Redressing the Balance

So Cllr David Cunningham is quoted in the Surrey Comet as saying that the Mini Holland “is not a scheme to encourage cycling to the detriment of other road users”.
There are two parts to my response to him.

The original Portsmouth Road was not to the detriment of other road users. So it does not need to be watered down. Why remove the segregation when we started with two lanes for motor traffic and still had two with segregated cycle routes? Do drivers need those extra metres on each side of their car? The result of this tinkering is a mandatory cycle lane that will not attract new cyclists, while leaving space for cars to illegally block the cycle lane.

I would happily ride down a segregated cycle path with my children. I simply would not risk riding with them down a road with only a strip of paint to protect them. Subjectively, it’s unsafe with HGVs and cars passing close by. Objectively, there is a strong likelihood of having to move into the road owing to the actions of selfish drivers. It’s just not suitable for cycling, unless you’re already a confident cyclist.

Kingston Proposed Infrastructure
Not attractive for new cyclists
Vans. Sharing the pavements and bike lanes.
Vans. Sharing the pavements and bike lanes.

And secondly, yes, on occasion this might be to the detriment of other road users. The current road system is almost entirely car centric. The mini Holland scheme is to redress the balance. It’s job is to ensure that the motor traffic hegemony is broken and the roads are fit for a thriving community, not a car-clogged community.

Pedestrians and cyclists have simply not been given a fair deal in the past. This scheme addresses that. It is therefore obvious that sometimes motor traffic will have to concede some of the roadspace over which it presently holds unfair dominance.

Kingston car centric travel
Who benefits here?

The image above is Kingston’s one-way system on a quiet day. It’s quite clear that motor traffic has received the bulk of road infrastructure investment over the years. The result has been a choking of our town with noisy, polluting traffic. It’s time to redress this balance, and properly fund more sustainable infrastructure.

Finally, here’s a quote from Boris Johnson, when the funding was announced.

“Areas once terra incognita for the bicycle will, over time, become every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents – places that suburbs and towns all over Britain will want to copy.”

If Kingston Council is unwilling to implement this, perhaps they should stop wasting everybody’s time and just hand the money back to somebody who will do the job properly.

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Why should Kingston bother with cycling?

Having gained the mini-Holland funding, it’s useful to take a step back and look at why Kingston should bother with cycling in the first place.

To set the scene, the borough of Kingston has the eponymous main town, surrounded by other towns like Surbiton and New Malden. While heavily residential, there is much green space with easy access to the Thames and both Bushey and Richmond parks.

Being suburban and heavily residential with a regional shopping destination, Kingston attracts road traffic. A lot of it. Main roads are often clogged with cars, while residential roads frequently have parking on both sides and rat-running traffic.

Residential road (c) Google Maps
Residential road (c) Google Maps

Surrounding Kingston town centre itself is the infamous one-way system. Looks OK below, but at rush hour this is three lanes of stop start traffic, charging at 35mph-40mph between traffic lights where achievable.

Urban motorway
Clearly not taken at rush-hour (c) Google Maps

It’s noisy, dangerous and polluting. And it’s no fun to be stuck in, whether driving or cycling. Walking is especially unpleasant. Frankly, you would be mad to not drive your children to school if it was any distance. This pattern is repeated throughout the borough. It’s car-hell in rush hour and extremely intimidating to ride in. Bike infrastructure exists but it’s haphazard, ends abruptly and frequently involves sharing a pavement.

So there’s a huge opportunity here. Many of the trips undertaken in Kingston are short and the borough is relatively flat. In theory it’s ideal to ride, with many residential roads that should be quiet and main roads that could have full segregated cycling provision. The cycling plan deals with the main roads, but also needs to tackle the residential roads, making these vital feeder roads friendly for cycling.

Why the focus on cycling? It’s quiet. It’s non-polluting. It makes people fitter, healthier and slimmer. And it reinvigorates residential areas and towns as a space for people, rather than being in thrall to cars.

Getting children cycling to school sets them up for a healthy life with independence of travel. It’s an indicator of success. If Kingston can show that children are riding to their primary school, we know that the borough is being transformed as a place for people.

So success for Kingston’s mini-Holland is dependent on making this a sufficiently attractive option. That’s a big ask, but is possible. We would know whether it’s worked by looking at indicators such as:

  • Are children riding to school, in favour of being driven?
  • Is motor traffic flow down residential roads significantly decreased?
  • Are a decreasing proportion of people cycling riding road or hybrid bikes?
  • And it’ll take time, but are GPs seeing fewer patients with weight related illnesses?

These success measures are somewhat different to the objectives of the Borough’s vision (page 13 of the vision document); this is fine, but I do feel that the indicators above benefit from being straightforward to measure.

There’s a clear need for promoting cycling and reducing motor traffic; I’m looking forward to seeing the benefits.

Kingston’s Mini Holland

Kingston upon Thames is one of the boroughs selected for “mini-Holland” funding.

What this means is that the borough has received a grant for various cycling projects, with the aim being of transforming cycling in the borough. Now, mini-Holland can mean a variety of things. Cynically, one might suggest that it’s a handy means of grabbing extra [cycling] funding while making cycling worse, through the simple process of taking a specific instance of Dutch design and using it incorrectly.

But let’s be positive. Mini-Holland can also mean taking Dutch best practice and applying it here. They’ve got a 40-year head start over the UK, so will have already made many mistakes and undertaken years of research that we can learn from. This doesn’t, of course, mean that we should apply everything they do now. Some of their infrastructure is clearly more suitable for demand that we can only dream of:

My preference is therefore clearly for simple infrastructure that will make the biggest difference. Identifying the issues that prevent people choosing a bike for short journeys and dealing with them. Of course, Kingston’s vision has its Obligatory Landmark Project in the floating walkway, running parallel to an existing road but more scenic and expensive, with poorer access to housing and shopping (beyond the waterfront bars). However, there are plenty of more mundane, but useful schemes. The cycling vision can be downloaded here, and is helpfully thorough. I would prefer fewer floating boardwalks and skybridges and more removing of rat-runs, but this is a good start. Tweaks will be needed; for example armadillos are suggested to separate cycling lanes, which is a nonsense suggestion, but the main routes around the borough have been identified and spades are due in the ground in Spring 2015. Importantly, with the change from a Labour to a Conservative majority on the council, this has cross party support.

My intention for this blog is to largely focus on Kingston cycling issues. The devil is in the detail and there is much of this plan that could be watered down and rendered pointless. Getting Kingston cycling is vital for the borough; this opportunity must not be wasted.