Thursday, June 2, 2011

Olympic Cycle Routes

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has been talking to the Standard about how all the spectators are going to get to the Olympic events next year. Apparently, the transport upgrades required for the Olympics will enable 100% of spectators to travel to the Games by public transport, walking or cycling.

The tennis events are being held at the Wimbledon All-England club as you’d expect…unfortunately, as far as I have been able to ascertain, not a penny has been spent on putting in new cycle routes to the tennis venue. Take a look at the Olympics site “Travel to Wimbledon” section, and you’ll find not a sausage in terms of advice on how to cycle there with, say, a couple of younger tennis fans. The main road past the site is Church Road, which is a fairly busy road. It has a 30MPH limit, with ‘speed cushions’ - the kind of traffic calming that causes cars to swerve around cutting up cyclists in order to pick the most comfortable line between the humps. The road is narrow enough to make safely overtaking a cyclist impossible with oncoming traffic, but that doesn’t deter some ‘press-on’ car drivers from trying. There are 'pedestrian refuges' which cause more entertainment, with cars attempting to overtake cyclists into the pinch-point. A few weeks ago the missus cycled with the kids from Wimbledon to near the All-England club, following the official cycle route, and swore she’d never do it again, it was that unpleasant.

Back in 2007, there was talk of putting in ‘greenways’ from various directions towards the All-England club for the Olympics, and Sustrans put together a feasibility report which you can view here. However, not much of it has come to pass. For example, the railway path from Wimbledon to Raynes Park has been started – which is the best thing that Merton Council have done for some time – but they’ve run out of money. Other problems the ‘Greenways’ plan has faced have come from all sides. Wimbledon/Putney Commons Conservators opposed routes across those commons being upgraded. Wandsworth Cycling Campaign opposed a segregated path along Magdalene Road. The status of Richmond Riverside precludes cycling, and the labyrinthine bureaucracy associated with a change of status represents a huge barrier.

So there you have it. In London, we’re capable of putting a winning Olympic bid together, building a massive programme of stadia and other venues, and upgrading public transport – but we’re not capable of doing the easiest and cheapest part – putting decent cycle routes in place that are usable by ‘less confident’ cyclists. Why? Partly because there’s no-one in charge at the highest level, and it’s left to a body with no statutory powers – Sustrans – to negotiate their way round bureaucratic obstacles and recalcitrant elected and unelected officials. There was nowhere near enough money available from the humungous Olympic budget, despite the fact that cycle routes would leave a valuable legacy and a big return on initial investment (which can’t be said of a lot of other Olympic spending). Finally, lukewarm support for segregated paths from LCC, with its preference for vehicular cycling, can’t have helped.

There must be quite a few tennis fans living between 2 and 5 miles away from the Wimbledon tennis venue, but unless they're members of the very small minority of regular London cyclists, I doubt many will be tempted to cycle.

1 comment:

  1. In Brent we had the same Sustrans report performance in 2007 into supposed Greenways from all directions to Wembley Stadium, to be built by 2012. Then the council commissioned expensive consultants to draw up big reports into all the Sustrans proposals. In Brent LCC we put a lot of effort into helping with this. And we had exactly the same outcome, except even worse than yours. In Brent, precisely none of this huge plan has been implemented, and none of it will be. It was all a total waste of time and money. The reasons were the same. Anything useful was going to be really expensive, and there was no money. Routes through "natural" open spaces provoked "conservationist" opposition. Existing landowners such as the railways and British Waterways were opposed to work that would impinge on their operations. No-one drove it forward at a high enough political level. It went nowhere.

    If all the money that has been wasted on "cycling studies" that achieved nothing in Brent over the years had been spent on actually building one or two proper cycle routes we would have something worthwhile by now, but that's not how it works. The Biking Boroughs study funded by Boris was just the latest example of this species of expensive inaction whereby nothing actually changes.