£3m of riot fund spending in South End is “hostile” to cyclists

No through road: how improvement works on South End - at the entrance to Spice's Yard - has cut off the cycle lane

No through road: how improvement works on South End – at the entrance to Spice’s Yard – has cut off the cycle lane

South End, one of the main routes into and out of the centre of Croydon, today remains a building site, reducing the amount of passing trade able to visit local bars, restaurants and other shops nearly two months after a one-way system was introduced while “improvements” works continued.

Around £3 million of public money, which was supposed to assist those areas worst-hit by the 2011 riots, is being spent on these “improvements” in South Croydon.

But local cycling groups have condemned the scheme as a multi-million-pound waste of public money which will make South End “hostile” and more dangerous to cyclists. The “improvements” could actually make it more difficult for cyclists to ride to a local cycle store, one of the real victims of looters on the night of the 8/8 riots.

Works on South End started in early March. There has been a one-way system which has diverted buses and other heavy traffic on to neighbouring roads, some of them residential, since July 21, and which was supposed to have finished within six weeks.

The so-called “improvements” broadly appear to consist of narrowing the road, making what was already a busy thoroughfare potentially more congested, adding some playground-style bicycle racks while removing any space for cyclists to be able to safely ride along the road. And lots of new car parking spaces.

Despite being so close to the proposed completion date, the pavement and road along South End has remained a mess of builders’ materials, traffic cones, dirt and dust this week.

The works went ahead despite protestations from local cycling groups, traders and residents.

Austen Cooper, from the Croydon Cycling Campaign, part of the London Cycling Campaign, wrote to Croydon Council more than a year ago, during the “consultation” period – which proved to be the usual drill: go through the motions, allow the public limited information about any plans, pay lip-service to contacting various interest groups for their views, and then go ahead and do what you intended to do all along.

Certainly, the cyclists feel that their concerns have been utterly ignored, as cycle lanes on what is supposed to be part of the London Cycle Network have been built over to make way for parking bays for cars. The cyclists maintain that the “improvements” will make South End more dangerous and actively “hostile” to cyclists when the works are finally completed.

“South End is part of the original network of cycling routes in Croydon set up through the London Cycle Network (LCN) scheme. It is a key route into and out of Croydon town centre, for cyclists as well as other road users,” Cooper wrote to the council officials handling the planning.

“The stretch of LCN is, like others in Croydon, interrupted continually by car parking spaces, rendering much of it useless…

“The plans to widen the pavements and make the road narrower ‘to calm traffic’ will potentially make the stretch of South End hostile to cyclists, either deterring the timid or encouraging them to ride on the wider pavement, and endangering the bolder ones.”

Space for cycling? Not after the improvements works on South End have been completed

Space for cycling? Not after the improvements works on South End have been completed

The cycling lobbyists also called for South End to be made into a 20mph zone – although it seems highly likely that with motor traffic squeezed into less road space, that aim may be achieved simply because of increased congestion.

What appears remarkable, even by Croydon standards, is that a set of plans are being implemented in 2014 which makes it more difficult, and more dangerous, for cyclists to use a major route into town.

The minimum carriage width on either side of the dividing line should be no less than 4 metres, and ideally 4.5 metres, according to the London Cycling Campaign, to be safer for cyclists and buses to share a bus lane.

But with the changes being implemented along South End now, Cooper says, “There is the risk that cyclists riding to close to the nearside edge of the road might collide with an opening vehicle door, or in trying to avoid this, swerve into the path of a vehicle following too closely and fast behind.”

The council’s somewhat dull PR spinners have tried to dub the area “the Restaurant Quarter”, much to the distaste of the owners of music shops, electronics stores, retailers and other businesses along the stretch. These include two notable cycle shops, Geoffrey Butler and Cycle King, the latter being one of the businesses in the area which was attacked by looters on the night of the riots.

It is a piece of perverse public service that millions of pounds of riot recovery money is now being spent and will likely adversely affect a riots victim’s business, making it more difficult for cyclists to ride along the road, as the South End plans remove what Cooper describes as “the token-gesture unusable cycle lanes to give them over to parking”.

The hidden agenda for the “improvements” in the South Croydon area could be proposals for new primary schools, one possibly on Aberdeen Road – subject to objections from one particularly vociferous and influential bar owner, apparently because the noise that the young children might make at the school – or to be built in Spice’s Yard.

This latter proposal probably explains why so many car parking spaces are now being built into pavement recesses along South End. Spice’s Yard is currently a public car park, used by many customers of the local restaurants (or at least those brave enough not to fear having the vehicle broken into when parked there during the hours of darkness).

If a primary school is built in either of the sites, as Cooper observes, “Unless steps are taken now to enable staff and pupils to cycle there easily and safely, that part of Croydon will grind to a halt every morning and afternoon during term time.”

