Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category
Cyclists in Greenwich borough face missing out on “superhubs” proposed for North Greenwich and Abbey Wood stations after Greenwich Council resisted NINE separate attempts to set up a meeting with City Hall cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, it has emerged.
The council’s attitude also appears to put plans for a cycle superhighway through Woolwich, Charlton and Greenwich to London Bridge in jeopardy.
Last week saw farcical scenes in a council meeting as the Labour leadership tried to avoid debating the issue with the Conservative opposition, who tabled a motion condemning leader Chris Roberts’ refusal to deal with the controversial journalist, charged by London mayor Boris Johnson with pushing his recently-published “vision for cycling in London”.
But the council’s Labour mayor Angela Cornforth allowed an amendment to the motion from the leadership which avoided the issue entirely, leading to angry scenes at Woolwich Town Hall.
It’s since emerged that Chris Roberts cancelled a meeting of Labour councillors two days before the meeting which would have discussed the Gilligan motion. Instead, the meeting was moved to an hour before the full council meeting, denying Labour councillors the chance to fully debate issue among themselves.
Greenwich is the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to have refused to deal with Gilligan, and it has claimed it can still take forward projects outlined in the mayor’s documents. However, this appears not to be the case.
Now documents released by City Hall reveal the extent to which Chris Roberts has avoided communicating with Andrew Gilligan – and how even approaches to politically neutral officers appear to have been clamped down upon by the leader.
The emails were released after a request to the Greater London Authority under the Freedom of Information Act – however, what’s been released goes far beyond the Act, indicating that City Hall has had enough of refusals from Roberts and council chief executive Mary Ney, who is supposed to act in an apolitical manner.
The emails also document attempts by the mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Labour assembly member Len Duvall to persuade Greenwich to talk.
A covering letter from City Hall information governance manager Albert Chan sets out the picture clearly. Where they’ve been made available, you can download the documents through the links in the text.
“Mr Gilligan informs me that since his appointment in January he or others acting on his behalf (Transport for London officials or members of the London Assembly) have made a total of nine approaches to the leader, portfolio holder or officers at the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
“On 13 February, Mr Gilligan contacted the office of the leader, Cllr Chris Roberts, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.” (A separate FOI response from Greenwich Council claims Roberts did not receive a letter.)
“On 15 February he emailed Cllr Harry Singh, the cycling portfolio holder, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.
“He emailed Cllr Singh again on 20 February, but received no response.” (See both the emails here, obtained under a separate FOI to Greenwich Council.)
“On the publication date of the cycling vision, 7 March, Mr Gilligan expressed concern to the council’s cycling officer, Sam Margolis, who attended one of the launch events, at the lack of response from Greenwich. Mr Margolis promised to feed this back, but nothing further was heard.
“During March, at Mr Gilligan’s request, Alex Williams, TfL’s head of borough partnerships, raised the issue with Cllr Denise Hyland, the cabinet member for transport. Mr Williams was assured that the council did wish to be involved in the Mayor’s cycling plans. Again, however, no contact followed.
“On 26 March, Mr Gilligan wrote to Mary Ney, the chief executive, and to Cllr Roberts expressing his hope that the council would still take part in the cycling programme and asking for a meeting. He received a holding response from Ms Ney on 4 April, saying that she would respond fully when she returned from holiday. No substantive response followed.” (See the letter to Chris Roberts, which mentions the hubs at North Greenwich and Abbey Wood, Cycle Superhighway 4 to Woolwich and Mary Ney’s response. Greenwich Council denies that a letter from Gilligan was ever received by Roberts’ office.)
“On 4 May, Mr Gilligan emailed Ms Ney asking for a response, but received none.
“On 20 May, he emailed again and received a response stating that the council would not meet him.
“In mid-June, Mr Gilligan, the Mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Len Duvall, the local Assembly member, agreed to make a final approach to Greenwich, through Mr Duvall. However, the council continued to refuse to meet Mr Gilligan and stated publicly that it would not do so.”
The email from Sir Edward Lister to Roberts states: “I was surprised to learn that Greenwich, alone in London, has declined to work with Andrew, stating that there is a conflict of interest. Both Greenwich and the Mayor in fact share a common interest in ensuring that cycling in the borough is as attractive and safe as possible. We are extremely keen to work with, and to fund, Greenwich on cycling.”
