Thursday, 10 March 2016

Demo on CS 11 tomorrow: show support for a cycle highway for NW London and a tranquil Regent's Park

When 'The Regent's Park' was laid out by John Nash and his associates in the early 1800s, the Outer Circle road was created, to quote a contemporary document, 'for the purpose of exercise'. At the time, this meant walking and horse-riding. When the villas around the park were built, it also provided access to them. When the wealthy who lived there aquired motor cars in the 20th century, of course they started using those on the Outer Circle. Because the Outer Circle remained connected to the roads around, via seven gates, it became a convenient cut-through for anyone using a motor car. There was no way to separate the cars of those who lived there from people passing through. Though the gates were closed late at night, and signs were put up banning commercial vehicles (but taxis were never banned), the Outer Circle became a rat-run, a dangerous and unpleasant barrier within the park, that greatly reduced its effective area, both through the noise and pollution experienced near the road, and because the road cut off the circle of the park outside it from the main body.

I've been campaigning to reverse this undesirable situation, with many other local people and groups, since around 2004. Note that I have not so far mentioned cycling. Though the traffic does make cycling on Outer Circle a far less pleasant experience than it should be, and it is not at all a suitable environment for family cycling, as this video demonstrates, and Camden Cyclists have been campaigning for the removal of through-traffic from the Outer Circle for many years, the argument has never been primarily about cycling. It has been to restore the Outer Circle and park to its rightful and proper purposes, as laid out by John Nash: an area for recreation and exercise, not traffic. An area free from noise and pollution. A park. The Outer Circle is needed for motor access to car parks, the zoo, to premises around the park, but it is not nededed as a through-road. It is closely paralleled by other roads that through-traffic should be using instead: Park Road (A41), Marylebone road (A501), Albany Street (A4021) and Prince Albert Road (A5025).

Finally, we now have a solid plan that will achieve our goal. The plans for Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS 11) from Portland Place to Swiss coittage, though falling short of the route we were previously promised, all the way to Brent Cross, at least in this phase, solve the problem of Regent's Park traffic to a considerable extent. They propose the closure of four of the gates: Macclesfield Bridge (Avenue Road),  Hanover Gate, York Gate and Park Square East and West, for most of the day, as shown below.

The other major element of this plan is a proposal to completely re-design Swiss Cottage gyratory system. This is another thing that so many in the borough of Camden and beyond have looked forward to for a very long time. All routes to the south of Hampstead and West Hapstead converge on this junction, with has long been a barrier to creating a decent cycle network in Camden. The plan for this horrible, filthy 1960s sea of traffic isolationg the famous Swiss Cottage pub and the Odeon Cinema is that it should be removed entirely. The bulk of the traffic will be taken down an A41 made continuous, and two-way, on the west side of the current gyratory, while the eastern side, outside the Hampstead Theratre, the theatre school and the library, will be turned into a bus-only road, with wide pavements, trees down the middle, and segregated cycle tracks. This will be a massive environmental transformation of the area, and one for which many people have fought hard for a very long time.

How the CS11 plan will replace a sea of traffic with an oasis of calm at the north end of Avenue Road
The section of Avenue road south of Adelaide Road will not be car-free, but it will become far less convenient a route for general traffic, as to reach it traffic from the north will need to turn left from Finchley Road and then right. Furthermore, for most of the day, it will not give access to Regent's Park or towards the West End. It will represent a legely pointless detour for those who do not have specific business in Avenue Road or adjacent residential roads. We will see an end to so much traffic from the north, Finchley Road and Fitzjohn's Avenue, bombing past Swiss Cottage and into Regent's Park via Avenue Road. That traffic will largely stick to the A41, where it belongs.

The scheme is far from perfect in my view. We need the closures of the gates to be full time (there is an exception betwweren 11am and 3pm) and we really need the southern part of Avenue Road more fully closed to traffic (traffic can still turn left or right into Prince Albert Road under these plans) as there is only room for painted (mandatory) cycle lanes on the southern part of Avenue Road, not for segregated tracks, as we have seen on other recent Cycle Superhighways. However, this scheme gives so many of the big wins that campaigners (not just cyclists) have been looking for in this part of London for so long, we all need to support it. It represents a brave move by Boris Johnson, Transport for London, and Camden Council.

But the forces ranged agains CS 11 are strong. There has been a major campaign against it mounted by NIMBYs and those wedded to motor vehicle domination of London, with its attendent epedemics of pollution, isolation, exclusion and inactivity. 2400 people have signed a petition agains CS 11:

Furthermore, local papers have uniformly been reporting CS 11 negatively, in terns of 'howls of protest' supposedly emanating from many and various quarters: to give a flavour of the nonsense that's being spread here's extracts from some articles:

Clive Beecham, chair of the St John’s Wood High Street association said the plan to restrict vehicular access to Regent’s Park from 11am-3pm would create “traffic chaos” as drivers looked for alternative routes.

