As you are no doubt well aware, Transport for London are carrying out a series of consultations on improvements to the most dangerous junctions on their network. There have only been a handful published so far, of which the Waterloo (IMAX) roundabout and the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge have received much critical attention.
Another proposal by TfL, open to consultation, that hasn’t received quite as much scrutiny – perhaps because it is not in such a high profile location – involves the cycling improvements for the A24 Epsom/London Road in Morden. It shares some similarity with the Lambeth roundabout review, in that the main suggestion is to increase the amount of legal pavement cycling. Alongside that pavement cycling, the existing on-carriageway cycle lanes (very narrow in places) will be kept, and in some places made mandatory – a solid white line, instead of a broken one, which drivers are technically prevented from driving in. I say ‘technically’, because in practice there is very little to stop drivers from driving in these lanes.
The consultation covers quite a length of this road, and I’m going to go along it, from south-west to north-east, showing just how half-hearted TfL’s proposals are, and how – with just a little more imagination, and a bit more budgetary commitment – there is great potential for good, separated infrastructure, suitable for all cyclists of all ages and abilities, to be provided along this road. The consultation proposals also bear the hallmarks of compliance with the Hierarchy of Provision; that is, conversion of pavements to shared use in the event that the authority responsible is unwilling to reduce traffic, slow it, or reallocate carriageway space. Likewise it is presumed that those using the pavement are willing to sacrifice their journey time for the privilege of cycling away from traffic.
This is the western end of the consultation area, looking to the north-east. As you can see, this is an enormously wide road, with a large central median, wide lanes, and wide pavements. And this is what TfL are proposing for this section –
The very narrow cycle lanes on either side of the road are going to be kept, and the pavements are going to be made ‘shared use’ (the orange colour). The blue stripe denotes a parking bay, which will be kept. This will block the existing on-carriageway cycle lane when cars are parked in it.
We can see just how bad a ‘solution’ this is for cycling along this road by examining the pavement on the northern side at this point -
That narrow cycle lane will be kept, as it is, and this pavement will be ‘shared use’.
To me, this is a poor use of the space between the fencing and the car. The on-carriageway cycle lane serves no purpose. It will encourage very few people to use the road on a bike, and (in my opinion) narrow cycle lanes like this generally make the experience of cycling in the road much worse than if they weren’t there at all – they tend to encourage close overtakes, and hostility when you are not ‘in the cycle lane’. Meanwhile, simply allowing cycling on the pavement is not appropriate; pavements look and feel like places where bicycles are not to be expected, and conflict between bicycles and pedestrians is likely.
Looking back, in the opposite direction. Notice the distance between the car, and the fence. There is surely enormous scope here for the construction of a wide, separated track, with a pavement alongside it; a safe and comfortable environment for cycling, that doesn’t bring cyclists into conflict with pedestrians.
On the other side of the road, the situation isn’t much better.
The proposed shared use pavement (again in orange) is only intermittent, and comes to an end, reintroducing cyclists into the carriageway just at the point at which they have to navigate around parked cars (the blue stripe). I leave you to judge how many cyclists who chooses to use the pavement would willingly undertake this kind of manoeuvre on a busy through road like the A24. (Note also that the on-carriageway cycle lane remains truncated by the parking bay). There is really no point making a pavement shared use if you are only going to do so intermittently, and you are expecting cyclists to hop on and off it.
Travelling north-east, we then come to the point where the A24 meets the A329 Central Road.
Again, we have a shared use pavement (orange), and narrow, on-road cycle lanes that are broken by parking bays (blue). This is the view from the inside of the bend –
A pretty horrible place to cycle, with drivers racing up the hill to beat the traffic lights, just behind me. Most drivers did not keep out of the cycle lane – but then again, they don’t have keep out of it. This cycle lane will remain ‘advisory’.
The road is five lanes wide here, with no crossing point for pedestrians on this side of the junction. Morden Primary School is located on the opposite corner of this rather car-centric junction. A lot of the traffic at the time I took these photographs (just after 3pm on a weekday) seemed to be schoolchildren being loaded into cars.
After this junction, the A24 becomes London Road, passing the primary school and housing on the right, and Merton College on the left.
Here, again, the proposals are to convert the pavement to shared use, and to keep the on-road cycle lane. The one slight concession here is that the cycle lane will be made mandatory (as marked in yellow).
The photograph above was taken approximately from the point of the upper left-hand arrow. The cycle lane is not, of course ‘new’; the proposal is just to convert it to mandatory. This is the best cycle lane on the entire stretch of road.
