Plumstead High Street
Cyclists were expected to share the carriageway on Plumstead High Street

Greenwich Council’s plans for a major new cycle route included a stretch that was little more than paint on a main road – despite long-established guidance calling for riders to be given segregated routes instead.

The plans for a route from Woolwich to Abbey Wood called for cyclists to mix with lorries and buses on busy Plumstead High Street, with traffic lanes to be narrowed by painting the road.

TfL guidance issued six years ago states that “cyclists need space separated from volume motor traffic”, while new government guidance issued last month for England says “purely cosmetic alterations should be avoided”.

The plans were obtained by an 853 reader, Ollie Mustill, using the Freedom of Information Act. The full set of documents detailing Greenwich’s bids to obtain Streetspace funding from Transport for London can be downloaded here. (Please note these documents were submitted in June and may not exactly reflect current plans for what did get funding.)

They also include plans to force pedestrians to share a cycle route towards North Greenwich station, while traffic lights were to be put on a notorious rat-run that neighbouring Lewisham Council has attempted to close off to through traffic.

Opposition councillors, meanwhile, are unhappy that they and other groups were not mentioned in the bids – despite them being involved in discussions about the new routes. When asked for examples of local political support, only the backing of council leader Danny Thorpe is mentioned.

Plumstead’s painted cycleway

TfL submission from Greenwich Council
The plans showed how only paint would be applied to the road

The route from Woolwich to Abbey Wood was one of four that Greenwich hoped to obtain funding for when it submitted a £3.6 million bid in June. It asked for £246,000 from TfL for this route.

There is already an isolated stretch of segregated route at the eastern end of Plumstead Road, while there have long been some limited measures to give cyclists priority on back roads leading to Abbey Wood Road. Council officers hoped to connect the two, extend the route further into Woolwich and reinforce the back street route with modal filters to limit through traffic.

However, while there were plans for a segregated cycle lane at Plumstead railway station, Plumstead High Street itself would see only a waiting and loading ban and changes to road markings. “Road markings/hatching to be added to maintain a constant lane width of 3-3.2m so that cyclists can maintain a dominant riding position,” the plans read – essentially calling for cyclists to “take the lane”, which can often lead to conflicts with drivers.

Both TfL and the English guidelines both concede that some routes may be less than ideal if circumstances force it – and Plumstead High Street is not only narrow, but it is the only east-west route there. The application admits that “the key risk” is a “challenge of limited space”, but adds that the programme presents the opportunity “to remove street clutter which has been raised as a negative by local people”.

A route from Plumstead High Street to Abbey Wood has now been created, upgrading an existing series of filters on back roads.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853 : “Whilst we appreciate that a section of the route on Plumstead High Street did not meet the required standards, officers took the view that this only made up a short section of an almost 4km route which would serve three communities.

“There is insufficient width to segregate cyclists at the section in question so the only way to bring it up to standard would be to install a bus gate to reduce traffic flows. This was considered impractical on a strategic road and unlikely to be deliverable within the timescales.”

On the pavement to North Greenwich

Blackwall Lane flyover
This is the route cyclists would have been expected to take to North Greenwich – the same one as now

A second route – costed at £182,000 – aimed to link East Greenwich and North Greenwich via Blackwall Lane. This would have involved removing a southbound bus lane on Blackwall Lane to create a two-way cycle route.

However, when it reached the Blackwall Tunnel approach road, cyclists would have to mount the pavement and share with pedestrians – as they are encouraged to do now, where they must use six pelican crossings to reach John Harrison Way and semi-segregated lanes. This would have been cut to three toucan crossings under the plans, with an extra one installed on John Harrison Way.

“Cycles must be treated as vehicles, not as pedestrians,” TfL’s guidance reads. “Typical bad cycle design deals with junctions by making cyclists pretend to be pedestrians, bringing them onto the pavement by having them cross the road, often in several stages, on toucan crossings.”

The route would not actually run to North Greenwich station – instead it would follow John Harrison Way to the Thames Path, where riders would be expected to find their way to the station from there.

Bugsbys Way pelican crossing
Cyclists would still have had to have used several crossings to reach North Greenwich

Greenwich’s application calls the peninsula developments “car-lite or car-free … this cycle route will enable the community to cycle into Central London and access the rest of the borough/south London”. “The two main deliverability challenges are the impact on bus lanes and creating a safe crossing of the Millennium Way roundabout. Despite these issues this route needs addressing urgently because without it this community will have limited transport options,” it says.

