Cyclehoops and contraflows: five years of failed cycling promises by Wandsworth Council

(Updated 29 March 2018)

In 2013 and 2014, Wandsworth Council committed to trialling 10 Cyclehoop on-street bike hangers, put contraflow cycle lanes 10 one-way streets, and put five dropped-kerb through-ways between adjacent streets which have been closed to through motorised traffic.  Each year since, Wandsworth Council has requested funds from TfL towards these initiatives.

Five years on, next to none of this has been delivered.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Request, I know how Wandsworth Council has spent the last five years.

The answer?  Twiddling its thumbs.

 

Cyclehoop on-street bike shelters

                What was committed?

After a campaign by Wandsworth Cycling in 2013, the Strategic Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee approved a trial of-street cycle parking shelters provided by Cyclehoop in February 2014 (paper 14-135).  The pilot was for up to 10 shelters.  The council’s Finance Director assigned £50,000 of funds, sourced from Transport for London (TfL)’s Local Implementation Plan (LIP) budget assigned to Wandsworth for 2014/15.

(LIP funds are provided to London councils each year by TfL to implement the incumbent Mayor of London’s transport strategy.  All of the mayors have included active-travel as a core component of their transport strategies).

                What’s been delivered?

Only two Cyclehoop hangers have been installed, in Kettering Street (Google Streetview, viewed from Mitcham Lane) and Himley Street, Tooting (Google Streetview).

The legal agreement with Cyclehoop was approved in November 2016, and both bike hangers were installed in February 2017 – three years after the Scrutiny Committee approved the plan.

News of the Kettering Street bike hanger made the local newspaper, with comments from patient and persistent campaigner Jon Irwin, and an unnamed council officer with no explanation as to why it had taken so long.

The council’s commitment is only to a 12 month trial, so is due to end this Spring.  With London’s councils having elections in May 2018, the results of the trial will not be assessed and reported to council committees until later this summer.

The paper authorising the legal agreement says that the trial will cost £10,000, to be funded from the 2016/17 TfL LIP Capital budget.  This allocation covered the purchase of the two hangers, and administration by council officers.  I believe the retail price of the bike hangers is approx. £3,000 each.

The bike hangers are managed by Cyclehoop, and users are charged at their standard fee of £72/ year plus a £25 key deposit.  According to Cyclehoop, both the Kettering Street and the Himley Street hangers are full, and have waiting lists.

The other eight bike hangers proposed in 2014?  No progress on those.

 Is there demand in Wandsworth for the bike hangers?

Yes.  The council has an interest and waiting list with nearly 330 people for a bike hanger place, from circa 200 streets.  This is a remarkable number, as the council has made no effort to ask the public for interest since the Wandsworth Cycling Campaign approached the council in 2013 to start this project.

Given the demand for bike hangers in other London boroughs (more below), it is fair to assume this is the surface of a large untapped demand.

The council has recently started putting notices on bicycles locked to street furniture overnight that they will be forcibly removed, and owners charged £50 to recover them.  Casual visitors do not generally leave bicycles locked overnight, they stop by for an hour or two and move on.  It’s largely residents using street furniture overnight, and the council is punishing them.

 Any commitment to street shelters in the borough cycling strategy?

The borough’s cycling strategy was last updated in 2015, after the bike hanger trial was authorised.  The relevant action is:

  • I8: Improve cycle parking – Use LIP and BCP funding to improve the amount, type and location of cycle parking. This includes parking in public spaces as well as residential cycle parking. FUNDING: LIP, BCP (Wandsworth Mayor’s Borough Cycle Programme), TIMESCALE: Ongoing.

The action is meaningless as there was no measurable baseline, targets or dates, and no progress has ever been reported against the strategy to a council scrutiny committee.

                What happened to the LIP money?

Clearly, £50,000 was not spent in 2014/15, and only £10,000 was committed two years later in 2016/17.  For now, I’ll assume that either (a) there’s £40k awaiting the results of the trial, or, more likely, (b) the funds were re-assigned by council officers to other LIP-eligible transport initiatives over the last four years.

Committee paper 17-290 explains that “The LIP system offers the flexibility of transferring funds from scheme to scheme, provided alternative proposals are acceptable to TfL and are in line with the Council‟s LIP and the emerging MTS (Mayor’s Transport Strategy)”.  I do not know what quality of conversation happens between boroughs and TfL to agree such changes, but they are not visible to the public without a lot of persistent digging.

What have other London councils been doing?

Hundreds of on-street bike shelters have been installed across London, mostly from Cyclehoop.  Some councils choose to subsidise the rental fee using e.g. revenue from other transport initiatives such as car parking charges.

