Remember when the streets of Twickenham were almost car fee? Those were the days, eh? If you do, it means you’re either about 110 years old or you’re thinking back to a couple of weeks ago during the ‘peak lockdown’ quiet time. We’re focused on the latter. It was a time with pedestrians, cyclists and a sprinkling of vehicles going about their essential business. The majority of people were not even going about much business of any kind and, those that were, were often obliged to find different ways of getting around. Despite a few car drivers using the empty roads to give their wheels some extra welly, cycling was good and conversations turned to things like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could capitalise on this moment to get more people walking and cycling around rather than sitting in cars and maybe even get more people off trains and on to bikes too”. In other words, ‘active travel’ for work and for leisure. Imagine it! Easy, economical and possibly even safe, with proper cycle lanes. Safe routes to schools and to the shops. Routes straight through Twickenham. Commuting routes to central London. Just a dream surely?
In addition, with Richmond Park currently closed to bikes as well as cars the future of cycling in that space has also been a hot topic on social media. Can the park re-open to bikes while remaining closed to cars? What about the car parks? Keep ’em closed? Would that make it all too ‘bikey’ and discriminate against those who get to its green expanses other than by car? Would a cycling free-for-all turn the perimeter road into a 7 mile race circuit for the ‘mamils’ of London, or a useful green commuting thoroughfare or would it become a place for a family friendly bike meander? Could it be all of them at the same time? Or rather, could it be all of them at the same time and be safe for all park users however they were getting about? Richmond park is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and whilst you can walk just about anywhere in it, cycling is restricted to the roads and the shared use Tamsin Trail route. On the car-free Cobbler’s Walk road in Bushy Park, bikes mix with walkers, runners, buggies, scooters, dogs on leads, dogs off leads, deer and the ubiquitous phone-zombies. If that’s a possible model for Richmond Park some modifications or rules might be needed to keep everyone safe.
Why not look at other travel options too? The Radnor Bridge idea has its supporters for providing a better walking and cycling link across to Ham, Petersham and Richmond Park. Could it form part of an improved transport network if there was the will (and money) to get it off the ground. It has its fans but also its critics too, including those concerned about the impact on Hammertons Ferry although here at Twickerati HQ we think it could add to the ‘riverside experience’ and form part of an enjoyable loop incorporating a ferry ride. It would also need an improved cycle lane on the Ham bank to make it part of a proper network of London cycle routes which, in turn, has seen questions asked about its possible impact on the biodiversity of Hamlands but its an idea that warrants more discussion.
Meanwhile, away from Royal Parks and unbuilt bridges, the current local cycling infrastructure in the borough is, at best, distinctly average. Progress has been made, albeit slowly. Sections of genuinely segregated cycle path are few and far between and alternative ‘quiet routes’ can be hard to follow as they wend their way around the back streets. The painted cycle lanes in King Street serve little purpose and are generally ignored by drivers. Vehicles are often parked in them for collections or deliveries. Even the section on London Road by Twickenham station frequently has four wheels driving in them rather than two. This town centre bottleneck is the crux of the problem and (still) requires some radical thinking to fix it. The problem there, just like the cycling, is not for the faint hearted. Could a traffic lane be given over as a dedicated cycle route though this pinch point? Dunno. Send your “If you build it, they will come / chicken vs egg” answers direct to El Brute.
But, but, but, some might say that the last couple of months have not been a useful measure to gauge what could be. Schools have been closed, people have been working from home or not at all, many shops have been shut meaning that what we’ve seen is not a new normal but a brief abnormal. Of course, empty roads have their attractions for motorists too. “If the roads are so quiet, I might as well drive”. Let’s make that plural, “If the roads are so quiet we all might as well drive”. And so it goes and therefore we remind you again of the words of Run DMC, “It’s Tricky”. It needs vision, it needs money and it will inconvenience some people, possibly many people, but it could, if done right, benefit the many too. London isn’t Amsterdam or Copenhagen but it can learn from them. Change isn’t always easy but some parts of London are already taking action.
Is this all just a load of waffle? For drivers, some of whom may have no other options, making more provision for cycling at the expense of motoring won’t be welcomed especially coming on top of the recently introduced 20 mph speed limits and ‘cash cow’ yellow boxes. What about all of this on rainy mornings in November as opposed to sunny days in May? Hmm, good question [thanks] but in an urban area with lots of green space and which is mostly flat there surely has to be a way to get more people travelling around in a way that doesn’t clog the roads with fumes and metal boxes. Plus with social distancing issues likely to make public transport options less attractive for some, active travel options surely form part of the solution here too. There have already been some signs of increased bike use and even local shops have taken to two wheels for their deliveries. Wouldn’t it be good if that not only continued but we found a way to build on it. And if we’re not even going to think about it now, then when?
Anyway, you know best, what say you, dear reader?
[Declaration of interest: As someone who broke his collarbone last week by falling off his bike whilst taking rapid evasive action around children cycling in an unpredictable fashion on the car-free road in Bushy Park, the safety of different types of cyclists in the same space is a hot topic for yours truly at the moment]