Getting to grips with the challenges on the ground

On Friday the Croydon Cycling Campaign met with council officers on site at Mitcham Road to discuss the redesign of the road.  We have previously suggested a re-design involving bay parked cars and a two-way cycle track between such parking and the pavement, which you can see here.  This was an exciting opportunity to discuss this possibility with the designer, the biking borough officer and the highway engineer who are looking at the problems with Mitcham Road.  A warning to reader’s though.  This is going to get very, very detailed.

As a little refresher, here’s the road in question:

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Sadly, one of the key aspects of our plan was shot down immediately; the bay parking.  The barrier? Cars are not permitted to reverse out onto a road. As a corollary, car parking is not allowed to be designed in such a way as to encourage/allow drivers to do this. It’s hard to argue with this sensible safety measure.  It would be good to one day see laws enacted to allow this option, forcing drivers to only reverse park into these bays and making it part of the driving test.  However, this is a national issue, not an option to us at the moment, and is highlighted here with the intention of documenting a specific case where national policy is making it harder to build better infrastructure for cyclists.

The second issue we face is with the pedestrian refuges.  In our proposed design, the refuges would be wider and double as a traffic calming measure.  The problem is that Mitcham Road is used heavily by lorries, meaning that a few car parking spaces would have to be lost either side of the refuges in order to create room for them to manoeuvre around.  The council officers will not currently put forward any proposals that require removing car parking spaces because it is their belief that the cabinet transport committee will instantly dismiss any plans that remove car parking.  We proposed instead replacing the refuges with pedestrian crossings that are continuous, getting pedestrians safely across the road in one go, i.e. pelican or zebra crossings.  However, pelican crossings require an area of clear space either side of them, which would again mean removing car parking space.  Building a zebra crossing may be a possibility and is perhaps our best hope of recovering road space lost to the pedestrian refuges, but may still be difficult to get past the transport committee.  The barriers here are mostly political.

The need for lorries to use this road also means we won’t be able to squeeze much space out of the road by narrowing the lane widths.  The trees on the pavement restrict the usable width of the pavement, but cannot be moved themselves.  We’re not big fans of this, but some space might be able to be squeezed from the road by having part-pavement parking over the pavement space in between the trees.  Ultimately, there’s not going to be enough space we can squeeze out of the road for anything more than a single segregated track. The plan is looking likely to be to have this running eastbound.  A significant amount of the segregated cycle track is also likely to be covered in part by car door zone.  Signposting for the parallel route along Westcombe ave and Rochford Ave is likely to be added for less confident cyclists travelling in the westbound direction.  For more experienced cyclists, removal of the pinch points and the current cycle paths painted on the road should make things more pleasant for vehicular cycling in the westbound direction.

All things considered, it’s an improvement but it’s not going to be enough to put the children of the Lanfranc school on their bikes.  The council is in talks with the cemetery to try and connect up a route through the cemetery to Commonside E, though the likelihood is that this would only be usable during cemetery opening hours, 9am-5pm during the winter months (until 7pm in summer).  There are still other unresolved problems, even if we had managed to get our suggested solution.  When you get past Mitcham Road and start passing through Mitcham Common, the cycle lanes are still far too narrow and often blocked by debris/puddles/overgrown foliage.  This narrow road is unlikely to ever be able to support two lanes of traffic and two sufficiently wide cycle lanes.  That was an oversight on our part.  It may be time to start asking “What would the Dutch do?”.

Let’s ask that. One of the things that “Go-Dutch” promoters have been pushing is how the Dutch ‘unweave’ the main cycling routes from the main driving routes.  What if we were to ‘unweave’ the westbound traffic from Mitcham Road by making Mitcham Road one way, forcing westbound traffic around Mitcham Common via the A232 and A237?  That way we could reduce Mitcham road to one-lane of traffic, leaving plenty of space for wide, segregated cycle tracks in both directions.  Political barriers around car parking would be avoided, and while motorists passing through would have longer routes to take, it would just become a question of capacity on the alternative route.  This is also open to a trial, as the road can be temporarily closed to see if traffic chaos ensues or if its just business as usual.

Could north and southbound traffic be separated along these routes like this?

The added benefits are that such excellent cycle facilities would begin the start of a process known as ‘traffic evaporation’ whereby improved conditions for cyclists results in people taking the bike instead of the car.  Also, the headteacher of Archbishop lanfranc school has complained about inconsiderate driving, including 3-point turns, during rush hour bringing traffic to a halt on Mitcham Road, a problem quickly solved by making the road one-way.

Perhaps I’m being optimistic though.  Do you see any barriers this solution that I am missing? Or am I understating the size of the capacity/political barriers? Get me your thoughts ASAP as I’ll be looking to submit the idea to the council officers for consideration early next week.