On 20 November 2017, Cllr. Mary Burstow (Liberal Democrat, Cheam), posed the following question to the Full Council meeting being held that day:
“Get Sutton Cycling recently sent a video to all Councillors in Sutton, regarding making cycling easier in Sutton. What steps has Sutton taken in the last four years to make cycling in Sutton easier for cyclists?”.
The video to which Cllr. Burstow refereed was Air Pollution in Sutton: how it affects you and how cycling can help. It was pleasing that our video received this acknowledgement. After all, one main reason for making and sharing a short film on air pollution was to ensure that our councillors would not be able to say, at some future point, that they were unaware of the depressing statistic that around one in twenty deaths were attributed to man-made PM2.5 pollution in Sutton in 2014 (i.e. while they were in office). Also, cycling can make a difference, and our councillors can make decisions that would enable more people to cycle for some of their short local journeys and so reduce the stress (and the pollution) on our streets.
It just requires action, not words.
It just requires political will (said so many times, and most recently highlighted in ‘The lesson…is that you should not be afraid‘ (Better Streets for Enfield, 29 December 2017).
So, a good question from the councillor (even though it lacks any reference to the theme of the film, and even though we don’t really want to know what Sutton has done to make cycling easier for “cyclists”, we want to know what Sutton has done to make cycling easier for everyone).
Readers familiar with this website (which is just about to celebrate its fourth birthday on 1 January 2018), and anyone who regularly cycles on the streets in the borough (typically male, middle-aged, dressed in lycra and prepared to do battle with traffic) will know the answer to the question. But let’s take a look at the transcript from the Sutton Council meeting in November 2017 (audio link) to inform ourselves of the official response given by Cllr. Jill Whitehead (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton Central, Chair of the Environment and neighbourhood Committee).
Madam Mayor Jean Crossby:Question 9, the next question, is from Cllr. Mary Burstow. Cllr. Jill Whitehead, Vice-Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, please respond. [Murmurs of “she is the Chair” are heard]
Get Sutton Cycling recently sent a video to all Councillors in Sutton, regarding making cycling easier in Sutton. What steps has Sutton taken in the last four years to make cycling in Sutton easier for cyclists?
As noted in the Sutton Cycling Strategy, most funding for schemes has been secured through TfL LIP funding to local committees and through bidding for other Mayor of London funds such as the Quietway schemes and the Beddington Lane major road scheme which includes a separate cycle path and on which work will start shortly.
The main activity has been towards setting up the two Mayor of London Quietway schemes. The north to south Colliers Wood to Sutton town centre, on which work will be starting in the near future, and the west to east Worcester Park to Sutton and Croydon route which is awaiting sign-off from the Mayor.
Other more local completed schemes over the last four years include Green Lane to Trafalgar Avenue in Worcester Park, Green Wrythe Lane in Carshalton, cycle paths in Overton Park, Grove Park, Carshalton Park and Oaks Park. Cycle parking provision in six locations across the borough with a further three planned. Ruskin Road, Carshalton, parallel crossing for pedestrians and bicycles which completes the Wandle Valley Cycle Trail. Dr Bike and police bike marking free events held with over 1,800 bikes checked and marked.
The new Mayor of London will be making funds available through his Healthy Streets initiative where the emphasis will be on coordinating cycling with walking and use of public transport. We are also looking at other funding such as the Mayor of London’s Air Quality funds, schemes to include cycling facilities at all new developments and promotion of cycling through travelling planning at schools across the borough.
Our new ultra-low emissions vehicles policy, to be discussed at E&N this Thursday [23 November 2017], will also be looking at the possibility of electric bike schemes.
Madam Mayor Jean Crossby: Thank you Cllr. Whitehead. Cllr. Burstow, do you have a supplementary question?
Cllr. Mary Burstow:
I do. Thank you for that full and comprehensive answer. Are there any plans to set up a member-led cycling task and finish group which will look at both the proposed and the existing cycling Quietways to ensure that they are properly sign-posted so that people will know they are there?
I understand Cllr. Abellan already has a local group which he takes on trips to view various places in the borough to see how suitable they are for cycling. I do apologise for him not being here today, but I am sure he would answer the question if he was here.
Madam Mayor Jean Crossby:
Supplementary question from Cllr. Garratt.
Madam Mayor Jean Crossby:
Sorry Cllr Garratt, Cllr. Whitham had his hand up. Sorry, I do apolgise.
