Sunday, 23 September 2012

Waterloo to Square Mile bicycle route - It gets worse: Is Southwark Council deliberately putting cyclists at risk by allowing the developers to simply close a national cycle network route?


Plan of the traffic scheme to be placed around the development site along Upper Ground - spot the cycle route? Nope, there isn't one. (Upper Ground is the road marked red at the top of the plan)

Last week, I wrote that Southwark Council has agreed to close a section of Upper Ground for 12 months to enable construction works at Sea Container House, along the river. Upper Ground is a part of the National Cycle Network. It is used by thousands of people daily to cycle between the City of London and Waterloo. It is popular largely because it is quieter and safer than the alternative road, Stamford Street, which runs parallel and is part of the London trunk road network. It is also popular because a dedicated facility to allows people on bikes to cross from Blackfriars Bridge towards Waterloo without having to pace across four lanes of motor traffic as it accelerates off the Bridge. If you're not familiar with the location, you can see the section of road that will be closed on this map. 

Pictured above is the detailed plan of the site. It shows how the developers will block Upper Ground with a barrier. What it also shows is that the developers have a plan to let motor traffic around the site. But that the developers have not though even one minute about how two-wheeled, pedal vehicles (of which there are considerably more than motor vehicles) should get around this site. They will have to duck and weave around the main roads and just get on with it. 

 Upper Ground cycle route shut for a day this year.
Soon to be closed on a whim. By a large barrier.
For at least a year. 
My understanding is that the closure will go ahead in two weeks' time. Furthermore, I now understand that Southwark Council has recently asked Transport for London whether TfL will build a contraflow diversion for cyclists on Stamford Street to the south of the construction site. Southwark Council is responsible for Upper Ground, which will be closed, and TfL is responsible for Stamford Street. I understand that the council hopes that the cycle lane will be on the pavement of Stamford Street, at the bottom of the map pictured above, thereby parking its problems on to TfL. 

So, just think about this a minute. 

It seems like several months ago, Southwark Council may have agreed to close one of the busiest cycle links in central London.  It also seems like months ago, the developers worked out a detailed plan for handling motor and pedestrian traffic around the site. 

Yet we find out literally two weeks before the closure, that the council is asking Transport for London to help sort out some last minute diversions for cyclists. It certainly feels like the council has simply gone ahead with what suits the developer here and completely and utterly ignored the fact that it is closing a major cycle route. Not only that, it seems like the council is still trying to work out, at this very late stage, how to get the thousands of people who cycle through here every rush hour safely from one side of the junction to the other. 

I'm not sure what's more frustrating - the diversion itself or the fact that the council seems to have simply ignored the fact that this is a national cycle network route used by thousands of people.

Minicabs illegally parked in the Upper Ground contraflow cycle lane 
(courtesy CycleStreets)

What's particularly disappointing about this whole episode is that Southwark Council really is beginning to get its head around cycling. Last week, it broke ground on a new cycle link that will provide a fantastic new cycle link to Rotherhithe and the Council is working closely with local groups on an encouraging plan to create a sensible network for cycling throughout the borough. 

On this occasion, I feel that the council has badly let people down. Southwark is rightly proud of its plans to 'make Southwark one of safest for cyclists in the next three years'. But if we're going to make Southwark a safer place to cycle, then it's not acceptable for Southwark to simply close a national cycle route at what appears a whim for a whole year. As one commentator put it to me: "We won't change habits and get masses cycling if the attractive routes arbitrarily come and go." I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. 

If we're going to have cycle routes, especially national cycle routes, then they need to be available consistently. Couldn't the Council have asked the developers to put a protective cover over the road and allow people to continue to cycle along Upper Ground? Or couldn't the council have asked the developers to provide a lorry access plan, so the route stayed open during peak hours and the evenings? 

How the Dutch might handle it. Construction in
Rotterdam: cycle diversion running through the middle
courtesy: Cyclestreets.net & @cyclinstructor on twitter

The Council did none of these things, it simply shut the cycle route. I commend Southwark Council for the work it's doing to make cycling safer in the borough. But there's no point Southwark Council committing to a bold new plan to encourage cycling only to shut such a heavily-used safe cycle route on a whim. 

I have been copied on a number of emails to Southwark Council written by people angry with this complete lack of foresight. As one email put it: "The proposed alternative route, requiring, for cycle riders approaching across Blackfriars Bridge, a filter across three lanes of traffic, and then a right turn off Stamford Street, which I can say from direct experience is often also extremely intimidating because of the volume of motor traffic on Stamford Street, and frequently aggressive driving behaviour. Of course I hope it is not the case, but I am truly fearful that one consequence of the proposed closure would be serious accidents involving cycle riders."

I agree completely. Southwark should not be letting this happen, I'm afraid. 

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I'd urge you to send a quick email today to Nicky Costin in Southwark Council's 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 and let them know what you think of the cycle lane closure.