The Royal Parks agency in London has a bit of an issue with cycling. The actions it takes – whether it’s adding cobbled speed humps to popular cycling routes in Hyde Park, or attempting to remove a popular cycle route from that same park, or chasing after a cycle taxi service – give the impression of an organisation that views cycling as something a bit… undesirable. For the Royal Parks, cycling is a problem to be managed, rather than an opportunity, and it appears to be actively trying to discourage it.
What’s even more unfortunate is that the policies the Royal Parks are implementing to manage this ‘problem’ are actually making the Parks worse for everyone, whether they are cycling or not.
A sensible strategy for managing cycling on the existing routes in Hyde Park would be to separate walking and cycling from each other, and to give each mode plenty of space, so they are not coming into conflict with one another. Indeed, we can see this policy working well on a number of routes in and around Hyde Park, already.
We can see it on South Carriage Drive, where the new cycle ‘Superhighway’ runs alongside a footway.
Here people can walk and cycle, without getting in each other’s way. They have their own clear, distinct space.
Likewise on West Carriage Drive, where the same ‘Superhighway’ runs in parallel to walking provision.
People walking on the left; people cycling on the right. People walking can do so at leisure, knowing that anyone cycling will not be anywhere near them.
The situation is similar on Rotten Row, with separate walking and cycling space.
This is the route that the Royal Parks want to ban cycling on, following the construction of the ‘Superhighway’, but the evidence suggests – as in the photograph – that this is still a popular route for cycling, despite that new route.
There isn’t a great deal of conflict between walking and cycling here, but if there is, it should be addressed by creating wider, separate space for each mode, not by banning cycling altogether (which at the very least creates issues for people who use cycles as a mobility aid, depriving them of access).
We also see separation of walking and cycling on the (newly widened) Constitution Hill route.
Formerly, cycling and walking were crammed together (albeit separated by markings) on the path to the right. With the new path on the left, both modes have adequate space, and do not come into conflict with each other.
It’s notable that despite absolutely minimal distinction between these two paths, either in terms of signs, or markings (perhaps a deliberate Royal Parks policy), people are naturally opting to walk where other people are walking, and to cycle where other people are cycling. In other words, the natural choice of human beings is to avoid conflict, and to seek out space that is being used by people that are travelling in a similar way to them.
Yet the policy on the Broad Walk in Hyde Park stands directly in opposition to the way people naturally behave, and what they actually want. This path used to have a painted cycle route on one side of it – dating back to the 1980s – with a solid white line, and intermittent cycle symbols.
Far from perfect, certainly, but enough to make it reasonably clear to users that cycling and walking should be expected to use distinct parts of this path. If you are walking on the right hand side, you should be able to do so in peace, free from interactions with faster-moving people who are cycling.
All this has been undone, however, as a result of the Royal Parks’ misguided interventions. The distinction between walking and cycling has been removed, and on the remains of the cycle path, ‘Pedestrian Priority’ symbols have been added.
The result – an entirely predictable result – is that people are now cycling across the entire width of the Broad Walk.
By removing distinction between walking and cycling, the Royal Parks have converted what used to be cycle-free walking space into a space that has people cycling in it, entirely innocently.
Presumably the Royal Parks’ intention, with these measures, was to make walking more pleasant, by attempting to ‘control’ cycling. But, in my view, the exact opposite has been achieved. By removing distinctions between walking and cycling, they have created paths where pedestrians are having to deal with people cycling around them, in unpredictable ways. It’s surely the exact opposite of what anyone walking here would actually want.
I dearly hope the Royal Parks start paying attention to how cycling is designed for in some of the photographs at the start of this post; with wide paths, clearly separated from walking, to remove conflict. It simply doesn’t make sense to push the two modes together.