Cllr. Whitham (Independent, Cheam):
Thank you Madam Mayor, and I appreciate Cllr. Garratt accepting your ruling with equanimity. I just really wanted to ask the Lead Member really what steps has the council taken to make sure pavements are safer for pedestrians from the pursuits of rogue cyclists?
I think that is a good question that we can look at it is something we can look at in terms of the Healthy Streets funding which is available from the mayor. Because the scope of this funding will be much wider than before, and this has been an issue that has been discussed at London Councils in those terms.
Madam Mayor Jean Crossby:
Thank you. That concludes questions from councillors…
So there you have it. In truth, what Sutton has done in the last four years is essentially to deliver next to nothing for cycling. What Sutton has not done – or done very little of – is to engage, debate, rise to the challenges. This means that any worthwhile funding for cycling from the Mayor, if awarded (indeed, even if bid for (Sutton missed the boat this year)), is unlikely to be efficiently spent. Given that more funding is being made available now then ever before, lack of engagement by Sutton in the last four years is potentially extremely bad news for Sutton’s residents in the next four.
For Cllr. Whitehead to suggest that setting up the two Quietway schemes has been the main activity for the last four years is absolute nonsense. At the June 2016 Environment and Neighbourhood Committee meeting (so, only eighteen months ago) it was reported that “TfL was keen to work with the London Borough of Sutton on finding a suitable route, and the initial route assessments had been completed. Meetings were also being set up with relevant ward councillors to look at route options. The next stage in the process would be to agree a route in principle, so that the work needed could be assessed by Sustrans., and included in a delivery plan to submit to TfL”.
The first time Sutton residents heard of the Quietway programme (and only a small sub-set of the borough’s population at that), was in the summer of 2017 (six months ago) through an informal consultation. A summary of the responses to that consultation, expected at the end of September 2017, is still awaited three months later. Based on what has been delivered for Quietways in other London boroughs so far, the programme is totally discredited anyway. Only three weeks ago, at the Transport Committee meeting on 6 December 2017, former Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan called for the Quietway programme to be scrapped (interview with Andrew starts at about 2 hours 14 minutes form the start). In a sense, though, that is a bit disingenuous, because from the outset Mr Gilligan declared that Quietways would only be ‘lines and signs‘ – so if you set your sights that low what do you expect? Perhaps TfL have thrown Sutton’s north-south scheme back, unable to fund a Quietway that will be anything but quiet. Who knows? Watch this space.
Cllr. Whitehead goes on to list a series of ‘do what is easy, don’t do what is difficult’ schemes, including Green Lane to Trafalgar Avenue in Worcester Park, Green Wrythe Lane in Carshalton, and cycle paths in parks (Overton Park, Grove Park, Carshalton Park and Oaks Park). Essentially schemes that are guaranteed to make very little difference to cycling uptake, and, in the case of Green Wrythe Lane and footway conversion, continue to further marginalise cycling. As for paths in parks, back in January 2014, at Sutton’s first Cycle Summit, we were told that the Council had led the way with paths in parks since the 1980s. No wonder the percentage of trips made bicycle by Sutton residents is 2% in 2017, exactly the same as it was in 1997.
It is interesting that all Cllr. Whitham could bring to the debate was to ask what steps the council has taken to make sure pavements are safer for pedestrians from the pursuits of rogue cyclists. A question that makes one ask, is it really 2017? The Council has (unfortunately) been converting pavements on Green Wrythe Lane to shared use ever since 2012, but it looks like Cllr. Whitham is not aware of that fact. Thanks for your interest anyway….
… and our thanks too to Cllr. Mary Burstow for asking the original question. Please keep asking questions, although we suggest that if councillors really want to know what steps Sutton has taken in the last four years to make cycling safer, they read this blog. They could do worse than start with Glancing back to 2012, looking forward to 2018. Many may not, of course, like what they read, but comments are always welcome.
As 2018 arrives we are looking forward to the council elections in May, and a newly formed administration that will aspire to get Sutton cycling, to champion Healthy Streets and to deliver on Liveable Neighbourhoods. One thing is certain, if the current (paltry) target of 4% of all trips by residents by bicycle by 2025 (as set in 2013 and reinstated in the borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy in 2015) has any chance of being met, a lot will need to be achieved in the next four years. Beddington Lane is a start, but the real work will be with the communities across the borough. Let us have that engagement, let’s consider Sutton’s future.