No quick decision on Cycle Superhighway

So Hounslow Council has kicked the Cycle Superhighway decision in to the long grass. Transport for London received more than 5,000 responses to the consultation on CS9, with its plan to put a two way cycle track along the south side of Chiswick High Rd, and that has clearly given the Council (who supported CS9) pause for thought.

In a statement released last Thursday , they said that ‘while there is widespread support for much of CS9, reservations have been raised about some elements by significant numbers of people, particularly around proposals for Chiswick High Road’ and they have come to the conclusion that ‘it is evident that some elements of the scheme will need to be revised for it to be acceptable to our residents and businesses’.

If I were a cynical person, I would be tempted to think that a little compromise in the face of such massive opposition would be a sensible strategy this side of the local elections. They’ve acknowledged the opposition, even highlighted which areas need to be looked at again, but not said anything definitive about whether it will ultimately go ahead. If I were planning their election strategy I might advise exactly that.

Graphic showing how Chiswick High Rd might look with CS9 by Duke’s Avenue

Maybe that’s a little too cynical. There clearly are problems with the current plan, (like how do you negotiate a cycle lane carrying a coffin), which all but the most die-hard cyclists acknowledge, which were highlighted by local residents once they’d had a chance to look at the plans and understand them properly, which is after all the whole point of having a consultation process.

It may be that these issues are capable of resolution while keeping the overall plan of a Cycle Superhighway through Chiswick. Then again they may not be.

TfL tight-lipped

Our woman at TfL was assiduously tight lipped when I rang her yesterday. Joy Wigg, ‘Senior Sponsor’ at TfL said they were analysing the responses to the consultation and ‘hoping to announce next steps later this year’. I got the impression that there was less urgency than when we last spoke before Christmas, when she was confidently telling me that they would write a report which would go to the TfL board quite soon. But trying to read anything in to her responses is about as easy as reading tea leaves, or ox’s entrails in ancient Rome.

Graphic showing how Chiswick High Rd might look with CS9 by Cleveland Avenue

I tried asking “When do you think your report to the TfL board will be ready?” “Was the balance of responses favourable or unfavourable?” “What percentage were opposed to CS9?” “How did the level of response compare with other cycle superhighway consultations?” I got nothing. Whoever conducted her media training did a really thorough job. Only when I asked whether it is possible to find solutions for the problem areas which Hounslow Council have highlighted and still have a cycle superhighway through Chiswick was there a chink of access to what she actually thought. “I would like to think that there are solutions” she said, but “it takes time to work through”. Which is fair enough.

“It’s not like it’s killed it stone dead or anything”

TfL’s press officer on cycling, Danny Keillor told me “One of the reasons we go through the process is to get responses from individuals and stakeholders. It’s not like it’s (the response from Hounslow Council) killed it stone dead or anything”.

Whether they will end up dropping CS9 is anybody’s guess. When TfL consulted on plans for a cycle superhighway along the A40 Westway two years ago they received 847 responses, with just 69 in favour. Joy told me they thought about it for over a year before they dropped it. They will be looking at ‘revisions’ to CS9, but that could mean anything from tinkering with the odd detail, to tearing up the plan and starting the again somewhere else.

Graphic showing how Chiswick High Rd might look with CS9 at Hammersmith

Areas to be revisited

The areas which Hounslow Council has said need to be revisited are these:

  • A review of options to reduce the impact on the southern footway of Chiswick High Road for pedestrians, particularly outside the Our Lady of Grace church;
  • Access arrangements for some side roads off Chiswick High Road;
  • Loading provisions for businesses along the High road;
  • Consideration to wider parking and traffic management measures if the scheme is implemented to deal with likely knock on impacts from the scheme.

You can read Cllr Curran’s full statement here.

Response from Cyclists

Hounslow Cycling Campaign, which represents the interests of cyclists and has about 150 members, have given their response to the Council’s statement:

‘While we are disappointed with the delay until after the May council elections, we fully understand that large engineering projects can take longer than originally planned and the borough cabinet needs key information from TfL to decide the detailed implementation’.

Graphic showing how Chiswick High Rd might look by Kew Bridge

Hounslow Cycling Campaign say they are confident that the additional time will allow TfL to further improve the CS9 implementation, ‘which is the objective of the consultation process’.

They say ‘In our campaigning, we have encountered many people who quietly support the scheme, the objectives of healthier streets and safer walking and cycling for all, enabled by the CS9 protected route linking the town centres of Hammersmith, Chiswick, Brentford and Hounslow. We are confident this support will be reflected in the consultation results, as it has been for all previous cycle superhighway schemes’.

They say also that they’ve been disappointed by ‘the lack of a constructive approach from some opponents and attempts to politicise the scheme’.

Spokesman Michael Robinson said: “Following the election, we are looking forward to a constructive dialogue regarding CS9 implementation with TfL, the council and the community of people who want healthier streets and safer cycling and walking facilities in our borough”.

During the consultation period Chiswick Councillors made a number of objections to CS9. Hounslow Cycling Campaign has made a point by point rebuttal of the points, which you can see here.

Ruth Mayorcas, who spoke at our Cycle Superhighway debate last year in favour of CS9, says she is “deeply saddened” by Hounslow’s decision to put off a decision. She regards it as a “missed opportunity” and thinks that the Council could have accepted CS9 subject to changes. “Everybody knew it needed some changes” she said. Ruth has put herself forward for selection as Labour Party candidate in Chiswick for the local elections in May. She says she dislikes the fact that the issue has become a “political football”, but “we need safe cycling and we need safe walking. We have to change the way children get to school and we have to reduce the level of traffic on the High Rd … so safe cycling should play a major part in the local election campaign”.

Response from Businesses

Businesses in the High Rd are delighted that the Council has taken note of their concerns about access and loading especially. Mike Ormrod, owner of Ormrod Electrics told me he thought the Council’s decision was “very sensible” and ventured to hope that “the Council could well be our friend in the end and fight this with us”. He said he thought the Council had realised the strength of feeling about the issue, they’ve noted their reservations and “they don’t want it becoming a party political football”.

Councillor Sam Hearn, leader of the Conservative group on the Council, said much the same thing. He welcomed the fact that the Council recognises how complicated the CS9 proposal is and applauded their decision to take longer to think about it. “There’s a much better chance of getting a good scheme if we take it off the table now and work on the detail”. Sam’s understanding is that Council Leader Steve Curran would like to take the issue out of the political arena, and his expectation is that after the local elections we will see a seriously modified scheme put forward.