Cycling and the Royal Parks

TfL’s response to the consultation on the route of the Superhighway through Hyde Park was released last week. It reveals, yet again, a curious hostility to cycling from the Royal Parks, the (government) agency that manages the eight Royal Parks in London.

This is the same body that is effectively blocking the most sensible routing of the Superhighway past Buckingham Palace for ‘safety, operational and aesthetic reasons’; that bans cycling along the eastern side of Green Park (yet allows driving, for access); that is apparently reluctant to close parts of Regents Park as through-routes to motor traffic; that organises regular ‘crackdowns’ on cycling, including (notoriously) one last year which saw BBC presenter Jeremy Vine stopped by the Met Police for ‘speeding’ (at 16mph).

The curiousness of the Royal Parks’ position was neatly summed up by City Cyclists back in January

it seems to me that the [Royal Parks] authority is terribly concerned that building a safe cycle route through this area might lead to conflict with pedestrians. Fair enough. But I don’t see any evidence that The Royal Parks understand that much of that potential ‘conflict’ is because they are trying to squeeze people on foot and bikes into small spaces at junctions that are absolutely mobbed by motor vehicle traffic. The elephant in the room is that there is an awful lot of motor vehicle traffic in the Parks. Why isn’t The Royal Parks worrying about removing some of that, I wonder?

And indeed this latest response from TfL to the consultation reveals that the Royal Parks are still thinking this way. For instance –

3 respondents (<1%), including The Royal Parks, expressed concern about provision for cyclists on North Carriage Drive

The Royal Parks stated that the proposals are not safe enough for pedestrians. Most of these cited potential clashes with cycles due to increased cycle congestion in certain areas of the park

The Royal Parks stated that impact on pedestrians needs to measured and a risk assessment undertaken

Nobody wants to see more conflict between walking and cycling, but it seems to me that the Royal Parks are coming at this issue from a perspective that is bound to see problems where they don’t exist, and fails to diagnose solutions where they can be found.

First of all, from the tone of their comments on this consultation, and other public responses, they appear to have a fairly fixed idea of ‘cycling’ being the preserve of fast, speedy types, posing grave danger to other users, rather than as a potentially universal mode of transport that could be used by all visitors to the Parks. Indeed, these people exist in the Parks already, and they are hardly a great danger to other users.

Ordinary people, using bikes, in Hyde Park

Ordinary people, using bikes, in Hyde Park

Ordinary people need safe routes through (and obviously to) the Parks by bike, not just ‘cyclists’, and those routes shouldn’t be compromised because of assumptions about speeding, or bad behaviour, or lycra, or whatever. If there is a genuine issue with bad behaviour, that should be tackled directly, rather than punishing everyone else by not even providing proper routes in the first place.

Secondly, all the (potential) problems with conflict between different users in the parks are almost certainly design problems, rather than any intrinsic problem with cycling itself. Where there are currently issues with ‘speeding’ in Hyde Park, for instance, it’s notable that it is on a desperately narrow shared path, along Rotten Row.

The Rotten Row shared path

The Rotten Row shared path

With two-way cycling on the right hand side of that white line, it’s hardly surprising that conflict with walking on the other side of the line is going to occur, with ‘fast’ cyclists seeming to come out of nowhere.

Parks across Europe handle much larger numbers of people cycling, with much less conflict, because their paths are designed to safely accommodate it. In Utrecht –
Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 23.51.18
In Lyon –
Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 23.49.03And of course in Amsterdam.Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 23.49.42There isn’t conflict in these parks, precisely because there is enough space allocated to walking and cycling for everyone to get along quite happily. The problems that result from pushing people together into a tiny space isn’t a problem with cycling; it’s a problem with bad design.

This fixation on the ‘problems’ cycling might cause is even more curious in the light of the Royal Parks’ ambivalence about motor traffic levels in the areas it controls – the Royal Parks maintains at its own expense roads that carry motor traffic through Hyde Park, for instance. We are told that

It is The Royal Parks’ aspiration to reduce the number of motor vehicles in the Royal Parks. It does not feel an immediate ban on cars in Hyde Park is considered feasible given the impact that this would have on those who currently visit by car and taxi.

