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.”
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 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’.”
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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Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: The Two Faces of January, Sep 4
- David Lean Cinema: Fading Giglolo, Sep 6
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- Stop the Incinerator Quiz Night, Sep 8
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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