TfL also declined to fund this route, although council leader Danny Thorpe, London cycling commissioner Will Norman, deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander and cabinet member for transport Sizwe James took part in a photocall on Blackwall Lane on earlier this month to promote TfL’s new cycle lane on nearby Woolwich Road.

Part of Greenwich Council’s submission to TfL

A council spokesperson told 853 : “Given the budget and significant modelling required to alter the roundabout at John Harrison Way and the roads adjacent to the A102, we felt the most deliverable option for a temporary scheme was to use the shared path for a short section of Blackwall Lane, which made up a small section of the route overall – note that the remainder of Blackwall Lane is proposed to have been entirely segregated down to Woolwich Road junction. We recognise that a permanent scheme with higher budget and longer delivery timescales would be designed differently.”

A third route, from Eltham to Greenwich Park, was given “development funding” from TfL. Proposals for this route also included a similar feature, where cyclists would have to join pedestrians in navigating the Yorkshire Grey roundabout at Eltham Green. The money from TfL may mean this section is improved.

Kidbrooke traffic lights

Westbrook Road
Temporary traffic lights have recently caused queues on Westbrook Road, which is officially a cycle route

That same route would also run along Westbrook Road in Blackheath, and passes briefly into the borough of Lewisham to cross Blackheath. This is part of the same route that Lewisham Council has attempted to make safer for cyclists and walkers by placing a modal filter on South Row, a notorious rat-run. This scheme has been suspended because of problems for delivery vehicles accessing Morden College, historic almshouses which sit on the borough boundary and traffic has returned to past levels.

However, Greenwich’s plans did not include placing a filter on its stretch of road – instead, it planned to install traffic lights at the junction of Westbrook Road and Kidbrooke Park Road, arguably entrenching the route’s status as a cut-through.

Traffic lights were first mooted in July 2019, in response to a resident petition about congestion on the side road. Temporary traffic lights placed here at the end of July caused queues of traffic backing up into the side road.

The Greenwich spokesperson said: “The signalised junction at Westbrook Road was proposed to address crossing Kidbrooke Park Road east/westbound on the cycleway alignment, as waiting times can be very long especially in the morning peak. A modal filter wouldn’t address this issue.”

High maintenance costs

Greenwich town centre at 5.50pm
Barriers to protect pedestrians were installed in Greenwich town centre – but TfL declined to fund these. Only “development funding” has been given for a further cycle route

Greenwich also bid for money for temporary schemes to make Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham town centres safer for pedestrians. Only Eltham received funding.

The figures stated in the documents largely correlate with those released by the council at the end of June (Greenwich: £119,000; Woolwich: £163,000; Eltham: £142,000) – which all appear high for what are temporary works. However, what is new is that there is a breakdown of the costs – which includes £49,000 for each location for six months of maintenance, said to cover the costs of two people, for eight hours a day, seven days a week.

The Greenwich spokesperson said: “The £49,000 for maintenance is intended to cover the full Streetspace programme rather than just the social distancing measures at town centres. The maintenance budget is now being significantly reduced as measures settle in and that the programme is itself reduced. Maintenance is essential to be able to quickly address issues with temporary measures, and the costs reflect the public health and other social distancing working practices of our contractor.”

No consultation – or widespread political support cited

Sizwe James, council leader Danny Thorpe, City Hall cycling commissioner Will Norman, Heidi Alexander and council deputy leader Denise Scott-McDonald promoting TfL’s work on Woolwich Road earlier this month

In most of the applications, the council states there was no time for consulting the community on the schemes, even though neighbouring Lewisham and Southwark launched consultations during this time.

Opposition councillors did feed into the proposals, as did members of the Greens, Liberal Democrats and the Greenwich Cyclists group. However, when asked for evidence of political support, only the backing of council leader Danny Thorpe is mentioned on each application: “The Leader of Royal Greenwich [sic] has written to Heidi Alexander and Will Norman to express his support for the Streetspace programme.”

Matt Clare, the Conservative spokesperson for transport, told 853: “It’s extremely disappointing Greenwich hasn’t secured funding from TfL on a level comparable to other boroughs. There are some excellent proposals in the routes, but the higher cost versus other boroughs is inescapable.