Reductions in motor traffic would obviously be welcome, but it’s not clear how this is going to be achieved without restrictions on the routes motor traffic can take through the parks. A ‘ban’ on motor traffic needn’t even be a priority in the short term; the main problem with motor traffic in the Parks is how the roads in them are used as through routes. These roads could be converted to access roads, still allowing people to visit by car, but removing the motor traffic using the Parks as a cut-through to somewhere else.

The Royal Parks seem innately conservative; wedded to preserving the status quo, even if that is deeply sub-optimal in terms of safety and convenience, especially for people walking and cycling.

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19 Responses to Cycling and the Royal Parks

  1. ORiordan says:

    It does seem that the Royal Parks are completely oblivious to the motor traffic rat running through the Parks. From the quote, they “aspire” to reduce the level of motor traffic through the parks. Aspirations are great. I “aspire” to own a house in London. However it ain’t going to happen unless I win the lottery.

    And they don’t want to ban cars because of “the impact that this would have on those who currently visit by car and taxi”. It would be good if they had some data here. How many of the cars using the park’s roads are visitors compared to rat-runners?

    I echo the point about poor design of facilities in the Parks. At peak times, West Carriage Drive is nose-to-tail cars rat-running through the Hyde Park and they stick cyclists on a poorly designed shared use footpath creating conflict with pedestrians.

    There really is a singular lack of vision regarding use of the park by people on bikes, particularly Hyde Park/Green Park/St James Park where you could create a joined-up route for people to visit all three parks using Boris bikes.

    How do campaigners get through to an organisation with a leadership who appear to have a mental block regarding the role of motor traffic within the Parks. The London Cycling Campaign organise their membership groups based upon boroughs. Perhaps there should be a dedicated group for lobbying the Royal Parks?

    • Mark Williams says:

      The more obvious solution would be to stop fretting about putting cycle `superhighways’ on long, wiggly, narrow, part-time routes inside central London parks and simply route them along a dedicated 10–12m strip of the nearest TLRN road instead. Use TFL’s existing powers to stop up side roads and ban turning movements presenting a conflict with the `superhighway’ or arrange entirely separate traffic light stages for general traffic—with or without simultaneous green for cyclists. The neighbouring highway authorities do not possess any kind of veto over this sort of arrangement, although both they and TFL like to act as though they do. If the existing highway boundary has enough space left over to accommodate segregated motor vehicles once the `superhighway’ corridor has been re-allocated (e.g. current Eastern carriageway of Park Lane A4202), then by all means allow it there (pay for all alterations and maintenance with the motoring budget). If not, then tough—the motorists can continue to practice their hobby elsewhere, including through the central London parks. TFL only have a duty wrt. the movement of traffic. As PM and RDRF might point out; that need not comprise of any [road] motor vehicles (yes, even for freight), what with foot and cycle traffic being so much more space efficient/ healthy/ cheap and also inflicting much less noise and air pollution/ axle loading.

      Concentrating all this ire onto one I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-proper-highway-authority rather lets TFL off the hook, which no doubt suits the latter down to the ground. After all, it was the chairman of TFL who proposed the cycle `superhighway’ project in the first place and not Royal Parks. If Royals Parks wants to stick its fingers in its ears and pretend that current levels of through motor traffic are sustainable and desirable, then let them—even if it is what Jitensha Oni describes with brilliant understatement as short sighted. If Royal Parks want to continue discouraging cycling on `their’ highways, then let them—we can find a better alternative which doesn’t close every evening or insist on pointlessly bespoke (weird and expensive) signage.

      All of the above also applies to any other cycle `superhighway’ where TFL are attempting to abrogate their responsibility and impose it on a neighbouring highway authority’s [asphalt concrete] turf.

  2. canamsteve says:

    “The Royal Parks seem innately conservative; wedded to preserving the status quo”

    Well…. they seem unusually compliant if you show up with wads of cash and ask to occupy a few acres of the park all summer for paid-access-only events like music concerts or a circus. I recall one so-called summer where the entire Speakers Corner area turned into a quagmire from the concert foot traffic and rain – but hey, that’s OK with the Royal Parks.

