CROYDON COMMENTARY: After three deadly accidents involving cyclists in Croydon in the past month, AUSTEN COOPER says that our borough’s roads are overdue a modern transport infrastructure
Tomorrow evening sees the return of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series that last year saw professional racing cyclists do battle with themselves, the streets of Croydon and some impatient, reckless locals.
The Croydon cycle race takes place just over a fortnight after the death of 25-year-old Magda Tadaj, struck in by a lorry as they approached the Windmill Bridge on St James’s Road in Selhurst. The driver of that lorry is awaiting a court date, charged with careless driving.
As of yesterday evening, we were still waiting news of the man who on Friday received life-threatening injuries after being involved in a collision with a car on the A23 in Coulsdon. These two horrific accidents have occurred within weeks of another woman who needed to be taken to a major trauma centre after being hit by a car at the junction of Croham Road and Dornton Road on May 15.
Tomorrow’s big cycle race is being routed along part of the original London Cycle Network set up in the borough in the early 1990s. Though you’d be hard-pressed to notice.
Recommendations to Croydon Council by consultant engineers Buchanan and Partners to improve South End and the High Street for cycling were ignored at the time. More recently, the safe cycling “route” has been wrecked by a council intent on making it easier to drive and park cars there, even using riot compensation funds to pay for the re-working of the street, which has seen the cycle “lane” all but obliterated.
So what’s all this about a “cycling legacy” for Croydon, then?
“Cycling legacy” was the term used in the headline written by the council’s PR department to publicise the one night of cycle racing. It’s unfortunate that they chose only Tim Godfrey to speak to their piece, because his Cabinet portfolio is “culture, leisure and sport”. There was nothing from the cabinet member responsible for transport and the environment.
Why is that cabinet distinction important? It’s because we need recognition by the council leadership – elected and professional, majority group and opposition – that cycling isn’t just a leisure pursuit, a sport or a circus act, something for people to watch rather than do, as in the case of the BMX stunt team who performed in North End this weekend.
A physical and political recognition that cycling is most importantly a mainstream mode of transport has already happened in central London.
The new Cycle Superhighways provide high-quality, safe and convenient Dutch-style facilities for London’s rapidly increasing number of people who choose to cycle to and from work each day. The Superhighways were built in the face of tremendous political opposition, such as the London Taxi Drivers’ Association’s legal challenge and the ex-Chancellor Nigel Lawson, who claimed that they were doing more damage to the capital than Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
These new facilities have proved highly effective. Central London’s first segregated superhighway, opened eight months ago at Vauxhall Cross (a former death-trap for cyclists), has seen a 73 per cent increase in cycling during morning and evening peak periods, compared with the same road in its pre-superhighway state. Motor vehicle journey times in the area have returned to what they were before the construction works, or are quicker than before, with only one exception.
Meanwhile, here in Croydon, Councillor Godfrey tells us that “almost anybody, regardless of age, ability or disability” can cycle. True.
But without the kind of infrastructure that the Dutch (among others) now take for granted and that we’re seeing introduced along the Thames Embankment and in Waltham Forest, Croydon people won’t. And who can blame them, given the horror accidents of late?
While it is true to say that you’re more likely to die as a result of sitting on your couch at home instead of getting on your bike, perceptions of cycling on our roads as being dangerous or being just for the sporting elite don’t encourage mass take-up.
So, for Croydon to create a cycling legacy, we need to think bold and deliver physical measures that will allow locals and visitors to make journeys to and through our town, swiftly, cheaply and above all safely, by enabling them to choose a form of transport that doesn’t add to our road congestion woes and doesn’t worsen our already illegal air quality.
We don’t need to waste time on some grand visioning exercise to bring about the above. We’ve already got that box ticked, through London Cycling Campaign’s “Sign for Cycling” campaign in the run up to the recent Mayoral election. All major candidates – including Sadiq Khan – signed up to this manifesto, and our new Mayor of London has thus committed himself to provide:
1. More space for cycling on main roads and at junctions
2. A mini-Holland for every London borough
3. An end to lorry danger
Croydon’s bid to create a mini-Holland (shorthand for Dutch-style cycling facilities that make it easy, safe and pleasant for children, older people, those with disabilities and everyone else to cycle) was turned down by Transport for London in 2013. This wasn’t because the bid was of poor quality. It was because the borough had a justifiably poor reputation for spending what cycling funding it had been allocated, and TfL had a limited budget to dispense.
Times have changed, and there’s no reason why that bid can’t be dusted off and put to work now. To that end, Croydon Cycling Campaign – the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign – have put this on the agenda for the council’s next Cycle Forum, on June 21.
Let’s not kid ourselves that one-off sporting events such as tomorrow night’s bike race will get Croydon cycling.
For that to happen, we need investment in the kind of infrastructure that we’re seeing on the ground in other parts of London. At the end of the last century, Croydon Council’s enterprising spirit saw cross-party unity and no effort unspared in securing Tramlink. We now need that political will to give us a safe, fast, low-cost, efficient, pollution-free transport network – now that’s what I call a cycling legacy worth having.
- Austen Cooper is a member of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, part of the London Cycling Campaign. He has written this in a personal capacity
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