The leader of Southwark Council has pledged to create a network of cycle routes in the South London borough, reversing a policy set forth in the council's Transport Plan, unveiled last year, that provided for cyclists to be integrated with motorised traffic in 20mph streets without cycle lanes. The change in policy has been welcomed by the father of a cyclist killed in the borough shortly before Christmas.
In an interview with Southwark News, Councillor Peter John said that putting a network of cycle lanes in place across the borough was "deliverable by us and achievable by us in a shorter time frame than changing the whole mind set of all road users."
He went on: "We're not an anti-cycling borough and never have been. I don't think there's anything wrong with our original vision to make Southwark's streets safe for cyclists - that's the big aspiration. Until we're a lot closer to that, it's preferable to keep some segregation there.”
In 2010, more cyclists were killed or seriously injured in Southwark than in any of London’s other 32 boroughs, two fatalities and 33 seriously injured riders placing it just behind Westminster.
Devoting two pages to the issue of cycle safety - the full article isn't on the newspaper's website, but there is a link to view the digital version of the print copy with a free trial available – Southwark News reported that the council will hold discussions with Southwark cyclists over where the cycle routes, which are to be called Green Links, should be installed.
News of Southwark Council’s change in policy follows a meeting held last week between councillors, transport planners and cycle campaigners to discuss ‘quick fixes’ to cycle safety issues in the borough, as well as future improvements that can be made.
The intention is that such meetings will be held regularly, and speaking afterwards, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Cabinet member for transport, environment and recycling said: "As first meetings go, this was great. We knuckled down and came up with, what I believe to be, some really practical solutions to problems faced by cyclists in our borough everyday.
"I really look forward to working with the team to make Southwark one of safest for cyclists in the next three years."
Alex Crawford, Co-ordinator of Southwark Cyclists, the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign, added: "Thursday night, was a very positive and pro-active meeting in which we covered a lot of ground, addressed a lot of ideas, aspirations, issues, challenges etc. and were able to agree on a short term programme of schemes across the borough for delivery between now and 2013.
"At the next meeting, in a month, we look forward to focusing on safety and some medium term goals, tackling the reasons people are currently too scared to cycle; planning a network of 'green links' and start to work out how to tie-in cycling infrastructure with planned regeneration projects. We will also start to consider our longer term aspirations specifically for main roads."
Southwark Council last year set itself a target of increasing the proportion of journeys made by bicycle in the borough from the current 2.9 per cent to 4 per cent by 2014, and to 5 per cent by 2025.
However, as the newspaper points out, those targets are dwarfed by the levels of cycling see in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, and cycle campaigners have accused the council of lacking ambition, with Southwark Cyclists calling for a goal of 20 per cent of journeys to be made by bicycle.
The council, meanwhile, is trying to encourage more people to cycle by providing free cycle training both in schools and places of work, with 1,200 people, nearly 700 of them aged under 16, benefiting last year at a total cost of £163,000.
However, in its own Transport Plan, it acknowledged: “Although there was a marked increase in cyclist training in schools between 2007 and 2010, cycling as a percentage modal split of those travelling to school has remained static.
“This raises the question of whether we need to do more to allay parents’ fears of perceived danger and vulnerability before they cycle to school,” it contiued.
That same Transport Plan made little mention of cycle lanes, instead proposing a 20mph zone across the borough, with roads stripped of street furniture and motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians “integrated,” leading to “equal priority among road users.”
Part of the reasoning the proposals, based on similar street layouts in parts of the Netherlands, was that cycle lanes could create a false sense of security and were in any event an unworkable solution for the many narrow roads in the borough; critics of the plans described them as in effect using cyclists and pedestrians as human speed bumps.
Explaining the council’s U-turn on the issue this week, Councillor John told Southwark News: “Yes, there is a difference between what was said there and what we are saying now.
“I think to my mind it’s a change that has happened since having the meeting with Southwark Cyclists and looking to what cyclists are saying to us.
“They are saying actually, ‘we do want this network, we do want these safe streets across the borough.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an aspiration to make all Southwark’s streets safe for cyclists, that’s the big aspiration.
“Until we get to that point, I can see why cyclists are saying we need to make safe routes available to us in the interim.”
So far, some 14 routes have been identified in the borough in areas such as Camberwell, Elephant & Castle, Peckham and Walworth.
While there are no specific details available as yet about what form the cycle routes will take, including whether they would be segregated from motor traffic, Councillor John said that every option was being explored.
“There’s no point in introducing introducing safe cycle routes which are country dawdles around. They’ve got to be direct routes. I’ll be anxious to achieve really direct north south, really direct east west.” Some of those could include bollards being deployed to bar streets to through traffic.
Councillor John acknowledged that funding could be a problem, but insisted: “”Our actions are going to have to match what we’ve said.”
The father of 22-year-old Ellie Carey, who was killed in Abbey Street in December when she was hit by a lorry, welcomed the proposals but urged the council to spend more than the £800,000 it has budgeted for cycling infrastructure over the next three years.
Mr Carey, from Guernsey, was visiting London this week to attend a Liberal Democrat cycling summit in Bermondsey, said: “This whole issue has been propelled up the agenda. What we would like to see is rather more than words – action to improve things – so that another family does not have to go through what we are having to go through.”
News of the council’s change of direction comes after a month in which the issue of cycle safety has been under the spotlight as never before, due to The Times newspaper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign.
That campaign was launched after one of the newspaper’s journalists, Mary Bowers, was seriously injured when she was struck by a lorry while cycling to work in Wapping during November. She remains in a coma.
Southwark News revealed that one of its reporters is also recovering from serious injuries sustained prior to Christmas when she was hit by a car while cycling.
In an editorial, the newspaper welcomed the change of policy, but added: "The council insists... that it is not anti-cycling. But it needs to do more than simply say it isn't against it - it needs actively to show that it supports it and will encourage and protect those who wish to use bicycles in the borough."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.