London Cycling Campaign)
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.
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.
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.