What more is there to say about Green Wrythe Lane? Specifically, of course, about footway conversion to shared-use on Green Wrythe Lane. About allowing cycling on the pavement? After all, has it not all been said before?…
January 2015: Green Wrythe Lane: an update
March 2015: A compromise is reached on Green Wrythe Lane
December 2015: Green Wrythe Lane – one year on
January 2016: Green Wrythe Lane back on the agenda (including a further update in March 2016)
Essentially, as regular readers of this blog will know, we have been under-whelmed with the proposals to facilitate pavement (or footway) conversion to shared-use on Green Wrythe Lane.
So, given the background, why are we revisiting Green Wrythe Lane again? What more is there to say?
Well, early in 2017, another informal consultation was held in regard to a proposal to convert yet more of the footway on the west-side of Green Wrythe Lane to shared-use (this time between Middleton Circle and Bishopsford Road). And around now (April 2017) the work is underway. So here we share our response to that consultation, a consultation that was primarily intended for residents (see the end of this post for the consultation letter, a plan of the scheme, and our response).
Although the proposal was partially anticipated, it had been hoped that there would be some reconsideration. Not just as a result of our comments to the proposals to convert other sections to shared-use since 2014, but also because we had been told at the Cycle Forum in September 2016 that this northern section of Green Wrythe Lane would not include shared-use footway, “unless people want it”. At the Cycle Forum in April 2017, we received confirmation that this conversion was going ahead during the Easter Holidays, so clearly some people do want it.
Or do they? Perhaps if people were asked how they wanted to live in their area first, rather than be presented with infrastructure solutions for comment, then the outcome could be different. After all, you cannot expect everyone to be an expert on “infrastructure”, or necessarily have well-informed opinions. This is why it is time for community engagement as part of a bigger, longer-term, picture. There is no surprise that the headteacher at Green Wrythe Primary School has been quoted in the Sutton Guardian (21 March 2017) saying she is “absolutely delighted with the news that road signage near our school is to be improved” (see the draft plan below for details of the interventions, including “proposed new children going to school signs to raise awareness amongst drivers”), but the overall scheme here is essentially a cosmetic makeover. Green Wrythe Lane will be no more inviting for cycling, or making people want to cycle, when this strand of work is finished than it was previously.
Writing about the latest consultation for Green Wrythe Lane is also an opportunity to consider again the latest guidelines on cycling, and set the context of the discussion in-line with new, emerging, policy and approaches. We also outline some possible reasons as to why councillors, and the council, still consider footway conversion as a viable option for cycling. Then, for a bit of fun, we calculate the costs and the time-frame that would be required to convert all the pavements in the borough (on one side of the street only) to shared-use, should that decision be taken. (Joking, of course, but who knows?)
We understand why some people choose to cycle on the pavement…
But first, despite our criticisms here, let’s be clear. We know that some people will choose to cycle on the pavement (hopefully with full consideration for others) some of the time. We also know that without enabling cycling, either through infrastructure or through the development of interventions such as quite neighbourhoods, many people will continue to cycle on the pavement some of the time, and that most people will just simply not cycle at all (apart, perhaps, from the occasional excursion in the park). So, although cycling on the pavement is “illegal”, we can understand why people do it.
Clearly, children often ride on the footway because roads are seen as being far too dangerous (or unappealing). Many parents would not have it any other way, of course, even when their child has Bikeability training. We understand that.
Adults with considerable cycling experience can be seen riding on the pavement too. In and around Sutton town centre, especially on those streets comprising the gyratory, for example, people cycle on the footway to travel against the one-way flow. They are cycling on the pavement to get to where they want to go more directly, rather than cycle the long way around on heavily trafficked streets where the infrastructure is solely designed for motor vehicles. We understand that.
So we get it. We understand why some people chose to cycle on the pavement some of the time.
…but why do local authorities convert footways to shared-use?
What is more difficult to understand is why Sutton Council has opted for a piecemeal approach to converting the footway on one side of Green Wrythe Lane to shared-use rather than deliver something much more worthwhile. After all, it people are already cycling on the pavement, why spend the limited cycling budget on just making it legal?
Is this just a tick-box exercise? At a certain level, possibly, yes. But actually, there is more to it than that.
