An open letter to Richmond’s Cabinet

Dear Councillors,

On Thursday, you’ll be looking at the Twickenham Action Plan and, specifically, the street scene proposal.

You were going to talk about this last month, but it was delayed so the engineers could make it a bit nicer for cycling.

And they might have done. A little bit. But I still don’t think they understand what’s so wrong with the plans as they stood a month ago, and as they stand now.

So let me try to explain what I and many people in the area thing is wrong: the council wants Twickenham to be more of a ‘destination’ – somewhere people come to visit, shop, hang around, have coffee, meet friends, and have a pleasant time. And that’s what we all want.

What we don’t want is a Twickenham which a place that people drive through, or which is just a massive thoroughfare to support articulated vehicles getting to and from the A316. Westfield have just spent millions on creating massive shopping destinations in east and west London, and the one thing that’s going to separate the Twickenham of the action plan from the Westfield centres is going to be motor vehicles.

If you drive to Westfield, you leave your car in a skanky car park, and then go to enjoy a pollution-free, safe environment where people can walk in any direction without looking over their shoulder, stop, chat, drink coffee, etc.: We know that people don’t want to shop among cars. They value their car as a perceived convenient way to get somewhere, but they don’t want to have to clamber over someone else’s car just to get into a shop, or across a road. Yet that’s the Twickenham you’re promising us: one with more space for cars and trucks over the current incarnation, rather than less. (Yes, there’s more space for pedestrians in a number of places, but the deeply imaginative way to make that work is to ditch the bus lanes. You do know that 25% of your borough residents don’t have a car, do you?)

Did you notice that traffic volumes are falling in London? That people are cycling more? That people actually like walking in a pleasant environment? The Twickenham plan has a nice surface for people to walk on, but to move from one side to the other you have to cross four lanes of traffic.

And anyone wanting to cycle to, or through, this revised Twickenham, is going to have to share those two lanes with heavy vehicles. In European countries where children cycle a lot – like the Netherlands and Denmark, and increasingly parts of Germany and Spain – they accept that families, children, and just ordinary folk going about their business, want to feel safe and unthreatened when they cycle, and that they cycle a lot more when offered the facilities to do so.

Twickenham has huge amounts of road space, but your plans focus on getting cars through as quickly as possible, and providing parking where it obstructs pedestrians and cyclists, but not cars.

“But TfL won’t let us do anything” you cry. To which I say: “So what? Get some courage and tell TfL where to go.” Someone recently said: “No-one remembers politicians who build motorways … except perhaps Hitler”. But the residents of Richmond and Twickenham will remember you for providing us – and our visitors – somewhere safe, pleasant and welcoming to be.

I can’t come to the council meeting on Thursday, but if I could, I’d say this: “Get some backbone, and throw this thing out. Build a Twickenham for people, not a Twickenham for cars. Build a Twickenham for being there, not a Twickenham for passing through. Give us a regeneration that is about something more than watching cars, buses and trucks endlessly queue. And if you want a local example: make your new Twickenham look more like Church Street, and less like the A316.”

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