But there was no joy, and the email trail ends only eight days ago, on 29 July, with an email from Gilligan to Len Duvall. It reads: “This issue has been decided by Ed [Lister]. He’s quite clear, and has asked me to tell TfL, that Greenwich must deal with me, and can’t go through Isabel [Dedring, deputy mayor for transport], if they want to benefit from any of our new cycling funding, infrastructure or routes.”
Gilligan also discusses the Tories’ motion and voices his fear that it will drive Greenwich “even further into the bunker”. A month previously, Gilligan also turned down an offer from the London Cycling Campaign to make a fuss about Greenwich’s refusal for the same reason.
It appears the events of last Wednesday have persuaded City Hall that there’s nothing to lose by abandoning the softly-softly approach. What’s striking is that Chris Roberts doesn’t even have the guts to respond to Gilligan to tell him to go away – it’s as if he’s scared of him. He either hides behind Mary Ney, or simply orders council staff to block all contact. A parallel FOI response from Greenwich to me denied that Roberts’ office received any correspondence from Gilligan – a claim I now know to be false.
Indeed, this whole episode goes far beyond a spat over personalities and cycling, for it reveals just how dysfunctional Greenwich Council really is.
But for the sake of the people of the borough of Greenwich – and not just its cyclists – does anybody on that council have the guts to do anything about it?
PS. To put Chris Roberts’ refusal to talk about cycle safety improvements into context, Monday saw a cyclist die in a collision with a lorry at the Archway roundabout in north London, while there was an unconfirmed report of one being hit by a bus at Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich.
Like most of the good things Boris Johnson promotes, this is another one that actually started under the previous mayor. Yesterday’s Ride London Freecycle – once the London Freewheel – was great fun as ever.
But getting to the start at Tower Hill and back showed how far London has to go in really becoming a cycling city, and how little progress has been made since then. A weekend of two-wheeled fun is one thing, but the real hard work is in making sure the whole capital is a city fit for cycling.
On the way up there via Blackheath, I saw a cyclist wearing a Ride London bib pull out of Westbrook Road into Kidbrooke Park Road, a road which makes for hairy riding at the best of times. But he didn’t pull out onto the carriageway, he did a left onto the pavement and cycled up that instead. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d actually just taken a train to Blackheath rather than cycled all the way back.
I took a friend who was riding in London for the first time, and while cycling along the Thames Path isn’t the quickest way to get to central London, it’s certainly the most scenic and pleasant. And riding over Tower Bridge is usually great fun. It wasn’t yesterday, though – a bottleneck of traffic and a badly-parked ice cream van meant it was slow and unpleasant going – and this was the main route into the Freecycle for many from south of the river. On the other side, there were people wheeling their cycles back on the pavement, rather than taking on the traffic. I even saw a bike being carried on top of a car, but that could have been unrelated. Closing this iconic old bridge to motor traffic was clearly a step too far for a “cycling city”.
The Freecycle itself was great – it’s been made bigger, thankfully, cutting the bottlenecks of the past. Being surrounded by children having a whale of a time was something special. But while making loads of noise in the Blackfriars Underpass was fun, I saw a couple of nasty crashes – when it’s sunny outside the underpass, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light inside.
On the way back, we took one of the few genuine innovations that has done some good – Cycle Superhighway 3, through Wapping and Poplar, before swooping down through Cubitt Town to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s a step above the other cycle superhighways, but while linking the route up has been a good thing, CS3′s separated cycle lanes – and traffic signals – were there long before blue paint was slapped down.
How easy did Transport for London make it to get back from Ride London? By not bothering to adjust the traffic signals, long queues of cyclists built up at the end of Royal Mint Street, where they were only given eight seconds to cross Leman Street. Clearly TfL’s “smoothing traffic flow” only applies to those on four wheels.
For all the great fun of Ride London, including this weekend’s amazing sight of amateur and pro cyclists charging down the A12 and through the Docklands for the London Surrey Classic (next time, how about through the Blackwall Tunnel and out to the North Downs?) it’s not going to do a single thing to make the streets safer for cyclists.
At the moment I’m watching the BBC’s Ride London coverage, where an elected politician is being treated once again as a national treasure. “It’s a magnificient symbol of what we’re doing for cycling in this city,” Boris Johnson told an interviewer, unchallenged, less than a month after two cyclists were killed in a week in central London. If Michael Gove held a national spelling competition, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying it was a symbol of what he was doing for education. So why does the mayor of London get away with it?