I believe Hackney leads the London league table with over 340 bike hangers available to the general public, charged from £30/year (plus key).  Waltham Forest is close behind with c200 installed as part of the mini-Holland initiative, with more on order.  Residents are charged £20/year.

Nearer to Wandsworth, neighbouring Lambeth has over 170 bike hangers, charged at £42 to £72/ year.  Southwark has over 200 hangers, from £35/year.

Like Wandsworth, most Conservative-controlled councils treat public bike-hangers like endangered animals on Noah’s Arc – most have sponsored only two.  Richmond is reported to have two (with only one on the Cyclehoop website, stating £30/year), Westminster has two (side-by-side, £72/year), and Kingston-upon-Thames has two (side-by-side, £40 for first year, then £60/year).  (To be fair to Kingston, as part of the GoCycle programme, it has installed another 40+ bike shelters for residents of the council’s estates and housing associations).

 

Contraflows and through-ways

                What was committed?

In September 2013, the Strategic Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee approved a proposal to improve ‘cycling permeability’ by trialling cycling contraflows in up to 10 one-way streets, and to build “through ways” to allow cyclists to cross five no-through roads.  (These are where a continuous pavement has been installed between adjacent roads to prevent motorists driving through). The proposal followed suggestions from Wandsworth Cycling Campaign.  The committee paper listed the roads to be trialled.

In the committee paper, the Council’s Director of Finance noted that the proposed schemes were estimated to cost £50,000, and that this would be funded by the TfL 2013/14 TfL grant.

In May 2017, I wrote a separate blogpost unpicking the proposed contraflows and through-ways, and the lack of progress.  (Wandsworth’s proposed cycling infrastructure that never gets delivered).   I won’t repeat the detail here, but in that post I did note that the proposals were not viable in several of the streets.  This may explain the change in streets as set out below.

Did the contraflow consultations happen?  What were the results?

The FOI response says that a postal consultation was conducted in April 2017, three-and-a-half years after the project was approved by the scrutiny committee.   No explanation is provided as to why the consultations were delayed so long.

A slightly different list of streets were consulted, compared to the 2013 proposal.

contraflowresults#1

The council paper notes that “… the number of responses was low with the majority of respondents opposed to the proposals.  The low number of responses suggests that majority of residents are indifferent to their road being open up to contraflow cycling.”

In my opinion, the consultation was set up to fail:

  • Limiting the consultation to residents in the one-way streets to receive the contraflows was guaranteed to generate NIMBY responses – mainly about perceived rather than actual impact on car parking – with few voices in favour;
  • The choice of postal consultation meant it was invitation only, with no opportunity for the wider community to contribute;
  • The purpose of contraflows is to improve permeability across the wider street network. The residents themselves in the one-way streets are not the main beneficiaries of contraflows, it’s the wider cycling public who gain from a bigger network;
  • If the consultation has been conducted on the council’s website, and open to the wider public, then there would have been a greater number of responses. Yes, there would still have been the NIMBYs would dislike change and value their parking spaces above anyone else’s interest, but there would also have been a positive majority from the wider cycling public who would expect to benefit.

If the consultation had been conducted openly, there’s plenty of us who would have banged drums loudly to generate a positive response.

Which contraflows have been delivered?

None.  Four-and-a-half years after the project received approval, all we’ve gained are the results of a poorly conducted consultation.

Which through-ways have been delivered?

The FOI response named two, whereas I believe three have been delivered.  None required a public consultation.

  • Swaffield Rd / Brocklebank, installed August 2017 (Google Streetview);
  • Barmouth Rd / Allfarthing St installed August 2017;
  • Missing from the FOI response, Surrey Lane / Orbel Street, sometime between September 2014 and May 2015. (Comment below from @nuttyxander links to traffic orders in summer 2014 altering the yellow lines in Orbel Street).

What might happen next?

The response to the FOI request suggests that contraflow cycle lanes will be trialled in four streets “… with the least objections from residents …”: Candahar Road, Trinity Crescent, Furmage Street, and Temperley Road.

There is no information in the response about a start date or duration.  With the local council elections in May, and the establishment of a new council (of any political makeup) in early Summer, I would not expect a trial to start before Autumn 2018 at the earliest.

Regarding the remaining through-ways, the FOI response says that there are no planned dates, but none have been dropped either.  I believe that the three that have been delivered were the only viable ones out of the five, so I do not expect any further action.

Any commitment to improved permeability in the borough’s cycling strategy?

