Harrow Council approved its Cycling Strategy document in 2016. This is a high level document outlining the council’s commitment to encouraging and providing for cycling, and ensuring that new road schemes adhere to guidelines. It does not contain details of individual cycling schemes which will be dependent on funding.
We were invited to give our comments and recommendations for the strategy as it was being developed. Our comments were as follows:
Although this is a ‘Cycling’ strategy, measures to improve cycling conditions necessarily involve redefining the function and design of roads, with implications for all road users and residents. The strategy should include an overview of the roads in the borough and designation of their function as arterial routes, distributor roads or local access roads.
Redesign of roads can be disruptive and there may be loss of motor traffic lanes or car parking space in order to build cycle schemes. These schemes will be beneficial in the long term but the council will need to convince residents of their benefits in the short term. We suggest that the council should be more responsive to residents’ concerns about traffic and road safety, road improvement schemes incorporating cycling are built as a wider programme to make the roads safer, more inviting and less congested. Currently roads are only considered for safety measures after there have already been a number of serious injuries or fatalities; this is unacceptable and is inconsistent with the way the council handles other concerns, such as availability of car parking.
The council should translate its successful procedures for controlled parking zones to handling residents’ concerns over the speed, noise or volume of motor traffic in residential roads. This process would involve deciding whether it is necessary and sensible for motor traffic to use the road as a through route, develop proposals for handling the situation in consultation with residents, and implement schemes in a timely fashion. Such a strategy of reducing motor traffic in residential areas will benefit pedestrians and residents as well as cyclists and is likely to be well accepted.
This strategy document should be guided by the following:
- Guidance documents from the National institute of Health and Care Excellence:
- Walking and Cycling – http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph41
- Physical Activity and the Environment – http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph8
- Preventing Unintentional Road Injuries Among Under-15s – http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph31
These documents state Harrow’s public health responsibilities with respect to transport. Although NICE public health guidance is not statutory, the NHS, local authorities and the wider public, private, voluntary and community sectors are expected to follow it.
- The All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report’s “Get Britain Cycling” (http://allpartycycling.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/get-britain-cycling1.pdf). This sets out a manifesto for cycling at local and central Government levels. We would like Harrow to be proactive and show leadership in becoming a better borough for cycling, rather than merely waiting for policies to slowly filter down from the Department of Transport or TfL.
- The final report on the Dutch Bicycle Masterplan (http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/document/dutch-bicycle-master-plan)
The country with the best developed cycling infrastructure and the highest level of cycling is the Netherlands, and we recommend that the Dutch system is adopted as the preferred model for Harrow. This document describes how the Netherlands achieved this level of cycling. Council engineers and councillors should consider attending a Dutch cycle infrastructure study tour – it is best to study from the experts if Harrow is aspiring to excellence, and the cost of this training is small compared to the cost of building new road schemes.
The Quietway proposals set out in Harrow’s 2013 mini-Holland bid
What we understand by ‘Quietway’ is a route that is predominantly along minor roads shared by cars but with little or no through motor traffic, so that they are safe and pleasant for cyclists of all abilities. Building a Quietway will usually require measures such as bollards or one way systems to prevent the route being used as a through route by motor traffic.
All roads designated or signposted as a cycle route should conform to the London Cycling Design Standards but should aim to exceed them and provide a Dutch-style high quality cycling experience. The following design features (which are currently prevalent in Harrow) should not be used:
- Narrow cycle lanes – these may encourage motorists to overtake too closely and are worse than nothing. Cycle lanes should be at least 1.5-2 metres wide as per London Cycling Design Standard. Motor traffic lanes can be made narrower (or the central marking can be removed) if the route is not heavily used by large vehicles.
- Bicycle symbols painted on a road with no cycling infrastructure – this is dishonest as it suggests that a road is suitable for cycling when it is frequently hostile for cycling.
The core routes should link town centres and underground stations.
Cross-Harrow – Northolt Park station to Rayners Lane, North Harrow, Harrow & Wealdstone, Canons Park and Edgware. Parts of this route already exist (e.g. along Alexandra Avenue) but need to be upgraded. The section near Harrow & Wealdstone station may require major engineering such as a new bridge in order to maintain continuity of the route and to serve the station and civic centre well.