Firstly, it is likely that the degree of ambition, understanding and expertise for cycling from councillors and officers varies considerably. Either they don’t get it at all, and see cycling as a marginalised activity for lycra louts, for sport, for children in the park (or on the pavement), or they may feel (and this applies particularly to councillors) that being seen as pro-cycling is directly linked to being anti-motorist and therefore something that is a political hot-potato. (A tip for councillors: this is not the way to look at cycling. Think inclusive environment; inspiring the freedom to roam; public health). Then there is (or, until relatively recently, has been) a lack of cash. And this is not just about derisory levels of funding, but how, historically, cash has been provided in annual small bundles through the LIP process with little accountability of how it is spent (just as long as it is spent by the end of the financial year). And all the time, there is the overriding priority given to private car parking on the kerb-side (in public space), and car use, above all else. And, importantly, what is delivered locally is a barometer of political will locally.
So, all-in-all, a heady mix. A heady-mix which, while it continues, will ensure future generations are effectively deprived of the simple pleasure of cycling for some of their short journeys. Given that the borough’s population may increase by around 13% over the next fifteen years, it is a heady-mix which will do little to reduce the pressure and strain on the road network, or make parking the car any easier either. Local Development Framework, Annual Monitoring Report 2013-2014 (London Borough of Sutton, March 2015): paragraph 3.24.
Even if many people who currently walk (or cycle) on the already converted sections of Green Wrythe Lane say it is a better experience than it was previously (and it is hoped that Sutton Council will follow-up on this and find out), converting pavements to shared-use is not the answer. It is not the answer that will enable cycling for the many, or deliver healthy streets. In other words, streets that are designed around people, have a human scale, and where people (of all ages, and all walks of life) choose to walk or cycle. Community engagement, being part of the process, is important, and could be boosted if the context was focussed more of on how people want to live and slightly less on transport. Converting pavements to shared-use is the easy way of providing something that goes someway to potentially improving the walking experience (provided that pesky cyclists are not racing along at the same time), but without ruffling any feathers. In five, ten, fifteen years time, no one is going to thank us for it.
Why not convert all the pavements to shared-use?
For a moment, let’s consider a scenario that includes the vision to convert all the pavements on one side of each street in the borough to shared-use for cycling. Sutton Council manages 362km of the borough’s road network (with the remaining 18km (A24, A217, A232) managed by TfL. Local Development Framework, Annual Monitoring Report 2013-2014 (London Borough of Sutton, March 2015): paragraph 12.5.
Based on the Green Wrythe Lane expenditure to date (2012-2016, of around £350,000 for 1.2km), the cost of converting all pavements across the borough would amount to about £105m. But this a meaningless concept in a sense because, based on the rate of time it has taken to convert Green Wrythe Lane so far (four years, 1.2km), it would take around 1,200 years to convert the remaining pavements across the borough.
So, ask yourself, is pavement cycling the answer? Who will benefit? The times are changing, cash may be coming (and the Road User Hierarchy certainly is), so Sutton needs to be ahead of the curve, not languishing on the side-walk.
Is this the last word on Green Wrythe Lane? It would be great to report that, as a result of the conversion of the northern section to shared-use, the great cycling revolution would have arrived in St Helier. If that is what transpires, you will read about it here!
The January 2017 consultation, and our response
On 17 January 2017 Get Sutton Cycling received the following notification of the proposal to convert the northern (and final) section of Green Wrythe Lane (Middleton Circle to Bishopsford Road – missing out Middleton Circle, the tricky bit, itself) to shared-use.
17 January 2017
Green Wrythe Lane – Proposed improvements for pedestrians and cyclists
As part of a continuing scheme to introduce an off-road cycle facility along the length of Green Wrythe Lane, the Council is proposing to convert the western section of footway between Middleton Road and Bishopsford Road to a shared use footway.
Whilst majority of the footway width is adequate, it is proposed to widen sections of the existing footway in order to provide sufficient shared space for both cyclists and pedestrians. Consequently, in order to accommodate the shared use it will also be necessary to introduce partial footway parking in some sections where parking on footways is currently permitted. There are some sections where footway parking may have to be removed in order to maintain adequate widths. The details of the proposals are shown on the attached drawing T30108/DD/01. There are other items proposed as part of the scheme which include :-
- school warning signs
- additional school keep clear markings
- extension of parking restrictions on Revesby Road
- possible reduction of guard railing at the existing pelican crossing
- possible raised table to link the open spaces.
