The council has announced a five-year plan for cycling in the borough. Our biking correspondent, EDDIE MERKS, reckons it might finally get Croydon out of second gear
Croydon’s never really taken cycling seriously.
At a time when other London boroughs are introducing ambitious “mini-Hollands” and the biking Tory Mayor of London was installing cycling super highways, Croydon was turning cycle lanes into car parking spaces, abandoning modest “Quietway” proposals, and even the style-over-substance “Croydon Cycle Hub” bike shed at East Croydon now lies in pieces, the victim of a private property developer’s requirements.
So last week, an announcement of a £20million, five-year programme of cycle-friendly improvements around the borough represented a bit of a breakthrough. If Croydon was a cyclist in a race at the London Velodrome, they would still be about two laps behind the rest of the field, with a lot of catching up to do.
It is 20 years since Croydon last published a cycling strategy paper. That was full of fine words but little else and led to not much at all.
In some cases – such as at South End – even some not very good cycle lanes were removed, for those car parking spaces (which, in turn, are just yards from an off-street car park, though with Brick by Brick around, there’s every chance that that car park will get built on sooner or later).
The latest cycling strategy was discussed at Monday’s council cabinet meeting. It differs from the draft 2017-2022 version published last year, and not simply with an updated title to 2018-2023.
The new document is much more detailed about the challenges ahead, acknowledging that there are many road junctions – some under control of Transport for London which are “problematic for cyclists and a barrier to cycling”. For example, there’s the Newgate gyratory, the notorious Fiveways and the Lombard roundabout.
There’s also a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t change, from the draft’s Proposed End State Cycle Route Network, which among other things shows a Principal Cycle Route connecting North End with Norbury via the A23 (on page 10 of last year’s draft document, which you can read by downloading the pdf here) and the much less detailed one on the now-adopted official 2018-2023 version (which you can read by downloading the pdf here).
While the strategy acknowledges – quite rightly – that safety is the major barrier to people cycling in Croydon (along with “culture”, availability and topography), there’s a glaring omission which a document such as this will never admit: the lack of political will.
When the Conservatives regained power at the Town Hall in 2006, Councillor Richard Chatterjee wryly observed at his first meeting as chair of the council’s cycle forum that the impact of cycle-friendly streets might induce heart attacks among drivers delayed by any such measures. It’s hardly surprising, then, that with such a car-friendly attitude on the council cycle forum, very little got done over the next eight years, apart from shuffling paper and making excuses.
Front-bench Croydon Tories Jason Perry and Steve O’Connell publicly expressed views to the effect that until and unless all cyclists obeyed every sentence of the Highway Code, they could expect little support from them.
And so it came to pass that when Croydon bid in 2013 for multi-million pound funding from Boris Johnson’s mini-Holland schemes to turn the borough into a safe and enjoyable place for cycling, his Cycle Czar Andrew Gilligan rejected it on the grounds that the council had developed a very poor track record of spending any monies allocated for such schemes.
It’s not just a politically blue thing, either.
Last month, Labour’s Paul Scott, in his role as chair of the council planning committee, criticised cycle parking provision in the basement of a new residential tower block next to East Croydon railway and bus station and tram stop on the grounds that the developers were offering insufficient car parking spaces.
“Whilst I am sure we all want to see more people cycling, that is not realistically going to happen. So get real and stop impacting on our viability of affordable housing,” Scott said, addressing any members of the Greater London Authority who may have been watching the meeting (well done to the Sadvertiser for that sarcasm).
Scott went on to make a straw man plea to the Labour London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. “Please, in your review of the London Plan, do take into account the ludicrous situation we have at the moment where there is this assumption that absolutely everybody will be cycling.”
Dr Rachel Aldred, a senior lecturer on transport at the University of Westminster, told a London Assembly transport committee on January 10 that, “Political will is often the biggest barrier, perhaps even more so than financial constraints. In respect of London there are varying levels of support within TfL and within the boroughs. We haven’t yet managed to mainstream cycling across the board.”
Chris Boardman, the former Olympic champion whose mother was killed when cycling in a collision with a van, is now Greater Manchester’s first commissioner for walking and cycling. He put what is required more simply: “Political courage to upset the status quo … this is seen as a political issue, and it is not. Every survey that is done says the public wants it, but everybody assumes that this is going to be a political problem. That is because we just give way too much emphasis to the vociferous minority”.
It is not known whether Boardman has ever encountered Coulsdon’s very own cycle-phobe and one-man anti-cycling campaigner, Peter Morgan.
But Austen Cooper, of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, has generally welcomed the council’s new document, which has been steered into place by Labour cabinet member Stuart King.
“There’s a lot of positivity in the strategy,” Cooper said, “and what’s needed now is turning those positive thoughts and plans into actions. Political will and money are required to make that happen, and hopefully we now have those in place.”
Who will emerge in charge of the Town Hall from the elections in May is anybody’s guess, and the one thing the Croydon needs in particular is the kind of cross-party unity that led to Tramlink being brought in.
There’s a glimmer of hope in that Steve O’Connell, who attended the meeting addressed by Dr Aldred and Chris Boardman, told the assembly that, “I speak as someone who is buying his first bike in about 30 years for physio reasons. I will probably have one of those ones with a basket and I will put my dog in and potter about.”
