Yesterday (Tuesday 17th) I attended a public consultation meeting on CS9. This was the first time I have ever attended a TfL consultation, so thought I would write up my thoughts.
First up, thank you to ChiswickCalendar for organizing this. They did a good job – the Boston Room at George IV was a good venue and the recording was a nice touch. They also got together a good mix of contributors – on stage we had Will Norman the TfL champion for walking and cycling, a pro-scheme Chiswick resident, an anti-scheme Chiswick resident and a local business owner with concerns about the scheme. Off stage there were numerous technical people from TfL, council representatives and councillors, more local business people and someone from (I think) the Hounslow Cycling Campaign. The debate was chaired by Julian Worricker – a BBC News presenter and Chiswick resident. He made sure that a significant number of people across the floor got the chance to make points.
The debate was well-attended
I thought Will Norman and the TfL team did well. At the beginning Norman painted the Mayor’s big picture strategy and why we need more “active transport” (the usual reasons – population growth, inactivity crisis pollution) and in particular why the proposed route for CS9 is a good one (e.g. 3,000 daily cyclists along the Chiswick High Road already). NB someone else said the DfT figures are a mere 2,000 daily users. Norman delegated to the TfL for technical details at the right times – e.g. for issues about modelling, about loading bays, pavement widths etc. These women and men seemed on top of their brief and generally refuted some of the objections that some had to the room.
I estimate the balance of the room was roughly 75% “anti-scheme” and roughly 25% pro-scheme – estimated from clap volume when someone made a point!
The debate was almost entirely centred around the Chiswick High Road – there was virtually no discussion about the “downstream” end around Kew Bridge and Brentford or upstream around Hammersmith. One pro-cyclist did voice my primary concern about the scheme ending at Olympia and not Hyde Park. If the scheme goes ahead, there will be more cyclists mixing it with the traffic on the highly dangerous Kensington High Street.
Interestingly we heard very little objection to the scheme from a motoring perspective. If people were concerned that this scheme would actually =increase= pollution because of increased congestion, for example, this was not voiced. Those against were much more concerned about the loss of pavement than loss of road (both occur in the scheme but there is much more road loss than pavement). Early on someone did say “this scheme will fracture the community” – a close echo of the “loss of cafe culture” that we have heard about in social media and on the web. This objection was a bit annoying to me – it is almost meaningless (how =does= one fracture an abstract noun?) so it is hard to debate with. Much better to look at the facts – five of the six restaurants with seating outside will see NO reduction in pavement size. The remaining restaurant (Byron) will have room for exactly the same number of seats, as well as pavement wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass each other. There will also be a net gain in number of trees on the High Road. Side roads will become easier to cross and the existing crossings will all be retained and in some cases made wider. Ok, so some cars will be replaced by bikes – but as far as I can this only diminishes the community if you are fervently anti-cycling!
And, oh yes, there were numerous folk present who really just didn’t like cyclists. In naivety I previously thought this people existed only on the Daily Mail comment pages, so it was fascinating, in a way, to hear these thoughts made flesh: “Only a few months ago I had to jump out of the way of one on the pavement!”.. “They all jump red lights”… “They all wear lycra and will break a 20mph speed limit”. A number of times we heard cyclists being treated as a single homogeneous group – all to blame for each others ills. In fact I came away with the conclusion that some people don’t want a protected cycle lane as a form of spite or punishment – yes the roads are dangerous but they deserve it?! I am tempted to start treating all motorists as a block too.
Some of the comments about cyclists turned me to drink.
The Wellesley Road ratrun received some attention. This was criticised on two sides – a number of the pro-scheme people present pointed out that it means that the protected lane will not run to Chiswick Park, a significiant employment base in the area. Others pointed out that by closing the outlets on to the South Circular, journey times for people living in that area will increase when they are heading out of town to the south or west. That’s true, but unfortunately the obvious counterpoint – that removing all the rat-running will cut traffic by 80% and make the streets a much nicer place to live, was not made clear enough, in my opinion.
There was quite a lot of “well of course I support the idea of a cycle lane, just not here, oh no!”. In particular quite a few people thought the scheme should go along the A4. There wasn’t a precise proposal so I don’t know if they intended the flyover to be used, or how people would get up to it from Brentford or Kew Bridge. TfL and the council did point out that they had considered the idea as unworkable, but also people should be careful what they wish for as making the A4 less attractive for traffic would push more traffic down the High Road… how about that for “fracturing a community”?
Towards the end we heard from a member of the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, which has infamously asked its parishoners to pray for CS9 to be moved elsewhere. It is undoubtedly unfortunate that due to tree positions that at this very western end of the cycle track’s route down the High Road, the track is set to take space from the pavement when it should be the road. Even removing a tree may be an option here – I am sure TfL will be looking at options around this when the consultation closes. BUT, when listing to the guy’s “health and safety” comments, I was really struck by how health and safety really has gone mad when considering the scheme. During the evening and in recent weeks we heard
- Concerns about the delivery drivers having to push their trollies a tiny bit further when making deliveries, causing “health and safety” issues.
- Concerns that if the church caught fire and had to be evacuated, then people would have to walk a little further down the pavement to escape it than they would today.
- Concerns that a bride might trip over in her wedding dress if the route to the altar was made more complex.
WHY is it that those anti the scheme are able to take these concerns so seriously, but don’t seem to take serious the massively more significant danger of 3,000 daily cyclists being passed close and fast by multi-ton cars, trucks and buses. There have been more than 80 accidents on this road in recent years – this is where our REAL concerns should lie. So yes, I am sure tweaks can be made, but CS9 surely MUST go ahead.
The consultation closes at the end of October and can be accessed at https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/cs9/?cid=cs9