At the start of January 2018, I wrote about Merton Council’s latest wheeze to spend £800,000 to try and improve walking and cycling along Beddington Lane, running south from the middle of Mitcham Common.
The works appear to be finished and the road has re-opened. I’ve been to take a look.
In the January post, I predicted that:
- The scheme would inherit the same strengths and flaws as the east-west shared-use pavement across Mitcham Common along Croydon Road;
- The new shared-used pavement for people walking and cycling would be well constructed;
- The junctions on and off the pavement would be poor, and not address the faults present in the road previously; and
- The failure to fix the junctions would undermine the intended benefits of the scheme.
So, what’s the result?
What’s Merton Council’s Beddington Lane scheme?
Merton has spent £800,000 rebuilding approx. 600m of road from Croydon Road in the middle of Mitcham Common southwards to the boundary with Sutton Council, beside the Beddington Lane tramstop. The main carriageway has been widened to 7.5m, and a proper 3m-wide pavement constructed for shared-use by pedestrians and cyclists.
The scheme was not submitted to the public for consultation as the council argued that there are no local residents along the lane (being the middle of a common). The scheme was announced via a council Cabinet member’s decision on 20 December, seeking objections or feedback by 27 December. The works notices were placed in London’s roadworks database on 4 January, with the reconstruction works starting on 8 January. The council’s only publicly available paper about the scheme is the decision paper, and it is the only one which contains high-level plans.
The £800,000 budget was found by drawing from both of the borough’s (or rather TfL provided) cycling and road resurfacing budgets for both 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years. If you’ve wondered why only remedial fixes are being made across the rest of Merton’s roads, you now know why.
For more detail, have a skim through the January blogpost, which has maps, photos of the old road, discussion of shared-use pavements, highways design standards, issues with the east-west shared-use pavement, and a summary of Merton Council’s opaque decision making process.
Is this the same as Sutton Council’s Beddington Lane scheme?
Sutton has a separate scheme (“Beddington North”), which too wants to (re)construct a shared-use pavement along its section of Beddington Lane.
Looking at Merton’s and Sutton’s proposals for Beddington Lane together, going southwards from the middle of Mitcham Common:
- Merton: from Croydon Road across Mitcham Common to the Sutton boundary at the tram track level crossing, you will cycle on the east side of the road;
- Sutton: at the level crossing you swap sides of the road and, to Therapia Lane, you will cycle on the west side of the road;
- From Therapia Lane to Derry Road, you will cross the road and cycle on the east side of the road; and
- From Derry Road to Beddington Village and on to Hilliers Lane, you will re-join the main carriageway.
That’s the recipe for an attractive, unimpeded active journey, isn’t it?
What’s Merton’s motive for this scheme?
Beddington Lane was a poor, unattractive environment for people walking and cycling, especially if they were travelling to the tram stop at the border with Sutton. The east-west pavement across Mitcham Common was rebuilt in 2016, so improving Beddington Lane makes sense. However, Windmill Road which links the middle of Mitcham Common northwards to the residential area of Pollards Hill is similarly poor and has not been upgraded (and unlikely to be).
The unspoken objective is to make the lane in both Merton and Sutton safer following the construction of the Viridor “energy recover facility”, better known as the Sutton incinerator. It has been built to process (i.e. burn) 275,000 tonnes of rubbish each year, transported in from several neighbouring boroughs. As a result, Beddington Lane is due to carry several hundred HGVs each day carrying rubbish for processing. It was not sustainable for Beddington Lane to handle this level of heavy traffic without improvement, especially with increased risks to vulnerable road users. If you do an internet search for “Sutton incinerator” you’ll find lots of information, including the opinions and fact-finding of a local anti-incinerator campaign group.
What was Beddington Lane like before reconstruction?
The old narrow pavement was, in reality, a muddy track. The road surface was badly degraded. It was an awful place for people walking and cycling.
What does Merton’s Beddington Lane look like today? How does it work as a cycling scheme?
Let’s start a journey at the middle of Mitcham Common, on the Croydon Road shared-use pavement. Let’s assume you’ve cycled eastwards from Mitcham and want to go south on Beddington Lane.
You need to turn right. You can either:
- Drop off the shared-use pavement into the ASL boxes, and turn right on a green-light right-turn feed with motorised traffic, then mount the new pavement; or
- Behave like a pedestrian, and make a multi-stage crossing across Windmill Road and Croydon Road to join the new pavement. Legally, these crossings are still for pedestrians only. AFAIK, people on bicycles, in law, are still required to dismount and walk.
The traffic lights at this junction do not have signalised phases for pedestrians (and cautious cyclists) on any arm of the junction. You have to wait for a gap in the traffic and run across the road, or at least as far as a traffic refuge island.
The traffic refuge islands, where they exist, do not meet modern standards – they are too narrow for someone with a bicycle, wheelchair or child buggy to safely wait. Modern highways standards, such as Interim Advice Note 195/16, require a minimum of 3 metres for refuge islands used by people with standard and non-standard bicycles. These old islands are far narrower.
