There’s been some controversy on social media in the last few days, following Councillor Melanie Hampton’s claims that the riverside between Wandsworth Bridge and Battersea Heliport is a footpath, not a cycling lane, not a designated cycling area, designed only for pedestrians, and that cyclists are not officially banned . The residents of Plantation Wharf have, with the councillor’s support, placed several large planters across the riverside path in an attempt to slow down a minority of cyclists who, in their opinion, are “speeding” along the river.
Let’s break this down into separate issues:
- Legal status of the riverside path and rights of different path users
- Status of the planters now obstructing the path
- “Speeding cyclists”
- Alternative to the riverside route
- Some suggested next steps
- Councillor Hampton and cyclists: rebuilding relationships
I’m not pretending to give an authoritative opinion, but instead sharing what I know about the issues involved and how I think they may be improved.
1. Legal status of the riverside path and rights of different path users
Over the last 20 years, Wandsworth Council has worked with developers along the riverside to open up access to the river. This has been achieved through Section 106 agreements (or its predecessors). Between Wandsworth Bridge and Battersea Heliport there have been five key developments.
I’ve put the planning histories and the obligations in the S106 agreements in a separate blog post. Going from Wandsworth Bridge towards the heliport:
- Battersea Reach
- Mendip and Sherwood Wharves
- Plantation Wharf
- Prices Court
- Bridges Wharf
Together, the agreements have established the whole riverside as a “highway maintainable at public expense”. That’s a useful phrase, as it confirms that Wandsworth Council have lots of responsibilities under the Highways Act 1980. A simple duty is to include the riverside in the council’s list of public highways. A more onerous one is to keep it clear of obstructions.
The right to access the riverside highway is set out in the planning agreements. As set out in the other blog post linked above, the riverside highway is for
- disabled people’s mobility carriages
- council maintenance vehicles and others with statutory responsibilities; and
- emergency services and their vehicles.
These five groups are listed explicitly in the planning agreements, with one exception: Plantation Wharf.
Plantation Wharf is the earliest of the developments, and the planning agreements go back to 1987/88. There, the agreement specifies four groups: pedestrians, disabled people, council maintenance and emergency services, i.e. cyclists are not mentioned. However, there is a modifier: “.. and other such users as may be authorised by the Council at its absolute discretion”. Wandsworth Council clearly used this discretion as later planning applications for the Plantation Wharf development all reference the riverside highway as being used by pedestrians, cyclists, disabled carriages, and official vehicles.
Are these agreements up-to-date? To verify that means a trip to the council to check (a) the adoption certificates for the highways to confirm that Wandsworth Council did indeed take responsibility for the riverside from the developers, and (b) that the riverside is in the register of highways. In the worst case, it would require Freedom of Information requests. Given that there are several live planning applications with the council for consideration at present, including for the Plantation Wharf site, and that these applications all reference the riverside as being for use by pedestrians and cyclists, I’m inclined to believe the council did take responsibility for the riverside path, and is maintaining the rights of use.
So, is the councillor right? The councillor is correct is that the riverside is not a designated cycle route, in the sense that a route on the National Cycle Network or London Cycle Network would be numbered and officially listed. However, when the councillor proposes that the riverside is only a pedestrian footpath then I suggest, respectfully, that the councillor is wrong.
2. Status of the planters now obstructing the path
The residents of Plantation Wharf have paid for large planters to be placed on the riverside highway in an attempt to slow down cyclists who they perceive to be “speeding”. This has the councillor’s support. These planters are not just impeding cyclists: they impede pedestrians and disabled people too. The planning permissions for the riverside specify minimum widths to allow vehicles belong to the council’s maintenance department and the emergency services to access the river. The planters are denying such access and, in the worst case, will hinder the emergency services.
There have been suggestion on social media that riverside users should organise a petition to seek the removal of these obstructions. I’m told by a legal friend that there’s a more straightforward legal process: section 130 of the Highways Act 1980. Wandsworth Council, as the Highway Authority, has a duty to “protect and assert the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway“.
Defra has written a handy guide explaining the process to get obstructions removed, and the forms are available online too with more guidance. The Ramblers Association are well-renowned experts in this area and have good advice, and Cycling UK offers advice too.
So, submit Form 1 and let the legal wheels turn.
As the highway authority, if Wandsworth Council wants to place new street furniture on the riverside highway which it maintains, then there is a legal process to do this depending upon the scale: the usual cycle of proposal, consultation/ experimental orders, and planning consent.
Imagine two scenarios where the local residents were unhappy with motorists speeding on York Place and Gartons Way:
- The residents place several builders’ skips across the road, planted with trees, with a 6’6” gap for vehicles to pass through. There would be an outcry, and Wandsworth Council would be expected to intervene and get the obstructions removed.
- The residents petition the council to install such a filter; the council would need to act through a process of consultation, review and planning consent.
The situation on the riverside is much the same.
