The prospect of cycling being formally allowed in Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels moved a step closer last night after Greenwich councillors unanimously backed plans to change the bye-laws governing the river crossings.
Cycling has always been officially banned in the tunnels, although the rules stopped being enforced after Greenwich Council, which controls the crossings, stopped using lift attendants as part of a refurbishment scheme which saw user-operated facilities installed.
The growth both in cycling and of Canary Wharf as a major employment centre has, however, seen the Greenwich tunnel become a major commuting route for riders.
The Greenwich tunnel is now being used for a trial where cycling is permitted at quieter times, with electronic signs telling riders to dismount at busy periods when bikes can cause a hazard.
Tunnel user group Fogwoft has raised concerns that the law regarding rollerskaters and skateboarders needs to be clarified, and that the new law still technically prohibits unicycles.
The law change was passed without discussion at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting (see it here, 1 hour, nine minutes and 19 seconds in).
This is not the end of the process – Tower Hamlets Council has to agree to the change for Greenwich Foot Tunnel at one of its meetings, with Newham councillors needing to vote on the Woolwich tunnel. This website understands there is some unhappiness on the Isle of Dogs about cycling being permitted in the tunnel, leading to the possibility of some Tower Hamlets councillors objecting.
It’s not all easy going for cyclists in the tunnels right now – the Greenwich tunnel’s south lift has only recently reopened after being out of action for some time, a consequence of problems dating back to the botched 2011 refurbishment of the tunnels.
Greenwich Council is considering setting up its own cycle hire schemes, after once again ruling out paying for TfL’s Santander Cycles to reach the borough.
The council has rejected a new call to work on an expansion of the London Cycle Hire network, following a petition handed to the council last month by Conservative councillor Matt Clare.
While the Labour administration does not object to the idea, it has baulked at the idea of paying the estimated £2 million cost of bringing the scheme south east.
“Boris bikes” have been a common sight in Greenwich town centre since the scheme was extended to the Isle of Dogs, with a cycle dock close to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel at Island Gardens. However, coverage is poor south of the river, with just a single hire dock east of Tower Bridge.
An electric bike hire scheme is due to launch in east Greenwich and Greenwich town centre on 8 April as part of the City Hall-funded Low Emissions Neighbourhood (LEN) scheme. The 16-bike scheme will “encourage residents of the LEN to trial more sustainable alternatives to the private motor vehicle”.
Electric bikes would certainly work on the hilly terrain around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton; although plans to set up a hire scheme in the borough of Haringey – which features some punishing inclines around Highgate and Muswell Hill – have been dropped after TfL said they were poor value for money.
There are also plans being developed to make folding Brompton bicycles available at Greenwich station. Bromptons are already available at a handful of locations in London including Peckham Rye station, while there used to be a scheme at the University of Greenwich.
The report says: “Development work on the implementation of a Brompton Bike Dock is in progress. If the scheme were to progress 8 Brompton Bikes would be available at Greenwich Station. Residents would be able to hire these for just £2.50 per day with no initial sign up fee. By comparison the Santander Cycle Hire scheme costs £2 to access per day, the first 30 minutes is free and then £2 for every 30 minutes.
“Based on the outcome of these trials proposals may be developed for wider expansion of these or similar schemes to suitable locations in the Borough.”
“In the longer term, a variety of public bike sharing models are being evaluated. This includes traditional dock based models as well as ‘floating’ models that do not require substantial infrastructure to operate.”
Despite looking at different models, the report says Greenwich would still be interested in having the London Cycle Hire scheme – so long as it didn’t have to pay for it. “Officers will continue to work with TfL to ensure that TfL is aware that the Council would welcome an extension of the Mayor’s cycle hire scheme into the Royal Borough and to explore the opportunity to fund any expansion at no cost to the Council.”
With TfL facing steep financial cuts, any expansion of the loss-making scheme (it requires a £10m subsidy each year) would have to come from councils or developers, meaning its coverage of London is likely to remain somewhat lopsided. The most recent boost to the network came last year when bikes were made available in the Olympic Park, which is controlled by a City Hall agency.
