Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Merton, Everything's Wonderful

Well, if you listen to the local paper, you might be led to believe this is the case.

"Merton has been hailed as a Biking Borough by the Mayor of London."

Well, yes and no. Merton has been selected to be a Biking Borough, which just means it will get money from the Mayor to spend on cycling projects. It doesn't say anything about the current levels of cycling (which are among the lowest in London) or Merton's cycling facilities (which are patchy to say the least).

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's transport spokesman said
"Merton has been instrumental in helping to promote cycling in South London and decluttering streets to improve cycling routes."

Eh? Maybe he's not spent much time in Merton. This is a borough whose record on cycling isn't exactly stellar. And the 'decluttering' it's been doing has resulted in railings being removed, which people used to lock their bikes to. They've not been replaced by the equivalent number of proper cycle stands. Merton have not done anything in the way of permeability that I'm aware of, in fact they've done pretty close to nothing of any real value for cycling in the last year. They've put a useless, dangerous on-road lane in Green Lane, and, er, that's about it. (I'm not counting the Raynes Park Railway Path, because work's only just started on that.)

Andrew Judge, Merton's Cabinet Member for Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration said:
"In Merton as across London, we have seen a significant increase in the number of cycle journeys."

On Page 30 of Merton's LIP2 you'll find a graph that says otherwise. It shows modal share declining from slightly above 1% in 2001 to around 0.75% in mid-2010. Of course, that's in some ways unimportant, as we need to look forward rather than backward, but it does show that Merton's approach has failed to arrest the decline in cycling. I'm not going to blame Andrew Judge for that, because there were many factors at work during that period (and he wasn't in charge for part of it), but he does need to ensure that Merton doesn't repeat the failures of the past.

In Merton's LIP 2, I don't see a vision of how cycling's modal share is going to increase in Merton. The LIP 2 has a mixture of targets to increase cycling and stop kids going to school in cars, that sort of stuff, 'objectives', 'key proposals', stuff that you can agree with, but no plan to actually achieve them. There's nothing that indicates that Merton actually understands:
  • their historic approach has not delivered;
  • there is less money than before;
  • the reason people don't cycle is fear of traffic.

There's a list of suggested improvements in the Biking Boroughs section which are worthy enough, but the improvements are not all costed or funded, and there is no actual plan of how we'll end up with a network of cycle routes that will attract the 95%+ of Mertonites who don't cycle regularly. It's not all lousy, but it doesn't add up to a 'Cycling Revolution'. The danger is the Merton highways engineers carry on doing what they've usually done in the past, but with less money. They will come up with schemes that are inadequate to start with and then end up getting compromised into being useless, such as narrow, advisory on-road lanes with parked cars either in the lanes or too close to them on the left, and with traffic roaring past on the right. Or how about off-road lanes that start and end before a problematic junction, leaving the user trying to join a busy road.

It's important to understand that Merton cannot succeed or fail on its own. It would be helpful if there is an ambitious London-wide plan for cycling (there isn't) and if there is central Government backing, in the form of an adequate funding stream and a policy direction that favours cycling ('no' on both counts).

The one wildcard is that the increasing cost of motoring and public transport may force people to cycle more. I think that factor is likely to get more people cycling in Merton than any of the policies currently on the table.


  1. It's depressing that the best we can hope for is folk being "forced" onto bikes rather than enticed.

  2. The two principal impetus for cycling in central London, contriuting to the doubling in the last decade, are (a) the 7/7 bombings and (b) public transport strikes.

    Under this government we will no doubt get plenty of paranoia around incidents such as (a) although their predecessros were no better. No doubt under Boris and Dave we can expect plenty of (b) as well.