This is an informal public consultation and if you would like to make any comments or observations, please send them to the address shown above or email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Tuesday 31 January 2017.
A summary of the responses received will be presented to the Local Area Committee members and should it be agreed to progress the scheme, you will be notified again at that stage.
A plan was enclosed with the letter:
Get Sutton Cycling submitted the following response to Sutton Council on 31 January 2017:
31 January 2017
Thank you for providing the London Cycling Campaign in Sutton with details of the informal consultation in regard to the latest Green Wrythe Lane – shared pedestrian/cycle improvement proposals.Our response, in summary, is that we are not in support of this scheme. Shared-use footways, even footways that are relatively ‘wide’ in places, intrinsically provide poor provision for cycling. In our response to phase two of the Green Wrythe Lane footway cycleway proposals in August 2014, we outlined several reasons as to why pavement conversion to shared-use offered inadequate provision for cycling. Essentially, any infrastructure for cycling needs to be designed so as to be suitable for all users, not just the young, the elderly or the inexperienced. Furthermore, cycling and walking in the same space leads to conflict between all users, and footways inherently require many breaks for side roads and crossings, thereby requiring people on bicycles to constantly stop and give way. In short, facilitating cycling on footways marginalises the activity, and will never result in high levels of cycling.Since that earlier response, to which a a reply was never received but the conversion went ahead anyway, an updated version of the London Cycling Design Standards has been published. The London Cycling Design Standards (December 2014) provides twenty guiding principles to be considered when designing cycling schemes. The first three of these guiding principles are:
(1) Cycling is now mass transport and must be treated as such;
(2) Facilities must be designed for larger numbers of users;
(3) Cycles must be treated as vehicles not as pedestrians
The Green Wrythe Lane ‘cycle improvement’ proposals (both former and current) do not comply with these principles in any shape or form. Therefore it is difficult to see how the changes that are proposed as part of this latest scheme, which include relocating an existing cctv cabinet, the proposed widening of the footway, the proposal to establish dropped-kerbs (which already exist), the proposed removal of footway parking, and the possible reduction in guardrailing, can be classified as cycle improvement proposals.
November 2015 saw the approval of Sutton’s Cycling Strategy. The Strategy sets out how the Council is responding to the renewed focus on cycling (initially from the previous London Mayor Boris Johnson, and, as we now know, continuing with the current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan). The aims of the Strategy include making cycling the mode of choice for short local journeys, as well as ensuring that the wider road network is as cycle-friendly as possible. It would be interesting to seek the views of the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee as to whether the footway conversion to shared use that has already taken place elsewhere on Green Wrythe Lane has resulted in any measurable increase in the number of journeys by bicycle in the area. The Local Committee may also like to comment on how Middleton Circle, a roundabout situated on Green Wrythe Lane for which there are currently no proposals for cycle improvements, fits into the picture. How does footway conversion to the north and south of Middleton Circle, whilst doing nothing at the roundabout, equate with ‘ensuring that the wider road network is as cycle-friendly as possible’?
It is appreciated that the annual LIP funding allocations are not sufficiently adequate to afford any substantial cycling infrastructure. That is not a reason for sub-standard schemes though. Councils have to be seen to have the ability and the will to deliver on schemes that comply to best practice and which start to make a real difference, even in these constrained circumstances, in order to increase the likelihood of being successful with bids for more substantial Liveable Neighbourhood funding in the future. Get Sutton Cycling recommends that the proposed footway conversion on the west side of Green Wrythe Lane, between Middleton Circus and Bishopsford Road, does not go ahead. If all, or some, of the proposals (other than shared use) are implemented, these need to be promoted as improvements to the walking environment only.
At the time of writing (7 April 2017) notification that this latest scheme has been approved has not been received in writing. However, as mentioned above, it was made know at the Cycle Forum meeting earlier this month that contractors were on site at that time. The Sutton Guardian also published an article relating to this during March:
It is hoped that members of the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee will address the points we made in our response to the consultation, either in writing or at their next meeting on 27 April 2017. When it comes to this particular Local Committee, readers may also be interested in St Helier effectively says no to cycling (Get Sutton Cycling, November 2015).
Please let us know what you think about Green Wrythe Lane. Comments to this post will be appreciated, and you can have the last word!