    I think if they changed the name to The People’s’ Parks we might get somewhere. I mean, you still see visitors riding horses (not quite as everyman as cycling, I submit) and when those horses need to evacuate their bowels, it’s perfectly OK to do it right there and leave it right there. Surely we are the only civilised country left where this is encouraged? Compare to cycling. Discuss.

    You are absolutely spot-on that by simply providing a bit more infrastructure (additional routes and widening a few) most of the perceived “conflicts” would be avoided. But I suspect the Royal Parks actually wants to create conflict – that – dragged kicking and screaming into allowing some cycle traffic – they literally have tried to make things as bad as possible in order to manufacture problems. By creating conflicts, they can try and use the resulting “evidence” to prevent future public incursions into their precious “Royal” parks.

    Look at the “approved” cycle routes through Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens – maddeningly circuitous, disconnected and, in places, constricted. Why force cyclists to exit the park at the very busy and restricted Lancaster Gate junction, when there is plenty of room to provide a dedicated cycle path within the park all the way to the Queensway (Broad Walk) Boris Bike stand? And why are cycles not allowed to travel the 100 metres or so from there on to the Orme Square exit, which meets up nicely with a quietway off Bayswater Road (and on to Notting Hill)? It just seems perverse.

  3. At the December meeting that Zac Goldsmith hosted about Richmond Park, the loudest cheers from the 500+ present were reserved for criticism of through traffic in the park. And Ron Crompton, the chair of the Friends, recently highlighted the issue of noise pollution in the park as well.

    All of the Royal Parks would make a massive difference to Londoners and to park visitors just by banning all through traffic, and focus on them being ‘parks’ and not roads.

  4. Simon says:

    Also, who and why is anyone visiting Hyde Park by car and shouldn’t the Roysl Parks be doing everything they can to discourage it? Hyde Park is at the centre of zone 1 surrounded by tube stations and bus stops. It’s not even as if the roads allow access to the interior for those of restricted mobility – they skirt along the edges so taxi drops at the edge wouldn’t change accessibility to any greAt extent.

    • ORiordan says:

      Blocking West Carriage Drive somewhere in the middle so it can’t be used as a through route except for bikes, Parks works and emergency service vehicles would still allow access to the locations off this road. Same could apply to South Carriage Drive.

      I haven’t really thought about the traffic flow for Richmond Park, but again, the principle here would be providing access but making through traffic as difficult as possible.

    • Har Davids says:

      Good question: who are these people? And has The Royal Parks ever considered the impact that motorized visitors have?

  5. S says:

    As much as I get frustrated with some of LBHackney’s policies towards cycling, their attitudes to cycling in its parks – i.e. feel free, but you are a guest on pedestrian routes – is a joy. Victoria Park couldn’t be any more different to Hyde Park et al. Although exceptionally busy and popular (as with the Royal Parks), the fact that the ‘roads’ through the park are all closed to traffic except park traffic, events, disabled badges etc means that these are hugely wide spaces. Every time I visit I see fast commuters on bikes (like me), kids on bikes, pushchairs, rollerbladers, skateboarders. All interacting safely and carefully, and most importantly, having fun. Isn’t this the whole point of a park? Contrast Hyde Park – busy through routes for motor traffic and all those on bikes pushed onto a handful of dreadfully designed cycle tracks.

  6. monchberter says:

    You can sum the Royal Parks’ attitude up simply as ‘space for horses’ all well and good – the horse drive adjacent to Rotten Row is as wide as a motorway, while ‘space for cycling’ not so much.

    There seems to be a distinct ideological mindset at TRP which considers managed landscapes, horse riding, dog walkers and steady year round economic activity (concerts, triathlons, summer / winter fairs) and most galling of all, through traffic – as acceptable, yet innocuous activities such as cycling are not seen as being tolerated in any form apart from begrudgingly and with as you imply infrastructure which conforms to a mindset that cycling is a “problem”, particularly for pedestrians, or in Richmond Park “holding up” through traffic, or ‘speeding’ (which TRP can enforce through petty bylaws).

