Thursday 3 February 2011

Newham and the Olympics

I had the LCC quarterly magazine drop through my letterbox, along with the excellent single page newsletter for NE London (which, in several short paragraphs tells me more about what is happening with the council with regards to cycling than any of their web pages).

There is an article in the main magazine ("Superhighway stops short") which is a magnificent article on Newham council's active blocking of cycling in their borough. Unfortunately I cannot find the article on line, but will summarise as best as I can here.

Essentially, the A11 was earmarked as a critical route from Central London to the Olympics and then onto Romford and Ilford. Clearly a cursory glance at a map will indicate that it is the most direct route from the City to Stratford.

It is also one of the most cycle hostile routes. As well as being a multi-lane highway from Bow to the end of the Stratford one-way system, it also has the Bow flyover where the A11 and A12 meet, which is deeply unpleasant to cycle. Commuter cyclists do use this route. As do I - see my previous posts on this route. But the numbers are low, considering it is a primary route from the City - with few local alternatives, and all cyclists are of the same kind. Cyclists in full high-viz with looks of grim determination on their faces as they negotiate the heavy multi-lane traffic using vehicular cycling. I have never once seen a cyclist using this route, smiling. Or anyone transporting children on a cycle, or anyone elderly or young. All types of people that may want to use the route to get to the Olympics by bicycle.

The plan was to incorporate a Cycle Super Highway along the route. Although cycle super highways are a compromise, sometimes much too much so, designating this route as such with the markings may have at least given the idea to motorists that they need to accommodate cyclists on the route. 

However the route now is stopping short at the Bow Flyover. 600m short of the Olympics (and, presumably, short of the Greenway route that will run alongside the Park) and 4 miles short of its original destination.

For once, TfL, appears to be on the side of the cyclist. For political reasons, at the very least, I am sure Boris wants a cycle super highway to the Olympics. TfL say in the article that the issue is with the Olympic works and Newham's approach to street design. The ODA states that it has not been party to a decision on the Cycle Super Highway, so that leaves Newham council.

Newham council have stated that they are not against the highway, merely deferring the decision until after the Olympics. Which is utterly laughable - surely Newham council aren't so stupid as to not realise how ridiculous that is. It also claims that the Olympic work around Stratford will prevent the implementation, presumably forgetting that this work will actually be completed way before the Olympics and only is temporary. Indeed the ODA say that these are not reasons to delay the CSH.

Then, Newham are blocking the Romford Road implementation of the Cycle Super Highway saying that this section cannot fit in a cycle superhighway instead 'promoting' a  "a multi-modal approach along Romford Road with no one mode being prioritised". Which is a total crock. Cars are prioritised at the moment and Newham council are determined to keep it that way.

The report has the Newham press officer highlighting the Tour of Britian taking place in Newham - as if that will help people trying to cycle to the shops or Olympics. He also highlighted work on the Greenway. Now, the Greenway is a nice cycle route, unfortunately handicapped by the fact that it is cut in half by the aforementioned A11 which effectively renders it useless for many journeys unless one is prepared to fight through the heavy traffic on the A11. And if one isn't prepared to do that then the offroad cycle path - no matter how nice - isn't going to alter ones decision on leaving the cycle at home. Especially when,  the redevelopment of Stratford high street has no (I repeat - no) cycle provision in the plans.

Finally the report concludes with the fact that Newham Cyclists have tried putting these concerns to the council constructively and they have not been "addressed". Which I think is a nice way of saying that the council has completely ignored the local cycling group.

Why are Newham acting in this way? Why so out of step with all the good intentions and words that are said in regional and local government about encouraging cycling (even if the deeds sadly lack behind the words)?

I can only conclude a couple of possible reasons

1) Newham really doesn't care about cycling at all. This is a distinct possibility. It has an absolutely pathetic modal share - even for outer London. Many of the major roads through the borough are congested, polluted and very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. If this is the case, Newham's LIP and general words about cycling are just utter bullshit, and they have absolutely no intention of improving the situation at all.

2) The blocking is political. Now, I have no axe to grind either way, but it strikes me as somewhat of a co-incidence that Newham is completely Labour controlled and the person who will be most embarrassed by a lack of a cycle super highway to the Olympics is the Conservative mayor. If this is the case, then Newham are sacrificing cycling infrastructure - and money - for political point scoring.

I often deride Waltham Forest council for their cycling policies and lack of action. One gets the impression with Waltham Forest that they like the idea of cycling but only if it doesn't mean they have to invest any time or money or make any decisions.

Newham council, on the other hand, seem to be actively spending time and making decisions that impede cycling in their borough. The major roads in their borough are a car-choked and polluted mess that is unpleasant even for the motorist, and worse for other road users. Their actions over the CSH and the Stratford regeneration clearly indicate that they have absolutely no intention of trying to change this, and show that they don't care about cycling at all. They, above all other boroughs, are getting the benefits of the billions invested in the 2012 Olympics, but aren't even prepared to allow implemention of a CSH as an attempt to try to help achieve the goal of it being a "sustainable" Olympics.

* With thanks and a big hat-tip to the piece in the LCC magazine by Arnold Ridout whose article was a lot more considered than the above rant.

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