It’s the simplest things that make cycling easier – and safer. Until recently, the single greatest improvement to my pedalling life was Lewisham Council resurfacing the main road out of Blackheath Village. Prince of Wales Road was treacherous, potholed, and grim. Now it’s like velvet. No more uncertain bouncing around, no more swerving around great dents or slowing down to absorb the bumps. Safer, and with fewer surprises for drivers. (Other areas of Lewisham borough haven’t been so lucky, mind.)
Together with Greenwich Council putting down a new surface at Blackheath Standard, it’s made a kilometre-long stretch a simple ride.
New cycle lanes on Charlton Road as well as Woolwich Road and Trafalgar Road have helped too. They’re not perfect, the deathtrap that is the Woolwich Road flyover is still being swerved while more radical ideas like redesigning side streets are being ignored. And the less said of the leadership’s road-building policies, the better. But they’re encouraging moves in the right direction.
Greenwich Council’s done some more super, simple cycling things recently. Nearly four years ago, I grumbled about the 1990s cobbles that interrupted the Thames Path at Greenwich Millennium Village. A couple of months back, they were finally sorted.
Now, all they need to do is indicate the pedestrian and cycling sides of the path a bit more clearly, and it’ll be nearly perfect (which is more than you can say for pedestrian and cycling provision in the rest of GMV).
Back up in Charlton, the wider cycle lane was blighted by a dangerous build-out into the road at the Charlton Road/Wyndcliff Road junction, just as you approach a zebra crossing.
Build-outs – where the pavement juts into the road – are a 1990s thing. But with cyclists encouraged to ride on the left of the road, this can bring bikes into conflict with motor vehicles – particularly as many drivers have an unfortunate habit of trying to race you to a point where the road narrows. One – to assert the primacy of buses on the A206 – was removed from a bus stop on Woolwich Road when the new cycle lanes were put in last year.
Now, the Charlton Road horror has been fixed – though it could do with resurfacing – and the street is much safer.
So, at least in the north-west of the borough, some positive’s action’s being taken to make cycling safer. Sadly, though – the reverse is happening in the deep south. Head out to Eltham, go down Avery Hill Road – a hairy stretch treated as a racetrack by many drivers – and you’ll find a brand new build-out…
From what I can gather, it’s to make it easier for Greenwich University students to cross the road after they’ve taken the 286 bus to their Avery Hill campus. But the first time I came across this, I found myself with a speeding berk bearing down on me as I moved to avoid this new obstruction in the road.
It’s not safe, and considering the good work being done in the north of the borough, it’s baffling as to why this would be installed in the south.
But it’d be churlish to ignore the good work that’s being done in areas like Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath. If Greenwich Council really wants to encourage cycling – and there is a strategy now in place – then it needs to be consistent across the borough, and its highways engineers need to checking their “improvements” against this, rather than going for the first solution they can think of.
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.
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.
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.