You might not ever get on a bicycle, you might be an occasional user, you might be someone comfortable with high volumes of traffic.
Whichever you are, you should still be concerned about the provision of cycling infrastructure in Twickenham, and here’s why.
1. There’s a reason the M25 isn’t lined with shops
If you look around ‘shopping’ London, you’ll notice two things: (1) someone’s spending a huge amount of cash building malls like Westfield. And the most striking feature of these places is the absence of the motor vehicle from anywhere near the shopping areas. (2) Everywhere else, they’re making it harder, or just impossible, to bring a car. Wardour St. is effectively pedestrianised, Regent Street and the Oxford Circus junction have been significantly modified in favour of pedestrians.
Everyone developing in London has recognised that if you want people to arrive somewhere and hang around, it needs to be a place focussed on pedestrians. Even Mary Portas’ review stressed it.
2. Your life expectancy is being lowered for the sake of expediency
The current plans simply provide for more vehicles through Twickenham, at a slightly slower pace when the place isn’t gridlocked. And the on-going classification as A roads for most of the area is going to ensure that gridlock is what you’ll get. What this means is that, on your slightly wider pavements, you’ll just have more opportunity to breathe in the fumes those vehicles are pumping out. (And remember, bus lanes are going, so those buses will be sitting in the queue as well.)
3. It’s not all about shopping
For Twickenham to be a vibrant centre, it needs to encourage people to come along and spend money on something other than stopping by the supermarket for a pack of cereals: call it cafe culture, whatever, but for people to stay in Twickenham and spend money there, they need to spill out onto the pavements, cross roads easily, come and go easily. The current plans provide for large areas of Twickenham to be kept apart by four lanes of traffic. And when there isn’t bumper to bumper traffic, it’s going to be really interesting to see how well traffic sticks to the 20mph limits when offered two full lanes to churn down.
4. It’s not just about Twickenham
All of these plans are symptomatic of the council’s inability to see beyond the private car as a way to get around the borough. The recent less-than-stellar addition to Richmond Road, on the way to Richmond Bridge, is a classic example: a couple of pots of Dulux which probably cost less to put down that the largely ignored consultation they engaged in.
This isn’t really about hating cars, it’s about how we choose to allocate our urban space, and how we think our borough should look and feel. The only council transport policies of substance have been about parking: making it cheaper to travel short distances to already congested shopping areas, and then being ‘humane’ about parking enforcement in those areas. But then, despite the lead from the Mayor of London, Richmond isn’t prepared to consider trying to persuade people to try an alternative mode of transport.
5. Won’t someone think of the children?
Because the council is failing, once again, to take the opportunity to provide safe infrastructure which separates cyclists from cars (and pedestrians), we’re continuing with the stale idea that everyone prepared to get on a bicycle wants to share the road with HGVs, buses, and boy racers. That doesn’t encourage parents to say “Why not cycle to school, children?” It doesn’t encourage anyone of any form of nervous disposition to think “Oh, I can just go on the bicycle” – they feel safer in their car.
Which means that this generation is going to hear all about how granny and grandad cycled to school (and anywhere else in a lot of cases), whereas they’re just learning to sit around in cars and be shuttled from place to place.
But what’s that got to do with cycling?
Richmond Council has a not-quite-once-in-a-lifetime chance to really kick-start a true cycling revolution. By allocating meaningful space in Twickenham to cycle infrastructure, the council can build a town centre which is pleasant to use, easy to get to, and a beacon for excellence in London. By choosing to allocate space to cycling instead of cars, the council can make Twickenham a really great destination, however you want to get there.