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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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?