On Wednesday 14th September, I attended a Residents Meeting at Kingston Guildhall. Much of this was allocated to discussion on the next tranche of Go Cycle [Mini-Holland] developments. However, the meeting soon became a heated debate focussed around New Malden and its fountain. Time went on, and I unfortunately had to leave before the rest of the programme was discussed at 11pm.
While I support much of the non-New Malden briefs in principle, there is much that needs to be cleared up before the building begins. In particular, the proposal to share space between people on foot and people on bikes must be changed. This bodge is done at practically every junction on the Wheatfield Way scheme, changing what should be a useful link route into a conflict-ridden mess.
So let’s look at this.
Wheatfield Way is a busy road with often fast-moving traffic, being part of Kingston’s infamous one-way system. At one of its junctions it acts to cuts off small shops and a Wilcos from the rest of the shopping area. The crossing is typically busy, with pedestrians often struggling to pass each other and cross the three-lane road in the brief time they’re allocated. There is a cycle lane here, linking Old London Road with Eden Street.
To recap, mini-Holland was provided to redress the balance of car-dominated boroughs. Money was provided to generate real change, providing high quality cycling facilities that would enable the latent demand of people who want an alternative to their cars, but are fearful of the present cycling environment.
Given that many journeys are short (a third are under 2km) shifting a reasonable proportion of short journeys out of cars and onto cycles has huge potential to reduce town centre congestion with the corresponding health benefits.
The Unacceptability of Shared Space
The present proposal has a two way cycle lane along Wheatfield Way, that merges with the pavement at junctions to provide shared space between cycles and pedestrians.
This is shoddy, lazy and invites conflict.
Bad for Cyclists
One of the major benefits of good cycling infrastructure is the ability for all riders to travel as fast or slow as they like away from the dangers of traffic or from pedestrians who travel at a very different speed, often stopping without warning. Conversely, poor infrastructure gives up at junctions, bundling people on bikes into conflict with either motorists or pedestrians, both of whom resent the interlopers for very different reasons.
This is that latter type of infrastructure. Confident road cyclists will simply avoid it, undoubtedly attracting the ire of drivers as they cycle on the road. And less confident cyclists or those accompanying children will simply take the car, rather than trying to “share” space that is already full of pedestrians. Certainly, attempting to find a route through people waiting for a traffic light to change will prove difficult for cyclists with trailers or cargo bikes: exactly the sort of practical bicycles mini-Holland should attract.
Bad for Pedestrians
Who loves waiting at traffic lights while people on bikes try weaving their way past you? You’re clearly in their way, but where else can you wait? Nobody likes this. It’s rubbish. A busy road in front of you and cyclists around you trying to get through a busy junction. It’s awful. The only possible outcomes from this are conflict and anger.
Appalling for Disabled Groups
Picture that inconvenience for fully sighted pedestrians. And now do it blindfold. You can’t see where cycles are; indeed there’s little indication for you that cycles should be expected in the same place. And you can’t hear bicycles either – one of the reasons streets can be more pleasant with bicycles than motor vehicles is the reduced noise.
You’re simply going to avoid this space. It’s dangerous and not somewhere to be if you can’t see. The same applies if you’re deaf and can’t hear people calling to let you know they’re passing on one side or another. I ride a bike and would call myself a cyclist. I’m also deaf in one ear and frequently miss such verbal cues. Personally, I would not feel comfortable in a shared space environment and that’s with a disability I regard as an annoyance rather than debilitating.
The Equalities Act 2010 requires that all UK Local Authorities have an obligation to ensure that all streets and public areas are accessible to everyone, including people who have physical or sensory disabilities (from here, retrieved September 2016).
While Kingston council believes this to be the case, I strongly disagree. This will be extremely uncomfortable, unpleasant and dangerous for the disabled and impaired.
I do not believe, despite the council assurances, that this meets the Equalities Act requirements.
Fine for drivers
Naturally, this scheme is fine for drivers. No space is removed from those causing a polluted, hostile, environment for people. The council will continue to provide a three-vehicle wide space for motors that are frequently occupied by a single person.
A Better Option
Here are the current plans. The three lanes of traffic are retained and the light blue cycle path merges into the pedestrian space where this is orange. The existing cycle path to Old London Road – under the row of telephone boxes here – is lost to shared space.
And here’s what they could look like.
Both roads that feed into this space are widened from two lanes. So let’s instead widen them after the station, with early “get in lane” signage to prevent jockeying for position.
This allows a full two-way separated cycle lane through the junction. There is some question about the cycle route joins with Old London Road and Clarence Street. At present there’s a short cycle route that joins roads on each end of the cycle route. There needs to be some provision for cyclists travelling along Wheatfield Way to be able to turn into Clarence Street but this should be relatively easy to fix.
How this Works
- This resolves the problem that shoddy infrastructure won’t be used.
- This resolves the problem that bicycles and pedestrians do not mix well.
- This resolves the problem that disabled people will feel excluded by the ambiguity of shared space.
- And this redresses the balance in a fair allocation of space away from being dominated motor traffic.
In short, it’s a better project that’s worthy of the mini-Holland moniker and will works towards the goal of getting people onto sustainable means of transport
As an aside, the other shared space junctions along the road are equally appalling. They’re easily resolvable and I expect to see continuous cycle lanes in the final designs.