It’s easy to shut roads for a weekend’s pedalling party, but the real hard work is in making it easy for people to cycle to work, to school, to the shops. Maybe with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as cycling commissioner, we will finally to get somewhere with this (except in the rotten borough of Greenwich). But until we see concrete evidence (or rather tarmac evidence), while Freewheel/Skyride/Freecycle will continue to be a success in its own right, it’ll also be a symbol of a wider failure.
Update 00.15 Monday: The Ride London website quotes Boris Johnson talking about 50,000 “amateur cyclists” on Saturday’s Freecycle – does that mean people who drive cars are “amateur motorists”? It’s very unlikely Johnson came up with those words himself, but this City Hall clanger won’t do any good in persuading people that cycling is a thing that normal people do to go to the shops or wherever.
The main highlight of Wednesday night’s Greenwich Council meeting was meant to be the motion about Greenwich Council’s refusal to deal with Andrew Gilligan, London mayor Boris Johnson’s cycling ambassador.
But it ended up being a bad-tempered farce of a meeting, which somehow managed to drag on for three-and-a-half long hours, partisanly chaired by new mayor Angela Cornforth, even down to denying partially-sighted councillor Eileen Glover the chance to get amendment papers in large print so she could take part in debates. In five years of looking in on these meetings, it was the worst I’ve seen.
The ruling Labour group is opposed to webcasting their meetings – nobody has tried to video them from the gallery, and the rubbish acoustics make recording hard – and from performances like Wednesday night’s, you can see why. If people were able to see clips of what went on, Greenwich’s councillors would be laughing stocks. The rambling excuses of hapless cabinet members would be revealed, seeking to blame anyone but themselves for their own failings.
As for leader Chris Roberts, he looked like he wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else, hunched at his table, alternately sulking and snapping at anyone who dared to criticise what was going on.
There are Labour councillors who want change, but are biding their time. There are freshly-minted candidates for safe seats who’ll be on the council next year, who also want change. Wednesday night may well have been one of the last hurrahs for the Dear Leader and his cabinet of the walking dead. But what will come next?
Don’t mention Gilligan – running scared of the cycling debate
I’ve already mentioned the cynical manoeuvre of completely replacing a neither here nor there Tory motion on health with an amendment about Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, when Greenwich Labour councillors hadn’t even bothered to pass a motion opposing its closure when it was under threat.
A similar thing happened with the cycling motion. A motion criticising the council’s refusal to talk to Andrew Gilligan was replaced by a bizarre amendment which replaced the entire text with some meaningless words about how wonderful cycling is, grumbled that TfL is more interested in central London cycling, moaned that Greenwich wasn’t mentioned in the mayor’s cycling plan, and said the council would “press TfL to complete the Thames Path”, something that’s actually Greenwich Council’s job.
Tory councillor Matt Clare opened the debate. “One local blogger has described the Conservatives as, I quote, being to the left of the council’s authoritarian Labour leadership on cycling. I’m afraid that due to the lack of decent cycleways in the borough, all of us cyclists have to track to the far left.
“In the ward I represent, Eltham South, there are numerous examples of roads that are impassable to cyclists such as myself. On Court Road, many cyclists use the pavement, including council employees – I don’t judge them for that.
“Most importantly, however, the Woolwich Road flyover, where Adrianna Skryzypiec lost her life, needs urgent and radical solutions. And who better to bring the solutions we need, than someone who’s highly articulate, someone who’s already got an audience and is being heard out there, and lives in our own borough, and knows it far, far better than the others?”
Regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland cited figures which she says show Greenwich is one of London’s safest boroughs to cycle in – reeling off statistics at length. But what she failed to mention is that the low number of accidents reflects the low number of journeys taken by bike in Greenwich – which hasn’t seen the rise in cyclists seen in neighbouring Lewisham.
While she welcomed the mayor’s cycling policy, she added: “It is rather central London-centric – Crossrail for bikes, central London grid… and as an inner London borough, Greenwich is actually ineligible to apply for the [mini-Holland] process. I think some exceptions have been made for that, but we are ineligible as an inner London borough.”
So why didn’t Greenwich (which actually counts as an outer London borough in TfL’s recent Roads Task Force document) ask for an exemption? Hey-ho.
Even more weirdly, Hyland then referred to “the successful [sic] implementation of cycle superhighways from south of the Thames – Wandsworth to Westminster and Merton to the City – but they require a connecting bridge across the river. That reflects our case that more river crossings are needed”. It’s worth pointing out that cyclists would be barred from the Silvertown Tunnel that Hyland endorses.
