Tuesday 17 October 2023

St Helier Avenue

St Helier Avenue (A297) is an SRN (TfL-maintained) road between Rose Hill Roundabout (in Sutton borough) and the Central Road roundabout (in Merton borough). It is a mainly 4-lane configuration with a central reservation and a 40mph speed limit, which will be reduced to 30mph. We welcome the reduction in speed limit, but this needs to be the first step in developing the road from a hostile, motor-centric location into an environment that is more people-centred.

St Helier Avenue is a good example of how a major road can blight an area and negatively impact a community.
  • It is difficult to cross, dividing the community in two, and lengthening journeys that cross the road. There are distantly-spaced crossing points and long wait-times at crossings.
  • It has an extremely poor safety record, with 2 fatal collisions in the last 2 years, with clusters of collisions at both roundabouts and at the Middleton Road junction.
  • It has a high speed limit (40MPH), which worsens road danger, and increases noise and pollution.
  • It blights the green space that borders the road on both sides.
  • It brings an unloved, grubby and industrial feel to the area. Fly tipping is endemic.
  • It reduces house values.

A little history. The original St Helier Avenue cycle lanes have a claim to being the first in London. Leslie Belisha, Minister of Transport in the 1930s is claimed to have opened his first crossing on St Helier Ave.


On the southbound side:

There is off-carriageway provision that is actually not bad by Merton standards, but is below modern LTN1-20 standards.The track is separated from general traffic and this is of great benefit.

On the negative: The cycle track gives way to side-roads, which increases danger and increases journey times by slowing users down unnecessarily.

The separate cycle track gives way to shared-use in quite a few places, and signage is inconsistent or missing, which is confusing and potentially-dangerous as different road users are not aware of what to expect.

Sight-lines are poor, which creates danger.

Width is inconsistent. Given there is no cycle provision on the northbound side, width should be sufficient for 2-way cycling, which it isn’t in places.

There is a section south of Bristol Rd that has a significant camber and no drainage, which is likely a problem in winter and during heavy rain.

At the Rose Hill end, there is a “Cyclists Dismount” sign for a short section, which is very unhelpful, confusing to people on tricycles, adapted and cargo cycles, and also unnecessary. Signage here is also confusing and inconsistent.

Rose Hill Roundabout itself is very dangerous and poorly thought-out for cycling. There is liberal use of guard-rail and large corner radiuses that encourage high motor traffic speeds. (This is in Sutton borough).

On the northbound side:

Cycling appears not to be permitted, although there is plenty of space and there are two separate paths. Signage is poor; at the Rose Hill end, there is a shared-space sign but it is unclear where the shared space ends.

The lack of provision on this side means that cyclists must cross to the southbound side, and then cross back again, which increases danger and considerably increases journey times/distances, considering the distantly-spaced crossing points.

At the signal-controlled crossing at Leominster Walk, the central island is very narrow - not wide enough to accommodate a standard cycle, let alone a non-standard cycle. A cyclist crossing will have one wheel sticking out into a live traffic lane. The light cycle time should prioritize pedestrians/cyclists crossing; the actual time is unknown as the crossing wasn’t working at all when we visited.

General Observations.

A 4-lane dual-carriageway results in increased speeds and increased road danger for all road users. This is the case regardless of speed limit. If the limit were reduced to 30mph or 20mph, vehicles would still be free to overtake others who observe the speed limit. Even with a reduced speed limit, the road would still be very difficult and dangerous to cross.

Are 4 lanes necessary to support existing traffic volumes? We would argue that they are not. There is a 24/7 bus lane at the Morden end that narrows the general traffic carriageway to a single lane, which is the bottleneck. Having additional lanes before this point simply enables speeding drivers to jump the queue and does not increase capacity.

The central reservation also adds to the “motorway” feel of the road and encourages speeding. The central reservation is “dead” space that is of little to no value.

As noted previously, the road width and 4-lane architecture makes the road an overbearing, noisy, polluting presence and blights the surrounding area unnecessarily.

Alternatives would be a 2 lane boulevard, or to turn one general-traffic lane into a 24/7 bus lane. The latter would move the general traffic (and noise and pollution) away from the communities, reduce traffic speeds, road danger, noise and pollution, and improve bus journey times.

A 2-lane boulevard would really transform the area, reducing the road to a more human scale, and freeing up space for other uses. With a little imagination, new linear parks could be created, there could be business opportunities as well.

Additionally, there is an opportunity to make active travel much more attractive, particularly to under-represented groups including children, women and elderly people, who are currently put off cycling by fear of traffic. Routes that are obviously and continuously safe would for example enable children to cycle to school, and reduce school-run traffic.

Lastly, it is worth remembering that we are in a climate emergency. Motor traffic must be reduced if we are to have a chance of meeting Paris climate goals. Regarding existing motor traffic levels as fixed and immutable is a dangerous mistake; fewer motor journeys and more journeys switching to active travel are necessary steps to ensure the planet remains habitable for future generations.