Richmond does cycling – we’ve got 5% modal share, which is the second best in London. Although, as an engineer at the recent GLA hearings on transport observed, Richmond has green space – chances are, our modal share is high because people cycle in two of the biggest, best protected parks in the whole of our city.
Never mind, though because Richmond’s strategy is to increase cycling by 40%! Yes, in seven years’ time, cycling’s modal share needs to rise to a whopping 7%. Except we’ve no idea how to get there. I asked about the strategy, and the strategy is … to increase cycling’s share. You see, the mayor sets overall strategy for London, and we have to fit in with that. Well, kind of. Because Richmond is busy consulting all its villages on what they want. The villages seem to be the council’s idea for how to get people within Richmond to identify with an area. Their boundaries are a bit fluid, and they’re funny shapes, and they are all meant to be glued together by a sense of, well, togetherness.
For example, my road, just opposite the A316, should feel together with the multi-million pound mansions in the protected areas of Richmond Hill. You can see where this one might fall down, can’t you? Anyway villages are all being consulted on what they want, and the output from this needs to link in with the relier ‘all in one’ survey, as well as with the Mayor’s plans, and also with the Local Improvement Plan (version 2, implementation status unclear).
If you had time to read all of the policy and documentation relating to a single area, you’d be wading through over 1,000 pages. And if you’d had that patience, what you’d find out is this: Richmond’s strategy is to increase cycling’s modal share to 7% of all journeys.
Which, over a couple of years, might not be a bad goal. However, you still don’t know how your borough is going to get there. Perhaps, though, the Cycling Liaison Group can help? Because the CLG is aiming to help provide strategic direction for cycling in the borough. Unfortunately:
– No-one comes
This week, there were 13 people there. Two council officials (one taking the minutes); the council member for transport (Cllr Harrison), the Cycling Czar (Katherine Harborne), a load of councillors, two local LCC members, and two others. Apparently someone had recently written to the LCC saying he couldn’t be bothered to come any more.
– It has no power
Richmond has a Cycling Czar, but the nearest we came to actual concrete action, or decisions upon which we could act, was ideas for where to put cycle parking. Although the term ‘czar’ might helpfully suggest over-weaning power to crush errant subjects, in fact the post seems to confer no such power whatsoever.
– It’s a sop
We were reminded by Cllr Harrison how forward thinking the borough is, with its Cycling Liaison Group. Under Cllr Trigg, the previous leader of the council, no such thing existed. Given our efficacy so far, I have no idea why the previous administration wasn’t happy to have another talking shop. “Bus users don’t have a forum, neither do drivers”. Leaving aside the fact that bus users have a London wide forum, and a London Mayoral strategy which actually involves spending money, it’s very hard to see why car drivers need a forum in Richmond.
– It doesn’t know what it is
In a meeting I had missed, there had apparently been agreement that the group should become a bit more strategic, because attendees didn’t necessarily want to discuss in detail minor problems / hyperlocal issues which didn’t necessarily interest the whole group. Now, if I thought that the CLG was having any impact whatsoever on actual cycling strategy in Richmond, that would be fine. Bt I don’t think it does. And at least if we did discuss the minutiae of why the council won’t designate cycle lanes, remove obstructions, or set up 20mph zones, then we’d really understand why we can get so little done.
Making Things Happen
Councillor Harrison was keen to tell us (four times in the meeting) that Richmond, although with only 5% cycling modal share, spends 15% of its transport budget on cycling. This, I suppose, is a reason to be cheerful. However, we were reminded that a large part of the borough’s road network is managed by TfL, and our input into this seems to be virtually zero. Let alone the fact that a lot of transport funding is devolved anyway, so we don’t really get to decide what we spend it on. (Oh, and for some reason, not a single person at the meeting could actually tell us what Richmond’s transport budget actually is.)
The member for transport was keen to remind that we have a Victorian road network, and that any change made for one group would generally be at the expense of another. Of course, aside from the sweeping and pointless generalisation of transport in Richmond (the A316? Victorian? The road by the river that’s probably been there since there was a palace in Richmond? Victorian?), this is a classic ‘We can’t do anything’ excuse.
Admittedly, narrow roads can make the provision of better walking and cycling facilities difficult, but other countries seem able to think about new ideas, so why can’t we?
Can’t we think of the children?
I tried getting the point across more clearly by explaining that, from where I live only one of 6 or 7 primary schools within a 2km radius provided mostly road-free access. All the others required children to do things like cycle by long rows of parked cars, play chicken with buses, navigate potholes big enough to turf them off their bikes, or just break the law and cycle on the pavements.
Which did seem to get some reaction. So I asked if anyone on the committee thought that (for example) children should be sharing Richmond Bridge, on bicycles, with HGVs. And, little surprise, no-one thought they should. My mistake was to ask what we should then do, because whereas some might think the response could be “Oooh! Maybe we should look at providing the infrastructure that means children don’t need to cycle on the roads”, whereas actually the response seemed (pretty much) to be “Well, they can scoot on the pavement, can’t they? I mean, I’ve seen lots of mothers scooting home on their child’s scooter!”
Richmond’s Real Transport Policy
So you have to separate what Richmond says about transport, and what it does:
It says: “Cycling and walking are nice. We should do more of these!”
(It doesn’t say: “The obvious corollary is that we either need to do more journeys overall, or we need to persuade people to do less driving.”)
It does: 30 minutes free car parking, to actively encourage local people to drive short distances from their homes to the shops
It does: talk on and one about how much car parking we need
It does: count car parking spaces but not bicycle parking spaces
It does: remove zebra crossings in favour of traffic light controlled crossings, specifically mentioning how this is intended to ease congestion. (Not needing to add ‘at the expense of anyone who wants to walk’)