You can hear more from Hyland and deputy leader Peter Brooks here:
Two words weren’t mentioned: Andrew Gilligan.
Labour’s amendment was passed around, and the fireworks were lit. Tory Nigel Fletcher said it was “quite clearly out of order”. “This is not a motion about cycling, it’s a very specific point about the relationship between this council and the mayor of London’s cycling commissioner.” Mayor Angela Cornforth, who you could feel flinch every time the council leader moved, wasn’t going to let her leader down and refused to entertain the Conservative objections.
An impatient Chris Roberts, hunched in his seat, twice objected to opposition councillors’ speeches, clearly trying to stop the “G” word from being mentioned
Worse was to come. When the Tory leader Spencer Drury tried to mention Gilligan, Cornforth intervened, claiming it was out of order as irrelevant to the amendment. He said that even local London Assembly member Len Duvall – an ex-Labour leader of the council – had intervened to try to persuade the council to talk to Gilligan.
Significantly, ousted Labour councillor Mary Mills made an intervention to ensure the work of her own cycling panel, which had included backbenchers and the general public, was recognised among the rowing.
“Wherever something is inconvenient to the party opposite, they chose to pretend it doesn’t exist,” added Nigel Fletcher – but Chris Roberts – doing his “I wasn’t going to speak but…” party trick – claimed he had Boris Johnson’s top team’s numbers on his mobile, and that relationships with City Hall were good.
Labour’s amended motion was carried – but they way the party leadership had carried on left a nasty taste in the mouth. You can read a full report from Mark Chandler at the News Shopper, while Tory candidate Matt Hartley has his own take on the issue.
Work soon on the foot tunnels… but report kicked into long grass?
This is a big one – Greenwich Council has started the process of finding contractors to restart work on the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, despite an independent report into the fiasco of their refurbishment not being finished. In October 2012, independent expert John Wilmoth was called in to write a report on the council’s processes when dealing with large projects, followed by one on the tunnels project itself. The first was done quickly, the second still hasn’t emerged. Originally, it was said the council would need to wait for these reports to be completed before restarting work.
Now it’s changed tack, and work’s going ahead.
According to Denise Hyland: “In discussions with our independent expert, we [have decided] the most important thing is to get those tunnels finished. So we have decided, within the boundaries of the October 2012 report to cabinet, to proceed with a procurement exercise to get those tunnels finished.
“As for the report by the independent person, I think this council would agree that the most important thing is for this council to finish the tunnels, both for our residents and those of Newham and Tower Hamlets. As for a timetable, I’m afraid it’s too early to say.”
What of the report? It’s likely to be sharply critical of the council, and particularly the department that Denise Hyland runs. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it was now delayed until after May 2014′s council election – particularly as there are rumours that Hyland fancies herself as the next council leader.
Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park
Listen to the end of that clip of Denise Hyland above and you’ll hear something that never normally happens – a Labour councillor asking a question. Peninsula Labour councillor Mary Mills broke convention to ask Denise Hyland for recognition that the Greenwich Ecology Park’s Green Flag award be recognised by the council – Labour councillors are usually forbidden from asking questions in council meetings.
The threat to the park from a 20-storey tower was mentioned in public questions – but Denise Hyland, who despite being in charge of regeneration also sits on the planning board – could only be non-committal.
A clash and some facts on Greenwich Time
Chris Smith, the leader of Greenwich borough’s Liberal Democrats, criticised the propaganda in council weekly Greenwich Time in public questions. In response, Chris Roberts slagged off the Liberal Democrats.
But we know now how much advertising revenue Greenwich Time has made in the past three years, both from external sources and from within the council. This came in an answer to a question from me.
2010/11: Internal – £379,754.35 External – £198,982.31
2011/12: Internal – £411,538.55 External – £224,893.26
2012/13: Internal – £403,938.56 External – £254,272.45
We also know how much it spends on freelance editorial and sales staff.
2010/11 – £227,621.63
2011/12 – £177,192.59
2012/13 – £206,880.90
Council leader Chris Roberts claims the council saves £2.3m each year in using Greenwich Time rather than existing local papers for ads, and that no council staff work on editorial or sales for GT.
Pavement charges for small shops
Environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara was quizzed about charges being brought in for small shops to put things on the pavement. She claims some businesses support it as it’ll bring certainty as to whether or not what they’re doing is legal.