The entrances to the shared-use pavement at the north end of Beddington Lane are clumsy. The only places to access the pavement are the dropped-kerbs for pedestrians – only one of which has tactile paving for people with impaired sight. They’re acceptable if you’re pushing a bicycle as a pedestrian. But if you are cycling south from Windmill Road, or turning off the main carriageway of Croydon Road, then the entrances are poor.
Once you’re on the pavement, it’s a good ride. The pavement surface is black tarmac rather than the stone resin used on the east-west shared-use pavement on Croydon Road. It has been machine laid to provide a smooth surface with no lumps and bumps.
If you choose to stay on the main carriageway, it now is wider at 7.5m and has a billiard table surface. The penalty for this, however, is the speed of motorised traffic. Beddington Lane has a 30mph speed limit. This was clearly being exceeded by drivers in cars, trucks and off-duty buses on the two visits I’ve made.
In the middle of the lane, there’s a huge gate to restrict access to an off-road path on the common. It looks similar to the one installed on Croydon Road at the entrance to the fairground site beside the petrol station. I’ve no idea why it needs to be so big!
At the southern end of Beddington Lane, you reach the boundary between Merton and Sutton council. The administrative boundary is the north side of Brookmead Road, where the “Thanks for visiting Merton” sign is in the picture below.
If you’re walking southbound across the tram tracks at the level crossing, then there is a narrow pavement to continue your journey.
If you’re cycling southbound from the shared-use pavement, there’s a problem – you have to get off the pavement. You either need to re-join the main carriageway, or somehow cross the road to join Sutton’s shared-use scheme on the opposite side of Beddington Lane which hasn’t yet been built.
The exit from the pavement if you’re re-joining the carriageway is clumsy. Do you fall off the pavement and sit in Brookmead Road and wait for a gap in traffic? There’s nothing to indicate to any road user how someone cycling will make the transition.
And because the end of the shared-use pavement is administratively in Sutton, Merton Council has left this problem to Sutton to fix.
Let’s turn the journey around and assume you’re cycling northbound from Sutton’s section of Beddington Lane. When you get to the level crossing, you’ve got the same issue as noted above about swapping sides of the road to join the Merton’s new shared-used pavement.
If you choose to stay on the main carriageway, and accept the risk of close-passes from (speeding) vehicles, then the northbound junction with Croydon Road has a 3m long ASL box with a feed-in lane.
I can guarantee that the ASL box will be near-impossible to access. The feed-in lane will be blocked by overgrowing vegetation at elbow/shoulder height. The centre-line markings are slightly off-centre i.e. the northbound traffic lane is slightly narrower than southbound, so your ability to filter past HGVs and buses will be limited.
So the junctions are poor … how will they get fixed?
Let’s go back to the middle of Mitcham Common and the junction between Beddington Lane, Croydon Road and Windmill Road.
According to the decision paper, Merton Council has asked Transport for London to model the impact of pedestrian crossing phases on two arms of the junction: (i) across Windmill Road to support the east-west shared-use path, and (ii) north-south on the east side of the junction to link the two shared-use paths together. The council papers say that the crossings would be push-button “on-demand” crossings, meaning that someone travelling eastbound on Croydon Road and wishing to turn right/ south into Beddington Lane will need cross each arm of the junction separately. The council paper refers to the crossings as “proposed pedestrian phases”.
It’s good of Merton Council to ask TfL to model the changes. But there’s no indication let alone commitment that (a) TfL will approve changes to the junction, and (b) fund the junction’s reconstruction. To date, there is nothing in Merton Council’s capital plans for 2018-2020 to suggest funds are earmarked towards rebuilding the junction.
(The shared-use pavement on the east-west path is narrow at this junction. One of the Croydon’s knowledgeable councillors suggested back in 2016 this is because TfL baulked at the cost of moving the green traffic light control box).
At the southern end of Merton’s scheme, at Brookmead Road and the level crossing, all hope rests on what Sutton Council does as part of its Beddington North plans. I’ve only found artists impressions (16mb pdf) of what Sutton proposes for the tram stop area.
Merton Council has spent £800,000 rebuilding its section of Beddington Lane and provided a shared-use pavement for people walking and cycling. The scheme is a welcome improvement if you are an able-bodied pedestrian. But if you are riding a bicycle, using a wheelchair or pushing a children’s buggy, then the junctions on and off the new pavement are sub-standard.
Like the east-west shared-use pavement along Croydon Road, there’s little evidence of inclusive cycling design thinking in this scheme – it’s a pedestrian pavement with shared-use signs screwed on the lamp-posts. Normal for Merton.
For these roads to be safe and accessible for all non-motorised road users, the junction in the middle of Mitcham Common needs to be rebuilt. The crossings need to be signalised to provide safe opportunities to cross, and the refuge islands need to be bigger to satisfy today’s design standards. That’s going to be expensive, will require further encroachment into commons land, and may not happen for years.
For now, we need to keep fingers-crossed that Sutton Council will fix the junction at the level crossing, otherwise that junction will be a failure too.
And my predictions back in January? Sadly, my crystal ball was right.