The case for keeping and improving the Streetspace cycle lanes

22 April – councillors recommend removal of the cycle lanes

The report written for Harrow council’s Traffic and Road Safety Advisory Panel meeting on 22 April 2021 underpinned the decision to remove the cycle lanes. The report is seriously flawed in its interpretation of evidence and the basis for the recommendations, and our impression is that the cycle lanes have been removed because councillors are concerned that noisy opposition from motorists may translate into votes in the upcoming elections.

General population surveys show that the public is supportive of the creation of protected cycle lanes. However the TARSAP report seems to be based mainly on Commonplace feedback, which is not intended to capture population views. It is incorrect to assume that the sample of people who have chosen to provide feedback have views that are representative of the general population.

We have recommended that the council commissions a population-based survey, as recommended by the Transport minister Grant Shapps, in his letter to local authorities in November 2020: “Consultation should include objective tests of public opinion, such as scientific polling, to cut through the noise and passion schemes can generate and gather a truly representative picture of local views.”

There is no objective evidence that the cycle lanes have had an adverse effect on motorists. The report states (paragraph 2.29): “Onsite observations by officers during peak times on weekdays indicate that while cycle lanes have impacted on que lengths due to two lanes of traffic merging into one, vehicle journey times and levels of congestion have not been impacted, with levels of congestion remaining at pre pandemic levels.”

In coming to a recommendation, the report states (paragraph 2.63): “… When considering consultation results, the Council should consider the detail of the results as well as the numbers of respondents expressing support or otherwise for a proposal. When making decisions to change existing arrangements, it is not uncommon for the majority of respondents to be against the proposal. The Council must take these views into account, but must also weigh this against other information, such as environmental impact, financial implications and the legislative framework.”

But this seems to have been ignored, as the report’s recommendation is to listen to the loudest voices and remove the cycle lanes immediately.

Background to the cycle routes

In summer 2020, Harrow council created 3 temporary cycle lanes following Government guidance to rapidly improve walking and cycling infrastructure in order to prevent a car-led recovery post pandemic. Harrow’s Streetspace measures are described in more detail here.

Temporary cycle lane on Sheepcote Road – reallocation of a motor vehicle lane to provide protected space for cycling. Additional measures are needed at junctions as part of a permanent scheme.

The new cycle lanes were implemented along brief dual carriageway sections of roads that are mostly single carriageway. They are on cycle desire lines and are part of routes that were were originally proposed by Harrow council in the 2013 Vision for Cycling, under Councillor Susan Hall’s Conservative administration.

Prior to implementation of the cycle lanes, these roads were extremely dangerous for cycling. When the schemes were first implemented, we submitted recommendations to the council on cheap and quick interventions to make the junctions safer, and join up the lanes to cycle routes in the surrounding area. There was no funding available at the time to progress these interventions, but this could be done as part of a permanent scheme.

Some motorists have complained that the cycle lanes take away space from cars, but in fact these dual carriageway sections are too short to provide any additional useful motor traffic capacity (as the roads are single carriageway at either end).

Map showing Streetspace cycle lanes in relation to other cycle routes planned or recently created in Harrow

Why are these cycle routes important?

  • Safe, convenient cycle routes are essential in order to enable people to cycle for journeys that may otherwise be undertaken by car.
  • There is a need to reduce car journeys in Harrow and increase active travel in order to improve people’s health and reduce the harms of motor traffic, such as air pollution, noise pollution and CO2 emissions.
  • There is a major unmet need for a network of safe cycle routes in Harrow that are protected from fast or heavy motor traffic.
  • A well-connected network is required for people to undertake end-to-end journeys by bike. This is even more important with the current COVID-19 pandemic and people’s reluctance to use public transport. Better cycle routes are essential to prevent an increase in car use as people resume normal activities
  • The routes provide key links as part of the cycle network, and were chosen because they could be created quickly using temporary measures, reallocating road space that did not provide useful motor vehicle capacity.

What have the trials shown?

The key outcome of the trial is that it has been shown to be feasible to reallocate road space away from motorists to create protected cycle lanes along these sections, with negligible impact on motor traffic. The council’s monitoring report is available for download here.

Some sections of the routes have been used well and they provide a good experience for people, as they are direct and convenient. However, overall cycling numbers are still low, because the routes are incomplete and lack protection at junctions.

The council has been gathering feedback on the Commonplace website, to which we encourage people to submit positive comments. However, opponents of safer roads have posted multiple entries with non-specific negative feedback, and the proportion of negative and positive responses is in no way representative of the views of the general population. Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Londoners are in favour of creating protected cycle lanes.

What were the options?

The cone-separate cycle lanes are not intended to be permanent in their current form, so the main question is whether they should be retained in the short term until a permanent design is in place. This is what we recommended.

We did not recommend removal of the cycle lanes without replacement for the following reasons:

  1. It means that the road will contravene design standards, (see LTN 1/20) and will put cyclists at risk from dangerous motor traffic. It could result in serious injuries or fatalities, which are preventable by keeping the lanes in place (cycle lanes reduce the odds of injury by 40-65% – link to study).
  2. It will make the route inaccessible to all but the most confident, athletic cyclists. It will discriminate against people with disabilities, children, older people and women, all of whom have just as much right as anyone else to be able to cycle in safety.
  3. It will not improve journey times for motorists, and will therefore not benefit anyone at all.
  4. It will mean that the Department for Transport money that was used to create the lanes will have been wasted with no benefit.
  5. It will reduce Harrow’s chance of further funding for road improvements. The borough of Kensington and Chelsea removed a cycle lane with no justification and TfL is forcing them to reinstate it (see news article). Sheepcote Road is a high priority route for cycle infrastructure in TfL’s Strategic Cycling Analysis. Harrow council needs to show compliance with the Mayoral Transport Strategy and demonstrate commitment to active travel to have a chance of gaining further funding.
  6. It will go against Harrow council’s own environmental and health policies.
  7. Even if permanent cycle lanes are created in this location in the future, in the meantime people will lose out on the opportunity to adopt healthy travel habits. Congestion, pollution, and diseases caused by physical inactivity will increase as lack of cycling infrastructure causes people to drive journeys that they could otherwise have cycled.
  8. It will demonstrate that Harrow councillors cannot be trusted to prioritise people’s health and safety.