While Greenwich has ruled out contributing to an expansion, Southwark Council said three years ago it would consider paying for the scheme to be extended to Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Camberwell and Peckham, which would pave the way for a further expansion east.
But little has been heard since, and when asked last year, Sadiq Khan would only say that TfL was talking to “council planners and land developers in Rotherhithe” about expansion there.
It’s been a very long time in coming, but walkers and cyclists could soon be able to use the Thames Path uninterrupted between Charlton and Woolwich – with plans to build a new path over the riverfront.
Currently, the Thames Path from central London stops dead at the Thames Barrier, with anyone wanting to continue eastwards having to continue via the busy Woolwich Road before walking through the King Henry’s Wharf housing development.
During the week, walkers in the know can sneak through an unsigned shortcut through the Westminster Industrial Estate – but these barriers prevent cyclists from using it.
Plans to plug the gap were first revealed in September, at Greenwich Council’s first “cycling forum”, after negotiations with landowners. Now they’re slowly starting to become reality, with one phase having already received planning permission, and another currently in the planning process.
The scheme is particularly good news for the enormous creative arts hub Second Floor Arts, as the new route will run right past its entrance. Greenwich hopes it will be complete by April 2017.
Heading from east to west… (apologies for the duff photos, which are of a display board at the cycle forum event).
Phase 1 is currently going through the planning process (see application 15/3519/F), and consists of a ramp from Warspite Road which will then sit on top of the riverfront, taking the route round to the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf. Or, strictly speaking: “Construction of combined footway / cycleway bridge, a 1.4m high pedestrian parapet with lighting incorporated into the parapet posts, erection of a wooden fender structure in the foreshore area.” Comments on this need to be with the council by 29 December.
Phase 2 already has planning permission (see application 15/2972/F). It consists of a ramp between Unity Way, the street that leads to the Thames Barrier visitor centre, and Bowater Road, inside the Westminster Industrial Estate. This means there’ll still be a diversion away from the river (and the deteriorating Mersey ferry Royal Iris, moored here) but nowhere near as long and inconvenient as the current scheme. Greenwich hopes to start work on this before April.
While the scheme would make life easier for walkers, it also opens up the Thames Path as a viable cycle commuter route for people in King Henry’s Wharf, Woolwich Dockyard Estate and beyond – a twenty-minute pootle on a bike to North Greenwich being much quicker and more pleasant for those who are up for it than squeezing onto an overcrowded bus.
The money for this is coming from Transport for London – as mentioned last week in the post about hire bikes and Greenwich town centre, many of Greenwich’s cycle-friendly schemes are either coming either from TfL money, or through adapting renewal schemes when roads need resurfacing or reworking.
Separately, there is also a scheme to introduce a stretch of segregrated cycle lane on Plumstead Road, in an attempt to fix a botched road scheme from a decade back. “Light segregation” is also due to be installed on a cycle lane in Rochester Way, Kidbrooke, shortly.
Greenwich has a newsletter for people interested in cycling infrastructure in the borough – email cycling-strategy[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk and ask to be put on its list.
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.
An interesting plan crept out of Greenwich Council with zero publicity before Christmas – it wants to put in a special cycle lane at Blackheath’s Royal Standard, to make pedalling through the area easier and safer.
The idea came from Greenwich Cyclists. If you’re cycling from Vanburgh Park towards Old Dover Road, it’s intimidating for new cyclists to have to circumnavigate the Standard, and can feel a bit dicey. So why not have a contraflow lane to cut straight across to Old Dover Road?
So, there it is. It’s a notable plan, because while Greenwich has been pretty good at widening cycle lanes and improving what’s already there; this might just be the first scheme on an existing road aimed at newer cyclists.
Most experienced cyclists will find the Standard a cinch (especially now it’s been resurfaced with new lighting) but it’s a worry if you’re a newbie. So it’s an important development, and I think it’s one which deserves credit.
You could have commented on it, but the oh-so-quiet consultation ended yesterday. Some things still need some work…
But there’s another way to have your say about cycling in Greenwich borough – the consultation into Greenwich’s cycling strategy ends this Friday. If you pedal around SE London, it’s worth a read and worth having your say too.
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.