Boris’s Dutch cycling mystery in Greenwich

A funny thing happened at City Hall a month ago. Boris Johnson said he wanted to do something in Greenwich. It’ll be more significant to more people than his baffling cable car, yet nobody knows quite what he was on about.

During Mayor’s Question Time, he was asked about his commitment during the election, after pressure from the London Cycling Campaign, to introduce Dutch-style measures in London to assist cyclists and pedestrians.

In response to Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, he said

“These are early days, but I can give you an indication of where we want to go on two schemes. We are looking particularly at Vauxhall Cross and Greenwich and obviously these are still plans that are being developed very fast.”

Vauxhall Cross is specific enough, but Greenwich? Did he mean the town centre? Somewhere else in SE10? Or somewhere in the wider borough? I asked around, but nobody knew. And nothing more’s been said since.

Some people thought they knew. The London Cycling Campaign jumped to the conclusion that he meant Greenwich town centre. Greenwich Liberal picked up the ball and ran with it, declaring Greenwich would be a “flagship Go Dutch area”.

But, in reality, nobody knows. It would take an earthquake to shake Greenwich Council out of its institutional inertia and to create and promote something like this, instead of hiding behind dusty old bye-laws – the Cutty Sark Gardens farrago is proof of that. That’s not to say it won’t ever happen – Waltham Forest Council, once notorious for its lack of interest in promoting cyclist, recently did an about-turn and has launched a cycling action plan. See, it can be done.

So, if we rule the council out, the biggest influence TfL will have are on the roads it controls, and on its plans for a cycle superhighway along the A206 (CS4 to Woolwich, due by 2015). This could mean Greenwich town centre and its one-way system, but I suspect not – traffic moves so slowly around the market that even a scaredy-cat like me can navigate it without much bother.

For my own money, I reckon this is about changing the Woolwich Road flyover. Even in the dead of night this is a terrifying junction. It’s a king-size deterrent to seeing cycling in Greenwich as something practical and achievable for most people, for good reason.

Two years ago, Adrianna Skryzpiec died here after a collision with a lorry, and tributes to her remain there. Not far north of the river, the shortcomings of the cycle superhighway scheme were exposed in the most tragic manner after two deaths at the Bow flyover, with TfL belatedly attempting to make things safer with special traffic lights for cyclists.

Since the Woolwich Road flyover’s construction in the late 1960s, it’s been redesigned twice – until the late 70s, it was a traffic-signalled junction; and it was a free-flowing roundabout until about 1999. After the Bow flyover deaths, TfL simply could not get away with using the current design for a cycle superhighway, a battered and discredited scheme which needs a relaunch.

Add that to the fact that Vauxhall Cross is also earmarked for a cycle superhighway (CS5 to Lewisham, due next year), and that makes me think the flyover is what Boris is talking about.

So to go with a Dutch festival at the top of the peninsula, there might well be a Dutch traffic system at the bottom of it.

Of course, my hunch could be wrong. It could be somewhere else in Greenwich, or somewhere in the wider borough – Kidbrooke Park Road springs to mind, where the new Thomas Tallis School has loads of cycle racks, but nothing’s been done to make cycling there safer.

What do you think could be done to persuade more people to walk or cycle? Do you know any more about what Boris meant? Share your views below – and the London Cycling Campaign is looking for your ideas, too.

21 comments

  1. Greenwich Liberal

    I have had no extra information since I wrote my Greenwich Liberal piece but one or two others, including an ex-councillor, have e-mailed me to say that, like you, they would see the Woolwich Flyover as in the most urgent need of cycle safety work. I hope this is not a throw-away Boris line to be buried for the next four years, and have our Council been in touch with him to make sure it isn’t?

  2. Nelson's Left Eye

    There are already multiple pedestrian crossings at the flyover junction. A re-timing of the lights and some cycle-lane markings would be a very simple solution to improving cycle safety.

  3. John

    Hmm. I must admit, I don’t really find the flyover junction a problem as a cyclist. I think I’ve once come close to being hit (by a motorist who’d jumped the lights), though even that wasn’t really close enough to be a real danger. I am fairly confident though, and make sure I’m not on the inside of lorries …

    It’s a nastier junction as a pedestrian I think, just because it’s so grubby.

  4. Mary

    Oh Darryl! ‘hiding behind dusty old bylaws??’ – what is going on is actually working to change them. The idea in the cycling review two years ago was to look at the area covered and change by laws as appropriate. Some parks are covered by a blanket ‘no cycling at all’ by-law – but both park users and cyclists’ opinions need to be taken into account before they are changed. I was told that Greenwich Cyclists are in discussions with the Council on this?? If that is not true perhaps they would tell me so.

    The other thing – very happy to talk to anyone about the flyover.

    As you know there will be a chance to look at the Council’s cycling strategy document again in September – and, like others, always happy to raise issues. Just to remind you that the document was drawn up following a series of seminars with interested members of the public (and I am absolutely certain you were asked to come).

  5. methers

    To me, the whole point of the “Go Dutch” campaign should be to create a network of high quality routes which create safe, pleasant links between places where people want to go. The Woolwich Road flyover junction is horrendous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, but if TfL come up with a fix for this one location and then say they have done Greenwich I’ll be mightily disappointed.
    If cycling and walking became the norm for short local journies this would do much to improve congestion, health, air pollution, the local economy, etc. Getting people on their bikes is going to require much more than isolated fixes at one-off locations however.

  6. John

    To encourage people to cycle we need to change the mentality of drivers. The number 1 consideration is safety – not weather, not hills, not being unable to fix a puncture halfway through a ride – but worrying what the driver ahead & behind you is going to do and if they have seen you on your bike.

