Cycle Superhighway 11 hits headlines

The Mayor of London promised a decision on the gates section of Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) by the end of summer 2017. Set to run between Swiss Cottage and the West End, the scheme has once again hit the headlines, but not for the right reasons.

Here’s our quick guide to new developments on CS11, who said what, and what we want to happen next.

 

Park gate-gate

The most contentious element of CS11 is amazingly not the planned cycle tracks along Portland Place in Westminster. Nor is it the planned removal of the Swiss Cottage gyratory in Camden. But it’s the Outer Circle, the road running round just inside Regent’s Park.

There are eight gates on the edge of the Park that allow traffic to access or leave the Outer Circle. TfL’s original plan was to close four, except during the hours from 11am to 3pm, when the gates would be open. The result would have been that motor traffic would have been able to enter the park the entire time it’s open (to deliver to the zoo, reach coach parking and car parks etc.) using the other gates, but drivers would no longer be able to cut through the park to avoid the parallel main roads.

The consultation on the plan was hard-fought, with several resident organisations bordering the park vocally against the scheme – citing fears of displaced traffic. On the supportive side, active travel organisations including London Cycling Campaign, Living Streets and Regents Park Cyclists felt that through-motor traffic has no place in a park. And Regent’s Park would be much nicer without it, for just about everyone – residents nearby, cyclists riding around, in, to and through it, people walking and kids on the school run.

The public consultation result showed majority support for the scheme and closing the gates. But since then, the proposal has stalled.

 

Westminster. Again

Why hasn’t the scheme happened yet? As with other cycling and walking projects, Westminster Council are the biggest barrier, publicly opposing the four gate closures. Why? It’s difficult to say, but it looks like their opposition was triggered by residents near the park complaining to their ward councillors over concerns of traffic displaced from Outer Circle by the gate closures.

There are, of course, plenty of solutions to this. There are also the twinned concepts of “induced demand” and “traffic evaporation” to contend with.

First, let’s look at induced demand. By keeping the park gates open, Westminster are helping more people drive into and through their borough – causing more misery for their residents in terms of pollution, collisions and congestion. This is “induced demand” – the easier it is to drive, the more people do.

Now “traffic evaporation”. Closing the gates and thus restricting the flow of traffic coming south in the morning, is likely to lead to around 15% of the motor traffic (including the nearby main roads) “evaporating” with drivers either switching to other forms or transport, diverting out of the area, changing the timings of their journeys or just not making that journey at all. So Westminster could cut overall traffic driving into its borough with this plan. But it doesn’t want to.

By keeping the gates open Westminster is encouraging motor traffic, while closing them will most likely lead to overall reduced motor traffic in the long run, including in the roads outside the park.

We accept that near term, traffic displacement may well be a genuine concern for Westminster. But let’s be clear, Westminster also has a long history of opposing every single cycling scheme it can. It has recently removed planned segregated cycle tracks on Sussex Gardens, it painted Quietway symbols on the horrific junction at the north end of Waterloo Bridge but did nothing to actually make the junction safer – drawing cyclists into danger, and it has opposed all the Cycle Superhighways on its roads.

Westminster council, in short, says it believes that safer cycling will make the borough a better place, then does everything it can to oppose measures to actually make cycling safer. It also seems wedded to car use and cluttering its streets with excessive car parking, and not just for residents, but also those bays that generate it significant revenues in visitor permits.

 

Back to the park

Despite not having direct control over the gates in question, which are controlled by the Crown Estates Paving Commission (CEPC), Westminster is the planning authority for half the park. Which appears to be why their opposition has been enough to stall the scheme.

Behind the scenes there has been a long and fraught negotiation process. Firstly, LCC and other groups sat in stakeholder meetings to try and deal with a litany of concerns from organisations ranged against the scheme. This saw amendments, for instance, to plans around Swiss Cottage, to ensure less traffic was displaced into narrow streets in Hampstead.

Then there have apparently been ongoing, further negotiations between representatives from Westminster Council, Camden Council, The Royal Parks, the Crown Estates Paving Commission, TfL and the Mayor.

Every one of the other main stakeholder organisations accepted the four gate closure plan, bar Westminster, which is not shifting. So, rather than give up, the Walking & Cycling Commissioner and TfL proposed a lower-quality plan – to close fewer gates and create a quiet side of the park, retaining through vehicle movements on the other side of the park.

 

Underneath the paving…

Currently Westminster refuse, point blank, to consider the four gate scheme, and it appears it won’t move forward without their approval. They will, apparently, accept a scheme with fewer gates closed, and some through traffic allowed.

However, CEPC, who control the gates, won’t consider anything other than the four gate scheme. They are saying the weaker scheme would be an unacceptable compromise on safety of visitors to the park, and terrible for its environment.  But there are those that say even this is a tactic to delay or cancel the scheme, given Westminster’s entrenched position.

The result of all of this is that the decision on the park gates has been delayed by six months already and counting, and a scheme that had widespread public approval at consultation has yet to begin construction.

Again and again, we hear that Westminster is deliberately blocking and delaying cycle safety measures. But it’s also clear that the scheme isn’t going to happen without all parties behaving sensibly and finding a way forward that works. That has to happen now, which means Westminster above all has to stop being hostile to cycling measures and recognise the benefits of them to its residents and visitors. But everyone needs to get round the table, hammer this out, and stop delaying safe cycling.

 

What does LCC say?

  1. We want the four gates closed, ideally 24 hours daily. It’s the best solution for all park users, and it’s the solution we’ve called for over and over.
  2. We want Westminster Council to stop consistently prioritising private motor vehicle drivers over their own residents’ health and wellbeing, and over the needs of all Londoners to be able to walk and cycle safely around the city.
  3. We want the Mayor, TfL and the Walking and Cycling Commissioner to use all powers to get Westminster Council to change its attitude and approach. Because of its location, Westminster can, and does, block or weaken many other schemes the Mayor wants. The Mayor has won support for a pedestrianised Oxford Street from the borough, but that exception has been a hard battle. Westminster’s habitual opposition to meaures that would genuinely make cycling safer is no longer acceptable – in fact it’s long past time it was. It’s time to get tough.
  4. No more delays – every single day that passes risks more collisions on the Outer Circle and  suppresses a huge untapped potential for lots more people to cycle and walk through, to, in and around Regent’s Park. It’s time for all stakeholders to come to the table and find an answer that will move CS11 forward.
  5. Any solution that does go forward must be monitored, and if it doesn’t provide safe and safe-feeling facilities for all users (sports cyclists, commuters, children cycling to school, pedestrians etc.), there must be a clear commitment on all sides to rapidly improve the situation.

 

What others are saying:

Ross Lydall, Evening Standard

Andrew Gilligan, former Cycling Commissioner

Laura Laker, Guardian Bike Blog