Thursday, 20 September 2012

Southwark Council to close one of London's busiest cycle commuter routes from the City to Waterloo for a year. Use this route? Email your objections to Southwark today.

Upper Ground national cycle network. About to close completely
for at least a year. Not to improve the cycle route. But to allow the developers
of this hotel better site access.
I almost couldn't believe this when I saw it earlier today. One quick-eyed reader noticed an announcement in today's edition of Southwark News. From October, the developers of the new buildings popping up along the southern side of Blackfriars Bridge will have the right to shut Upper Ground to all vehicles. For an entire year. Starting on October 5th.

For those not familiar with Upper Ground, this is the section of National Cycle Network that goes between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. If you're heading south over Blackfriars, you can duck onto the cycle crossing and head over the road down Upper Ground for a relatively leisurely ride to the station. The alternative is to signal right and cross four lanes of traffic coming off the Bridge and to head along Stamford Street.

I find it almost impossible to believe that a council like Southwark which is trying relatively hard to get its cycling strategy right could simply shut one of the busiest cycle commuter routes in central London for a year. Unless I'm reading Southwark's intentions wrongly (and you can read below a copy of the notice in today's Southwark News) it's pretty clear  that the national cycle network from Waterloo to Blackfriars (and on to London Bridge) is simply going to be closed to all traffic, including bicycles, for a year.

Public notice re closure of Upper Ground
The notice in today's Southwark News informing people that the cycle route will be closed for a year, courtesy London SE1 

There are four separate development schemes going on around this junction. Two along Upper Ground and two new developments on the other side of Blackfriars Road. I know that Transport for London - which is responsible for the main crossroad junction at the end of the bridge is considering ways to make the junction easier and safer to use on a bicycle.

Upper Ground closed? Don't worry, you can
take your chances and turn right in the right hand
lane here instead. Oh, and notice the Welcome to
Southwark sign on the left hand side while you're dodging
the four lanes of motor traffic. 
Southwark's traffic order suggests that cyclists should take a diversion for the 12 months that Upper Ground is closed. That diversion is to head south over Blackfriars Bridge, then turn right across four lanes of traffic into Stamford Street, then turn right again into Hatfields with queues of impatient taxis trying to get past you, then carry on down the quiet route to Waterloo.

My own view? This is one of the busiest commuter routes in central London (you can get a sense of how busy just by looking at Oliver O'Brien's maps of cycle hire usage data, which shows the high number of people who use this route). It is the only relatively safe route for the thousands of journeys (especially Boris bike hire journeys) from Waterloo to the City. And Southwark council is literally chopping the route in half.

The dedicated cycle crossing from Blackfriars Bridge into Upper Ground is already fairly haphazard. The right turn from the Bridge with the main motor traffic flow can be downright terrifying at times (particularly later at night). I think Southwark's move to sever the national cycle network route to Waterloo is a recipe for disaster, especially for slower cyclists, people using Boris bikes and for everyone (and there are many thousands) who use the quiet route, rather than dodging the cars on the main road.

Use this bike crossing to turn right at the
bottom of Blackfriars Bridge? Sounds like
this will be closed from October 5th.
What's more, this sort of thing simply couldn't happen in countries where cycling is taken seriously as a form of transport. In the Netherlands, for example, diversions and traffic lights would be installed to allow large volumes people to cycle safely. Here, Southwark seems to be saying to people, just get on with it and enjoy cycling with the lorries.

It may be too late to object. But if you use this route, I think you should flood Southwark Council with your thoughts.

I'd urge you to send a quick email today to Nicky Costin in the road management team at traffic.orders@southwark.gov.uk. Or better still, why not email the head of the council Peter John peter.john@southwark.gov.uk

Southwark is doing a lot of good work around cycling. I have to hope this is a horrendous oversight.