Archive for the ‘Crap Cycling in Greenwich’ Category
You’ve probably heard about last week’s launch of Transport for London’s plans to boost cycling in the capital. There’s lots to like there, with eye-catching schemes like creating cycle lanes on the Victoria Embankment and the Westway. Whether they’ll actually happen will be another matter, though, as much of this will depend on London boroughs, who’ll be invited to compete for funds to turn their patches into “mini-Hollands”.
Other ideas which could get TfL backing include “quietways” (cycle routes in back streets) and suburban cycle hubs at public transport interchanges (which I’ve been banging on about for North Greenwich for about a trillion years, while Eltham or Kidbrooke stations would also make great locations.)
But it’s a start, and for now Boris Johnson’s cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan is talking a good talk. Unfortunately, Greenwich Council has decided not to talk to him. Of all London’s 32 boroughs, Greenwich is the only one to not respond to Boris’s pal’s overtures. Even barmy Tower Hamlets, to which the controversial journalist dishes out frequent written kickings, has responded.
The news is particularly disappointing, particularly as inviting Gilligan along to a meeting of councillors was discussed at a recent scrutiny meeting. It’s unknown what’s happened to that independent spark of thought, so whether this actually happens will be one to watch. On top of the lack of action over Greenwich town centre and the cycle superhighway, things aren’t looking good.
Heaven knows what’s going on inside the heads of the council’s leadership. You can disapprove of how Gilligan got the job. But if the mayor’s messenger comes offering goodies that’ll benefit the borough, then you talk to him. Anything else is self-defeating.
It must sound good at the next Labour Party coffee morning, though. “Oh, we just ignored Andrew Gilligan when he came along offering half a million for cycling. That’ll show the Tory bastards!”
Of course, this isn’t party political – London’s most cycle-friendly borough is Labour-run Hackney – but more a symptom of how Greenwich Council’s leadership wants to isolate its fiefdom from the rest of the capital. It’s rejected opportunities to bid for City Hall or government cash to improve local high streets, and at last week’s council meeting leader Chris Roberts even declared the council could run bus services better than TfL could.
Greenwich isn’t an anti-cycling borough. But most of what it does caters for those who already cycle – little tweaks to cycling routes as part of wider road safety improvements. What it doesn’t do, on the whole, is make changes that would encourage new cyclists – closing rat runs, opening up new routes – and it continues to denigrate cyclists by running critical letters in propaganda weekly Greenwich Time. The gem above appeared last week, while cyclists were instructed to “stop moaning” last year. Such a shame, when it could be promoting the free cycle training courses it offers both new and experienced riders.
This refusal to talk about serious change makes the council look like a laughing stock. But there are far more serious consequences to this pig-headed determination to isolate Greenwich borough from a process that should benefit the rest of London.
The pressure on City Hall to do something positive about cycling came as a reaction to the number of riders dying in accidents. In 2009, 31-year-old Adrianna Skrzypiec was killed under the Woolwich Road flyover; a few months later, 66-year-old Stella Chandler died after an accident at the foot of Vanburgh Hill.
But of course, sticking it to Boris’s buddy is better than taking action to protect the health and well-being of your citizens, isn’t it? To be the only one of 32 boroughs not to engage with a plan which could save lives should be a source of shame. Hopefully Greenwich Council’s leadership will get over themselves, grow up, and talk to Andrew Gilligan. I can think of a couple of people who aren’t around any more that they owe it to.
Here are some arsey tweets from the police.
What brought those about, then? Well, these “burglars, we’re coming to get you”-style messages (can’t wait to see the same tactics used for ALL car drivers because a few arseholes use their mobile phones behind the wheel) came as a result of Greenwich Park being closed as a through route for motorists, but most of all, cyclists.
The Avenue (the hill which runs into Greenwich town centre) was closed suddenly a couple of weeks ago for repairs to be carried out to repair damage caused by the heavy vehicles used when the Olympic equestrian stadium was being constructed.
LOCOG is coughing up for the repairs, and the all-new road will open at the end of March – which should also be roughly the time the stadium site will be fully back in use, too. So it’s fair enough the road should be shut. And since no pedestrian is going to want to share a pavement with a downhill cyclist (and neither is a downhill cyclist going to want to share a path with pedestrians), then it’s understandable the whole thing’s shut – although whether or not the whole thing could have been planned better is another issue. Royal Parks only gave about a week’s notice of the closure, and seems to have allowed its contractors to dictate the timetable.
The loss of The Avenue only affects car drivers for a few hours each weekday. But it’s a cycle route throughout the day, weekdays and weekends – something which seems to have been lost in the planning of this closure.
