The council’s exemplar streetscape plan has several welcome aspects. It should certainly make crossing the road at the main crossroads (St John’s Hill, Lavender Hill, Falcon Road, St John’s Road) much easier and safer – as long as sufficient time is given to the ‘green man’ phase and we don’t have to wait too long for the pedestrian phase. The plan to remove the railings and ‘sheep-pens’ at this crossroads will remove obstructions for pedestrians, enable the footway to be widened and make it safer for cycling. Removing the central railings along Lavender Hill to enable drivers to turn right into Falcon Lane will reduce journey times for those travelling north and should reduce motor traffic congestion at the crossroads. It will also make it easier for those on foot to cross Lavender Hill.
The plan, however, does little to reduce the dominance of motor traffic. The Battersea noise maps shows how intrusive this is. Diverting traffic down Falcon Lane merely transfers the noise and congestion onto this narrow road past the entrance to two supermarkets. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2025. It’s difficult to see how this target can realistically be achieved without reducing motor traffic volume and speed.
The council claims to wish to make Lavender Hill safer for cycling by means of cycle lanes on both sides. A glance at the the Department for Transport’s ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’ (Local Transport Note 02/08, October 2008) will discover how far these diverge from published standards and guidelines for safe street design. Lavender Hill has, and will continue to have, a single yellow line which means drivers can stop to unload/load or just nip into a shop. This blocks precisely that part of the road where the Council plans for cyclists to go. Installing a cycling ‘facility’ which is of such questionable use is surely a waste of public money.
The DfT has a great deal of guidance for councils on designing streets for safety, not only for cyclists but also for pedestrians. For instance:
“Cycle lanes are not always suitable and may encourage cyclists to adopt inappropriate positioning if the lanes are poorly designed. Designers need to decide whether a cycle lane is going to help or not. If so, its alignment should ideally reflect guidance and training on safe techniques (Franklin, 2007)** for manoeuvres undertaken by cyclists….” (LTN 2/08, Cycle Infrastructure Design, DfT, October 2008, para 7.1.4)
“On high streets with many side roads, bus stops, kerbside parking and accesses, there can be many cross-movements for cyclists to contend with. They may be little benefit in providing cycle lanes in situations like this (see Figure 7.1 ).” (LTN 2/08, DfT, October 2008, para 7.1.5 – figure 1 shows a situation very similar to Clapham Junction ).
“A cycle lane in the downhill direction can make conditions worse for cyclists. As a cyclist’s speed increases, the speed differential with motor traffic speeds reduces or disappears, and the cyclist needs to take up a more prominent position further from the nearside kerb. This helps ensure that drivers waiting to join from a side road can better see them and helps drivers behind to judge when it is safe to overtake. A single cycle lane of the recommended width going uphill is far preferable to sub-standard cycle lanes in both directions…” (LTN 2/08, DfT, October 2008, p35, para 7.1.6).
I would add it makes it easier for a pedestrian wanting to cross the road to see a cyclist in the running lane than close to the kerb. It also makes it easier for a cyclist to avoid the pedestrian who steps off the footway thinking the road is clear.
Alongside the exemplar ‘streetscape’ plan, the Council has worked with Network Rail to reopen the Brighton Yard entrance which gives access to the station over-bridge and lifts. This should reduce passenger congestion in the under-pass as just under one third of rail passengers approach the station from the Wandsworth direction. However, there will not be a crossing located here to enable those who need the lifts to get to them from the other side of the road. There will be covered cycle parking for the station in Brighton Yard, but there is no plan to facilitate the right turn into Brighton Yard from St John’s Hill so that cyclists can gain access to it from the Battersea direction, nor for the right turn out of it for those whose route is in the opposite direction. The footway on the station side from the existing crossing will not be widened as far up as this. On the contrary, a bus stop is planned, which, while good for access by bus passengers, will congest the footway even more.
The Council’s rationale for failing to provide for safe and convenient access into Brighton Yard is the lack of visibility for drivers coming from the Wandsworth direction over the rail bridge. As we know, the crossroads are in a valley formed by the Falcon Brook. Yet the ‘exemplar’ plan has no proposal to reduce motor traffic speed. Recent research on 20mph zones across London found that they resulted in a 42% reduction in traffic casualties (Grundy, et al, 2009). Reductions in both number and severity of deaths and injuries applied to all road users. Not surprisingly, the greatest beneficiaries were younger children. Perhaps more surprisingly, a considerable casualty reduction was also found in drivers.
An additional benefit of having safer roads is the reduction in noise and fear. For at least half a century we have gradually come to accept the domination of motor traffic on our streets, but as Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrians Association) say “It doesn’t have to be like this”. Rod King of the ’20’s Plenty’ campaign points out the difference between the ‘Go Ahead’ Councils and the ‘Can’t be Done’ Councils. Increasingly throughout the country the ‘Go Ahead’ are responding to demands for safer streets and are making all their streets 20mph. This includes major cities like Portsmouth and Oxford. Nine London Councils are currently planning it.
Reducing the volume and speed of motor traffic can transform our streets. By returning our streets to life we can contemplate reversing the increasingly sedentary lifestyle which is responsible for the obesity and lack of fitness in our population. Children can be freer to walk and cycle to schools, parks, visit friends. We will be able to let go of the belief that the only way to travel safely on roads is by car. Projects abound to encourage us to be more active. But what is the point of exhorting parents and children to walk or cycle to school, for example, if the streets are not made safe or convenient enough for them to do so?
The Department for Transport has recently issued new guidelines which aim to help Councils to adopt local authority-wide 20mph limits. Experience where an authority-wide 20mph speed limit has already been introduced has shown that it can be done without the need for speed bumps or other ‘calming’ devices. Drivers report they like the ‘default’ 20mph limit because it reduces their stress and saves fuel (Social Attitudes 2005) while not affecting the duration of their journey. With proof that it can save deaths and severe injuries, reduce fear of traffic, and make a town centre as well as local streets more attractive, what excuse can there be for not introducing a ‘default’ 20mph speed limit in our own borough, particularly in a motor traffic-dominated area like Clapham Junction?
 Franklin, J. 2007. ‘Cyclecraft’, 4th edition. London: The Stationery Office.
Read also our previous article on the Exemplar Scheme HERE.