“For us as an opposition is particularly frustrating that Conservatives, Greens and Lib Dems as well as Greenwich Cyclists worked together and shared draft proposals with the council.

“Yet in reading one of the bids the only political support referred to is from the leader of the council. Surely citing four-party support would have been more powerful? Being more open with us might also have helped strengthen the bid further in advance of submission.

“It’s disappointing that the Eltham to Greenwich route was not funded straightaway. However the council should now work with the opposition and local cycling groups to make sure the funding received to develop designs for a safe cycle route from Eltham into Greenwich results in a more successful bid.”

What’s happening with Greenwich’s Streetspace schemes now?

Eltham High Street has gained wands to protect cyclists as part of the Streetspace programme

A lack of detail has made tracking how this funding is being spent very difficult – not just in Greenwich, but across London. Greenwich Council bid for £3.68m in funding from TfL in June; sunk costs and a separate bid to the Department for Transport for modal filter money took the budget to over £4 million. A broad outline of the plans was published on the council website, together with a breakdown of costs.

This Freedom of Information Act bundle, together with a separate set of documents passed to 853 which details the bid to the DfT, offers some clarity on what was being bid for at the time. (See the DfT bid.)

In July, Greenwich said it had obtained £1.26 million in funding.

The status of the schemes mentioned in June are…

  • Eltham to Greenwich Park cycle route (original bid £969,000) – a shorter version of this route was given “development funding”, so there are no definitive plans yet.
  • Abbey Wood to Woolwich cycle route (£246,000) – has become a shorter Abbey Wood to Plumstead High Street route using back streets, upgrading an existing route using modal filters (see below)
  • North to East Greenwich (£182,340) – was not funded
  • Shooters Hill to Greenwich Park cycle route (£1,164,000) – a shorter version of this route aimed at linking schools is going ahead using a segregated route on Shooters Hill Road, a possible bus gate on Old Dover Road, then through back streets with traffic light alterations at the top of Maze Hill
  • Charlton Road cycle route (£213,400) – was not funded
  • Cycleway 4 connection in Greenwich town centre (£246,000) – this has “development funding”, so no definitive plans yet
  • TfL scheme for Greenwich to Woolwich cycle route – despite heavy promotion by Greenwich, this is being designed/developed by TfL, so was not part of the bids. Work has begun but will only run as far as Charlton Church Lane; cyclists will be expected to use improved bus lanes to Woolwich and funding to turn this into a segregated route is not yet certain
  • Greenwich town centre space for pedestrians (£115,630) – not funded but Greenwich had already built it
  • Woolwich town centre space for pedestrians (£163,901) – not funded but had already been built/commissioned
  • Eltham town centre space for pedestrians (£142,458) – funded and has been built, including wands to mark out cycle lanes
  • Plumstead High Street space for pedestrians (£22,814) – funded
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital space for pedestrians (£14,737) – funded. The FOI bundle mentions that Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust wants to put a bus gate on Stadium Road, ending its use as a rat run
  • School Streets (£48,165) plus school support programme (£38,700) – these temporary closures at school times have gone ahead at Invicta Primary in Blackheath, Charlton Manor, and Wybourne School in New Eltham.
  • Modal filters (£150,000 bid to TfL, £100,000 bid to Department of Transport) – Greenwich bid to the Department for Transport in June, saying “point closures will be implemented in several areas across the Borough including West Greenwich and Lee Green, plus Westcombe Park, Eltham, Charlton and Plumstead, subject to feasibility and final costings”. A map showed plans for cycling routes in these areas. The £150,000 bid to TfL was unsuccessful, but the £100,000 bid to the DfT was successful.

    At the end of July, Greenwich said it was developing schemes for “West Greenwich, East Greenwich, Plumstead and Woolwich” – with the cycling routes deleted from a new map. Work begins this week on the West Greenwich scheme, otherwise known as Hills and Vales; filters have gone in to reinforce an existing cycle route in Plumstead and Abbey Wood; plans for filters around Anglesea Road, Woolwich and Columb Street, East Greenwich are being worked up.

    Proposals to place filters in Lee Green are on hold. “Traffic has reduced in the area due to the measures installed by Lewisham Council so we are prioritising other schemes,” a spokesperson told 853. As for the other areas: “Due to the funding received we will not be taking forward any new modal filters in Westcombe Park, Eltham and Charlton at this time,” the spokesperson said.

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