On December 17th, Zac Goldsmith is hosting a meeting about Richmond Park. We don’t want this to be another “cyclists ate my hamster” session, so we’ve got together with Kingston Wheelers, London Dynamo, Twickenham Cycling Club, Barnes Cycling Club, Chevaliers, Kingston Juniors, and Kingston’s own LCC branch, to make the case for why cycling in the park is a good thing, and why the Royal Parks need to be doing more for it.
Here’s our view, and you can find the meeting details here. Come along and support cycling for all in one of the finest natural reserves we have access to.
Richmond Park is there for everyone, and we want it to stay that way. The present situation, where cycling can comprise up to 75% of all the traffic in the park, is clearly objectionable to some users.
However, the usual reaction – especially in the letters page of the local papers, and in frequent conversations even at the Police Liaison Group – is that cycling, and people who choose to cycle, are the villains in this piece. None of the groups representing cycling will tell you ‘All cyclists are angels’, because breaking the law on a bicycle is almost as endemic as breaking the law in a car. That makes it neither right nor acceptable, but we believe that it is time proper consideration were given to making sure Richmond Park can continue to be a recreational space for the thousands of people who flock there, week in, week out.
There are a number of issues that any proposed solution needs to address:
- The park is a wildlife haven and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is home to a huge variety of wildlife, large and small.
- The park is used by large volumes of traffic during the day which is avoiding roads outside, or ‘rat-running’.
- It’s a recreational space for walking and hiking, with the current road effectively acting as a continuous pedestrian crossing. The Tamsin Trail is also used extensively for walking.
- It is also a recreational space for cycling, with cyclists tending to use either the main circular route, or the Tamsin Trail.
- A number of businesses operate in the park, and require access for themselves and their customers.
- This is a park, and therefore street furniture such as posts, signage, etc. is not very desirable. (Although there is clear value in some signage to support safety needs.).
- So far as possible, the park needs to be accessible to everyone – whether able-bodied, or with some form of disability.
And there have been quite a few ideas previously floated for how to deal with this combination of issues. But what we think that The Royal Parks needs to consider is this:
What is the purpose of the park, and how can that best be fulfilled?
We think the park is a resource that everyone should be able to enjoy, however they visit it.
Of the proposals we’re aware of, we think there are pros and cons for each of them.
One way traffic
One way traffic will basically encourage the park to be used as a race track one way, and will encourage commuting / rat-running in the given direction, as well as actually requiring more driving (wasted time and pollution) round the park as people have to circumnavigate it in order to get to a particular place.
Congestion charging in the park
Charging people to enter the park if they don’t stay beyond a specific time (for example, charging those who stay for 20 minutes or less), will discourage through traffic.
More pedestrian crossings
Although pedestrians can (and should be able to) cross anywhere in the park, there’s a good case for providing clear places for crossing especially around the car parks. and particularly busy areas. It should not be necessary for a zabra crossing to have the full DfT-mandated paraphernalia of zig zags, Belisha Beacons, etc., as evidence from other 20mph locations indicates good compliance where the crossing is clear.
A new cycle-only route round the park
In the Netherlands, the usual guidance is to build separate provision for cycling when motor traffic is above a particular volume, and or a particular speed. We believe that while the speed of traffic in the park – where the limits are observed – might not require segregation, the volumes certainly do.
Through traffic bans
The park is an area for recreation and for nature, yet there is a significant volume of traffic which uses it as a cut-through to various locations. Especially given the sensitive nature of the park environment, and the very real danger that is posed to wildlife and to other park users by high volumes of traffic which is keener to get somewhere than to enjoy the surroundings.
And a possibly contentious point to make …
If we accept the premise of the public meeting that there is very real conflict in the park, experienced by all users, then we should follow the logic of many such conversations, which come round to “Well, whose fault is it?”
On a fundamental level, the conflict which is experienced in the park reflects the day to day experience of driving, walking and cycling in London generally. Many conversations that we’ve heard tend to pick out ‘cyclists’, and often ‘club cyclists’ as significant offenders, and anecdotal evidence is usually called upon to demonstrate how cyclists ‘intimidate’ other road users, including the slightly bizarre assertion in the last Friends of the Royal Park newsletter, that cyclists are a danger to wildlife. (We’ve yet to find someone who wouldn’t stop their bike to avoid hitting a deer …)
At the same time, we hear stories of intimidation, dangerous driving and actual assaults from people who cycle in the park. (As well as stories of dogs causing riders to fall off on the Tamsin Trail, and cyclists intimidating pedestrians there.)
Our response to all of these is simple. Firstly, what does the data say? An investigation of the STATS19 data shows that bicycles are overwhelmingly the victims in Richmond Park incidents, with the other party invariably motor vehicles. Secondly, we argue that no amount of discussion around sharing, mutual consideration or other such proposals is going to resolve the problems in the park, because there is simply too much traffic on the small area allocated to it. .
And this is, very simply, because it is inappropriate to have this volume of cycling and driving traffic in the same place. People who drive, walk and cycle through the park are no more or less lawless than anyone else in London. The solution to this problem is the same as the solution which is about to be implemented in central London – proper and safe separation of the modes, so that both can be done without conflict.