    Most amusingly, the Hyde Park Corner hire cycle docks have consistently been the most well used docks in the whole of London. The demand for good leisure routes in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens is blindingly obvious, but the present offer is an utter mess which peters out into shared use pavements, or as you reach Kensignton Gardens only has one single path through the park West-East when a circuit route is badly needed (one where footpaths to the north and south are zealously and strictly signed as off limits for cycling).

    The Superhighway plans, while not perfect, are a real improvement on TRP’s current offer of trying to conveniently forget about cycling, or underdeliver for it in such a away that people would rather use the taxi choked through roads.

  7. Jim says:

    A lot of the perceived dangers caused to pedestrians by cyclists are purely psychological, I think. I walk a lot on paths used heavily by cyclists, and I have very rarely or never been at any actual risk from any of them. The fact is that cyclists – and my own experience cycling backs this up – don’t actually *want* to hit pedestrians, firstly because they’re not actually terrible people and secondly because hitting a pedestrian is quite a painful experience for someone on a bike. The only real “conflicts” is that it’s bloody annoying as a cyclist to keep having to slow down for people walking, but as this is hardly more annoying that not being able to cycle at all one presumes this is not what the Royal Parks are bothered about. This objection is based basically on a danger that is pretty much entirely illusory.

    (Incidentally, if conflicts do occur on that Rotten Row shared path, I wonder how many of them are because pedestrians can’t be bothered to walk on the correct side of the line: the equivalent of complaining about conflict with motor vehicles when walking down the middle of the road instead of keeping to the pavement. Where I live such lines tend basically to be ignored by pedestrians – admittedly this is perhaps largely because they’re so badly signed you can’t tell which side is which half the time.)

    • ORiordan says:

      A good proportion of the pedestrians during summer months seem to be tourists therefore I can forgive them of being unaware of the British custom that some paint splashed on the footway means they should avoid this space. There seems to be a greater awareness that a boundary like a kerb means you don’t wander all over the road.

  8. I had a couple of weeks recently of commuting through Hyde Park, which is actually the first time I’ve used the cycle lanes. Based on that experience, I completely agree that, where there was conflict, it was due to the size of the cycle lane. There were generally two types of cyclists – the commuters, like me, who had somewhere to get to and were cycling at a fair speed, and the pootlers who were wobbling about on Boris bikes. Both types of cyclists have equal right to use the lane, but it’s not big enough to accommodate both without sometimes encroaching on the pedestrians’ space. Compare that to the space for horses alongside, which is bigger than the footpath and cycle lanes put together.

  9. congokid says:

    Horse riding in Hyde Park costs about £85 an hour, whereas the use of the hire bikes starts at £2 for 24 hours.

    I haven’t been able to find the total numbers of horses available for visitors to hire from the two stables located in or near Hyde Park, but based on the hire cost differential and numbers of hire bikes available, I’d guess far more visitors cycle in the park, either for pleasure or as a through route.

    Would it be too much to hope that the Royal Parks reallocate some of the space that is currently devoted to one rather expensive and elitist activity away from that and toward the more popular activity?

  10. canamsteve says:

    I had to walk across Kensington Gardens (north to south) yesterday so took note of the cycling patterns. Entering at the “real” Lancaster Gate, you are immediately presented with painted No Cycling on the path and an additional “sandwich” sign.

    Crossing the path which parallels Bayswater Road, there are additional No Cycling signs painted. A glance down the path saw a large Royal Parks vehicle parked – taking up a good 75% of the width. The park was very quiet. Walking south, you are almost across the park before you come to the narrow, approved cycle path – shared with pedestrians but without any demarcation.

    The main “No Cycling” path (about three times as wide) has “Look Both Ways” painted on the ground. This seems to imply that pedestrians should yield to crossing cyclists, which is exactly what I witnessed. This seems odd – Royal Parks giving cyclists priority? But I realised trying to get the cyclists to yield was probably unlikely, and there inevitably would be collisions at this manufactured conflict point. So the RP decided (no doubt after much hand-wringing) to at least warn pedestrians (in English only).

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