In the borough’s cycling strategy , the relevant action is

ACTION I3: Permit Cycling more widely – Consider areas where cycling is not currently permitted but could safely be allowed –e.g. some parks (subject to consultation), contraflow on selected one-way streets, removing some banned movements. Where cyclists share space with pedestrians the presumption should be in favour of pedestrian priority. FUNDING: LIP, TIMESCALE: By autumn 2016.

Like the action on bike shelters, this action is vague, but the objective of permitting safe contraflow cycling in one-way streets by autumn 2016 has failed.

Are there any other one-way streets with existing contraflows controlled by Wandsworth Council?

In the FOI response, the council officers named two streets, one in error:

What about LIP money from TfL?  What activity was there since 2013?

Compared to the bike hangers, this one is more interesting, and worthy of further investigation.  I cannot reconcile the council’s LIP papers, progress reports and the FOI response:

September 2013 The scrutiny committee approved the project and assigned £50,000 from the 2013/14 TfL grant.
July 2014 progress report Council officers’ to the scrutiny committee notes about contraflow cycling: “Detailed designs completed. Approval to consult in 2014 using SO83 procedure [procedure to give decision making authority to council officers] being progressed”.
Before May 2015 The through-way between Surrey Lane and Orbel Street was installed sometime between summer 2014 and May 2015, so we can assume a few thousand pounds was spent on planning and resultant works.
June 2015 progress report Statutory consultation completed [presumably the consultation’s design] and consultation with residents scheduled for June 2015”.
September 2015 The proposed LIP submission to TfL for 2016/17 requested an unspecified sum for contraflow cycling as part of a £350k package for local cycle routes.
November 2015 progress report Consultation with residents has been carried out on some of the proposed locations with the final ones currently being carried out.”

This does not reconcile with the FOI response which reports that the contraflow consultations were conducted in April 2017.

June 2016 progress report Consultation with residents has been carried out for some of the proposed locations of contraflows with the final consultations starting following the end of the Purdah period

Elections for London Mayor and Assembly were held in May 2016.

September 2016 The proposed LIP submission to TfL for 2017/18 requested £30k for contraflow cycling.
November 2016 progress report Consultation with residents has been carried out for some of the proposed locations of contraflows with the final consultations due to be arranged in early 2017
July 2017 progress report “All residents in streets where contra flow cycling is proposed have now been consulted. The responses will be reviewed and proposals will be developed after discussions with the Cabinet Member.”
August 2017 The Swaffield and Barmouth through-ways were delivered in summer 2017, so some monies were spent there.
September 2017 LIP funds for 2017/18 and proposed 2018/19 LIP submission.  The 2017/18 appendix confirmed £30,000 to “Trial two-way cycling in selected one way streets to support cycling strategy and reduce cycle journey times”.

The 2018/19 proposed submission had no reference to contraflow cycling, but did include £50k for “cycling connections, linking to existing infrastructure”.

November 2017 progress report The resident consultation has taken place and the results have been collated. A study which contained the responses and Officer recommendations has been provided to the Cabinet Member for consideration.”

Given that £50,000 was assigned from LIP funds in 2013/14, I don’t understand why Wandsworth Council was requesting – and presumably receiving – new funds each year from TfL specifically for contraflows.  It could be that, per the point earlier about budget flexibility, LIP funds were being continually re-assigned between different transport initiatives.

I also don’t understand why council officers were reporting progress to the Community Services Scrutiny Committee about designs and consultations in 2015 and 2016 when, according to the FOI response, the consultation proper didn’t happen until April 2017.  It is possible that the FOI response is wrong and/or incomplete, and does not elucidate activity prior to the April 2017 consultation.

Regarding the £30k assigned to contraflow cycling in the 2017/18 LIP funds – there isn’t the evidence of productive output to support that.

I have no desire to be a public sector accountant.  If someone else wants to ask Transport for London and Wandsworth Council about the repeated requests, allocations and expenditures on scheme, and re-assignments to other LIP-funded projects, then go ahead.  What I know is that after four-and-a-half years, all we’ve got are three dropped kerbs for the through-ways, plus a terse page of contraflow consultation results.

Four observations:

  1. whatever money has been allocated to this project, it’s been wasted;
  2. there’s clearly no desire or energy to push this project forward, except at a snail’s pace;
  3. the Community Services Scrutiny Committee’s members – Conservative and Labour – fail to scrutinise progress and expenditure by council officers and cabinet members against recorded actions. The committee is failing to do its stated job; and
  4. Transport for London’s oversight of LIP fund allocations, expenditure and progress isn’t much cop either. Has no one in TfL ever asked “Hey, Wandsworth, you started this 5 years ago, and have asked for the same funds every year. What the hell are you doing?

