Wednesday 10 June 2020

MCC responds to Merton Council's Covid-19 Transport Plan June 2020

We welcome Merton’s updated Covid-19 Transport Plan which has been submitted to Cabinet and takes on board many of MCC's previous comments, but we still have concerns that the reality of delivery won't match the ambition. You can read the Council's updated plan here. 

In proposing rapidly implementing 7 key cycling routes, 10 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20 school streets, Merton Council is displaying a level of ambition in relation to walking and cycling that we have never seen before, but there are still serious concerns. As ever the devil is in the detail and we have concerns in relation to timing, funding,  the proposals to support pupils safely walking and cycling to school, and an under-estimation of the scale of change that is needed in relation to cycle routes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. The existing cycling facilities in Merton have been so woefully under-invested in over the years that we are concerned it will take all that is proposed and more to meet the demand for walking and cycling that we expect to see in the coming months. 


The documents describe the proposals being delivered in the short, medium and long term. However there are no deadlines attached to 'medium' and 'long-term' measures. This is particularly concerning as the installation of temporary measures that improve or create cycle routes are 'medium-term'. The implication is that these will be delivered by September, but we would like the Council to confirm this. 


We are pleased that the Council is submitting bids to both the Department for Transport and Transport for London, but the report states "that the extent of projects delivered will be dependent on the funding made available to the Council." It is unacceptable that the Council will consider taking no action to ensure safe space for walking and cycling if it is to be unsuccessful in receiving funding. It must make use of all funds available to it, both internal and external, including Community Infrastructure Levy funds. 

Measures to support school students safely cycling and walking 

Whilst 20 school streets are proposed, this doesn't cover the over 70 schools in Merton, and we have the following concerns: 

  • There just 20 school streets proposed, and these are just for primary schools. However the peak in the road traffic KSI rate is in fact 10-14 year age group i.e. secondary schools. There are notable omissions that we would wish to see rectified: 
    • Why is Rutlish School, one of the Borough's biggest, absent from the list? 
    • Ricards School is on the list. Why the girls' schools but not the boys' school?
    • Park Community School has really serious pollution and road danger issues but is also not included. 
  • The criteria for prioritising school proposals should include the size of the school, as the number of students protected by the scheme, and therefore the value, will be greater at larger schools.
  • School Streets are necessary but not sufficient for safe school travel. They must be accompanied by safe routes to school, which means Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, and for secondary/high schools, a safe network of cycle routes usable by school-age children, so that children are not forced onto overcrowded buses/trams/trains or driven to school.
Our view is that ALL schools should have school streets. They are simple and cheap to implement with very basic temporary infrastructure.

The change required is underestimated

The Council has reported that of the suggestions received the interventions with the greatest level of interest were cycle lanes, modal filters and school streets. This seems to reflect resident appetite for the inadequacy of Merton's current cycling infrastructure to be addressed. 

Yet the Covid-19 Transport Plan overstates the quality, quantity and connectivity of the current routes, and therefore understates the reality of what needs to be done in the reallocation of road space for cycling. This in turn points to an underestimation of the need for Low Traffic Neighbourhood intervention. The Transport Plan seems to heavily rely on the strategic routes proposed in the Council's LIP3, with no acknowledgement that what is currently installed is not continuous. Routes are broken by Wimbledon and Raynes Park town centres, and there are no connections to CS7. 

At a minimum, the Council needs to quickly deliver a connected network of continuously safe cycle routes. This will need to be built to a cost and may involve compromises in directness but cannot sacrifice connectivity or safety: we expect filtered permeability to play a significant part in the network as this is the cheapest way to reduce traffic volumes and speeds to acceptable levels. Furthermore the DfT funding effectively requires them.

The Transport Strategy stands or falls based on successfully implementing low-traffic neigbourhoods. Without them, rat-running traffic will quickly saturate residential areas, creating road danger and suppressing cycling, which in turn will drive up car use still further, and conditions approaching gridlock may prevail for much of the day. It is thereofre not sufficient that the Councill will 'aim' to deliver 10 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - it must do so. Or it must develop a strategy for what it is going to do to support safe cycling in areas where there is no LTN. LTNs are the cheapest way to deliver safe cycling, socially-distanced walking and safe routes to school. 

The cycling section of the report ‘Healthy and Active Travel’ starts:  ‘At the moment approximately 20% of Merton residents live within 400m of the strategic cycle network. However CS7, which ends in Colliers Wood is the only route that could be considered strategic, and only 3% of Merton's populated area is within 400m of the strategic cycle network. 

Figure 8 attached shows the cycleways within Merton’s boundary that TfL recommended and which are included in the LIP3. None of these is currently complete, one is not started and they cannot be described as a strategic cycleways on the strategic network. (Cycleways for the strategic cycle network are currently routes defined by TfL and required to be designed and built to standards set in TfL’s Cycling Action Plan).

The Northernmost route with an elbow shape (not a direct route) includes the entire length of South Park Road which Merton Cycling Campaign have submitted is not suitable due to discomfort and danger from inadequate width for cycles alongside vehicles and minimal passing spaces.

The route to Sutton from Colliers Wood has not been started. It is held up by Morden town centre decisions and is negated by the National Trust who will not satisfactorily accommodate it in Morden Hall Park.

The cycling section of the report ‘Healthy and Active Travel’ continues with targets for the percentage of Merton residents to live within 400m of the strategic cycle network.

Figure 7 shows the cycleways within Merton’s boundary that TfL recommended that, if constructed,  would increase the number of residents living within 400m of the strategic cycle network from the current 3% to 50%. This is the target from Merton's LIP, but was set before Merton declared a Climate Emergency and before the implications of Covid on Public Transport. In the current climate there is every justification for Merton itself to aim to have every resident living within 400m of the strategic cycling network, but this can only be achieved if Merton carry out the work shown on the proposed cycle network within Merton’s LIP Transport Strategy LIP3 and provided that all Merton’s routes meet satisfactory standards defined in TfL’s Cycling Action Plan.