Environment Committee and cycling. Another missed opportunity.

Richmond just doesn’t have a plan to actually persuade more people to cycle. It’s a council which is good at fine words about cycling, but when it comes to action, there’s little on offer.

Last night, at the Environment committee meeting we heard councillors and officers tell us that they were delighted that “consultation with cycle groups has significantly improved cycling provision in the new Twickenham design”. But the improved facilities seem primarily to be a few disconnected stretches of advisory cycle lanes.

(You can see the new plan here (6.2Mb PDF). Note that it’s dated 13 November, but wasn’t shown to Richmond Cycling until January 7th. So they had a day to look at it before the meeting. Classy, Richmond.)

You might think to yourself that a council  committed to cycling would have initially produced plans with some meaningful provision for cycling, but they’d dropped the ball on that one, so extensive lobbying was required just to get the three pots of Dulux that the plans promise at the moment.

We also heard the officers’ views on cycle lanes. Apparently, the provision of a 1.5m advisory lane is “generous”, and this is what they will be “aiming for”. It’s worth noting from the plans that we saw didn’t have separate cycle lanes, though – that’s 1.5m painted over an existing vehicle lane. So every time there is:
– a crossing
– a bus stop
– a taxi rank
– a junction
… then the cycle lane disappears.

One council official told me that they were significantly improving safety r cyclists by moving bus stops from King Street, where they believe a number of incidents occur because cyclists need to pull out of the bus lane, into the main traffic flow. Apparently this won’t then be a problem elsewhere in the area affected by the plan, now the bus stops are moving.

We heard a suggestion from one councillor that they could instead allocate more space to the pavement section and mark that up for cycling instead. Regardless of what you might think of such shared space concepts, at least it gave the officers a chance to tell us why they really wanted advisory cycle lanes: because you can’t let cars  drive on pavements.

One councillor daringly asked about more radical ideas: could we route the cycle lane behind bus stops? That one didn’t need long to shoot down – of course there’s no space for such radical innovations, even where we can fit in broad pavements and twonor kite lanes of traffic. (They didn’t even look at the plans in front of them before saying this one wasn’t possible.)

How about using Holly Road? Look! You could make people use another entrance for the car park, and provide a safe through route for cycling which allows them to avoid a 40,000 vehicle a day junction! Oh yes, well, that wasn’t part of the consultation, so we’re not doing anything there. And you can’t make cats go another way, because that would move traffic elsewhere.

I was also told by council officers that the proposed scheme is the best they can do for the various travel modes, and this is the only way they think they can get the scheme approved.

But for me, a key note was struck when they began talking about whether the pavements could actually be widened further, so that they could be marked up for cycling. A positive part of this idea is that it involves dedicating space to cycling away from motor traffic. But this was where it fell down for council officers, because such an idea means that they can’t push cyclists to the side of the road when there’s a lot of traffic.

And to round it all off, not a single person round the table questioned the discussion about ‘confident cyclists’ and ‘less confident cyclists’. I don’t think anyone at the table thought that they should build one set of roads to race on, and one to commute on, or one set of pavements for the elderly and one for everybody else – but they seemed to think that it was somehow acceptable to suggest that we should provide different cycling facilities, based on the type of cyclist involved.

In fact, the only positive thing I can think about this scheme is that, if they choose to fully paint the cycle lanes, there’s the vaguest chance that cycling through some part of the new Twickenham might be an improvement.

So, things we know about how Richmond sees cycling and walking, viewed through the lens of what they’re actually proposing:
1. There’s no stomach to take road space away from motor vehicles, and give it to cycling
2. There’s no analysis within the borough as to what might encourage cycling.
3. Unsupported evidence that “drivers do take note of advisory cycle lanes” is used as evidence that they’re a good thing.
4. Given **any** street scene design by the council’s planning officers, Even the most half-arsed cycle campaigner can think of improvements that would benefit cycling and walking compared to what the council can think up. .
5. The council officers have no idea how to encourage cycling in the borough.

(By the way, that consultation with cycling groups they were so proud of? One meeting which they didn’t even bother to minute.)

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