She was questioned later by Tory Geoff Brighty, who asked if it was such a good idea, why the council hadn’t introduced it before. When a front page story about the issue in the Mercury was mentioned, she responded: “I must admit I don’t read the Mercury, so I have no idea what’s on its front page.”
Fires on Plumstead Common blamed on Boris Johnson
A spate of fires on Plumstead Common was brought up from the public gallery by Liberal Democrat candidate Stewart Christie. Maureen O’Mara’s response? To go on about Boris Johnson’s fire service cuts, which haven’t happened yet (and to which her own official response was pitiful).
There was another fire on the common yesterday afternoon. A blond-haired man was nowhere near the scene.
Greenwich Council’s refusal to deal with London’s cycling tsar Andrew Gilligan is to be raised by Conservative councillors at this Wednesday’s full council meeting.
It’s a move that will raise eyebrows among watchers of the capital’s cycling issues – Conservatives on the London Assembly have walked out of debates on cycling safety in tantrums over unrelated issues.
But as often happens in Greenwich borough’s through-the-looking-glass politics, the Tories are staking out a position to the left of the council’s authoritarian Labour leadership.
Council leader Chris Roberts is personally refusing to deal with the journalist, appointed by mayor Boris Johnson to be his one-day-per week cycling commissioner earlier this year, and launched an ambitious – if only partially-funded – programme of improvements to boost cycling and make it safer.
Roberts has ordered that the whole council should have nothing to do with Gilligan, who lives in west Greenwich and has criticised the leader and his council in his Telegraph and Greenwich.co.uk columns – even though this means Greenwich is believed to be the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to refuse to speak to him.
Last month, cabinet member Denise Hyland attempted to justify the snub, saying Gilligan “is a journalist who has blogged and written about significant issues of public policy within Greenwich and it is our view that he has an irresolvable conflict of interest”, adding that the council would deal with officers at City Hall and TfL rather than with Gilligan.
The Tory motion reads:
Council disagrees with the Cabinet Member’s suggestion that Mr Gilligan has “an irresolvable conflict of interest” and considers that his superior knowledge of our Borough should be something which works to Greenwich residents’ advantage.
Council regrets that Greenwich is the only Borough not to meet with the Cycling Commissioner to help plan spending on infrastructure to support cycling across London.
Council considers that the actions and comments of the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member with regard to the Cycling Commissioner places our residents at a clear disadvantage as plans are developed to improve cycling across London.
In particular Council wishes to express clear support for the ‘Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London’, most notably in its plans for a network of direct, high-capacity, joined-up cycle routes. In addition Council supports the Vision’s plan for ‘Mini-Hollands’ in the suburbs and Mr Gilligan’s support for the linked Dutch ideas of bike-specific traffic lights, station cycle hire, and streets designs that could be implemented in London.
Council calls upon the Leader of the Council or Cabinet Member to meet with the Cycling Commissioner as soon as possible to ensure that Greenwich residents (like Mr Gilligan) are not disadvantaged by the Executive’s failure to engage fully with the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London.
While it’s good that this issue is being given a proper airing in a council meeting – especially from a party which, nationally and at a London level, has a poor record in taking cycling seriously – the motion is certain to fail, and be replaced by one praising the council’s current approach, which backbench Labour councillors will be bullied into voting for, with a few digs at the coalition and Boris put in for good measure.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising if the motion has been placed with one eye on giving outgoing leader Roberts maximum discomfort at the last council meeting for three months. Greenwich certainly isn’t an anti-cycling borough, but under the current regime improvements and welcome initiatives such as creating a borough-wide cycle map have been given a low profile. It’s something some potential new leaders may be keen to change, to emulate other Labour boroughs such as Camden, Hackney and Lambeth.
Incidentally, this London-wide map of where people cycle to work from is telling – based on figures from the 2011 census, you can see how figures fall off sharply beyond Charlton and Blackheath (apart from an area around Woolwich Common – cycling squaddies?) – obviously distance is a factor, but if there’s any politicians in this area who want to take cycling seriously, there’s a challenge for them to consider.
It’s been a few months now since new cycle lanes were installed on parts of the A206 through Greenwich and Charlton, along sections of Trafalgar Road and Woolwich Road. While they’re nowhere near the Dutch-style lanes many cyclists want to see – and there’s still nothing happening to make the notorious Woolwich Road flyover safe – they’re bigger and clearer than their predecessors. They’re typical of the kind of cycle safety work Greenwich Council has put in over the past few years – while it’s not likely to entice anyone new onto two wheels, it tends to make things a little easier for those who already pedal. Until there’s a change of leadership, this kind of thing is the best we can hope for.
