with residents (not cycling meetings) were required to talk about where we are heading, the challenges, and the potential benefits.
We concluded by telling Tom that we are so far from where we wanted to be in terms of cycling infrastructure in Sutton, that it hurts! Enabling cycling is not just about cyclists, it is about making life better for everyone.
What would we like to see happen in the next twelve months?
At the end of the tour, and bearing in mind this was the final tour in the current series, Manuel asked us what we would like to see generally for cycling in the next twelve months. Here are some of the suggestions we made:
- We would like to see evidence of the conversation, and engagement with the community. This would include, for example, Local Committee members mentioning the borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy and Cycling Strategy at appropriate points in their meetings (and there are ample opportunities to do so, given the regularity with which parking/motoring issues feature on the agenda). There is no evidence of this happening yet, in fact quite the opposite. For example, at the Carshalton and Clockhouse local committee on 8 December 2015, twelve days after the Cycling Strategy had been approved, there was an update on a petition from residents living on Carshalton Road, Woodmansterne in regard to speeding traffic on their road. Some drivers were exceeding the 30 mph limit along the residential section of road (by Woodmansterne Primary School). According to the minutes of the meeting there was “certainly a speeding problem in the area” and drivers “were not paying attention to the change in speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph along the road”. Carshalton Road, Woodmansterne forms part of the National Cycle Network and is a continuation of the same cycle route along Park Lane and Boundary Road, so this agenda item would have been a golden opportunity for committee members to have mentioned the Cycling Strategy. But did they? No, they didn’t.
- We would like to see close cross-party working. This is about making the case for cycling, and recognising the challenges. For example, although all three councillors in the Beddington South ward signalled their support for Space for Cycling, we have not yet managed to get all three of them to sit down together to discuss the issues (outside of Local Committee meetings, that is). So, although we are pleased to be in touch with both Manuel and Neil (Cllr. Neil Garratt) individually (our cycling champions), it would be good to work together in order to express views, concerns, opportunities, ambitions, and difficulties to see where general agreement can be reached. Manual mentioned that he may arrange a council motion on cycling, or an event for all councillors to attend.
- We would like the borough to be prepared. For example, councillors could visit Waltham Forest to learn about current mini-Holland schemes and/or attend cycling conferences. This is not time to be shy about getting out there to promote the cycling strategy, and it is time to ensure that the buy-in from (or at least the conversation with) the community has began. With this in place, we will be in a much stronger position to be awarded funding as and when the Mayor of London next announces bids for major cycling schemes. Sutton could then become an even better place in which to work, live and do business.
We would like to thank Manuel for requesting these cycle tours of the borough. We have enjoyed taking part, and hope that they were useful. We look forward to continuing the conversation in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, no pressure, but, for all intents and purposes, remember that the future of cycling in Sutton is in the hands of today’s councillors!
If you have ideas for future tours, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cyclinginsutton.
Sutton’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015), and Cycling Strategy (November 2015), can be downloaded from our Publications page.