Cooper says that the council’s response to the cyclists’ concerns over its proposals was “frankly, dismissive”.

The one-way system at South End should have finished last week, but is still in place, with much work still to do

The one-way system at South End should have finished last week, but remains in place, with the contractors still with much work to do

The council officials point-blank refused to take on board any of the recommendations of the London Cycling Campaign, many of which have been broadly adopted by the Mayor of London as sound policy for bike-safe roads. Croydon Council replied to Cooper by saying, “It will not be possible to implement the London Cycle Design Standards for carriageway widths because of the existing constraints.” What these “constraints” were was never revealed.

“However different strategies to improve cycling along South End will be implemented including: prominent road marking for cyclists; removing all road marking in certain locations; bringing carriageway surface up to footway,” the council claimed.

Cooper was unimpressed. “How these will benefit people who want to cycle to and through South End, safely and easily, was not disclosed,” he told Inside Croydon.

“Similarly, a detailed reference to the council’s and London’s targets to increase cycling take-up, as part of Boris’s vision to cycle-ise the capital and normalise cycling, was simply ‘noted’.”

Unfinished, perhaps, but some of the paving along the pavements on South End looks well below standard, or has much work to do

Pictured this week, and unfinished, perhaps, but some of the paving along the pavements on South End looks well below standard, or has much work to do

Cooper was particularly concerned that when council officials compiled their report to submit to the council’s elected representatives at the traffic management cabinet committee in October 2013, it made no mention of any of the representations on behalf of cyclists.

“The executive summary said that the scheme was part of the Connected Croydon programme, whose aims included ‘improving Croydon’s environmental performance with a focus on promoting public transport, walking, cycling and the provision of high quality, accessible and safe facilities’,” Cooper notes, clearly barely able to contain his mirth at such blatant disingenuity.

That report to councillors last October also claimed that the South End scheme’s environmental impact would include, “An improvement in the road safety aspects of the general highways environment by reducing the level of conflict between pedestrians/ cyclists and drivers.”

Cooper is adamant. “This scheme does nothing of the kind for cyclists.

“It’s a wasted opportunity and a waste of public money. Things could have been so much better – and not at the expense of the restaurateurs who were intended as the primary beneficiaries; evidence from elsewhere shows that making restaurants and shops more easily accessible to those who choose to cycle boosts trade.”

Cooper even questions whether any discussions ever took place between the Croydon planners and those at City Hall who specialise in designing and delivering cycle-friendly infrastructure.

“It remains to be seen whether the new Labour administration, will do better than their predecessors,” Cooper said. “Certainly it’s easy to think that they would be hard pressed to do any worse.”

But the sad reality is that Labour’s new council will not have the “luxury” of the multi-million-pound riot recovery fund, which has been squandered so badly on ill-considered schemes such as South End.



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10 Responses to £3m of riot fund spending in South End is “hostile” to cyclists

  1. derekthrower says:

    Why haven’t you spoken to some of the local businesses about their opinions over these improvements? I am sure you would have some controversial comments for the record.

    • We have, but given the South Croydon Business Association’s very close relationship with both the council and Grey Label, none are prepared to comment publicly. Though clearly we have reflected their concerns in the loss of trade over the last few months.

      Besides, this is an article about cycling.

      There may be more to come as the works delays bite ever deeper…

  2. Peter Rogers says:

    I’m not part of a cycling campaign but I do cycle up and down South End at least twice a day and the irony of installing bike racks whilst ripping up cycle paths and making the area more dangerous for cyclists hasn’t been lost on me.

    I wonder if Croydon is the only borough in London removing cycle lanes?

    If this is paid for by riot recovery money as you suggest then Fisher and the last council need to be investigated for misappropriation of funds as this was quite clearly more than a petrol bomb’s throw from the riot-hit areas

    • Jonathan Law says:

      As someone who until recent years considered themselves a keen cyclist, I agree that Croydon’s streets have become unfriendly places to cycle, irrespective of whether you follow the Highway Code. (Myself I always adhered to what I was taught for my cycling proficiency aged 11…….and what I learnt to take my driving test years later). These days I gave to wait till much later to venture out on two wheels…..maybe 2am to get a clear run.

      The bike lane on South End and Brighton road was always a disaster as it shared itself with parking bays, and most motorists emerging from side roads used it as an extension of the road they were pulling out of.

      I agree that a golden opportunity has been squandered perhaps with this recent revamp as far as cycling goes and it still remains to be seen if the road will pass muster at all for even cars and buses. We’ll see within a few days……

  3. davidcallam says:

    A fine example of the worst in local government practice.