That said, there’s a few concerns. One I’ve heard is that sticking a traffic island at the foot of Victoria Way in Charlton has made Woolwich Road less safe for bikes by narrowing it. I’ve got no opinion on that, but I’ve certainly found that raising the level of Victoria Way at that junction has encouraged cars to divide into two lanes – blocking it for cyclists. It’s funny what the absence of a kerb does.
But more generally, it’s the fact that these shiny new cycle lanes carry no legal protection whatsoever. There’s not much point in creating a cycle lane if you then allow people to park in it.
I only do a few hundred yards of the Woolwich Road each morning, but the days when the cycle lane is clear all the way through are rare. But I’m lucky. Head into Greenwich, and things get a lot worse…
Thanks to Matt Drewry for this video, which he stuck up on Twitter when this came up in conversation. He shot it during yesterday morning’s rush hour as he cycled through Greenwich. The problem here’s pretty clear – Iceland and Tesco supermarket delivery lorries blocking the lane (and a great chunk of the rest of the road, too). There’s a similar issue on Creek Road in Deptford, too, with Tesco lorries blocking the bus lane.
So what’s to be done? A supermarket needs deliveries, but is it possible to shift those deliveries to a quieter hour? And with Sainsbury’s occupying space in the (Heart of East) Greenwich Square development, is this problem going to occur there, too?
There aren’t easy answers. But with cyclists’ safety back on the agenda after more needless deaths, this kind of thing has to be taken into consideration – not just when designing roads, but in wider planning, too.
Any council can spend as much as it likes on white paint and create a cycle lane. But if that lane’s always blocked when it’s most needed, then its really needs to go back to the drawing board.
Greenwich Council has admitted it is refusing to deal with City Hall’s cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan because he has criticised the authority in his work as a journalist.
Cabinet member Denise Hyland told a council meeting there was an “irresolvable conflict of interest” because he had written about “public policy” in the borough.
Greenwich is the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to have refused to speak to Gilligan, who launched plans to make cycling in the capital easier and safer earlier this year.
Hyland’s admission that the council wasn’t speaking to Gilligan came two days after a cyclist was killed in a collision in Lewisham, just outside the borough boundary.
In a written reply to a question from Greenwich Cyclists co-ordinator Anthony Austin, she said the council was engaging with TfL over the Mayor’s Vision For Cycling – just not with Gilligan.
“I can confirm that Officers have met with senior representatives from Transport for London to discuss the Royal Borough’s priorities and how they relate to both the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling and the funding packages available. The meeting was extremely constructive with Transport for London indicating that they were very supportive of the work the Borough has undertaken so far and confirming they would work with us to bring forward future proposals in line with the Council’s agreed priorities.
“In relation to the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, this is a part time post awarded to a Greenwich resident who is a journalist who has blogged and written about significant issues of public policy within Greenwich and it is our view that he has an irresolvable conflict of interest.
“The Leader of the Council met with his boss, the Deputy Mayor for Transport [Isabel Dedring] to agree that liaison on cycling matters would continue to be, as previously, through the officer networks and where necessary at senior political level.”
Gilligan, who lives in west Greenwich, wrote regularly about issues in the area in a column for Greenwich.co.uk for two years until 2010 and has also touched on local issues in his work for the Daily Telegraph. Abrasive and provocative, his targets included the Olympics in Greenwich Park, market owner Greenwich Hospital, the Inc chain of bars and restaurants, and this very website as well as the council (“forty-watt burghers“).
But Gilligan’s criticisms of Greenwich are nothing compared with his trenchant attacks on Tower Hamlets, whose elected mayor Lutfur Rahman he brands “extremist-linked“.
However, Tower Hamlets council seems to have a thicker skin than Greenwich – it’s co-operating with Gilligan on the cycling plan. Indeed, even TfL’s top brass are having to swallow their pride to work with someone who repeatedly dubbed it “Transport for Livingstone”.
Whatever your views on Gilligan’s skills or failings as a journalist, it’s pretty clear that he got to council leader Chris Roberts. In 2010, Roberts yelled “chicken run, my arse!” at an election count following a Gilligan story about him doing a ‘chicken run’ to a safer seat.
