The Society supports active travel modes for personal health benefits and the promotion of a better quality of life for the wider community by virtue of improvements to air quality, more reliable journey times and reduced congestion.
Most people fail to register that EVERY journey begins and ends with an element of walking (even if only to walk to or from a parked bicycle or bus stop) and, while it may not constitute the main component of their journey it is integral element of all journeys.
The Mayor’s Heathy Street indicators are a fine aspiration, but they often lump walking with cycling and therefore fail to make a proper distinction between their differing needs and priorities. This reads across into the council’s active travel plans and targets with walking too often appearing to be the poor relation.
In considering some of the Healthy Street indicators for example:
- PEOPLE FEEL RELAXED / PEOPLE FEEL SAFE – Pedestrians cannot relax when walking through shared cycling space, or crossing a cycle lane, because they must remain alert to faster moving cyclists. The increased risk of a collision, most especially for less mobile and visually impaired pedestrians, makes these areas feel less safe and less attractive for those on foot. In the Richmond specific context these considerations gain extra relevance when the enjoyment of a walk along the towpath is regularly disrupted by demands from cyclists travelling fast and sometimes aggressively;
- PEOPLE FEEL SAFE / EASY TO CROSS – One-way streets with a contra flow lane for cyclists adds risk to pedestrians crossing such roads. Cyclists coming from the opposite direction of travel to motor vehicles will be close to the kerb and that leaves little opportunity for either party to take evasive action. Cycle lanes along the length of a pavement (such as along the A316) require added caution when using pedestrian crossings or alighting from buses;
- EASY TO CROSS – High levels of kerb side cycle parking can make roads harder to cross by reducing the free space that is available at the edge of the road.
The council’s 2024 target for number of Healthy Streets completed (page 24) therefore does not indicate whether the council will prioritise its investment towards addressing pedestrian or cyclist needs. Given that this Healthy Streets numerical target is immediately followed by the number of cycle parking places installed and kilometres of cycleway completed, it suggests that pedestrians will not be the primary beneficiary.
However, we also note from the data presented on page 12 that more pedestrians were fatally injured than cyclists both in absolute terms and as a proportion of total injuries for these modes. The safety imperative for pedestrians should therefore receive high levels of attention.
The following points respond to specific headings in the strategy.
WALKING INFRASTRUCTURE (Page 10)
The council correctly notes the problems for walkers that arise from tree roots and trunk girth, but the strategy does not offer a plan for addressing these. We are aware of residents in wheelchairs, or parents with buggies, who must leave the footpath and compete with vehicles on the road to get past street trees.
The active management of the Borough’s street trees to reduce this impediment to active travel could legitimately be included as a strategic objective.
STRATEGIC CYCLE CONNECTIONS (page 11 and page 23)
In the context of the Richmond Society’s area of benefit it is unclear why the A316 cycleway that connects the town and Chiswick Bridge appears to have been omitted from the borough’s strategic network map. This segregated facility already exists and, because TfL has long promised improvements for this section, its omission from the map becomes a curiosity! It also gives an impression that the local cycle network is less well connected than the situation on the ground.
We are already discussing various cycle route options thorough Richmond Town with officers, but additionally note from this consultation that the council has started design work to make A307 (Kew Road) a strategic cycle route by 2024. A cycle lane already exists along both sides of this road for much of its length, but the narrow road and pavement widths between Kew Gardens Road and Mortlake Terrace and around Kew Green (when it becomes the South Circular) will make it a challenge to build a continuous segregated facility along the full length of the road and link with CS9. It’s unclear how the council can overcome this constraint but would question if the absence of a cycle lane through the more dangerous part of Kew Road may negate any benefit from upgrading the rest of this route. Furthermore, parking is currently allowed in the north bound cycle lane from 10am between Lion Gate Gardens and Kew Gardens Road. This part time parking is very well used and the arrangement seems to work well balancing the use of the cycle lane for Brentford bound commuters in the morning peak against the parking need later in the day of an increasing numbers of visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (including those that arrive by coaches). The council must carefully evaluate the repercussions for RBG Kew visitor numbers and the consequences of displaced visitor parking for many residents in North Richmond and Kew if the current volume of on street parking cannot be reprovisioned acceptably elsewhere.
