Park Life

When I was in London last Monday ahead of the Space for Cycling protest, I found myself on the Mall quite near Buckingham Palace, and I wanted to head north towards Oxford Street.

The obvious option is a cycle route (indeed a road) running along the eastern side of Green Park, which would allow anyone cycling the option to avoid the fairly unpleasant St James Street to the east, which despite being returned to two-way running for all traffic is still unattractive for cycling.

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 11.57.43

There’s actually motor vehicle access for some distance along this route, for properties along it. However, when the motor vehicle access ceases – when the properties stop – so does the cycling access, with a threat of a £50 fine if you continue to cycle, across the white line.

IMG_2619

The route stops – for no discernible reason – halfway up the eastern side of the park. You can’t go any further on this path, despite motor vehicles using it up to this point. There is no change in the volume of pedestrians, and no change in the width of the path, so it is quite inexplicable to me why cycling should be allowed south of this line, but not north of it (beyond the fact that it would be absurd to allow motor vehicles to drive up to this line, but not allow people to cycle up to it).

Without this route, you are stuffed. There is no north-south route across this park, at all. You can cycle west to Hyde Park Corner, but there you are abandoned, with no route back east along the perimeter of Green Park. Your only alternative is to use the traffic-clogged St James Street, which really isn’t much fun at all.

Courtesy of Google Streetview

Courtesy of Google Streetview

So there is no safe and pleasant option north from the Mall to Piccadilly. It would surely be very simple indeed to open up the wide track (that, remember, currently allows motor vehicle access) for north-south cycling, along the entire eastern perimeter of the park.

More than that, it could form a substantial part of a protected route from the Victoria area all the way to Camden.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.06.07

Potential north-south route across central London, from Victoria to Camden

From Green Park it could head north through (for instance) Berkeley Square, heading towards Portland Place, and into Regents Park.

There is substantial room for reallocating space to cycling along this route, by physical segregation on the wide roads in the Square and on Portland Place, or by closing off narrower streets to through traffic to create subjective safety.

And there is scope for improvement of Regents Park too, to allow safe and pleasant cycling conditions with very little effort or investment. I have been reminded of a decade-old proposal to close the Park to through-traffic.

The Outer Circle of Regents Park has larger roads running parallel to it, all the way around the Park.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 11.50.29

So there is – in principle – absolutely no reason why the Outer Circle should remain open to motor traffic travelling elsewhere. The proposal from 2003 recommends three simple point closures, at the following locations -
Park closures

This would leave the Park still completely accessible to those who want to drive into it – or indeed for those who live on the Outer Circle – but would create a safe and calm environment for people walking and cycling in the Park. The eastern part of the Outer Circle could form a genuine Superhighway from the Oxford Street area into Camden.

Obviously these kinds of improvements to parks should not be a substitute for creating safe and attractive routes on the main roads of London. But these changes – both in Regents and Green Park – could be implemented so simply and easily it’s a complete no-brainer. In fact it’s pretty shocking that the Regents Park proposals have been floating around since 2003, with no action.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Hyde Park routes – so useful for tourists who wish to pedal around on Boris Bikes, and for those who don’t wish to cycle on Park Lane, or battle with traffic through Knightsbridge – are frequently disrupted or closed without alternatives being provided, for music or sporting events. Indeed, they are closed (or disrupted) right now, for the rest of this week… For a triathlon.

It seems to me that the Royal Parks – which manage all three of these parks – need a bit of a push from the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, so as to ensure that proper, consistent, high-quality routes for cycling (that are subjectively safe and suitable for all kinds of users), are provided across them. These routes would be quick wins, and would act as a spur to creating cycle routes that join up with them along the main roads.

The Royal Parks homepage currently has a silhouette of people cycling. How about taking it more seriously in their parks?

The Royal Parks homepage currently has a silhouette of people cycling. How about taking it more seriously in their parks?

There is, apparently, a Vision for turning London into the world’s best cycling city, yet safe and pleasant routes across its parks, which could so easily be opened up, remain unattractive, disrupted, or closed off entirely. Time for action?

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9 Responses to Park Life

  1. Mark says:

    Surely the ‘no cycling’ sign in the second photo is not a valid prohibition sign, so can’t be enforceable by the police.

  2. Simon H says:

    Baseless speculation: perhaps they’re scared of becoming the new Regent’s Canal towpath where the suppressed demand gets unleashed to the point of becoming problematic for other users.