With this background, they were never going to be best buddies. But the leader’s ego means Greenwich is set to miss out on improvements which could make the streets safer for all road users, providing many with a new way of getting around the area.
Indeed, even Bexley Council has announced it’s bidding for “mini-Holland” funding to try to significantly boost the low levels of cycling in its borough. Cyclists in Greenwich will have to wait until at least the next council election in May before such enlightened thinking is seen on the streets of the self-styled royal borough.
The worst of news to start the week with, as a cyclist died after a collision in Lewisham town centre during Monday morning’s rush hour.
The car involved did not stop at the scene of the incident in Loampit Vale, but a man has since has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.
This is the stretch of A20 which was originally going to be included as part of a cycle superhighway from Victoria, until route CS5 was cut short to New Cross Gate last November.
At the time, Transport for London said “opportunities to introduce Cycle Superhighway-type infrastructure are limited” – essentially, it didn’t want to tackle the New Cross one-way system and the A20 into Lewisham.
Earlier this month, TfL announced that initial work between the Oval and New Cross Gate will be finished this autumn, with the lanes to be “semi-segregated” during 2014, but also that “various options” were being considered to restore the Lewisham leg of the route as well as links to other areas east of New Cross Gate.
At the time, that looked like a bit of a fobbing-off, but Monday’s tragedy is a reminder of just how important that original idea was.
Hopefully it will also concentrate the minds of local politicians, with the Lewisham Cyclists group complaining that Lewisham Council has been ignoring its attempts to start a dialogue about much-needed improvements. (In Greenwich, such a dialogue does exist, but the council’s leadership isn’t interested.)
The site of the Loampit Vale collision – between the junctions with Thurston Road and Elmira Street – is also on one of south London’s best-known leisure cycling routes – the Waterlink Way, which runs from Deptford to South Norwood.
Incidentally, there’s still no news on what’s happening with CS4, the planned cycle superhighway from London Bridge to Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich, although Greenwich Council has undertaken some works on the A206 through Greenwich and Woolwich to make cycle paths more prominent.
However, buried in a TfL press release last Friday was news that Greenwich Council had been given £200,000 for “pedestrian and public realm improvements” in Greenwich town centre, billed as a “package of measures to improve air quality including widening and improving the quality of footway linkages in Greenwich Town Centre and smoothing the flow of buses and taxis”. This doesn’t seem like a revival of the shelved pedestrianisation scheme, but what it means for cyclists, walkers and drivers remains to be seen.
Thanks to Clare Griffiths for the picture of the scene from Tuesday afternoon.
I was wandering around Greenwich town centre on Saturday evening, taking a look at the GDIF attractions, when a couple approached me. They’d just tied their bikes to the new racks at Cutty Sark Gardens – I was unlocking mine – and they asked me if I’d take their picture, which I did.
Nothing unusual in that, but one of them was riding a Barclays Cycle Hire bike. She’d clearly walked it through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (and hopefully didn’t have to lug it up the stairs) and opted to lock it up south of the river, where there are no docking stations. Hiring the bike must have cost her a fair bit – particularly when there are docking stations available to use near Island Gardens.
And half-an-hour earlier in Greenwich Park, checking out the Audible Forces installation at the top of the hill, there were two Boris bikes, left on the grass while their riders checked out things which made noises with wind. Those hire fees must have been clocking up nicely too – especially as the bikes must have almost certainly been walked up the hill (I can’t imagine trying to pedal one of those things up The Avenue).
In the 16 months since the cycle hire scheme was extended to cover the borough of Tower Hamlets, the blue bikes have become a common sight in Greenwich. Yet there after no docking stations south of the river beyond Tower Bridge, and no plans to extend the scheme south-east any time soon. Even if you were to leave Greenwich via the cable car, you’d face a roundabout journey north of the river to reach the system’s most easterly docking station, at East India DLR station.
This isn’t what the scheme was designed for – public cycle hire schemes are meant for short trips where you drop off your bike at each place you visit. The pricing reflects this, as do the sturdy, cumbersome bikes themselves. But what seems to be happening here is that people are taking the bikes from stations north of the Thames, and taking them for extended periods of time to explore south-east London. I’ve seen them pedalled down Trafalgar Road, ridden into Deptford, and taken as far out as the Thames Barrier.
All of which must be costing their users a fortune. Three hours and one minute with a Boris bike will set you back £35 (plus a £2 access charge) – yet Flightcentre in east Greenwich will let you have a bike for a whole weekend for that sum, and one that doesn’t feel like riding a tank.
