A contra-flow for cycling has been provided on the Carshalton station approach road for a number of years. However, the contra-flow, which exists on a road owned by Network Rail and leased to the incumbent rail operator (currently Govia Thameslink Railway), was poorly facilitated. As a result, the effectiveness of the contra-flow has been brought into question, and concerns over safety have been raised. Following a meeting this week (29 August 2019) with representatives from Network Rail, Southern (Govia Thameslink Railway) and Sutton Council, some safety improvements are to be made immediately with improved signage; in addition, plans are now in place to investigate more substantial improvements to the junction layouts in the future. These long overdue changes are designed to improve the safety of those who cycle and walk to the station.
Here we provide an overview of the issues associated with the existing contra-flow, report on the outcome of the August 2019 meeting, and consider how the concerns are to be addressed in the short and medium term. We then look further to the future, with commentary relating to parking on the approach road and how this is provided at the expense of facilitating safer space for walking and cycling.
Some background – a safety issue
The issue of poorly sighted, or inadequate, signage, on the approach road, which is two-way for cycling but one-way for other vehicular traffic, has been a concern for a number of years (and first reported here in February 2014). Combined with road-markings in the form of large, bold, one-way arrows painted on the carriageway (which give the impression to motorists that all traffic (including cycles) travels west-bound only), coupled with constrained space due to nearly half the available carriageway width taken by parking provision, “road-rage” style incidents and concerns of safety have been the result. Clearly, changes have been long overdue.
The approach road was closed between November 2018 and June 2019 to enable the installation of the very welcome passenger lifts at the station. It is rather ironic that at a time when the accessibility for passengers was being improved within the station precincts, no time, effort or expense was considered to improve accessibility immediately outside the station for people who travel to and from the station by accessibility scooter, cycle or on foot (i.e. the vast majority of rail users). Consequently, when the approach road was reopened, and it was a return to ‘business as usual’, the safety issue came to the fore again. The situation was further exasperated when much of the existing (and inadequate) signage was obscured with the anticipated spring growth of foliage and vegetation, and there appeared to be no protocol in place to deal with it. Either no one cared, or possibly they thought it was someone else would deal with it – who knows? We wrote to Network Rail in June 2019 to express our concerns, and took the opportunity to highlight the potentially dangerous situation at the western end of the approach road, by West Street, where the on-carriageway right-turn arrow directs motorists into the path of oncoming cyclists. In recognising that the situation was not caused by the recent works, and that the road-markings had been in place for a number of years, we nevertheless requested that action be taken as soon as possible to remedy the situation. We (or more specifically, Marcus) also cut back some of the vegetation.
Improvements in the short term
The meeting on 29 August 2019 was largely positive, although it was interesting that our concerns associated with this one road required input from three authorities, namely Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Sutton Council. Understandable, perhaps, given the location, but also possibly giving an indication as to why it has taken so long to start the process of delivering improvements here, as well as highlighting the need for better liaison between organisations (organisations whose help is fundamental to the successful delivery, or otherwise, of the aspirations outlined in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy).
It is instructive to note that not one of the three authorities has the overall responsibility of providing the public with seamless transportation across the station access road – each has its own sphere to manage, with discussion literally at times focussing on where on the ground the boundary between each authority’s responsibility lies.
The short-term improvements that can expected on the Carshalton station approach road are as follows:
- The removal of foliage and vegetation from signs, and for this to become a regular programme of works (responsibility Network Rail)
- The placement of cycle symbols on the carriageway to emphasise cycling is permitted against the flow of motor traffic (responsibility GTR)
- The installation of new signage, both additional and replacement, at the North Street end of the approach road in order to soften, or reduce, the current emphasis given to one-way operation (responsibility GTR)
- A review of the junctions at West Street and North Street (responsibility Sutton Council, liaising with GTR/Network Rail)
Provision of parking on Carshalton station approach road
Our recent discussions with Network Rail, GTR and Sutton Council regarding the safety issues on the Carshalton Station approach road have provided the opportunity to raise the issue of parking on the approach road. Although it is recognised that the important issue of parking is unlikely to be so readily addressed in the short term, in comparison with the immediate safety issue, there are many reasons why parking here needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
The discussions on road-markings and signage are all about how to make the approach road safer, and more appealing, for the majority of users of Carshalton station. There is no question, however, that safer cycling could be facilitated here by providing more space, and that in order to provide that space some of existing parking spaces would need to be removed.
So why is parking permitted on the approach road? What would be the impact of reducing the number of parking places? In considering the answers to these questions, three thoughts come to mind. Firstly, parking is provided here to raise income rather than to fulfil an actual need; secondly, the provision of parking is seen as more important than the provision of safe access and egress of the majority of station users; thirdly, a review of parking here is required in light of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (2018) and the various emerging and ongoing policies and strategies at a borough level. Let’s expand on these points.
