Ideas for boosting Sutton’s cycling aspirations

Back to basics: some ideas for boosting Sutton’s cycling aspirations

In September 2015 we announced, in “Major cycle schemes for TfL roads to be presented to councillors“, the very welcome news that Sutton Council officers had produced a report recommending that councillors agreed to certain Space for Cycling proposals, relating to the A24, A217 and A232, be presented to Transport for London for consideration. It was clear that if any of the schemes that were proposed came to fruition, then Sutton could truly be on the way to become a cycling borough of distinction. (Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, St Helier effectively said no to cycling and, as far as we are aware, a report outlining these proposals has yet to be presented to TfL).

At the time, and despite the heightened anticipation that progress was being made, there was some concern that the council’s focus on TfL roads came at the expense of acknowledging the ‘ward asks’ for borough roads (a formal review of which we have still not received). We suggested that the council needed to do more to demonstrate a commitment to cycling, and that this commitment would not be achieved by seemingly ignoring the borough roads (however challenging the borough roads may be). Furthermore, we advocated that there were certain current and on-going issues that, until addressed, would do little to boost Sutton’s reputation as a cycling borough that means business. By dealing with these types of issues, the Council’s aspirations for cycling would be seen as more genuine.

So, what are these issues? Well, it’s time to go back to basics. Here are four scenarios to illustrate what needs to be done in our own back yard, through decisions made by our own councillors and proposals formulated by council officers. If we get this right, we will be in a much better position to get the “big money” from TfL.

  1. Start to replace cycling infrastructure that fails to impress

Development of the London Cycle Network (LCN) started in 1994. Much of the “infrastructure” that accompanied this network may have seemed acceptable twenty, or even ten, years ago. But now it is simply not fit for purpose.

LCN route 76 passes within 300 metres of Stanley Park High School, a new state-of-the-art school that opened on its present site in January 2012. The route here works well, in so far as it allows cyclists and pedestrians (but not motor vehicles) to access two quiet residential streets (East Drive with Dingwall Road across Diamond Jubilee Way), but in terms of usability, design, public realm appeal or accessibility, it’s about as bad as it gets.

Diamond Jubilee Way from Dingwall Road (LCN 76) An opportunity to vastly improve the public realm (and make cycling and walking less marginalised activities). Photo Charles Martin, 13 October 2015

Diamond Jubilee Way from Dingwall Road (LCN 76). Consider this: you are cycling along Dingwall Road (so that’s the street behind the view of the photo) on your way to Stanley Park High School (to the left, on the street ahead). In order to turn left, and head for the school, you first need to manoeuvre yourself around the barriers (mixing with people on foot), then turn right along the pavement (trying to miss the garbage bin), turn 90 degrees left to join the “raised table”, and then turn 90 degrees left again to join the street. Of course, anyone actually wishing to continue straight ahead into East Drive has to be even more of a contortionist! This is about as bad as it gets! It really does not have to be like this. This is an opportunity to vastly improve the public realm (and an opportunity to make cycling and walking less marginalised activities). Photo Charles Martin, 13 October 2015

It’s not particularly new of course (unlike the school), but it certainly is “old thinking”. Designs like this make cycling difficult and unattractive, and give a strong negative message about cycling. This location features in our ‘ward ask’ for Carshalton South and Clockhouse. Addressing issues such as this will require a bit of cash, and will require making the case to residents. But addressing issues like this will demonstrate to Transport for London that there is a commitment to the bigger picture.

  1. Recognise that a cycle path through a park does not necessarily make a cycle route

In the autumn of 2014, a path was constructed in Overton Park for shared-use by those on foot or on bicycle. Apparently, parents of young children have found the path to be very useful because it links residential areas with a nursery and newly extended playground in the park, as well as providing improved access to Overton Grange School. Sutton Council, though, promoted this path as a cycle route, an alternative “route” for cyclists to avoid the busy Brighton Road. A shared-use path it certainly is, but in its current manifestation it cannot be described as part of a cycle route.

Overton Park. A welcome new path, but falls far short of potential. Photo Charles Martin, 15 October 2015

Overton Park. A welcome new path that “cyclists” can use. But would a welcome new road for “motorists” include a feature such as a gate that required the driver to stop, put the hand-brake on, get out of the car, open the gate, get back in the car, drive through the gate, stop again, get out again, close the gate, get in the car again and drive away? Unlikely, especially if the new road was being promoted as a new route!  But in Sutton this is what is currently considered a cycling facility, and this is what we are currently spending our (derisory level of) cycle funding on. The message here is that there is a lot of potential, so let’s make the most of it. (At the very least, don’t automatically call a cycle path a cycle route for utility (as opposed to recreational) cycling when this is clearly not the case). Photo Charles Martin: 15 October 2015

To be part of a cycle route, proper access is required. The gate on the southern side of the recreation ground at Moore Way does not facilitate proper access, neither does the pavement on the other side of the gate. Therefore, the new path is a cycle path, but it does not provide a cycle route. It would only form part of a cycle route if the gate was removed, and if unhindered, clearly delineated, access was provided. Even then, the alignment would not provide an alternative route for the majority of journeys that people, who would rather avoid Brighton Road, actually wish to make. (We know this from correspondence received from staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, and there will be more on this in a forthcoming post).