On the other side of the road, again we see that the on-road cycle lane – despite being widened – will continue to be interrupted by this parking bay.
The parking bays could, of course, be kept; there is ample width on this road for a safe, separated cycling route, rather than a pavement and a cycle lane that is blocked by a parking bay. A cycle track could run, for instance, between a pavement and the parked cars, with no sacrificing of motor vehicle capacity. Evidently this hasn’t been considered; the laziest solution is just to allow people to cycle on the pavement.
Further along, we come to an enormous junction, which only serves the entrance to Merton College.
The proposal is for a mandatory cycle lane (yellow), alongside a pavement converted to shared use pavement (orange). Here’s how it will look (all you have to do is imagine that the dashed line marking the cycle lane is solid) –
Are five lanes really necessary here? Is the best use of the available space a narrow cycle lane, alongside a wide shared use pavement?
The next section of the A24, looking towards Baitul Futuh Mosque. Still very wide.
Cycling is not going to be allowed on the pavement here, so anyone cycling along this route will, if they wish to comply with the law, have to re-enter the road at this point, negotiating their way around the outside of buses that may be stopped here. Again, there is an extraordinary amount of width to play with here, sufficient to take a wide cycle track behind a bus stop, completely free from interaction motor vehicles or the buses themselves. But it is at this very point that cyclists are forced back into the road.
Along the next section of road that runs under the railway bridge, cycling will not be legal on the pavement either.
The cycle lane here will be made mandatory, as you can see, in yellow, on the plan below. I doubt it will be very enticing to anyone currently nervous about cycling in the road.
The final area of this bit of the A24 subject to the proposed ‘improvements’ of TfL is this section of by Morden Court, on the approach to the gyratory around the Merton Council buildings.
This is a deeply revealing photograph, because it shows that this lengthy section of this road is effectively a single carriageway in each direction, thanks to the parking bays on the right, and the bus lane on the left. This should make us ask hard questions about why the rest of this road, as seen in all the previous photographs in this post, might need to be dual carriageway, at all; the capacity is constricted to one lane at this point, so I’m not entirely convinced that the A24 immediately to the south of this area has to remain a four (and in places, five) lane road. There is scope for the reallocation of a vehicle lane for a cycle track, at least along the section until the junction with Central Road (but note that reallocation is not strictly necessary, given the existing width available).
The cycle lane on the right, as currently configured, is useless.
The Transport for London plans have at least acknowledged this, and the cycle lane is to be moved out, to run continuously along the outside of the parked cars (it will also be mandatory, as marked in yellow).
In other words, the cycle lane will run between these parked cars, and the bus.
This is a better arrangement than a cycle lane that simply stops by the parking bay; however, it will run right alongside parked cars, with the attendant risk of being ‘doored’, seriously injured by car doors that are opened into your path, or pushed by those doors into the path of overtaking vehicles.
A more sensible solution would be to move the parking bays out, to create space for a cycle track next to the pavement, protected by the parked cars. This would have the double advantage of being safer, and also being less intimidating to cycle in.
And that brings us to the end of this stretch of road that is being ‘improved’.
It is worth mentioning where the road goes next, however; the gyratory around the Merton Council Offices, which is where the A24 flows past Morden tube.
Conditions for cycling here are unpleasant; more so than the section of the A24 considered in the TfL consultation. Not being familiar with the area, I didn’t fancy trying to negotiate my way around the gyratory on a Brompton. I gave up and walked.
Here is one of the handful of cyclists I saw using the road during the hour I spent in Merton.
These children were, understandably, on the pavement.
This area of Merton will remain a huge barrier to cycling in the borough; I’m not sure if anything is in the pipeline to humanise it, and to make it a place where children might be able to cycle in comfort and safety, without resorting to the pavement. The piecemeal, half-hearted and downright inadequate proposals on the A24 to the south of this gyratory won’t do much to help.
All Transport for London are proposing to do is to allow some cycling on some pavements where it wasn’t legal before (and still left gaps, places where people will have to cycle in the road), and converted some of the existing cycle lanes to ‘mandatory’. This is really quite scandalous, given the amount of space available along the length of this road; space that could be used to construct safe cycle tracks that are pleasant and easy to use, for cyclists of all ages, all speeds and abilities. Cycle tracks that could be used by those children that were being loaded into cars.
TfL can, and must, do something better. We really have a mountain to climb.
The consultation on this section of the A24 is open until 9th November. You can add your comments here, and the Cycling Embassy response is here. Do note, however, that work is scheduled to start on the 19th November, so don’t expect much attention to be paid to your views.