Retrofitting “wheel rails” (or alternatively cycle channels/gullies) over pedestrian bridges does enhance cyclist facilities and improves network connectivity but, in many cases, this comes at the expense of a degraded pedestrian experience. Although a cycle channel is not being used most of the time their constant presence reduces the useable width on the steps which can be a problem on busier and/or narrower bridges for opposing pedestrian flows. They also make it harder for anyone unsteady on their feet to use the handrail and, because some bridges are poorly lit, the cycle channels are often difficult to see in the dark creating a hazard that can trip, graze or otherwise injure an unwary pedestrian. Cleaning under the cycle channel is generally desultory which results in an accumulation of decaying leaves, moss and litter. Cycle channels do offer a solution for cyclists unable to carry their bike, but we urge the council firstly to consider the other options (that may also offer a better cyclist experience) before retrofitting a cycle channel to a footbridge that has been designed for pedestrians.
LOW TRAFFIC NEIGHBOURHOODS (Page 21)
The Society will support interventions that reduce rat running, enhance safety and make neighbourhoods more liveable provided that they are not manifestly unfair to other residents and have predictable consequences. The council’s recent experience with the East Sheen LTN tends to suggest that it may be a mistake under this strategy to expect to start “most schemes” with experimental traffic orders followed by formal consultation. We would be concerned that sequencing schemes in this order may cause avoidable neighbourhood angst with the potential for wasting more money resolving and possibly reversing an implementation. We therefore suggest that LTNs are not imposed on unwilling residents and that there should be a buy in through a consultation process once the ramifications are broadly understood by those most affected.
OFF ROAD WALKING AND CYCLING
We have already noted that in a few places aggressive cycling is harming the enjoyment of walking off road. For this reason, it will often not be appropriate to remove existing gates and bollards so that cycling is made easier, most especially those installed specifically to slow down cyclists! At some locations the worthy aim of facilitating better wheelchair access by widening restrictive gaps would also facilitate faster cycling and possibly more use of such paths by powered two wheelers. With misuse in mind, the council should recall that many gates and bollards were installed at the request of the police or community to ensure that some paths do remain “off road”.
Cycling on the footpath where not permitted is illegal and, because this is a growing concern in and around Richmond town, the Society would support the council enforcing this rule with the same rigour as is applied to a moving traffic violation.
LINKING TO PUBLIC TRANSPORT (Page 26)
We support the council’s aims in the section, particularly in the context of improved wayfinding and cycle parking at Richmond Station, but note that this should not run counter to the long-standing objective of reducing the street clutter in Richmond town.
SUPPORTING OTHER TYPES OF ACTIVE TRAVEL (Page 27)
We absolutely support and encourage the council to pursue a policy of “no loose tiles” in the footpath, but also to extend this policy to cover the timely elimination of trip hazards caused when slabs lift.
Furthermore, there should be more enforcement against vehicles parking on pavements illegally. Not only does this block the footpath, but heavy vehicles often damage paving slabs. Photographic evidence from residents should be accepted whenever possible and particularly when the council can make a claim against a land owner for damage caused by construction traffic.
We feel that the strategy is weak in this section because it does not give enough consideration to pavement condition. This is a particular concern when many Richmond residents are older people who do not want to fall and find that uneven pavements are a major impediment to being able to leave their home independently. Similarly clearing streets of leaf litter before it turns to mulch and makes pavements slippery is vitally important. The council might therefore consider adapting the autumn leaf sweeping frequency at specific locations where leaves from certain tree species turn to mulch under the weight of pedestrian footfall faster than they are cleared.
These are public health considerations for older residents that may justify using a share of this budget for pavement improvements.
We note also that a number of roads and pavements around Richmond are increasingly prone to flood. This is a particular problem for pedestrians who need to leap over puddles and/or risk being soaked by a passing vehicle. The essential ongoing maintenance that ensures the continued delivery of a good pedestrian experience should also be an integral requirement of the Active Travel Strategy.
There is much to support in the Active Travel Strategy and we welcome this effort and opportunity to respond. We do however feel that the strategy gives cycling too much emphasis and a disproportionate amount of time and money relative to the more modest improvements that could enhance the walking experience for more residents.