IdeasForBoostingSuttonsCyclingAspirations_IMG_3203_OvertonPark_20151015

Overton Park from Moore Way. This is what things look like the other side of the fence (and gate). The pedestrian gate (a great improvement on the previous, slightly narrower, wooden gate that was replaced at the same time as the pathway was constructed) leads onto a pavement. Of course it does! The pedestrian gate is essentially providing an entrance, and exit, for people on foot. But what do you do if you are cycling? That’s right, get onto the pavement too. Not good, even if a dropped kerb was provided. So what needs to be done? It is difficult to think of any reasons why the centre panel in the fence at the end of the road could not be removed, a bollard placed in the centre of the resultant gap, and a link constructed to connect the street to an extended path. It would mean that the park was always open of course, but given that the main gate to the recreation ground from Overton Road is rarely closed, would this matter? Again, the message is make the most of the potential, and do not automatically describe a cycle path as a cycle route.  Photo Charles Martin: 15 October 2015

It tends to raise the question, why should TfL provide millions of pounds worth of funding for cycling if the Council cannot address these sorts of issues in its own back yard? Is it lack of aspiration, or is it due to the derisory funding currently provided through the LIP process?

Other examples in the borough exist at Carshalton Park (at Ruskin Road and at Ashcombe Road), Reigate Avenue Recreation Ground (on the west side of Reigate Avenue and at Forest Road – noting that these are on the alignment of Sustrans “Route” 208), Rosehill Recreation Ground (on the east side of Reigate Avenue, again Sustrans Route 208) and Cuddington Recreation Ground (on St Clair Drive). None of the paths here provide anything other than, at best, recreational routes. None of the paths here provide routes for inclusive cycling or for utility cycling. And that really has to change.

  1. Review schemes and address what does not work

Who remembers the Wallington Integrated Transport Package? In 2009, it was all about putting in “infrastructure that makes walking, cycling and public transport the preferred way to travel and cuts congestion on our roads”.

IdeasForBoostingSuttonsCyclingAspirations_P1220437_WoodcoteRoad_20150619

Woodcote Road, Wallington. Bays designated as “loading only” used by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Does this look like infrastructure that makes walking, cycling, and public transport the preferred way to travel? Does it even look like infrastructure that will help cut congestion on our roads? To me, it looks more like a car park. And, talking of car parks, there’s a car park just 50 metres away, where it is free to park for the first 30 minutes.(It wasn’t free before the Wallington makeover, it cost something like 20p. However, it was felt that a concession had to be made for taking parking spaces away from the High Street. I suppose 20p for half an hour’s worth of parking is quite a lot, when you consider that LIP funding for cycling in the borough currently amounts to about 70p per person per year). What can be done here?  Either wave the white flag and remove the painted cycle lane and allow people to park their vehicles in the loading bay (and then look again at ideas for the next makeover of Wallington), or enforce the existing parking conditions (and also look again at ideas for the next makeover of Wallington).  Photo Charles Martin: 19 June 2015

Seven years later, and it would probably be fair to say that not everything has quite turned out as expected. Parking continues to take priority, and cycling (and walking) continues to loose out. Evidently, therefore, driving to Wallington remains the preferred way to travel, and congestion on the roads is unlikely to be cut. You can read more about this in the post, and in a comment to the post, “No more tax-payer funded facilities until they obey traffic laws“, which caused a bit of a flurry on Twitter when published in January 2015. And part of this is all because, for whatever reason, the Council appear to be unable, or unwilling, to enforce parking restrictions on Wallington’s High Street (Woodcote Road). The painted cycle lane is pretty useless anyway, but not addressing the issue of parking enforcement is adding insult to injury. What confidence does this give about the Council’s ability to deliver well-intended outcomes? Is this the best we can do? There must be room for improvement.

Parking on Woodcote Road was further discussed with Tom Brake, MP Carshalton and Wallington, in February 2016. Meanwhile, if only Wallington could look a bit more like Waalinden.