  3. Greg Collins says:

    It’s a ‘Park’. And a Roal Park at that. The rules are different, the laws are different, and although the Parks OCU has been a part of the Met since 2004 the police force are, effectively, different. The Royal Parks area part of London that aren’t in effect properly a part of London, the ‘roads’ through the Parks are different to the regular roads, the signage doesn’t have to comply with regular highways signage, etc., etc., and the people in charge of the whole shebang are powerful and protect various vested interests. Not least the interests of certain of the the folk who live within and adjoining the parks. Unless mega bucks are involved conserving the status quo is their main priority.

    But it would make a great route nonetheless. More on their cycling policies here http://www.royalparks.org.uk/about-us/cycling-in-the-royal-parks so why not email them to ask for a change as you suggest. ime they are quite chatty and keen to hear from folk.

    btw I was in Hyde Park y’day afternoon, using another form of human powered transport, and thousands of cyclists were just ignoring the no cycling ban and it wasn’t being enforced. So many cyclists that I saw a collision between one and a pedestrian on a zebra crossing. Might be difficult to ride there when the triathlon events are on there today and tomorrow..

  4. Tim says:

    I get the impression that the Royal Parks are scared witless of complaints about crazy cyclists creating havoc in their precious parks. This is a sharp contrast to Manchester, where all the parks allow cycling pretty much everywhere that I’ve seen, and I’ve never witnessed any problems personally (although I suppose I don’t qualify as a potentially vulnerable pedestrian).

    Of course the only non-road bit of Regents Park where cycling is allowed is the Broad Walk, which became shared use after an incredibly in-depth trial period. It appears that cyclists are still allowed, but only just.

    As for Primrose Hill, well Loudon can tell you about that…Riding by on your flash bicycle, Yeah they can do you for that on Primrose Hill…

  5. monchberter says:

    The Royal Park’s attitude is patchy and frankly completely outdated. I commute through Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens daily and there’s so much that’s half arsed and not really appropriate, even for leisure, particularly since the introduction of Boris Bikes the Hyde Park corner bike hire station is the single busiest pick up/drop off location in London. It’s almost as if the Royal Parks are trying to actively ignore what’s going on.

    North Carriage Drive is more often than not pointlessly closed to cycle traffic due to events turning it into a huge lorry park, forcing cyclists to share a very busy pavement with pedestrians, tourists and many other cyclists.

    There’s a 3-4 metre wide horse track around the entire park that’s barely used, but cycle provision is piecemeal and often brings you into conflict with pedestrians and motorists, I can understand the monied types locally demand their hobbies are catered for, but proportionately there are multitudes more cyclists that use the park and could benefit from clear, straightforward segregated routes.

    Kensington Gardens is in many ways worse and better than Hyde Park, the wide North to south boulevard is great for cycling, but demanding on your attention, with dogs, children, prams and groups using its whole width. However, there is no provision for cyclists going East/West aside from a single track through the centre of the park. That they stop cyclists entering the path on Kensington Gore and force them to use a multi-lane road with horrible pinch points is just unfair. The same goes for the north side of the park where your only option is Bayswater Road and again, no provision for leisure cyclists who would want to get to Notting Hill from Hyde Park without a lengthy detour through the centre.

    The only luck i’ve ever had with Royal Parks is pointing out by way of photo and Twitter the huge volumes of horse shit often left on the on road cycle tracks through the park, they’ve since started to clean up more effectively. Apart from that, there’s so much more they could be doing to help commuter cyclists and leisure cyclists, surely in their own interest?

  6. Greg Collins says:

    They have a stated ambition (driven I suspect by fear) to balance the use of the parks to ensure all user groups enjoy them equally. In my repeated and regular experience as a visitor to London, some, albeit a tiny minority of, London commuter cyclists ride like nobbers around pedestrians in the Royal Parks in central. Add to them entitled chumps in suits on Ti Bromptons off peak… Add to them tourists on BB’s with not even half a clue of how to ride and, well… my enjoyment as a responsible cyclist is compromised, my enjoyment as a pedestrian is compromised, my enjoyment of a longboarder is compromised, etc., etc.. All that results in conflict and complaint. As a result cyclists get perceived as being a problem that needs to be managed. If we want to change the attitude of the Royal Parks people we need to change the behaviour of the nobbers. Around pedestrians we are the threat just as motor vehicles are around us.

    • Michael J says:

      Some proper separated cycle paths (maybe with a few bollards or a hedge) would help with that though, instead of shared use chaos

  7. Get the route opened up, monitor flows and as it becomes popular (it will) change the paths into a set up where “pedestrian” bits are separated from “cyclist” bit with a kerb upstand?

  8. Peter says:

    See Berlin’s Tiergarten for how cycleways are put around parks. Could do with being a bit wider but otherwise it offers a good facility for tourists and also for commuters pootling about.

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