If Croydon’s cycling strategy can get the likes of a sexagenarian Tory on a bike with a dog in the basket, it will have succeeded.
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I’d cycle more if there were any safe way of realistically doing it. But I’m intrigued to find out what exactly these plans might be. More painted strips on roads? Pointless. A proper, dedicated and quite separate cycle path running alongside major road routes would be great, but how? You can’t make the Brighton Road narrower, and you’ll need more than £20m to purchase a whole load of front garden space… I’d also be interested in what exactly these 400,000 cycle journey routes are. Probably not many in the hilly south of the borough, or around Upper Norwood, unless you’re Bradley Wiggins…
I have done a double take on the good news of the £20 million proposal to develop cycling in Croydon, in particular over the reports of Councillor Scott’s comments.
I recall the Planning Meeting on the Tower of Babel development in the Purley traffic island and the destruction of the Victorian church to build a block of modern flats in Wandle Park, when he claimed that neither street parking nor traffic would be impacted because everyone would be cycling!
Now I see his comments regarding East Croydon Station development and his riposte to Sadiq Khan, which says the opposite.
Assuming this not fake news this can only be a case of “now it suits me, now it don’t”!
Hello George. You are correct in your assumption. And in your observation that Scott adopts whatever position suits his cause at any particular time.
You are wrong to claim that the council has done little or nothing for cyclists. During the pre-2006 Labour administration I was responsible for a considerable amount of spending on new cycle routes and safety measures and had to justify why the greatest amount of money was being spent on the smallest minority interest group, compared to far less for many larger and equally worthy minority interest groups in our population. The fact that cyclists were far more critical of the sums allocated to their safety than the less well funded other groups (e.g. the disabled) was a bit of an irritation. Nevertheless, we did recognise that safety measures were needed for cyclists and allocated resources to that cause.
More recently there has been the political will to try and introduce long distance cycle priority routs through the borough but the problems of fitting in cycle routes on often narrow roads with heavy parking has proved extremely unpopular and caused local traffic chaos. The experiment at Norbury Avenue, Thornton Heath had universal opposition from residents and did not work. Despite what some campaigner seem to want, the motor car and vans cannot be uninvented and cycling is not a suitable option for the majority of us.
Paul Scott is right to point out the problems with the planning rules that require more than 100% cycle parking provision. It will never be taken up and everyone with any sense knows it is a nonsense and pure political gesture. Certainly secure parking for bicycles is necessary but the over provision of cycle spaces prevents adequate vehicle parking which is also necessary, e.g. for the disabled and for servicing properties.
I haven’t heard of too many cyclists being critical of provision for people with disabilities; neither should they be as 18,477 of them were killed or injured by motorists in the last available full year (RoSPA figures for 2016).
Never mind “motor car and vans cannot be uninvented”. It is now imperative to reduce accidents and the health risks of pollution in London where we keep crowding more and more people and their vehicles into less and less space. If that means creating car free zones, slowing down traffic, maybe even Park and Ride and reducing over-development in urban areas, then so be it. There will come a time when people wonder why we subjected our population to these conditions and exhaust fumes will fall into the same category as the great smogs of the 1950’s.
Are there any elected politicians out there who can show some care and imagination? Let’s hope so if the £20 million survives Council elections and budget cuts.
Inside Croydon correspondent Paul Mark Ford in his response above, mentions very real points about the hills of South Croydon, and Upper Norwood. I once worked up on the Triangle in the old Law Courts (Foresters Hall) building, and tried cycling there and back from my home in Coulsdon. I was around 50 years old at the time, and reasonably fit.
Thre experience was absolutely exhausting due to the up hill grind over miles — and for much of the year, face-freezing. Plus breathing in the pollution along Whitehorse Road and Brighton Road, and the dangerous junctions at various places. Not to mention the occasional aggressive car drivers, the potholed streets, and winter darkness.
I gave up and reverted to train and walking, or car if I had site visits to do.
In Coulsdon, Purley, Kenley or West Sanderstead, and parts of Upper Norwood, where around 90% of people live on a hillside, to cycle a bike down to the shops may be feasible, but roads are steep, potholed, and slippery in the wet, and the weather is often windy and cold, so even the downhill journey is not easy.
To then expect anyone to cycle back up the hill laden with shopping is ludicrous. Pushing a bike up hill is the only solution for most cyclists, with or without shopping. I am not among the uber fit, nor are most.
Also, do we live in some prewar timewarp (probably mythical) where we all have unlimited time? It takes a long time to cycle back up the hill in hilly areas.
Bikes are, however, brilliant for moving around in Holland, and our own flatter areas, which includes plateau places like upper Sanderstead, Hamsey Green and Warlingham Green, and places in the vale, like Woodside and South Norwood, and West Croydon, Thornton Heath and Norbury.
I hope that most of the resources allocated by the council will target these flatter places where cycling is feasible.
With the advent of electric cars, air pollution will lessen, which will make the main roads less awful for cyclists
By the way, I am in fact pro cycling, anti-pollution, and am pro public transport and walking, so I walk to the shops and use the admirable local buses to get back up the hill, if my shopping load is too heavy, or drive there and back if time short or for a main shop.
No doubt we all try to do our bit for the environment, and health.
For fitness, I will soon dust down my bike, and cycle to the gym.
That`s the plan, anyway.