Old Royal Naval College path
The route through the Old Royal Naval College is open for 10 hours each weekday

Pedestrians and cyclists trying to escape the busy A206 in Greenwich town centre now have some limited relief with the reopening of the pathway through the Old Royal Naval College yesterday.

The charity that runs the college grounds closed its gates when the coronavirus lockdown began. With the narrow riverside path also closed, walkers had to divert through Greenwich Park or follow cyclists in having to use the busy Romney Road to get from one side of Greenwich to the other.

Old Royal Naval College
Blue barriers mark out the path
Old Royal Naval College no entry sign
Access to the parched lawns of the Naval College is still not allowed

Now the gates are open again – however, they are only open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. After six, cyclists will have to take their chances amid the notably increased traffic levels on Romney Road, where a rider was killed two years ago. Pedestrians at least can use Greenwich Park, which extended its opening hours until 9pm last week.

Strictly speaking, this is the first time the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College has permitted cycling through the centre of the campus – the official cycle route follows an awkward path around the north side of the site, which is shared with pedestrians. However, the ban on cycling through the centre of the site has rarely been enforced in recent years and the “official” route remains locked.

TfL branding
Some barriers have TfL branding – but despite the fanfare, this will be a familiar route to many
Old Royal Naval College locked gates
The official path remains closed

That distinction may explain why Will Norman, City Hall’s walking and cycling commissioner, tried to claim this was “new safe space” on social media at the weekend – rather than simply partially reopening what was suddenly shut 11 weeks ago. Barriers are in place – some with TfL branding – to stop people exploring the rest of the site, which remains closed.

Outside the college site, the flimsy yellow barriers erected around Greenwich town centre three weeks ago to create more space for walking have been replaced by more study blocks. Cyclists, however, are still getting a raw deal. While the number of rush-hour riders on Monday evening had notably increased on pre-pandemic levels, traffic levels were also far higher than they had been for weeks. There is also no signage encouraging cyclists to use the Naval College path, with most content to chance it with the traffic instead.

College Approach
There is no signage to tell cyclists the pathway is now open
Greenwich town centre at 5.50pm
More people seem to be cycling – but traffic levels are noticeably up too. Direct access to Cutty Sark Gardens remains closed

While Cutty Sark Gardens is no longer fenced off to pedestrians, barriers still block the path for cyclists at Greenwich Church Street – with no indication that they can reach the Greenwich Foot Tunnel simply by continuing along College Approach.

And beyond Greenwich town centre, riders still have to contend with blocked cycle lanes, including its regular use as a moped parking space by one pizza outlet in east Greenwich.

Romney Road
After 6pm, cyclists have to use Romney Road – the ghost bike for Oliver Speake, who died here in May 2018, can just be seen to the left
Papa John's Greenwich
The pizza outlet Papa John’s uses the A206 cycle lane to park its mopeds

Greenwich Council is bidding for TfL funding for partially-pedestrianising Greenwich town centre and creating a cycle route from Greenwich to Woolwich – however, a month on, there is no news on progress, or detail on other plans to create more space for people rather than cars. Observers who saw traffic levels yesterday could be forgiven for thinking a chance has already been blown.

Back at the Old Royal Naval College, a security guard closed the gates and turned people away at the stroke of six, much earlier than a normal weekday; a reflection of the painfully slow progress of reclaiming space so people can walk and cycle in safety. That’s enough Streetspace!

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