So if you’re approaching the park from Blackheath, expecting your normal ride down the hill, what notice are you given of this closure? There’s nothing at all on the paths crossing the heath approaching the park. The best you’ll get is a sign like this on Charlton Way…
…which is aimed at the tiny minority of motorists who drive through the park. If you’re on a bike, a diversion towards Blackheath Village is absurd, and you’ll probably think you can squeeze round the roadworks, which is what you can normally do – bikes being a bit more agile than cars – so you’ll enter the park with no warning signs at the gate, ride down, and then find a rude shock.
Well, at least it says “please”. But if you’re in a hurry, you’ll probably think you can get around this by nipping down the pavement – or, as the cyclists in the picture above did 30 seconds after I took the photo, riding down the other footpaths. And then that leads to the unpleasantness and bad feeling and, for some, £50 fines.
Yet if some warning signs had been put up before people cycled into the park expecting to ride down the hill, pointing people towards diversions, perhaps there’d be less need for the arsey messages, and fewer £50 fines. But even in Greenwich Park, the supposed needs of a tiny group of car drivers outweigh those of the hundreds of cyclists for whom this has become a reliable and safe route to travel along.
This isn’t a plea for special treatment – it’s simply a plea for the same treatment that drivers get. There’s been some interesting discussions going on in Westminster with an all-party inquiry into cycling, which is finding that cyclists are largely ignored when it comes to road planning. In Greenwich Park, cyclists have been ignored when it came to planning the road works, except for sticking the “no entry” signs up.
If a cycle route, which Greenwich Park effectively is (albeit shared with cars for a few hours), has to close, then some proper diversion signs should be put up – like cars get. Then nobody has the slightest excuse for breaking the law. This isn’t rocket science. But I can’t help thinking Royal Parks would rather not have cyclists spoiling their park, which is a shame bearing in mind it’s such a vital route for people from all over south-east London.
One last bit of business left over from Christmas – but it’s an important one for the future of Greenwich town centre, battered by shop and restaurant closures, and the unappealling prospect of the old Greenwich Building Society HQ, shut by Nationwide 18 months ago, becoming yet another estate agent and yet another bloody bookies.
You’ll recall Greenwich town centre has emerged as one of the places where mayor Boris Johnson claimed he wanted to put in a “flagship Go Dutch cycling scheme” – essentially, redesigning the roads to Dutch standards to give cyclists and pedestrians more space and priority. But details have been sketchy, to say the least, and despite the likes of the London Cycling Campaign getting very excited, it looked very much like Boris had just thought it up off the top of his head.
Then, last month, TfL executive Ben Plowden gave an interview to the LCC’s house mag. He said TfL was waiting upon “ambitious plans for its town centre” from Greenwich Council, before deciding quite what to do. So, what was Greenwich planning? I put a question in at the last council meeting, just before Christmas.
And the answer is… nothing. It’s TfL’s issue, according to cabinet member for “Greener Greenwich”, Harry Singh. (You’ll notice Greenwich Council relegates cycling to the mystifying “Greener Greenwich” portfolio along with bin collections, rather than the regeneration portfolio which deals with roads.)
Mr Plowden’s interview, and specifically the comments regarding the Royal Borough of Greenwich, took place with no consultation or input from the Royal Borough.
This latest statement from TfL to London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has similarities to one made earlier in 2012 by the Mayor of London at his Question Time and alludes to work in Greenwich which has not yet been defined or discussed with the Royal Borough.
In relation to cycling we are taking forward an ambitious Action Plan which has arisen from the recent Cycling Best Value Review. This is intended to increase cycling in the Royal Borough through improved training, facilities and infra-structure.
We are aware that Cycle Superhighway 4 is scheduled to be implemented in the Royal Borough by TfL by 2015.
Any proposal to take a Cycle Super-Highway through the World Heritage Site will represent a significant challenge. However the Council is looking forward to seeing TfL’s proposals for this piece of work and will work with TfL to ensure whatever is proposed, if delivered, is built to the highest possible standards.
There are currently no definitive plans to pedestrianise all or parts of Greenwich Town Centre although the Council continues to recognise that the current traffic gyratory system is detrimental to Greenwich’s World Heritage Site status.
Proposals for the pedestrianisation of part of Greenwich Town Centre were developed in principal [sic] before the Olympic Games. However they were not progressed. During Games time the temporary one way system which was put into place to support events in Greenwich was monitored. The results of that monitoring are now being examined to see what lessons can be learnt for any future proposals.
