Posts Tagged ‘cycling’
A Monday night at Woolwich Town Hall? Well, there’s been better ideas for start-of-week thrills, but turning up to the catchily-titled Sustainable Communities and Transport scrutiny panel was the only show in town if you wanted to catch up on what Greenwich Council is doing for cyclists.
There’s a fair bit going on below the radar – you can read about it here – and if you listened to Greenwich Council’s officers talk, you’d feel that cyclists (and potential cyclists) were in safe hands.
But there were not one, but two elephants in committee room 4 last night. One was council leader Chris Roberts’ personal refusal to speak to London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan.
The other… where were all the other councillors?
On the seven-strong committee, only two – chair Hayley Fletcher, and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills – bothered to show up, along with independent Tory Eileen Glover, co-opted onto the panel. Labour councillors Mick Hayes, Don Austen, Matt Pennycook and Dick Quibell clearly had more pressing concerns than showing up to a meeting they’re paid to attend. The same went for Tories Nigel Fletcher and Adam Thomas.
One councillor had an illness in the family and another was on holiday; while Nigel Fletcher’s day job meant he, oddly, was at the Labour party conference. Matt Pennycook may well have been electioneering. As for the others… heaven knows. It’s not like these people get paid to represent us or anything. Oh.
So the meeting limped on, unable to make any decisions because there weren’t enough members there, but the discussion was interesting. Direct mention of the Gilligan farrago was delicately sidestepped by the officers, and it was made clear that council officers were trying to get hold of every (other) piece of funding available. But Greenwich’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, added that these “paled into insignificance” compared with the sums available under the schemes Gilligan is promoting.
Not that Greenwich would have been able to get all of the loot. It was confirmed that Greenwich wouldn’t have been eligible for the “mini-Holland” funding which is being offered by City Hall, having been firmly told it doesn’t count as outer London, but neither does it qualify for sums being offered to central London boroughs. (This was a subject cabinet member Denise Hyland seemed a bit clueless about at back in July.)
But as for what Greenwich would be entitled to, we were told TfL hadn’t been in touch with the council for nearly a year on Cycle Superhighway 4, which is due to run from London Bridge to Woolwich. While all the routes are up for review, Andrew Gilligan told Lewisham Cyclists last week that CS4 will be the last to be developed because of the intransigence of Greenwich’s political leadership.
Beyond this avoidable mess, though, there was discussion of those under-the-radar things discussed earlier – work on finally sorting out Cutty Sark Gardens so people can legally and safely cycle through it to the foot tunnel; the “missing link” in the Thames Path between the Thames Barrier and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich; some work on Canberra Road, a useful cut-through in Charlton; pointing out to Royal Parks that its signs for cyclists in Greenwich Park aren’t much cop; a joint scheme with Lewisham (cripes!) to link Greenwich station with Deptford High Street and onto New Cross; and some work going on in Avery Hill Park, Eltham.
Nothing fancy and showy, but all good solid work. And if Greenwich councillors actually cared, they might even get some more work done.
It wasn’t just cyclists let down tonight – anyone that’s cursed trying to get from the south of Greenwich borough to the north by public transport also found their concerns ignored, as the councillors missed a report about just that. We learned Transport for London has decided Kidbrooke to North Greenwich is a “priority corridor” for a public transport boost, but also that there’s no news on the final “DLR on stilts to Eltham” report – commissioned by the council two years ago, but not through the transport department. Odd.
There were other issues raised too, but hey, if Greenwich’s councillors can’t be bothered to show, why should you be interested? Was it laziness, or pique at the Gilligan issue, or just a dreadful coincidence? Who knows?
Here’s a map showing how low the rates of cycling are in Greenwich compared with other London boroughs (click it for a larger version). If Greenwich councillors really want it to change, they’ll have to do a lot better than they did last night.
But perhaps this current crop of councillors simply don’t want it to change.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Hot off the press from the London Assembly, a written answer from mayor Boris Johnson.
A little recap. In May 2012, the mayor announced plans for a Dutch-style road scheme in Greenwich, to assist cyclists and pedestrians. Except he hadn’t told the council, nor had the council picked up the phone to ask what he was on about.
Seven months later, a TfL executive said it was waiting for plans from Greenwich Council. A couple of weeks later, Greenwich’s cabinet member for bins and cycling said there were “no definitive plans”.
Clear as mud, then.
Go Dutch development of Greenwich town centre
Question No: 8 / 2013
There have been a number of contradictory statements about who is responsible for bringing forward the flagship walking and cycling development in Greenwich that you announced shortly after your re-election. Will you clarify your promise to create a flagship walking and cycling development in Greenwich?
Written response from the Mayor
I am encouraged by the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s statement that they are taking forward an “ambitious action plan” for cycling in the Borough. My Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, himself a Greenwich resident, is arranging meetings with the Council to discuss its vision and how this can fit into our own equally ambitious plans for cycling in London. We do not wish to pre-empt the Royal Borough’s plans.
TfL is also working closely with the Royal Borough of Greenwich to plan and deliver a new Cycle Superhighway through Greenwich. Building on the lessons learned from the first Cycle Superhighways, and from the ongoing Better Junctions review, CS4 will be built to ambitious new standards.
TfL is also keen to work with RB Greenwich to explore how major new development areas such as the Greenwich peninsular [sic] and Charlton could be developed with the ‘Go Dutch’ cycling principles’ approach in mind.
You’ll see that nothing in his answer specifically mentions Greenwich town centre – just the woolly answer about Greenwich Council’s borough-wide “ambitious action plan”.
But the mention of his new cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, is intriguing. When the west Greenwich-based journalist’s controversial appointment was revealed last month, I wondered just how he’d cope negotiating with those he’s aimed brickbats at in the past. I’m barely one to talk here, but had he burned too many bridges locally?
It seems not. So it’s good to hear he’s going to take on cycling in Greenwich – which will involve dealing with councillors he’s branded as “forty-watt burghers”.
What’s even better is that I hear those same burghers are more than happy to meet him – with the council’s transport scrutiny committee looking at ways to get him involved. If he comes along for a meeting, be sure to bring some popcorn.
It’s also good to see another commitment to build Cycle Superhighway 4 (from London Bridge to Woolwich) through the borough – despite the neighbouring route being chopped short at New Cross. It may be a challenge through Greenwich, probably the narrowest section of CS4, but as the road widens through Charlton and Woolwich, will we see proper segregated lanes like the one above, planned for Stratford?
The mention of getting involved in plans for the peninsula and Charlton riverfront is also promising – but none of this should distract from the original promise to sort something out in Greenwich town centre.
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.