Bakerloo – Harrow’s original proposal was for a route along Harrow View, but it is too narrow for adequate segregated cycling infrastructure. We suggest building a core route along Sheepcote Road / Station Road / George Gange Way / High Street instead, linking to the Cross-Harrow route and new routes through the Kodak side, and then continuing north along Courtenay Avenue to Uxbridge Road. An upgraded rural footpath from Sylvia Avenue in Hatch End will provide a useful link to Oxhey.
Northern – This route runs along Uxbridge Road in the north of the borough. This is an important direct route which has to go along the main road because there are no parallel minor roads. However it should be renamed (maybe ‘A410 route’) as it is nowhere near the Northern Line.
Jubilee – Along Marsh Lane and Honeypot Lane. This route should link up to a route along Fryent Way in Brent.
Metropolitan route – Lowlands Road, Pinner Road, Marsh Road, Elm Park Road. Between North Harrow and Lowlands Road the Pinner Road link is problematic because part of the road is narrow and the bridge / subway route through the Bessborough Road complex is convoluted. We suggest an alternative ‘Quietway’ route via Blenheim Road and Vaughan Road which will require measures to reduce through motor traffic, but will also serve West Harrow station and has a a more direct link to Lowlands Road. This scheme should incorporate changes to the subway entrances to make them more inviting and convenient for pedestrians as well as cyclists.
There are two other potential routes which could be considered as Metropolitan ‘branches’:
- Along George V Avenue, which will be useful for pupils at Nower Hill School
- Along the A312 (Bessborough Road / Northolt Road). This is a busy road with narrow sections, so it may be preferable to initially build instead a route from Lowlands Road to Eastcote Lane via Roxeth Green Avenue and Lascelles Avenue. This will serve Whitmore High School and Rooks Heath High School. The roads along this route have wide verges which can provide space for segregated cycle paths, and part of the route already has a cycle path (along Roxeth Green Avenue).
Secondary cycle routes will fill in the gaps between the core routes and should serve schools, leisure centres, health facilities and other destinations. These will be primarily along minor roads with restrictions on through motor traffic, and should eventually form a dense network. We are thinking about potential locations for secondary routes and will send suggestions early in the New Year.
Gaps in current cycling infrastructure
There are three locations in Harrow that are key destinations for cycling and will require major engineering in order to provide cycle routes that are continuous, subjectively safe and direct: 1. Headstone Drive bridge near Harrow & Wealdstone station 2. Lowlands Road and Harrow on the Hill station 3. Northwick Park Roundabout
There are some short gaps between sections of cycle cycle path that can be connected relatively cheaply to create a much longer route, e.g. Imperial Drive, between Rayners Lane and North Harrow stations (part of the proposed cross Harrow route).
Locations which may require a review of current cycling infrastructure
Harrow’s road design policies of the past have created many stretches of road with bicycle symbols painted on the road or cycle signs along stretches of road with no or substandard cycling infrastructure. It is better to start from scratch with routes that are of high quality rather than spending money making minor improvements to routes which are so poor that they will not become safe and direct without major redesign. The following types of infrastructure should be removed because they are ineffective at encouraging people to cycle:
- Narrow cycle lanes – if the road is too narrow for cycle lanes it is too narrow for a motorist to overtake a cyclist safely. Instead consider removing all road markings to encourage motorists to pull out more in order to overtake. Roads which cyclists share with motor traffic should have a 20mph speed limit. Where lanes are too narrow for safe overtaking a sign stating ‘Narrow Lanes: Motorists Must Not Overtake Cyclists’ can be considered.
- Cycle lanes which have parking bays in them – these are dangerous as they encourage cyclists to cycle in the door zone. The car parking should be removed so that the lane can be continuous
- Bicycle symbols on roads and roundabouts that are not suitable for cycling
The following road features should be removed as they are dangerous to cyclists:
- Traffic island ‘pinch points’ – they can create cause dangerous conflicts between cyclists and motorists trying to overtake. They should be replaced by one-stage zebra crossings which will be more convenient for pedestrians.
- Speed cushions – they are uncomfortable for tricycles and can encourage cyclists to cycle too close to parked cars. Instead sinusoidal humps across the whole width of the road should be used.
- Pedestrian guard railing beside roads on which people are expected to cycle. Cyclists can be crushed against these railings, and they also cause increased journey times for pedestrians and discourage people from walking.