You can read the original here. So, the buck is passed back to TfL. Between Greenwich’s lack of interest in cycling, and TfL’s decision that running a cycle superhighway to Lewisham would be too difficult, I guess we’ll be lucky if CS4 makes it past Deptford Church Street.
Unless cycle campaigners pull their fingers out and harangue both the council and TfL about this, Greenwich will be more likely to see Dutch-style coffee shops than Dutch-style cycling.
In the meantime, cyclists can enjoy using this fantastic piece of cycle infrastructure in Old Woolwich Road – a contraflow cycle route (on the national cycle network, no less) blocked without explanation, warning, or diversion. It’s this joined-up thinking which really makes Greenwich borough such a… oh, never mind.
PS. There may be some good news on the Thames Path – fingers crossed…
For the end of 2012, we were promised shiny and revamped foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich – but they never happened. The Woolwich tunnel’s been left to rot, the Greenwich tunnel has gained new lifts which still aren’t working properly. It still looks a mess as well.
Funnily enough, the foot tunnel fiasco doesn’t make it into Greenwich Council’s back-slapping review of the year, available for a fiver – sick bags not included.
One thing that struck me before Christmas was the heated debate about cyclists in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, after this website revealed nobody had been prosecuted for cycling in there for three years. Ticketing errant cyclists would raise more than a Dear Leader’s Greatest Hits DVD ever would – but should, as some commenters suggested, the council officially adopt a more tolerant attitude to those who want to nip through on two wheels, rather than just unofficially doing so?
So, in place of any leadership from the council, let’s have a poll and see what you really think. I’ve taken some of the suggestions and tried to combine them into a series of options that’d work for both Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels. Maybe by this time next year, we could have a radical new policy that both cyclists and walkers could agree with.
Or maybe we could just have working lifts, and fixed-up tunnels instead…
With work still at a standstill at Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Greenwich Cyclists has set up a Facebook page to collect people’s experience of the stricken Thames crossing, laid low by a botched refurbishment scheme. Whether you’re on bike or on foot, I’m sure they’d be grateful to hear of your experiences. Expect to see it full of gripes about berks riding bikes through the tunnel in three, two, one…
There’s still no news from the council on who is leading its inquiry into the screwed-up revamp, which has burned its way through an £11.5m government grant, with council tax-payers footing the bill for the rest.
This video, from Lewisham Cyclists, was doing the rounds a couple of weeks back, but perhaps it needs a bit of post-Olympics attention. Would you want to ride a bike along here? Turn the sound up for the commentary.
This is the junction of Greenwich High Road, Deptford Bridge, Deals Gateway and Blackheath Road, right on the border between Deptford and Greenwich. This is what cyclists who leave the housing at Deals Gateway are expected to deal with – being left stuck in a box junction in the middle of the A2.
It’s the ideal spot for politicians to sit on their backsides and do nothing – it sits just off the border of Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs, and the A2 that cuts across this junction is the responsibility of Transport for London. But London Assembly members Darren Johnson (who’s also a local councillor) and Len Duvall have both put this to Boris Johnson – and so far, have had no joy.
I’ve done a piece for Snipe about whether the mayor can keep his promises on making the capital safer for cyclists. If an obviously dangerous junction like this can’t get sorted out – and it’s not on TfL’s list – then you do have to wonder if the mayor’s simply taking trusting campaigners for a ride.
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.
Naturally, it wasn’t an elected politician who brought it up – but Anthony Austin of Greenwich Cyclists. He asked just what the hell is going on with a project that should have been finished this spring, but now looks like it’s running a year behind schedule, with one tunnel liftless and shut at night, and the other completely closed.
“Who at Greenwich Council is managing the refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, and what was the original stated schedule of works and by how much has it been delayed?,” he asked in a written question.
Cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland responded:
“Firstly, I would like to apologise for the continued inconvenience to the public as a result of the partial closure of the tunnels and the shutdown of the lift service.
“The works to the foot tunnels are being carried out by contractors and consultants, whp also manage the works on a day-to-day basis, engaged by the Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills. The original programme for the works as known at the time for these century-old structures was estimated to be complete in the spring of 2011. Additional works and site complexities will mean the tunnels are unlikely to open fully before early 2012.
“The funding for the project has come from Government and no council funds are involved.”
Mr Austin then asked a follow-up question, the response to which you can hear here…
Listening to that response, I’m not sure if Cllr Hyland is really on top of the situation – it sounds like a painful piece of improvisation. At present, Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open daytimes only, with no lift service, and Woolwich Foot Tunnel is completely closed.