He said: “By redirecting traffic through St John’s Wood what you are doing is storing up traffic chaos for the next ten to 15 years. 
“If they shut off Avenue Road it will be a complete nightmare. As residents we should have the right to use the route through Regent’s park.
 He added: “It’s also going to be the worst possible thing for the High Street because the impact of traffic in one area is like a domino affect on others. As a community we need to rebel against it.
Stephen Lewis, who lives in Lyttleton Close, Swiss Cottage, said bicycles could be like “cholesterol clogging up London’s arteries”. 
“If London were a human body, it would be facing an invasion of cholesterol which threatens the arteries,” he said. “In this case, for cholesterol read cyclists. We are slowly being strangled by measures implemented to facilitate the journeys for cyclists but at the cost of slowly squeezing out other road users.”
Swiss Cottage resident Ian Braidman said: “St John’s Wood and Primrose Hill, to the east and west of Avenue Road and Finchley Road, will become a rat-run for cars endeavouring to escape the traffic congestion this is designed to create.”
Actor Tom Conti, who is campaigning against the project, told the West End Extra: “It will cause mayhem. The whole area will be destroyed – but it will not happen. We are going to make this a national issue. A bike lane from Portland Place to Brent Cross will be absolutely massive. There will be a solid queue to Hatfield. Cyclists should be made to pay road tax. If they want a special road, they should have to pay for it. 
“This is the beginning of some kind of Soviet idea to ban all vehicular traffic from London.”

There's loads more like this, and it's not just the reporters on the local press, or fossilised white males breathing petrol fumes who are opposed. A group calling itself 'NW8 Mums; a community for all our mums' (seemingly without irony) has published this exhortation:
We cannot understand how this scheme was ever even thought of, let alone that it might be allowed to go through. We must all work hard and together to make them see sense and drop it, before all our lives are ruined.' 
Worse, Westminster Council seem to be doing all they cvan to stop the plan. They have organised higly biased 'public meetings' where offiers have briefed against TfL's plans and have given no real platform for the supporters of CS11, who have been howled down by angry mobs. Westminster's Councillor Robert Rigby has said at one of these meetings, as reported by my correspondent (and this is likely to be the official view of Westminster Council):
· Residents do not believe the results of modelling [TfL modelling that demonstrates little increase on traffic on other local roads]. 
· The Outer Circle can accommodate all road users. 
· If a cycle track can be created along Birdcage Walk, despite heritage considerations, something could be done for cyclists on the Outer Circle [Note he doesn't explain what]. 
· Pollution will get worse, both on main roads and on side roads. 
· No account has been taken of HS2. 
· Closing the park gates is a step too far.
Local politicians are hearing the noise and nonsense arguments from the opponents of CS 11 too loudly. This has to be challenged, or the scheme will fail. London Cycling Campaign, Camden Cyclists, and the others who support CS11 and  traffic-free Regents Park, including Camden Friends of the Earth, the Canal and River Trust, and Westminster living Streets, have decided enough is enough, and we are organising a protest to make some noise in support of cycling, CS11, a clean, green park, and less domination of NW London by motor traffic.

The protest and ride is at 6:00-7:0pm tomorrow, Friday 11 March, starting at Park Square East. Everyone is welcome on bike, foot, wheelchairs, or mobility scooters. Bring banners ands make a noise. We will be riding slowly a circuit including Park Square East and West, Outer Circle and Marylebone Road.

If you can come, and also if you can, be absolutely sure to fill in the consultation by 20 March. Don't only to only tick the overall/first section “support” button, but also tick Swiss Cottage support, gate closures, Portland Place segregated tracks etc., support specifically. More responding hints from LCC here.

We know that proper, serious, cilty-changing cycle schemes are massively popular: witness the 60-80% approval ratings for the consultations on vareious sections of TfL's East-West Cycle Superhighway, currently cutting a dramatic swathe through Parliament Square. But they also create fear, noise, and misguided panic in a place that has been so long in thrall to the car and the concept of engineering the environment around it, rather than around people on foot and bike.

Protest, ride, write to the papers, lobby your councillors, answer the consultation, and help make London a little bit more like the clean, civilised New Renaissance city that visionary architects and planners of the past, like Nash, and Christopher Wren before him, dreamed of. Please support CS11.

Here comes Madge!* Cycling infrastructure and roads reclaimed from motor traffic help all those who are excluded by a motor-dominated transport system, not just 'cyclists'.

*She may not really be called that.

1 comment:

  1. I wish everyone allthe best for getting the scheme through. I had no idea Tom Conti was that much of a twat.