Parking to generate income rather than fulfil a requirement
According to figures released from the Office of Rail and Road, the estimated total number of entries and exits made at Carshalton Station in 2017/18 was just over 1.3 million (1,300,972) representing an increase in estimated usage of 0.4% on the previous year (good news). Assuming the usage is significantly higher on a working day in comparison to the weekend, and assuming that the majority of people using the station leave and return the same day, 1.3 million users a year may equate to around 2,000 people on any weekday. (It is accepted that this calculation is only a rough estimate. If GTR or Network Rail have more precise figures, that would be helpful). Assuming an average car occupancy rate of 1.2, plus thirty-four available parking spaces (saba uk), and assuming that the majority of people who pay to park do so for most of the day (so turnover during the day is low), then perhaps 50 people benefit each day from the station area parking. 50 people, equivalent to about 2.5% of station users.
What would happen if parking provision were to be removed, or reduced? Perhaps the answer to that is known, because the station approach car-park was closed for over six months towards the end of 2018 to enable the area to be used as a compound for machinery required as part of the works to install a passenger lift (another good news story). How did people who usually park on the approach road cope? Did they park elsewhere? Did they try and find on-street parking nearby? If so, what impact did that have on others? Did they find other ways of getting to the station? Did they stop using the station altogether? Did anyone bother to ask? If not, why not? It would have been useful to have captured the outcomes, in order to make considered decisions on the future. For example, feedback could help inform the council’s on-going implementation of the borough’s parking strategy. Presumably, the people who make use of the parking on the approach road somehow managed during the period the road was temporarily closed. This would suggest that life would go on, even if there were fewer parking places in the future. Or will making money remain the overriding factor?
Inefficient use of the available space
If 50 of the 2,000 daily users of Carshalton station drive to, and park on, the approach road, then it would suggest that the remaining 1,950 daily users of the station do not. The majority of these people probably arrive and depart on foot. A very small number will cycle to the station, although, in proportion to the number who drive to the station and park there, the number who cycle is perhaps not that insignificant (with the attractiveness, or otherwise, of the local road network for cycling being an important aspect too).
Those on foot have to contend with using a very narrow and constrained footway. Someone has told us that “the space for pedestrians is lousy – bumpy and narrow pavement, with a very dangerous side slope near the top. Lethal in wet/icy weather and hard to navigate for those with mobility issues”. Another respondent noted “…the irony being that the refurbishment was in order to accommodate a lift at the station to increase accessibility”.
Those cycling face the wrath of a driver who (due to inadequate and poorly sited signage) is likely to be unaware that people have the right to cycle in both directions but also have nowhere to go in the event of a head-on confrontation due to a lack of space (highlighting the safety aspect).
One interpretation of all this is that the current layout is a highly inefficient use of available space, which puts the majority of station users (possibly 98.5%) at a disadvantage. From this it could be concluded that parking is deemed to be more important than safe access and egress by sustainable, efficient and active modes.
Looking to the future
Rail use is on the increase, but parking space on the approach road at Carshalton station is at capacity (and has been for years). Parking space on the approach road cannot be increased further. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has a target to increase the proportion of Londoners’ trips to be taken on foot, by cycle or by public transport from around 63% currently to 80% by 2041. Sutton’s targets are 48% by 2021 (from around 45% or 46% currently), 56% by 2025, and to 63% by 2041 (as set out in Sutton’s third LIP, and the borough’s recently published Environment Strategy and Air Quality Acton Plan). That means fewer people driving. Therefore, it would make sense to concentrate on making improvements for the increasing number of people who it can be expected to walk, cycle or take the bus to the station (including, perhaps, Sutton’s new on-demand bus service, GoSutton, or the recently launched electric assist bike hire (LB of Sutton, 25 July 2019)) rather than on those who drive to, and park at, the station (a proportion that can only go down, not up).
For these reasons it could be suggested that, when looking to the future and the provision for parking, retaining the status quo is not really satisfactory. Of course, if it is felt that parking provision needs to be increased in the vicinity of this local suburban station because additional parking correlates with revenue, then Network Rail really needs to start thinking about the compulsory purchase of nearby land to facilitate it. Quite how well that will be received, one can only surmise.
The proportion of journeys that residents of Sutton make by cycle in 2014-2017 was 2%. This is exactly the same proportion as twenty-eight years ago in 1991. The target for 2020 (previously set for 2017) is 2.2%, the target for 2025 is 4%.
Charles Martin, John Kinnear