    I don’t really care whether or not Cutty Sark Gardens is open to cyclists or if they make King William Walk accessible the wrong way up a 1-way street. I’d like to see cars clamped if they’re in cycle lanes (haven’t been past there recently but the stretch by Sutcliffe Park often seemed to have them as well as sections on Charlton Road).

    Actually, another one of my main concerns is the shocking road surface – there are too many sections in the borough to mention here – but I’m not holding my breath on the council, TFL & any other bodies sorting that out properly. I see that Greenwich only fixes around 31% of the potholes reported to it http://www.fillthathole.org.uk/league-table so that doesn’t fill me with confidence to do their jobs for them.

  7. Darryl

    Hi Mary – if Greenwich wasn’t hiding behind dusty old byelaws, why have its wardens been stopping cyclists in Cutty Sark Gardens? Engagement like that seen in Waltham Forest is needed – you and I both know there’s a demand for it, as the response to the original best value review survey showed.

    Essentially, it starts with communication – which you could teach your fellow councillors a thing or two about, to put it mildly.

  8. Mary

    Darryl – I understand the Cutty Sark by laws are some of the ones up for discussion – but I failed to meet the man on Friday who was going to tell me about it, so – I am being a bit vague and cautious at the moment.

    – and why are by-laws dusty anyway – maybe old – but there for a reason.

  9. Matt

    As a cyclist I agree with John that I don’t find the flyover so much of an issue. It’s worse coming from Greenwich to Charlton as really cyclists should be in the middle lane, but rightly the temptation is for cyclists to keep left at all costs. This does mean that you’re exposed to myopic drivers wanting to turn left onto the flyover or to Sainsburys – a situation that’s nearly had me off a couple of times.
    On the road surface though (on my route at least) I actually say hats off to Greenwich, the lower road resurface helped a great deal and now the award for most shocking piece I encounter is in Lewisham by Surrey Quays.
    Just make entry into cycle lanes an actual offence for cars and motor bikes and I’ll generally feel safer..

  10. Darryl

    I actually think Greenwich does a decent job with most of the roads in the borough – try crossing Blackheath on Prince Charles Road, you’ll know when you’ve entered Lewisham. Ouch!

  11. James

    So Boris’ committment to ‘Go Dutch’ is, in fact, a couple of token efforts at a couple of random locations, except that there’s no current indication of what even this will entail?

    Colour me unsurprised.

  12. Matt

    Funnily enough there was a team of council workers out scrubbing and cleaning the flyover last night. Hopefully today it’s all shiny and new. Still have lots of cars jumping reds at the south-east slip road crossing, I’ve had quite a few near misses recently. This will be the first point I make when TFL open consultation over it, hah!

  13. John

    To second what Darryl says, I don’t agree with the other John about potholes – I think Greenwich is generally OK in fixing them. It’s also reasonably responsive (though maybe not as good as some) in fixing ones that are reported – any I’ve logged (direct not through FillThatHole) have got sorted out.

    That’s still not quite as good as Lewisham though – a while ago, I reported a problem where a dropped kerb on a cyclepath had been removed as part of other streetworks connected to a park revamp. I had an email from the project manager the following day, explaining why it had been removed, and detailing the cyclepath diversion she would put in place, along with the works needed to enable this. A couple of days later I got another email, telling me the works had been completed, and a nice set of photos to prove it.

  14. Kate

    Could we compile a list of the most scary roads to cycle on in Greenwich and submit it to ?? someone with responsibility for cycling in this borough and neighbouring boroughs? I cycled Shooters’ Hill this am and was overtaken by speeding cars, vans etc. No cycle lane and not a lot of fun, especially as coming from Charlton you have to veer right to avoid the Kidbrooke Park Rd traffic.

    Running along Greenwich Park on Charlton Way is a brand new paved area to service the horsey malarkey on BH – I think this is Greenwich Council land for the most part (?). This is the best road to cycle on to Greenwich Park’s main gate, the tennis courts etc. Could they not make it a cycle lane when the Olympics are finished? It used to be just grass verge and that road is too narrow for 2 way traffic, parked cars at weekends and bicycles, which forces cyclists to use Shooters’ Hill or the pavement. Who could be approached about this area? It would be easy and cheap to convert it into a cycle lane.

    It’s also such a pity that there isn’t a dedicated east/west cycle and pedestrian path running right along the Thames.

  15. Teresa Griffith

    I agree with Matt and John. I have no problems with the flyover – it is a lot better now that it is controlled by lights… pre 1999 it was a bit of a nightmare. Matt, you really should NOT be on the left if you are going straight ahead… any cycle instructor will confirm that. (I am provisionally qualified as one). Like John, if I was unable to safely make my way to the front of the queue, I would wait and NEVER undertake a vehicle if I wanted straight on and they might want left. Like them I have experienced light jumpers coming from Sainsbury’s and heading south. I have taken to glaring/yelling at cars coming from that direction in advance! I wonder if the lights should be set further back? – cars (and lorries!) just don’t seem to be seeing them…

  16. Matt

    If left isn’t the place to be, then cycle lanes need to reflect that by having a route up the middle. As I expressed it, all I was saying, is that there is a temptation to stay left and inside the perceived safety of the cycling lane.
    I’m not sure that yelling at cars is the answer though! I hope you’re not that pseudo basketcase cyclist I’ve (been embarrassed) to follow on occasion who bellows and even spits on cars encroaching into the cycle lane!!?

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