Safer Streets in Chiswick: Time for Action not Words

Images above: Tran’s bike in collision with a car; Tran with her wonky wheels

By Dr Edward Seaton

My wife Tran was hit by a car whilst she was cycling to work today. She is a consultant at Charing Cross Hospital and was cycling to a breast cancer clinic, along King Street. She was riding an upright Dutch bike and wearing normal clothes. Not a thread of lycra in sight. With no warning, a car drove into her, bucking the front wheel and smashing the steering stem. Fortunately, she was entirely unhurt.

I’m normally a Dermatologist, but have been working in the intensive care unit at Hammersmith Hospital. The Covid crisis is forcing us all to think and act differently. Our environment has massively changed. In the last seven weeks the sound of the countryside has come back to Chiswick. The air tastes clean, the stars are bright, birds are everywhere, people are walking in the middle of the streets, some simply strolling and chatting, others running or walking dogs, some skateboarding or even hitting tennis balls. Many are dusting-off or buying bikes and people are cycling as they haven’t been for decades.

It sometimes takes a great upheaval to precipitate change. In 1973 the Oil Crisis was the stimulus for the Dutch to move away from car-centricity and to develop space for people cycling and walking. The bicycle is now as synonymous with The Netherlands as the tulip or windmill. Now it is time for the UK to ask itself some serious questions.

Our cities have for centuries been places where people collect in groups to live, trade, socialise and work efficiently. However, in the last few decades we have allowed much of our public space to be overtaken by road and devoted to those travelling through. People, we strangely call ‘pedestrians’ are crammed onto narrow strips at the edges of roads with an expectation that they have a duty to avoid the ubiquitous minefield of traffic danger.

Those using bicycles, the most efficient means of personal land transport ever invented, are almost an afterthought, banned on pavements and exposed to risk of injury on roads where protection from cars is only offered by painted lines.

The Covid pandemic should fundamentally alter the way we behave, both now and in the future. Social distancing on public transport will reduce capacity by 85%. If only a fraction of people using tubes and buses switch to cars, our main roads will be clogged by queues of traffic, the air once again polluted by particulates and the sound of birds replaced by incessant traffic noise. Residential streets in which people are now walking and where children are playing will again be used as short cuts by rat-running traffic.

Forty percent of car journeys in the UK are under 2 miles but many of us are habituated to using a polluting machine weighing a ton-and-a-half to go half-a-mile down the road to pick up groceries or a mile to take the kids to school. We need to walk more, cycle more, ebike more and (if they are legalised) e-scoot more instead.

The Government recognises this. The Prime Minister has predicted a post-pandemic ‘golden age’ for cycling and his Transport Secretary’s recently issued Statutory Guidance requires local authorities to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling ‘as swiftly as possible and in any event within weeks’ including ‘pop-up cycle facilities’ using flexible plastic wands, with ‘physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic’.

It demands footpaths be widened outside shops and transport hubs using cones, and that School Streets are developed, restricting traffic around schools at drop-off and pick-up times. Roads must be closed using ‘modal filters’ such as large planters to allow access from one end only and to protect people on foot or bike.

In London the Mayor has announced the closure of large areas of the centre to cars completely including London Bridge and Waterloo Bridge and in less than a week has created the first of many new segregated cycle paths, on Park Lane. Many London Boroughs are also taking decisive action including our neighbours Hammersmith and Fulham who today started taking road space to build segregated cycle paths on Uxbridge Road, King Street, Hammersmith Road and Shepherd’s Bush Roundabout (too late for my wife sadly).

Response of Hounslow and Ealing ‘timid and disappointing

The response of the Boroughs of Hounslow and Ealing so far has been rather timid and disappointing. Action is promised, and I hope is coming but the traffic is now flooding back and this week taking children around on bikes once again feels risky. Yet another consultation in Hounslow has been launched asking for ideas. But all we have to show in Chiswick so far is about a hundred metres of yellow cones to widen just one part of Turnham Green Terrace’s pavement. This is not going to encourage anyone to cycle and is not good enough.

I strongly welcome today’s statement from our Chiswick councillors, who despite focussing for much of last year on collecting signatures opposing a proposed local bicycle path, now ask that ‘we move on from the controversy… about cycleway 9, and find a new consensus’. That we ‘avoid a return to normality and a surge in car use’ and that we retain the benefits of improved air quality and children cycling more. The statement is very encouraging. But will we see action?

I hope politicians of all parties act to make Chiswick the beautiful, low-traffic pleasant neighbourhood that it once was and again could be. They could start now by installing segregated cycling along the proposed length of cycleway 9 on the roadway itself and by linking Richmond and Chiswick. They could close Turnham Green Terrace, and Devonshire Road entirely to through traffic and make them quiet, outside spaces for people to sit and enjoy where they could visit independent shops and cafes. The Borough and its councillors could prevent through-traffic from the A4 cutting past Chiswick by filtering Dukes Avenue and other rat-run roads. They could segregate a bike lane on Sutton Court Road to safely link Grove Park and Chiswick High Road, and could create bike paths on Bath Road to the east and Acton or Bollo Lane to the north.

They could do all this in about two weeks by using planters, wands and cones in a temporary fashion, with a view to making changes permanent if the experiment works. But the window of opportunity is closing and the time to act is now.

Images above: Hounslow House; Leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Steve Curran

Response from Leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Steve Curran

The Chiswick Calendar asked Leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Steve Curran for his response to Ed’s guest blog. He said:

“I’m delighted that so many people are interested in making improvements to walking and cycling in the Borough. I can understand Ed’s frustration, as we all want to make improvements as quickly as possible, however as everyone knows we are in unprecedented times and the Government’s advice to avoid public transport has changed everything! We’ve all seen the benefit of less pollution i.e. improvements in air quality and less general noise either from aircrafts or vehicles. All of these are a benefit to everyone.

“We have to find the right balance between this new requirement for better and safer walking and cycling provision, against the need of businesses to open again as its vital we try to everything we can to support our high streets, who were already suffering badly before Covid-19. I have asked Cllr Hanif Khan, Lead Member for Transport and Corporate Property to move as quickly as possible to make further improvements on top of the ones we have already announced.  I know from what I’m hearing from residents, they want to see more action and less words, as a Council we are absolutely committed to doing this”.

Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Conservative councillors publish new policy on walking and cycling

See also: LB Hounslow introduces social distancing on Turnham Green Terrace