Have other London boroughs rolled out contraflows?

Yes, and made good progress.  For example, The City of London has opened up nearly all its one-way streets with cycle contraflows, including medieval alleys barely wide enough for a 2.5m carriageway and a narrow pavement.

Wandsworth’s neighbour, Lambeth, has about 110 one-way streets.  By September 2017, 40 of them had cycle contraflows.  Lambeth Council conducted a public consultation in autumn 2017 on a further 20 to be converted during spring 2018.  Lambeth’s strategy is underpinned by a report in May 2016 which categorised the borough’s one-way streets into five groups, the first four groups being streets to be converted by different types of intervention, plus a small fifth group where contraflows were not advised.

There’s little difference between streets in Wandworth and Lambeth, and most people walk, cycle or drive from one borough to the other without noticing the boundary.  Lambeth’s studies, categorisation and resulting strategy are instructive: it blows away the nonsense reported in Wandsworth’s consultations about narrow streets, perceived safety and parking spaces.  If Wandsworth Council – officers and councillors – really wanted to rollout contraflow cycle lanes, it could easily make the case.

Wandsworth can’t be bothered.

 

Conclusion

I have no political allegiance, so I’m not seeking to make a party-political point, but the Conservative group running Wandsworth Council has no interest in active travel.  To my eye, the administration has done the absolute minimum to give an illusion of progress to TfL to ensure LIP funds continue to flow into Wandsworth’s coffers each year.

It’s taken 5 years to get two bike hangers, three through-ways, but no new contraflow cycle lanes.  The borough’s cycling quietway initiatives (such as its section of the Wandsworth to Teddington quietway) are sub-standard routes on established rat-runs, with no attempt to reduce volumes of motorised traffic to make them safe and attractive for novice and younger cyclists.

The responsible cabinet member, Councillor Jonathan Cook, does not like bicycles or the people who ride them.  Nearly every public statement made by Cllr Cook regarding cycling and cyclists is negative.  When dockless bicycles appeared on Wandsworth’s streets, Cllr Cook described them as “yellow plague” even if cycling was to be “encouraged” (not enabled, just encouraged).  When Cllr Cook wanted to engage the public for support to update park byelaws, he singled out “dangerous cycling” as justification for updated laws.

Across London, other boroughs have used TfL’s LIP funds to install hundreds of bike hangers, and permit safe contraflow-cycling on several hundred streets.  The difference is political and administrative will.  Wandsworth’s famously low council tax isn’t the limiting factor here – these projects are funded by Transport for London.

Every couple of years, the Wandsworth Council attempts a bit of greenwash, and tries to encourage active travel and sport.  The borough’s commitment-light Cycling Strategy was updated and approved in 2015.  The “Active Wandsworth Strategy” was approved last month, with the vague objective of becoming “the most active borough in London by 2022”.  But month-by-month, the council makes decisions which either stall delivery of the strategies, or flatly contradict them.

By contrast, Wandworth has seen the installation of over 400 electric vehicle charging points, with more to come.  This week, the council announced a £3million investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  That shows that if there is political will then things get delivered.

If you live, work or just travel through Wandsworth and want to see transport investment, and are happy to sit in queues of motorised vehicles, then get an electric car.

Don’t ride a bicycle – you just get in the way.

Update 29 March 2018

Wandsworth Council today issued, through the London Gazette, an experimental traffic order for the contraflow cycling in five one-way streets: Candahar Road, Furmage Street, Twilley Street (logic pairing), Trinity Crescent and Temperley Road.  The order takes effect on 6 April 2018.  The experimental order runs for six months, and a decision to formalise the order to make it permanent must be made within 18 months.

The thing about the use of an experimental traffic order is that the six month experiment is itself the consultation period.  Therefore, the consultations which Wandsworth Council undertook in April 2017 with local residents were unnecessary.   The council could have used experimental traffic orders four years ago, back in 2014, when the contraflow trials were approved by the Communities Scrutiny Committee.  Or, the council could have followed the April 2017 consultations with permanent traffic orders.  This reinforces my view, expressed above, that the council isn’t spending TfL’s money very efficiently.

Let’s see what the next six months brings …

(Post edited, 4 March 2018, to add that Kingston Council has installed 40+ bike shelters on council estates and housing associations, and that the Orbel Street through-way followed a  related traffic order in summer 2014.
Post edited, 29 March 2018, to add details of the experimental traffic order issued by Wandsworth Council for a trial of contraflow cycling in five one-way streets). 

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