Cyclists still forced to ride on dangerous roads to nowhere

Split decision: Croydon’s cycling provision remains woeful

CROYDON COMMENTARY: A recent report on the state of the borough’s  unhealthy streets has caused dismay for DAN MAERTENS

Dismay.

That was my first thought when reading the report on Inside Croydon about our borough’s poor rating as far as “healthy” streets.

My dismay was not because of what the article contained, but because it is all so depressingly familiar.

The links to previous articles on that page demonstrate that well: “A once in a generation to opportunity to shape a new Croydon“; “£20m for cycling strategy could get Croydon on their bikes“; and “Cyclists’ manifesto wants an end to carnage on Croydon’s roads“.

We still have the opportunity, but not the strategy, at least not in terms of anything that brings real change on the street, as opposed to wordy aspirations.

What is going wrong?

Lack of money or lack of vision? Apathy and inertia or push back?

If one thing, the recent lockdowns have shown it’s that people will take the opportunity to get out and about under their own power on two legs or two wheels if they can. But the mantra now is increasingly about getting back to “normal”. I’m not sure I really liked the old “normal”.

Bumpy ride: Croydon’s cyclists face a daily challenge

The car-centric infrastructure that we’ve created doesn’t appear to work very well for everybody anymore. It no longer provides a sustainable template for our futures. You have to ask: what were we thinking?

Sure, I know the car represents a vision of freedom for those with the means at their disposal, but it isn’t equitable for those whose preferred or affordable mode of travel is not car-based. If we don’t start changing our collective mindset very, very soon, how will we safeguard our physical and mental health and wellbeing, our local environment and meet the imminent climate change challenges?

So for me, doing more of the same just doesn’t cut it.

A look at some of the data in the Healthy Streets Scorecard report shows some very stark numbers for Croydon. The percentage of physically protected cycle track compared to the total length of borough roads is 0.6 per cent.  In neighbouring Bromley, the figure is double that. Sutton has six times as much protected cycle tracks as Croydon, and their provision is still some way short of the Greater London average at 4.1 per cent.

Pointless: Which road traffic management genius came up with this?

Even when you take a look at what passes for a physically protected cycle route in Croydon, you’ll quickly find that some are practically impossible to use and many are functionally next to useless (see photo, left).

Some of the painted road markings are just pointless and lead nowhere.

We’re missing opportunities to make small incremental differences. Or deliberately ducking them.

What happened to the Brompton bike hire dock that used to be opposite East Croydon Station, and which was still being promoted with a banner on George Street until fairly recently?

In the long absence of any London-wide bicycle hire scheme coming this far south of the river, surely Croydon can at the very least ensure that the one we used to have is replaced? Even Sutton manages to provide one.

Perhaps Councillor Stuart King can provide an update to his “improving access to bikes” challenge on page 15 of his cycle strategy document that’s gathering dust on the shelf?

Road to nowhere: Some painted road markings are just pointless

How are we encouraging alternative travel and cycling?

Coombe Wood School has recently started to rent out its sporting facilities at weekends. On a recent Saturday, the 3G soccer and netball pitches, basketball court and dance studio were all full. So was the car park, despite the proximity of Lloyd Park tramstop. There were just two bicycles.

A number of residential streets in Addiscombe have been fully resurfaced for the first time in I don’t know how long. Some of these roads have been the subject of comments about the negative impacts of through traffic, but nothing is done to discourage their use as rat runs.

So where are the “Green Side Street” entrance redesigns (as outlined in the Croydon Green Recovery Plan) to discourage vehicle access by anyone other than residents and to encourage anyone who does use the route to really slow down to the 20mph speed limit?

The road casualty figures for cyclists show Croydon to be the third most dangerous borough to ride a bike in Greater London, and more than twice as dangerous as the average.

That’s no surprise. It’s a place where I have experienced all of the close shaves that I’ve had in the last 10 years, and I cycle all over London and the south-east. It’s a place where my teenaged daughter won’t accompany me unless she can ride through the centre of Croydon on the pavement, exacerbating a problem that manifests itself in the number of cycle couriers delivering fast food who operate to a similar strategy for the same reason.

It’s the kind of behaviour that is largely absent in places with decent, safe cycling infrastructure, such as Brighton. Of course, pavement cycling upsets pedestrians, and not without reason because it’s illegal. It is a direct result of the quality of infrastructure that deters anyone who isn’t inside a car.

No through road: Croydon is a hostile environment for cyclists

Conversely, my daughter is quite happy to accompany me on a cycle ride across the middle of London from, say, Finsbury Park down to London Bridge, or from Clapham to Barnes and Richmond. Ask her to run the gauntlet of Fiveways, the A23 or A232 with me, and you can forget it.

Croydon is still a place that pays lip service.

Remember the jacket that Melania Trump wore with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” emblazoned on the back as she boarded Airforce One? That’s pretty much the attitude in Croydon.

Some of the recent coronavirus restriction-inspired initiatives that have been rolled out to increase the number of walking and cycling journeys are alright in parts, but now they’re poorly maintained and don’t really add up to a coherent borough=wide whole.

The fragmented and piecemeal approach is the problem, coupled with the type of physical infrastructure or lack of it.