With such sums helping offset Barclays Cycle Hire’s leaky finances, it’s no wonder there are no plans for docking stations to appear in Greenwich any time soon. Boris Johnson’s Vision 2020 map appears to show an extension heading towards Charlton, Blackheath and Lewisham, but carries the disclaimer that it is merely “indicative and is an example of the area that the network might extend to in the future”.
In any case, despite the mayor’s appeals to the public to badger Barclays to extend its sponsorship to expand the scheme, it’s been boroughs that have been footing the bill, at up to £2 million a time. I can’t see Greenwich Council going for that – and it’d be hard not to blame them. Even installing just one or two docking stations would end up being a logistical pain to manage – the scheme would have to be properly extended through Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford (and be funded by Southwark and Lewisham councils too).
If you’ve a few quid to invest, perhaps setting up a cycle hire place over at Island Gardens, promising to undercut the Boris bikes, might do people a favour and turn a profit. But for now, with people playing small fortunes to ride to Greenwich and beyond on bikes they can’t dock, the current head-scratching situation remains. Maybe they just have more money than sense.
(I should, of course, thank Greenwich Council for its long-overdue expansion of cycle parking spaces in Greenwich town centre, with new racks appearing in Cutty Sark Gardens. They were doing healthy business at the weekend, showing the demand’s there…)
At 2am this morning, 47 cyclists left Cutty Sark Gardens…
At 2.30am, 25 more joined in at London Bridge…
And one chap proved you didn’t need two wheels to join in.
3am, and five more joined in as we stopped for espressos at Bar Italia…
4.04am on top of Primrose Hill, and the capital was slowly lighting up…
Would 77 cyclists get the sunrise they were looking for?
4.42am: Nope. But there was fine company, dogs to play with and a gentleman greeting the dawn with bagpipes.
Then the pleasure of cycling home through near-deserted streets. The Midsummer Madness ride is magic, from the procession up through London (particularly the reception you get in the West End!) to the ride home. Thanks to ride leader Francis Sedgemore and the Dog and Bell Crew for organising and leading the ride (from Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark Cyclists).
Same time, same place next year?
A little postscript to the Greenwich Time ramble. The way the council’s weekly paper works, to promote the borough the way its leadership sees it, means that some of the many genuinely good works that come from the town hall are poorly publicised.
There’s a good example this week, as buried on page 22 is a one-paragraph plug for Greenwich Get Cycling day, which is this Saturday in Woolwich. It’s just a bit less prominent than the “star letters” GT runs criticising cyclists. So here’s a bigger plug for it.
You are invited to attend the Greenwich Get Cycling event on Saturday 27th April at the Royal Arsenal from 12pm-4pm. The cycling family fun day will include a series of led rides and other cycling activities to help you get cycling now Spring is on its way.
You will be able to take part in one of eight led cycle rides along the Thames Path, they are mostly flat and traffic free routes, perfect for families and new beginners:
* The shorter 30 minute route will travel eastwards to Thamesmead, leaving at 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.
* The longer 45 minute route will travel westwards along the Thames to New Charlton, leaving at 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
All rides will start and end at the Woolwich Arsenal Pier in Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. (Book in advance – see details.)
As well as the cycle rides, there will be other cycle related entertainment near the Woolwich Arsenal Pier, so come along and get involved:
* Try out the Smoothie bike to pedal yourself a Smoothie
* Take part in the Pedal Powered Scalextric
* Find out about how to maintain your bike from the Dr Bike service
* Take part in the Limited Edition Cyclists cycling skills course and slow bike race
* Get your bike security marked by the Metropolitan Police
* Find out how you can get cycling to work and get your own personalised route plan
* Find out about cycle training in the borough
There’s a lot of good cycling work going on behind the scenes at Greenwich Council – and this is an admirable event which deserves support. In particular, I’m told the council’s cycle training is very good indeed. It’s something you’ll rarely read about in GT, but I did see tags on bikes in Greenwich town centre a few weeks ago promoting the service, which struck me as a very good idea. Indeed, I keep meaning to give it a go myself.
All of which makes it even sadder that the political leadership of the council isn’t interested. The Thames Path is a wonderful facility, but hopefully one day, cycling will be taken seriously enough that there’ll be a Greenwich Get Cycling Day that doesn’t have to rely on using the riverside walk.