Creating a cycling legacy for Croydon that’s worth having

Tuesday 7 June 2016 sees the return of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series that last year saw professional racing cyclists do battle with themselves, the streets of Croydon and some impatient, reckless locals.

More seriously, the event takes place just over a fortnight after the death of 25 year-old Magda Tadaj, struck in a hit-and-run by a lorry driver as they approached the Windmill Bridge on St James’s Road.  As of Sunday, 5 June, we’re still awaiting news of the man who on Friday received life-threatening injuries after being involved in a collision with a car on the A23 in Coulsdon. And let’s not forget the woman who was taken to a major trauma centre after being hit by a car on Sunday 15 May at the junction of Croham Road and Dornton Road.

Although you’d be hard pressed to notice, the big race is being routed along part of the original London Cycle Network set up in the borough in the early 1990s.  Recommendations to the Council by consultant engineers Buchanan & Partners to improve South End and the High Street for cycling were not only ignored at the time, but the “route” has since been wrecked by council Members and officers intent on making it easier to drive there, most recently using riot compensation funds.

So what’s all this about a “cycling legacy” then?  That was the term used in the headline written by the council’s PR department to publicise the big event in question.  It’s unfortunate that they chose only Tim Godfrey to speak to their piece, because his Cabinet portfolio is “culture, leisure and sport”.  Perhaps it was too soon for Stuart King, who has just taken over from Kathy Bee as the Cabinet Member responsible for transport and the environment.  Hopefully he will match her efforts and build on her achievements.

Why is that Cabinet distinction important?  It’s because we need recognition by the council leadership – elected and professional, majority group and opposition – that cycling isn’t just a leisure pursuit, sport or a circus act, for people to watch rather than do, as in the case of the BMX stunt team who performed in North End this weekend.

North End circus act

We’re now seeing in central London a physical and political recognition that cycling is most importantly a mainstream mode of transport.

The picture below was taken on one of the new Cycle Superhighways, which provide high quality, safe and convenient Dutch style facilities.  These were built in the face of tremendous political opposition, such as the London Taxi Drivers’ Association’s legal challenge and ex-Chancellor Nigel Lawson, who claimed that they were doing more damage to the capital than Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

pedal on Parliament

Despite the hyperbole, these new facilities have proved highly effective.  Central London’s first segregated superhighway, opened eight months ago at Vauxhall Cross (a former death-trap for cyclists), has seen a 73 per cent increase in cycling during morning and evening peak periods, compared with the same road in its pre-superhighway state. Motor vehicle journey times in the area, meanwhile, have returned to what they were before the construction works, or are quicker than before, with only one exception.

Councillor Godfrey says “almost anybody, regardless of age, ability or disability” can cycle.  True.  But without the kind of infrastructure that the Dutch (amongst others) now take for granted and we’re seeing along the Embankment and in Waltham Forest, Croydon people won’t.  And who can blame them, given the horror stories in our local press of late.  Whilst it is true to say that you’re more likely to die as a result of sitting on your couch at home instead of getting on your bike, perceptions of cycling as dangerous or for the sporting elite don’t encourage mass take-up.

So, for Croydon to create a cycling legacy, we need to think big and bold and deliver physical measures that will allow locals and visitors to make journeys to and through our town, swiftly, cheaply, safely by enabling them to choose a form of transport that doesn’t add to our road-congestion and car-parking woes and doesn’t worsen our already illegal air quality.

We don’t need to waste time on some grand visioning exercise to bring about the above.   We’ve already got that box ticked, through London Cycling Campaign’s “Sign for Cycling” campaign in the run up to the recent Mayoral election.  All major candidates – including Sadiq Khan – signed up to this manifesto, and our new Mayor has thus committed himself to provide

  1. More space for cycling on main roads and at junctions
  2. A ‘Mini-Holland’ for every London borough
  3. An end to lorry danger

Croydon’s bid to create a mini-Holland (shorthand for Dutch-style cycling facilities that make it easy, safe and pleasant for children, older people, those with disabilities and everyone else to cycle) was turned down by Transport for London in 2013.  This wasn’t because the bid was of poor quality.  It was because at the time the borough had a justifiably poor reputation for spending what cycling funding it had been allocated, and TfL had a limited budget to dispense.  Times have changed, and there’s no reason why that bid can’t be dusted off and put to work now. To that end, Croydon Cycling Campaign – the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign – have put this on the agenda for the council’s next Cycle Forum, on 21 June.

Let’s hope there’s a good turnout for the cycling race on Tuesday, and the threatened showers don’t make it a washout.  But let’s not kid ourselves that sporting events will get Croydon cycling.  For that to happen, we need investment in the kind of infrastructure that we’re seeing on the ground in other parts of London.  At the end of the last century, Croydon council’s enterprising spirit saw cross-party unity and no effort unspared in securing Tramlink.  We now need that political will to give us a safe, fast, low-cost, efficient, pollution-free transport network – now that’s what I call a cycling legacy worth having.