Croydon is scarred by urban motorways that divide the borough, cutting off people from their homes and work. KRISTIAN GREGORY, of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, says it is time to make people more of a priority than cars
The picture here was probably taken in the mid-1970s.
It is of Thornton Heath Pond. The area once sported a large fountain at the centre and the tramway passed by, but by the time this photo was taken both the fountain and tram had been removed and the area reduced in size to make room for more cars and buses.
The diminishing this once attractive public space continued over the years and there are few who would still choose to spend an afternoon relaxing there these day. There is little to differentiate the area from any other urban roundabout in Britain.
The small amount of greenery that remains is beyond enjoyment – air and noise pollution see to that, not to mention the challenge of getting to the central area in the first place. It is a familiar story across Croydon.
In the mid-20th century, transport planners rightly predicted the rise of mass motoring, but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As planners removed public spaces and tore out trams to ease congestion caused by rising car usage, they in turn made public transport, walking and cycling less attractive choices.
Streets became dangerous and unpleasant places for people and the availability of public transport options declined.
Shops moved to out-of-town shopping centres designed to be accessed by … cars. People with no previous need to drive now felt limited without a car. The end result was that the extra carriageway space was quickly filled with new traffic and the congestion that the schemes were designed to alleviate became worse than ever.
Not everyone could take part in this race for petrol-powered independence. Under-17s cannot drive by law. A range of disabilities and medical conditions can prohibit people from driving. Such limitations become more prevalent as we get older, meaning the elderly are disproportionately affected.
Owning your own car is one of the most expensive ways to travel, making it unavailable to many of Croydon’s poorest residents and young adults who face huge insurance premiums. It is a travesty of social justice that the urban realm has been reallocated for a means of transport accessible to a narrow section of society.
Fortunately, thinking has changed. This can be seen in the return of the tram to Croydon in 2000, which demonstrates we can take back space to improve transport options for society as a whole.
The situation for cycling in Croydon is not dissimilar to that of the trams. The tram infrastructure was torn out in the 1950s. Cycling has been removed from the roads more subtly.
With the growing volume and speed of cars on the roads, infrastructure was needed to be brought in to keep cyclists safe from the vehicles they shared the road space with. By neglecting to introduce these measures, cycling was marginalised and made inaccessible, so the number of cyclists on the roads dwindled.
Like the trams, cycling is accessible to a much larger section of the population than driving. Young and old, rich and poor can see most of their travel needs met. A local charity “Wheels for Wellbeing” holds regular sessions at the Croydon Arena where people with a huge range of disabilities can find a bicycle that enables them to cycle around. However, the conditions on our roads mean these people are confined to enjoying cycling within the bounds of the Arena. The tram infrastructure has been returned, but high quality provision for cycling remains absent.
We need people to cycle now more than ever. Cycling can help tackle a range of problems including the air pollution that is shrinking and damaging children’s lungs; the rising obesity levels which will soon cost the NHS more than smoking; mental illness and mood disorders, for which regular exercise has been shown to be a more effective remedy than many drugs; not to mention climate change, congestion, road danger and the nation’s growing dependence on oil supplies from unethical and unstable foreign regimes.
Above all, cycling is fantastically good fun. The sense of freedom that comes with independent, self-powered travel is highly liberating.
We already know how to make it happen. Everything we need to know about designing liveable cities has been tried and tested in the Netherlands. They now boast the most people-oriented cities in the world: 27 per cent of all journeys across the country are made by bicycle, compared to 2 per cent in Britain. We can take the lessons they have learned and apply them right here in Croydon and realise the same benefits.
Creating a more liveable city can take many forms. Wider pavements or full pedestrianisation can create wonderful high streets. Walking routes through parks and green corridors make getting around by foot a pleasure. Walking is better and more enjoyable where it is separated from powered transport, and the same is true for cycling.
The Dutch have separated the key routes for cycling from the key routes for driving, removing cyclist/driver conflict and creating a network that is safe and pleasant for all people to cycle along. As a result, cycling in Amsterdam is between three and 10 times safer per mile travelled than London.
Most journeys we make begin and end at the home. If people are to make the choice to walk or cycle then it must be safe in these places. Reducing speed limits where we live, and changing the driving network so that, wherever possible, residential streets are not used as through-routes can transform the area into a peaceful living space where you can talk to your neighbours, do some DIY or let your children play.
Closing off residential streets to rat-runners, and opening up routes between them for pedestrians and cyclists where none currently exist will play a large part in creating a network of safe routes to school for children. If we can achieve this the stress of the morning school run – and its knock on effects-on buses, delivery drivers and workmen – would become a thing of the past.
At least 20 per cent of morning traffic is generated by the school run. Obvious, then, that if children are provided with the safe routes they need to get to school then congestion will be cut dramatically. But even more importantly, young people will be given back their rightful independence to move freely and parents will get back the countless hours lost to needless jams. Any time lost to driving by the lower speed limits needed to make this happen will be more than made up for by the tackling of congestion.
Across London this is already starting to happen. Several boroughs are gradually “Going Dutch” by implementing these measures. Once again, Croydon is falling behind.
Five boroughs in London are rolling out blanket 20mph limits on residential streets in a bid to reduce road casualties and encourage more people to walk and cycle. Camden has constructed high quality, segregated cycle lanes along Tavistock Place and Royal College Street. Hackney has been busy removing one-way systems and introducing measures to stop rat running.
As a result of these efforts cycling is booming in these boroughs. It took real political will to make these projects possible and that’s what is holding us back in Croydon.
Until politicians, developers and the wider public understand the need to build a better city then we will continue to fall behind the rest of London and the rest of the world. Cities which prioritise walking and cycling work better for everyone. It will take time and investment but we can convert Croydon, gradually, into the kind of people-friendly place which attracts shoppers, start-ups and all manner of visitors.
- Find out more by visiting the Croydon Cycling Campaign website
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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- £3.8bn to keep London’s traffic moving and make roads safer (standard.co.uk)
- Blog: Can we end the war between motorists and cyclists? (confused.com)
- How Copenhagen passed its cycling proficiency test – and what the Danes can teach us (thetimes.co.uk)