Thursday 6 February 2014

Merton "Mini Holland" Bid

The Merton Cycling Campaign's response to Merton's Mini Holland bid.

Spending £30M on implementing a vision to transform Merton into a borough with Dutch-style segregated infrastructure for cycling is something that until very recently we at Merton Cycling Campaign could only dream of. However, it could become a reality. Merton has submitted a bid for the London Mayor's "Mini-Holland" programme, which is open to outer-London boroughs to improve cycling in the leafy 'burbs.

The bid is supported by all the major political parties.

Highlights of the bid are as follows:

The town centre section of Wimbledon Broadway will be closed to general traffic and there will be partially segregated cycle lanes in both directions. General traffic will be 2-way along Hartfield Road. Cyclists will share a wider bus lane, and there will be a segregated westbound cycle lane. The Wimbledon railway bridge outside the station will have 2-way segregation, westbound general traffic being reduced to a single lane. There will be "separate signalling" at major junctions.

We are not so happy with the proposals for the junction at Alexandra Road/St Georges Road/Wimbledon Broadway. The proposals appear to have advance stop boxes with advisory lanes leading in and out of the junction along Wimbledon Broadway and Wimbledon Hill Road. The lanes are not continuous through the junction. There is still a pinch point as two lanes of general traffic plus cyclists will have to merge as they exit the junction north up Wimbledon Hill Road; this needs to be addressed. The cycle lanes at this point appear to be advisory. There needs to be a continuous cycle lane through the junction, and the risk of left-hook collisions needs to be removed.

Wimbledon Hill Road itself has the cycle lane "segregated by planters", and is "raised to footway level at bus stops". This seems to imply that the cycle lane bypasses the bus stop although how that will actually work is unclear.

The central Wimbledon scheme is estimated to cost £5M, so there can be no excuse for compromises: if for example parents are not confident that their children can cycle to school, then Merton is doing it wrong.

Central Raynes Park has long been a location where cycling has been largely abandoned, creating severance on the key route towards Kingston. The bid does not commit to gyratory removal, which we would favour, although it does not rule it out. There is however a new segregated cycle path running east-west connecting the existing segregated path along Coombe Lane towards the railside path. It is unclear however how the junction at the railway underpass is treated: the cycle path will need to have priority here or there should be traffic signals. The junction at West Barnes Lane is improved with an "early start" signal for cyclists and a "virtual cycle lane" across the junction. We would point out however that (by Dutch practice) the cycle lane should always have priority over motor traffic during the green phase to avoid a "left hook" risk, so this needs to be engineered in.

Morden town centre is a classic example of a public realm that is ruined by an old-style urban dual carriageway and gyratory system. The different parts of the town centre are cut off from each other, making the pedestrian experience dismal and cycling dangerous and inconvenient. The bid acknowledges as much, and sets out to remedy the situation, allocating £4.6M for improvements. However there is little detail – only a visualization that gives a vague impression. Our understanding is that the gyratory will be removed and traffic re-routed along Aberconway Road, with the main shopping area free of general traffic (buses are still allowed). There appear to be segregated cycle paths. It is worth noting that this scheme forms part of a broader project to improve Morden, and is not cycle-specific. Therefore we would question whether all the funds should come from a cycling budget.

There is also a substantial £15M allocated for "connectivity", which includes £1.2M for filtered permeability, about £1M for two Dutch roundabouts, other junction improvements and various cross-borough routes. There is again not much detail on the standards proposed for the routes. Page 35 of the bid has a visualization of the South Wimbledon junction. This includes Copenhagen-style right-turns, but it is unclear how cyclists actually approach this junction from any direction. To get to a Dutch standard, segregated paths would be required as all the roads have high volumes and speeds of traffic.

Page 36 of the bid has a visualization of facilities along Christchurch Road going north from Colliers Wood. This has a segregated path, but it appears to give way to side-roads which is not compliant with Dutch best practice.

A tunnel is proposed for Lower Downs Road. However, it is frankly unclear how this will improve conditions for cycling, as the problem at this location lies with the road either side of the existing tunnel rather than with the tunnel itself, and there are no proposals associated with this. There is no merit in spending the proposed £2M of cycling money on what will be predominantly a pedestrian tunnel, if cyclists are expected to share the road with motor traffic as they do today.

In summary, while Merton Cycling Campaign (MCC) is a supporter of the bid, we need to ensure that the maximum amount of long-term value is extracted from this considerable investment. £30M is enough to make a good start on transforming Merton from a very car-centric borough into one in which cycling is regarded as a realistic transport option by people who currently view it as unsafe. However, we would caution that it is also possible to spend £30M and end up with infrastructure that is still an unsatisfactory compromise and does not raise modal share of cycling significantly. This would be both a missed opportunity and a waste of taxpayers' money. The bid says "designs take into account recommendations provided in the Mayor's Vision for Cycling, that of segregation where possible, meeting improved or desired design standards and aiming to reduce conflict with other road users". MCC is keen to ensure that a much clearer and less ambiguous commitment is made. It is essential that the basic principles of Dutch infrastructure are consistently applied throughout, to achieve a continuous standard of subjective safety. A cycle route is only as good as its worst part. There must be segregated facilities where bikes are currently on roads where the volumes and speeds of traffic are significant, and where there is no segregation, measures must be in place to ensure low traffic volumes and speeds. Rome was not built in a day: we are not expecting this program to make every road in Merton cyclable, but we do expect that every route that is proposed is built up to a minimum standard. This means no intermittent, narrow, advisory lanes punctuated by parking bays, no segregated paths that can only be accessed by first cycling along busy roads, and where there is no segregation, traffic levels and speeds must be reduced to the level expected in similar Dutch streets. Quiet routes genuinely must be quiet and free from hazards or unnecessary barriers, and must be continuous: they should have priority over other roads in most cases and have safe crossings of major roads. Merton needs to think in terms of routes that take people where they want to go, rather than in terms of the disconnected paths we have currently. This means that difficult decisions need to be taken that in some cases prioritize cycle safety over parking bay location or motor traffic volume or convenience.

Lastly, MCC is concerned that the £30M is actually spent on cycling. It is acceptable for the cycling elements of general town centre/streetscape improvements to be funded from the Mini Holland budget, but we do not think it is acceptable to fund major public realm projects from an extremely limited cycling budget.