- Stacking lanes at junctions, where there is only one lane beyond the junction (e.g. on Tyburn Lane eastbound, Imperial Drive junction with Ridgeway). This encourages cars to try to overtake one another while crossing the junction and does not provide space for cyclists at the junction. Instead a single lane should be provided for straight ahead traffic. A combined left turn lane and cycle lane can be considered (and fitted into the existing road layout with no physical changes other than paint), although for new major junctions full Dutch-style segregation is preferable.
Proposals for cycling infrastructure improvement
We propose that Harrow aims to implement the cycling strategy by the following means:
- Major schemes (the Quietway routes) – these should be highly visible and the benefits should be publicised (e.g. in the Harrow People magazine, in councillor newsletters, in the press). Schemes which are likely to be easier to build
- Attention to cycling in all planning applications – the council should seek to secure ring fenced funding for cycling improvements in the vicinity of applicable proposed developments via those developments Section 106 obligations. Council planning officers should advise developers of this during pre-application meetings and correspondence. The relevant planning committees should be made aware, pre-committee, of opportunities to improve cycling in the vicinity of proposed developments and the applicants’ desire (or not) to support and contribute to these. If opportunities are not immediately apparent Harrow Cyclists should be consulted to illuminate these.
- Good maintenance and promptly fixing minor problems on cycle routes
- A holistic approach to responding to concerns over motor traffic in residential areas by designating residential ‘cells’ which are not supposed to be used by through motor traffic. This will make some short car journeys predictably longer and less convenient, which is essential in order to encourage people to walk or cycle, and will reduce congestion in the long term. This will benefit local residents as well as pedestrians and cyclists.
Cycling related matters that require a review
- Cycling advocacy and community education. The council’s overall message should not be ‘Cycling is fun – try it!’, but something like:’A cycle friendly Harrow will be better for everyone’
‘Cycling is really important! If it is easy to cycle in Harrow there will be less congestion and cleaner air in Harrow. Over the next few years we plan to make Harrow more like the Netherlands …’
This message should be communicated by councillors in their conversations with residents, and there should be informative articles in the local press, on the Harrow council website and the Harrow people magazine.
- Planning – cycling (routes, parking, accessibility) should be considered in all planning applications. Section 106 money should be used to implement parts of the cycling strategy.
- Handling of road safety concerns and traffic in residential areas – roads which residents are concerned about should be earmarked for review without waiting for serious injuries. Roads which are subjectively unsafe and deter people from walking or cycling. This may require review of the TARSAP procedure, such as a separate committee to consider controlled parking zones, allowing TARSAP to discuss more road schemes and road safety in more detail.
- Borough-wide 20mph policy – We appreciate that the number of 20mph zones in Harrow has increased steadily, but this slow and incremental strategy is now out of date. Many towns (e.g. Portsmouth, Birmingham) and boroughs (e.g. Islington) are considering 20mph limits on all residential streets. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report states:
“We support the widespread extension of 20mph speed limits as the default value on urban streets, with exceptions (whether higher or in some cases lower) being determined by positive decision at local level. We accept that roads used largely as the main conduits for through traffic will continue to have higher speed limits, and where this is decided, alternative cycle provision should be provided.” (page 65)
How Harrow Cyclists can work more closely with the Council to deliver more
Harrow Cyclists is a campaign group with no political affiliation and we aim to raise awareness among the council, councillors and the public of the benefits of a cycle-friendly Harrow. We aim to bring specific issues to the attention of the council (e.g. location where cycle parking is required), we can give input into the design and prioritisation of cycle routes and help the council to justify investing in cycling. We have links with the wider cycling campaign (the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the London Cycling Campaign) and transport and health researchers.
We would prefer to be consulted early in the planning process rather than at a late stage, in order to give us time to consider the plans and consult our members, and so that it is possible to make changes to the plans before implementation.
We appreciate that delivery of cycle schemes is dependent on funding, but this Cycling Strategy should provide long term aspirations based on a good sustained level of funding being available (i.e. at least £20 per person per year). Cycle schemes can be built as part of other developments or road schemes as opportunities arise in the future. It is important to have a strategy so that such opportunities are not missed, and that nothing is built that makes it difficult to build cycle paths later (e.g. by taking up verge or footway space which could be used for cycle paths).
If funding is limited it is better to concentrate it and build a single route which is good, usable and visible, rather than spread the money too thinly on a large number of ineffective schemes.