The Dutch started making the changes in the 1960s, and many of the large conurbations in other parts of Europe and North America have cottoned on to the societal advantages of freeing up space once the exclusive preserve of the car so that everyone can use it. But it’s a leap of faith to take a lead rather than just tag along behind.

I’m not advocating banning car use, and recognise that making any sort of transition away from the car won’t be an option for everyone, but there are some stark choices that we’re going to have to face all of which will involve compromise and a much more frank discussion about what we want our collective future to look like.

When you consider that a typical electric car has a 90kWh battery that weighs over half a tonne, yet that same battery capacity will power between 120 and 200 electric bicycles (and before anyone asks, I don’t own one) you get the picture.

Can we afford continued profligacy?

Croydon is winning apparently – we still have the highest “cycling potential”. At the moment I can’t help thinking it’s a bit of a hollow victory.

Read more: Time for London’s politicians to redesign streets for people
Read more: Now is not time to play politics with London’s public transport

  • Dan Maertens lives in Addiscombe. He works as an advisor to corporate clients, following a 30-year career in construction and civil engineering, including environmental and health and safety audit and compliance roles

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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6 Responses to Cyclists still forced to ride on dangerous roads to nowhere

  1. Lewis White says:

    Very true, very thoughtful and thought-provoking article from Dan.

    Glad to see his name again in Inside Croydon. I was worrying that he had been awarded the Order of the concrete necklace by Viridor, thrown into a pond of quick-setting fly-ash located in the shadow of the Beddington incinerator, as reward for past articles on waste.

    Thinking of just some of the points he makes, such as cycle tracks that lead to no-where, I would just like to mention a sort of ideal street that would encourage cycling.

    First, a smooth surface, with drain gratings that are level with the tarmac, not 20 to 50mm lower.
    Second, road surfaces to be swept to remove loose gravel and debris, which are real hazards.
    Third, side streets where people drive sensibly, and respect the 20mph limit, even if they drove with consideration at 25mph.
    Fourth, clear “white light” street lighting. Not too much, not too little. At busy places particularly .
    Fifth, have zones of special care, demarcated in colour, where main roads narrow down and where cyclists suddenly find themselves squeezed or pushed, such as the place where Upper Addiscombe road crosses the tram tracks. Such locations are danger spots

    I must add– avoid bad and inappropriate designs which create far worse conditions for buses and make angry monsters out of normal motorists in really busy locations. Bollarded off cycle lanes in London Road West Croydon must slow the buses (and ambulances) down immensely, and also add to the pollution. Last time I was going to Croydon University Hospital (yes,as a passenger in a car, as I had injured my leg) there was a long distance snarl up, along the bollarded areas.

    We can’t do anything about the hilly topography of much of Croydon, nor the fact that unlike much of Holland, we haven’t redeveloped the streets to make cycleways and footways– we have far too much traffic crammed into small roads designed for horses and carts or Ford Anglias.

    One of the real problems of our time is the fact that cars are so well-designed, with such good supsension, and good sound insulation, that the drivers lose sense of reality. and connection.

    Cars are like wombs or cocoons–we are or feel very cozy and safe inside.
    Cyclists are flesh and blood, but not at all protected against the womb or cocoon drivers. They are real. The fewer drivers who cycle, the less the empathy of a shared experience

    Add the use of headphones, the still-prevalent use of mobiles when driving, and windscreen dangly things like lucky dice, dream catchers, boxing gloves and the like………….. and the ever-present pool of latent aggression from many drivers in a hurry, plus the idiots that drive right behind you, and the fact that losts of journeys really aren’t necessary— it all adds up to reducing space and safety for cyclists.

    Cyclists need to be given road conditions that are as safe as possible. But the needs for fast bus services and reasonable drivers need to be respected.

    CCTV at danger spots — and safe diversions around “croydon roulette” roundabouts must be ideas worth considering.

    Key problem is, UK councils are skint.

  2. Lancaster says:

    Utter nonsensical nonsense cluttering and vandalising our environment with visual crap. It becomes even more maddening when you realise that ALL road users ignore the markings in their selfish pursuit of me first speed for car users or momentum over safety and highway code for cyclists!

    The only benefit is employing the idiots who propagate this shit / legalised graffiti; and we all suffer with the confusing visual cacophony of madness.

  3. Pete Jenkins says:

    Will the forests of bollards in the High Street and elsewhere be removed now we are “returning to normal”? Will the town centre buses now revert to their original routes/roads so we know what bus stops where?

  4. The problem is Croydon Council cannot attract able officers. It has to make do with less able officers. The problem lies with the council’s leadership. Or lack of it.

  5. moyagordon says:

    I’d love to be able to cycle into Croydon down Brighton Road, but car fumes and dangerous driving put me off. I visited Munich and it was a revelation the way they organise their streets to accommodate cyclists. The pavements are wide enough for a section that is purely for cyclists going in one direction, on the other side of the street cyclists in the opposite direction use that side. There was a divider between pedestrians and the cycle lane and traffic lights for the cycle lane. We need to just forge ahead and make our streets in built up areas appealing to cyclists and pedestrians. Cars have had their day, our roads are at full capacity and their making people’s lives unpleasant.

  6. Lancaster says:

    Its not a car vs cyclist vs pedestrian vs urban planning problem; its the volume of ALL. My comment to the Four London boroughs have no plans for waste reduction article last week is the underlying issue – but no one likes that conversation !

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