Saturday, 23 February 2013

The future of Brixton: more car parking, some nice paving slabs. Cycling seems to have been left completely and utterly out in the cold. Fill out Lambeth's questionnaire to ask for a much, much better strategy for cycling and walking in Brixton than this plan.

Brixton town centre - image courtesy Lambeth council. Massive roads, masses of cars. "No space" to
facilitate safe, convenient cycling. 

Earlier this month, Lambeth Council issued its draft strategic plan for Brixton town centre called Future Brixton. The plan comes out at the same time as Lambeth's Local Plan - a document which sets the planning policies for the borough for the next 15 years. A key part of that Local Plan involves infrastructure, including bicycle infrastructure.

Lambeth's broader Local Plan sounds pretty promising. It commits to a compelling vision in support of transport by bike: "Lambeth will promote cycling through improvements to routes, giving greater priority to cyclists in the use of road space, reducing road danger from other transport modes and through improvements to signage and facilities". There is much discussion, too, about improving bicycle parking in town centres and in residential streets and estates. All good stuff and considerably more positive about cycling than the draft Local Plan being developed in the City of London, for example (more on that later this week). 

The Brixton plan has been written within the context of Lambeth's wider Local Plan. You can read all about the Brixton plan on Lambeth's website and fill out the online questionnaire to share your views.  

The Brixton plan is where Lambeth's vision of "promoting cycling through improvements to routes and greater priority to cyclists in the use of road space" should move from lofty strategy to practical detail. 
Masses of bike parking outside the shopping centre 
in Dalston, Hackney. 
Yet Lambeth seems to have no practical plan for cycling in Brixton. There is literally nothing in the Brixton plan that talks about how Lambeth will actually make it safer or more convenient to cycle to Brixton than drive. And nothing in the Brixton plan about promoting cycling through improvements to cycle routes. The entire document is focussed on nicer pavement areas, better lighting and better car parking. Oh, and more bike parking. 

I think it's instructive to have a look at a comparable Strategic Plan - one written by Hackney Council for Dalston town centre. Dalston is similar to Brixton to the extent that it is a busy inner London high street area with a heavy number of bus routes and links to major strategic roads out of London. 

Hackney is extremely clear about how it wants Dalston to function better. It wants to "facilitate ease of movement by improving the network of streets and footpaths to make walking AND CYCLING as safe and pleasant as possible". Hackney talks about creating "seamless connections" between the town centre, its market, shopping centre and other key local points by creating new pedestrian and cycle routes. It has produced a map showing where those routes will be and how they'll benefit people walking and cycling to the area. 

Hackney improved cycle and pedestrian routes 
to Dalston. Lambeth's plan for Brixton seems 
to completely lack any of these intentions.
The Hackney plan involves improving certain junctions to: "facilitate the movement of cyclists along the London Cycle Network", for example. I've seen many of these routes in action. Roads have been closed to through motor traffic; there are new quiet routes linking the town centre with residential areas; and there is masses of bike parking. All of these benefits for cycling also benefit people coming on foot as well. 

Lambeth's plan in Brixton starts out sounding full of promise. It describes how "greater emphasis and priority will be given to pedestrians and cyclists across the town". But look into the detail and what Lambeth is promising for Brixton sounds less than impressive: "Brixton will be easier and safer to get around for both residents and visitors. There will be an emphasis on enhancing the pedestrian environment and promoting the use of public transport". 

No mention of cycling. And absolutely no mention of making it easier to access Brixton and get around the centre on foot or by bike, just some chatter about an "enhanced" environment. That's about style, not about substance. Substance would be a document that commits Lambeth to improving the way Brixton works for people to get around, not just the way Brixton's pavements look. 

Where Hackney has a clear map of the cycle routes it would open up around Dalston, nothing like this exists in the Brixton master plan. All that Lambeth offers up is a vague plan for "greater emphasis" on cycling. When it describes what that 'greater emphasis' actually means, it promises "improvements to footway and carriageway surfaces, provision of raised table crossings on key pedestrian desire lines, enhancements to street lighting and removal of street clutter...Where feasible, the public realm enhancements will improve the supply of public cycle provision. New cycle parking will be provided". 

Former rat run just off Kingsland High Street, Dalston. 
Now open for bikes and pedestrians only. 
None of this planned for Brixton?
There we have it. Hackney planned for and built better bike and pedestrian connections. Lambeth plans some bike parking, raised tables and nicer-looking pavements. There is simply nothing in Lambeth's plan about genuinely facilitating access to Brixton town centre by bike, just some vague intentions. 

It may be that I'm being unfair on Lambeth. Perhaps I'm missing some of the detail. But it strikes me that Lambeth's plans for Brixton town centre are all about style over substance 

I think that's a crying shame. Brixton is an amazing and vibrant place but one choked by excessive motor traffic. And Lambeth council's draft plan seems to utterly ignore the fact that it is deeply intimidating to cycle to and around many parts of Brixton town centre. What Lambeth seems to be promising is to create a more attractive public realm but nothing in this plan suggests that Lambeth will build the sorts of changes that genuinely make it easier for people to use a bike in Brixton than to use a car. These are the sorts of things that need to change to make Brixton a more vibrant place for people who work here, live near here and shop or go out here. 

What Brixton needs is better, safer and easier access for people not coming by car. Not just some raised tables, expensive flower pots and some bike stands. 

Lambeth has an online survey you can complete to share your thoughts on its plans for Brixton's town centre. The sole question relating to cycle infrastructure is '[Do you agree that] Improved cycle parking and the availability of bike hire bays will encourage people to cycle?" That's it. However, you can leave your thoughts in the Additional Comments section. I'd encourage anyone who lives or visits Brixton to add their comments and let's see what Lambeth's Brixton strategy team come back with. 


Note. It's well worth having a look at the Lambeth strategic plan for the Vauxhall area which is now considerably more disposed to safe, convenient cycling and walking. The plan was amended after consultation to include fairly sensible measures for cycling and walking under the following premise: "Cycling should be a preferred means of travel for short trips, especially given that this area is relatively flat. The Mayor has proposed that this area will “Go Dutch” and meet Dutch cycling design principles. Routes should be safe and direct with a coherent cycle network that provides safe routes for everyone. Existing routes are not necessarily the best
that could be provided and should be reviewed, which may mean providing different routes for commuters and leisure cyclists". Kennington People on Bikes blog has a full review of the Plan