“May I thank Mr Austin for his supplementary… and reassure him that we are doing our absolute level best to bring these tunnels back into full operation, with the Greenwich tunnel early in 2012. This has been a heritage project, bringing the 100-year-old tunnels back into full use, and we have had decisions to make where we have had hidden structures have been uncovered and further work has been necessary.
“Private contractors manage the work on a day-to-day basis… and we have put pressure on our contractors and worked with them in a positive partnership to bring a swift resolution to the tunnel [sic].
“Can I say – absolute apology on behalf of the council to pedestrians and cyclists, because although the tunnels are open [sic], they haven’t had the proper lifts functioning in the way that they should. So, er, y’know, complete apologies for that, and we are working hard for a quick resolution.”
There’s no mention of Woolwich Foot Tunnel at all in that statement, which gives the impression that Cllr Hyland believes it is still open. And what on earth are these “hidden structures”? Shouldn’t one of the only councils in the country to publish its own weekly newspaper be telling us what’s happening?
It’s also interesting to hear the tunnels now described as a “heritage project”. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel celebrates its centenary next year, the Greenwich tunnel opened in 1902. Yet when Transport for London started refurbishing the Blackwall Tunnel, built in 1897, that wasn’t called a “heritage project”. TfL’s work there is running ahead of schedule, while Greenwich’s work is now a year late.
So we’re still no further ahead with understanding just what the hell is going on in those foot tunnels. With the Greenwich tunnel’s stairwells looking largely untouched – and the Woolwich tunnel’s southern portal boarded up and deserted – what are the odds on the project being finished by the Olympics?
Now the rain’s starting to clear, how about a bank holiday bike ride? In the year I’ve been cycling, I’ve discovered two words which no cyclist obeys. “Cyclists dismount”. Nine times out of ten, it’s usually there instead of a more sensible instruction like “slow down” and “pedestrians take priority”.
I saw this at the Thames Barrier last night. One of the footpaths there has been inexplicably closed off for a couple of weeks, with pedestrians directed to the cycle path. No big deal, pedestrians usually use the cycle path anyway. At a tight corner…
What’s behind it? A big trench that make the path impassable? No, another sign. Which reads…
So cyclists on a designated cycle path are supposed to get off, walk four metres, and then get back on again, instead of being instructed to slow down and watch for people on foot.
Did the person at the Environment Agency who installed these signs really expect this to happen? Did they really expect normal cyclists to do this, never mind the idiots and children it’s presumably aimed at? No wonder why “cyclists dismount” is the most ignored street sign that I know of.
(See also the plan to create a permanent anti-cycle chicane at Deptford.)
Yet another blockade of the Thames Path began this week, as workers building the new cable car finally closed part of the riverside path near the Dome. That means there’s now three separate closures around the Greenwich Peninsula, two west of the Dome, one east of it, plus the destroyed bit at Lovell’s Wharf.
But, a couple of miles further west, Greenwich Council is now planning a permanent impediment to getting along the path that’ll affect you if you cycle, jog, use a wheelchair or push a buggy. It’s planning to install a chicane on the path leading into the Millennium Quay development at Deptford from Borthwick Street – which, according to the plans, look similar to the barriers preventing cyclists from using footpaths and subways.
The plan’s a response to a number of burglaries in the development, where the perpetrators are said to have made their getaway by motorcycle along the Thames Path. So, because the police are failing to catch burglars – who are presumably caught on the private estate’s CCTV system you can see at the centre of the photo – everybody else has to suffer an inconvenience, and one of London’s best-known cycle paths gets blocked. The council’s consultation letter even admits the measure won’t stop all motorcycles and mopeds.
While it says buggies and wheelchairs will be able to get through, surely the idea of the Thames Path is to make the riverside easy for everyone to enjoy, not deter them from walking or cycling along.
If I’d had my stuff nicked by a toe-rag on a motorbike, I’d probably want the path landmined, never mind made more difficult to traverse. But this really isn’t the answer – for the burglars will just find somewhere else to steal from. It’s a law and order problem, not a traffic problem.
If you click on the image above, you can download the full PDF of the council’s plans, drawn up by Hyder Consulting – the company behind last year’s botched plan to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, which ended up being rejected by Transport for London for its insistence on turning much of west Greenwich into a gyratory system.
What’s the point of having a cycle path if you’re going to block it? Mind you, elsewhere in the Millennium Quay development, traffic engineers have also been doing their best to mess around with cycle lanes. This probably seemed a good idea before someone put the bollards in.
For more details on the plan, e-mail email@example.com by 2 September.