    Let’s not consult anyone – other authorities, cyclist groups, residents – in case they delay us. We need to get this work started before the election so the other lot can’t cancel it if they’re elected.

    Find a cheap contractor, give him poor information about the present state of the pavements and what, if any, foundations they might have. Don’t look too closely at how he solves the unexpected problems he finds.

    However, there may be light at the end of this tunnel, courtesy of London Mayor Boris Johnson.

    We have still to learn BoJo’s plans to smooth access and egress to the Hammersfield development. We may yet see the additional parking bays removed and the whole of South End double yellow-lined and rigorously enforced 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

    • David, cyclists were “consulted”. I even had an hour-long meeting with the council’s Project Manager and Project Officer, who very kindly travelled from Croydon to meet me at a cafe around the corner from where I worked, just off the Tottenham Court Road.

      However, it struck me at the time that the die was cast, and this was the council’s way of ticking the “public consultation” box rather than involving stakeholders from the beginning. Sadly, too many public bodies and servants think that regeneration is something they do “to” people, not “with” and “for” them. While I gave it my best shot, it was, alas, to no avail.

      As the article above states, even the fall back position of making the speed limit along that stretch of road 20mph was ignored.

      However, on 16 September 2014, the Council’s Streets and Environment Scrutiny Sub-Committee will hear presentations from Croydon Cycling Campaign, Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrians’ Association), 20’s Plenty for Us and the Institute of Advanced Motorists about the virtues of 20mph speed limits (despite their name, the IAM are in fact against). With a fair wind, and bold political leadership, Croydon may join the likes of Camden, Islington, the City of London and other enlightened local authorities and their citizens that are enjoying safer, more people-friendly streets.

      To put that into context, in 2013, road traffic collisions in Croydon took 13 lives and, using figures supplied by the governments Department for Transport, cost the borough economy over £60m. We can’t afford not to make things safer: 20’s plenty for Croydon.

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  5. In fairness cyclists are a ruddy nuisance. They are a law unto themselves. They pay no tax yet expect no end of money to be spent on turning unsuitable roads in to cycle friendly carriageways.
    Croydon in comparison to many other boroughs has relatively few cyclists (thankfully), so the idea of wasting god knows how much on them is ludicrous in the extreme.
    I do however on the broader note agree that the whole South End “improvements”, have been a total waste of good money. It makes no sense what so ever.
    Three million quid on some crazy-paving is plain daft.

    • Sigh.. so many tired old canards here, there’s nary enough orange sauce to go around.

      SOME cyclists break traffic laws (as do some of, well, pretty much any group you care to identify). That’s no reason to not provide decent, safe facilities for the law abiding majority. What you’re suggesting is analogous to closing the M25 until every last driver learns to stop speeding and using hand held mobiles. (Incidentally, you get much less cyclist lawbreaking in places where the roads are safe to begin with – force people to live by their wits just to stay alive, and funnily enough they end up thinking they know better than the law).

      Roads are paid for out of general taxation (of which cyclists, statistically on above average incomes, pay more of). Even if road tax were a thing (it’s not, it was abolished in 1938, what you pay is emissions duty from which most eco-cars are exempt), how do you know that chap on a bike hasn’t got a V8 Range Rover sitting on his driveway at home? (Those Lycra-wearing gentlemen-of-a-certain-age you see en masse on Saturday mornings out by Warlingham in fact probably do. Or at least an Alfa).

      Croydon has relatively few cyclists because the place is so hostile to ride around. That’s not a good thing – Croydon also has higher rates of pedestrian deaths and injuries, more childhood obesity, more kids dependent on Mum’s Taxi to get them to and from school. TfL’s own analysis indicates that many journeys which could easily be cycled are presently not (resulting in more congestion for those who genuinely need to drive), and when asked, the overwhelming reason people give is that the roads are too scary.

    • I trust Mr Hamilton is amongst the minority of motorists that always respect speed limits and abide by every rule in the Highway Code, and that like cyclists, he pays no “tax” because his vehicle is a low / no emissions vehicle or a “classic” car.

      Sadly, like other car supremacists, he stereotypes cyclists based on ignorance, a worrying thing in itself, and potentially illegal if applied to people because of their race or religion rather than choice of transport.

      There are not so much “cyclists” as “people who cycle” (as well as walk, drive, take a bus, train or tram). Even the RAC recognises this. In its 2014 Report on Motoring, it comments that “For a number of years, Britain’s motorists have told us how difficult it would be for them to adjust to life without their cars. Despite this, most motorists walk, cycle and use trains and buses.” They have found that a third of motorists cycle at least 1-3 times per week.

      The easier it is to cycle, the more people will opt to get on their bikes, so reducing road congestion and air pollution and improving public health and well-being. What’s not to like, Mr H?

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