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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