  1. Make the most of opportunities when they are presented

For a week or so during the Easter 2015 school holidays, Robin Hood Lane in Sutton was closed to through motor traffic. We would like to think that this was as a result of our Sutton West ‘ward ask’! Unfortunately it wasn’t, although it was for a good cause – the closure was necessary to enable contractors to construct an enhanced and improved crossing by the gates to the Robin Hood Infants’ School.

IdeasForBoostingSuttonsCyclingAspirations_IMG_5352_RobinHoodLane_20150403

Robin Hood Lane (Sutton West). The street closed for the construction of an improved crossing facility adjacent to Robin Hood Infants’ School. It is true that the closure took place during the school holidays, but residents managed somehow. But how difficult did the closure make life? Was the price to pay, whether that be the need to change behaviour, or a slightly longer journey time, or a negative impact on traffic levels on nearby streets, too high? Very few people like change, so in the sort term things may not appear good. What would happen if the closure was made permanent though? Are the long term gains, worth the short-term pains? How appealing is the idea of an instant cul-de-sac? Would residents living on streets that are already closed to through motor traffic want then opened again? The message here is that temporary closures are as much an opportunity to make the case as they are an opportunity to seek the views of residents and parents. Photo Charles Martin: 3 April 2015

This temporary closure would have been an ideal opportunity for the Council to ask residents their views, in light of the commitments in the Sustainable Transport Strategy perhaps, on the possibility of a more permanent closure. Was the opportunity taken? We don’t think it was. In the summer, Green Lane in Worcester Park was temporarily closed too. This forms part of the LCN 75 and is likely to become a ‘Quietway’. Were residents consulted on the longer-term view? If they had been, the Council could have used this as evidence of its intentions.

Also, of course, it would be good to have the conversations first in order to hopefully head off the chants “no to road closures” – see “Council Leader says ‘no turning back’ on Mini Holland Cycle Scheme” in the Walthamstow Echo, 23 October 2015.

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Green Lane (Worcester Park). Currently part of the LCN route 75, and potentially a future Quietway (provided, of course, this link satisfies the criteria in the Cycling Level of Service assessment tool outlined in Chapter 2 of the new London Cycling Design Standards (and the park hour traffic levels may suggest otherwise)). It’s August, it’s the school summer holidays, and it’s raining. But hey, for a few days it was not possible to drive on a street where so many people usually do. And yet life went on. Or did it? Although it is unlikely that this particular location would be top of the list as a contender for a permanent closure (at least, initially), the temporary closure would, nevertheless, have been an opportunity to start the conversation. Ensuring that the aims outlined in the borough’s new Cycling Strategy are debated with residents has to be an essential prerequisite for the aims to be realised. Photo Charles Martin: 14 August 2015

We can do better, and we need to do better

What will Transport for London make of all this? We pose this question because, although all boroughs are guaranteed a certain amount of cycle funding from TfL in terms of the LIP process (regardless, it would appear, of how the borough (officers and councillors) decides to spend that funding), TfL can, and will, refuse to give additional funding if boroughs are not prepared to do things properly. This is a point that Andrew Gilligan, former Cycling Commissioner to former mayor Boris Johnson, made on several occasions, including at the Hackney Cycling Conference in June 2015. Therefore, in order to increase our chance (or, better still, to ensure our chance) of receiving the levels of funding required to facilitate the type of schemes required on TfL roads (and indeed some borough roads such as Park Lane and Brighton Road), the Council needs to convince TfL first that it is worthy of the investment. And the best way of doing that is to demonstrate a commitment to cycling on our own streets.

At the Haringey Cycling Conference in September 2015, Haringey Councillor Stuart McNamara, Cabinet member for Environment, said “do not judge us by where we are, judge us by where we want to be”. At the moment, here in Sutton, we can only judge Sutton Council on cycling by considering “where we are”. Without a review of our ‘ward asks’ for borough roads, it is difficult to conclude where the Council “wants to be”. TfL may not come to the same conclusion of course, but can we chance it?

In recognising that we can do better, and that we need to do better, it is hoped that the ideas outlined here will help deliver the aspirations set out in the borough’s Cycling Strategy. Only time will tell.

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Posted in Advocacy
One comment on “Ideas for boosting Sutton’s cycling aspirations
  1. Karl says:

    Great summary Charles. Whether I ride into London or out to the countryside, Sutton is the worst part of my journey. The facilities are non-existent and the driving is aggressive.

    There is no aspiration to increase cycling from the council. As you mention, parking is the number one priority. And why does everyone feel they have to drive half a mile into town? Because the roads don’t feel safe for people, especially if they have kids. However, we have National Express flying through town on an hourly basis seemingly immune from speed restrictions.

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