3. “Speeding cyclists”
The riverside is a public highway. Sadly, just like any public highway there will be people who use it in an inconsiderate way. Motorists speed on public roads, walkers leave farm gates open, people walking dogs let dogs foul the pavement, and 4×4 drivers churn up BOATs. For all of these, there are legal measures to deal with them.
Are there people cycling too quickly along the riverside? Yes. A cursory check on fitness tracking tools suggests a small number of cyclists are regularly travelling along the riverside at 20 mph. By doing so, they’re endangering themselves and other riverside users, particularly in front of Plantation Wharf where the riverside highway is at its narrowest. (Some of them appear to be residing or working within the developments along the riverside. Education may need to start closer to home).
The residents of Plantation Wharf have been unhappy with the behaviour of cyclists along the riverside for several years. In 2015, Wandsworth Council consulted on a new development plan for the riverside, including the concept of a pedestrian and cycling bridge alongside Cremorne Bridge carrying the railway over to Imperial Wharf in Fulham. One of the directors of the Plantation Wharf’s management company (effectively, the residents association), Peter Hickman, used the consultation to vent frustration at the behaviour of some cyclists travelling along the riverside:
Let’s park the “bullshit bingo”, made-up-statistics, and references to a ‘walkway’ for another day, and instead accept that there is concern.
How fast is too fast? If we look at Chapter 4 of TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards, it suggests a mixed use path such as that along the riverside is best for about 12 mph.
Does all of the riverside highway meet up-to-date standards? The borough engineers’ specifications have evolved over the years. Wandsworth’s current policy statement (p146) recognises different needs to those of 20 years ago. Wandsworth Council could start by improving the riverside for all users by implementing some of TfL’s guidance. There’s plenty of guidance on the design of shared use paths, and interventions to slow cyclists down, in Chapter 4 of TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards .
4. Alternatives to the riverside route
What’s the alternative to the riverside route between Wandsworth and Lombard Road? It is along the B305 Lombard Road and the A3205 York Road using TfL’s Cycle Superhighway 8. Lombard Road is the responsibility of Wandsworth Council. York Road, being a red route and having CS8, is the responsibility of Transport for London.
Lombard Road is a typical urban B road: there’s an 18” advisory cycle lane painted with fading green paint, the cycle lane randomly mounts the pavement, and the road surface is patched and worn (due in part to the frequency of building development, its use by HGVs, and numerous inventions by public utilities).
Cycle Superhighway 8 is one of TfL’s early cycling routes: it is lots of blue paint on the carriageway, with few interventions to make it a safe and attractive route.
Edit 17/04/17: I’m reminded by @humantravl that the mandatory cycle lanes on CS8 are part time: they have effect Monday to Friday 0700 to 1900 only.
Some views of Lombard Road and York Road travelling from Cremorne Railway Bridge towards the Wandsworth Roundabout:
Let’s look at the accident statistics for the local roads. The data suggests that there have been few incidents on the riverside, paths and roads within the developments themselves. Lombard and York Roads, however, are accident prone:
The two routes have advantages and disadvantages:
|Riverside||Lombard Road & York Road|
|Pros||V low risk of conflict with motorised vehicles
|Shorter, direct route
York Road is designated as TfL’s Cycle Superhighway #8
Wiggles around the heliport
Narrow in places
Risk of pedestrian conflict
|Lombard Road: 18” advisory cycle lane, sometimes diverted onto pavements
Poor road surface
York Road: Primary A road (A3205) with heavy traffic volumes
High risk of conflict with motorised vehicles, especially HGVs and buses
Inconsistent use of advisory and mandatory cycle lanes
5. Some suggested next steps
Short-term: the planters should be removed. They are obstructions on a public highway and do not have legal permission. The planters create rather than remove risks to the public and, in the worst case, will hinder the emergency services. The process to request Wandsworth Council to do this is explained above.
One step to improve the relative attractiveness of Lombard Road would be to replace the patchwork road surface, and establish better cycle lanes suitable for cyclists commuting at up to 20mph. This needs to include better access to the Advanced Stop Line (ASL box) at the junction with York Road.
Medium-term: It is Wandsworth Council’s policy to encourage active travel along the riverside. The council should look at the end-to-end design of the riverside highway and seek to bring it up to current design standards. There are live planning applications for units along the riverfront (including north of the heliport) which can assist with this. The aim should be to adopt new guidance, such as TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards which includes interventions to reduce speeds and improve safety and experience for all users.
Longer-term, and acknowledging that the riverside highway in front of Plantation Wharf is relatively narrow, Wandsworth Council should use the ongoing pattern of developments to seek another low-speed residential road parallel to the riverside. For example, if there was a new public highway between Bridges Court to Prices Court and Cotton Row/ York Place, then some of those travelling along the riverside today would have a better route from the heliport to Gartons Way, and past Plantation Wharf.
6. Councillor Hampton and cyclists: rebuilding relationships
That’s going to need another blog post: one for another day!
Edit 21/04/17: @bicyclebot has written and illustrated two related blog posts. The first looks at a development west of Wandsworth Bridge, Riverside West, where there are similar access issues. And this one is a pictorial survey of all the developments and the barriers erected by each.