Cycling group leader: ‘I don’t want to cycle in Greenwich because it’s too dangerous’

Woolwich Road flyover
Edgaras Cepura was killed at the A206/A102 junction in May 2018

The co-ordinator of Greenwich borough’s leading cycling group has said he does not want to go out in his bike any more because the streets are so dangerous for cyclists.

Neil Robertson, the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists, which is part of the London Cycling Campaign, told councillors the only way to make more people cycle was to to make streets safer.

His admission comes as levels of cycling in Greenwich borough have dropped – from 2.2% to 1.7% over the past year – despite an ongoing campaign by the council to get residents onto two wheels.

Earlier this year, two men were killed within weeks of each other on the A206 in east Greenwich, fuelling demands for a protected cycle lane along the main route between Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich. Oliver Speke, aged 46, was killed after he was struck by a lorry on 9 May on Romney Road, Greenwich; while Edgaras Cepura, 37, was killed in a collision with an HGV a mile east at Woolwich Road roundabout on 18 May.

Asked at a scrutiny panel meeting what one thing Greenwich Council could do to encourage cycling, Robertson told councillors: “You’ve got to make the roads safe. People won’t cycle because it’s not safe. I, as a cyclist, have got to the point where I don’t want to go out on my bike because another lunatic will close-pass me, or park in the way, drive in front of me and then stop – you need safe cycling routes. Then you’ll get people cycling. Then you’ll get healthy people, then you’ll reduce the cost of the NHS, you’ll reduce all sorts of problems.

“I was in Belgium last week. It’s beautiful. They don’t have cars in the town centre in Ghent. It’s trams, buses, cyclists, people walking. It’s lovely, it’s quiet, it’s relaxed, it’s healthy.”

Robertson said the council had made “good improvements”, but added: “The the major issue is people’s safety. As we see in the latest report, the failure to achieve an increase is an issue, it’s clear more people are being discouraged and this is clearly due to the hostile streets.

“It’s too dangerous for people to cycle. We need continuous safe routes, There’s no point putting a section of cycle lane in which is fantastic but has a dangerous junction at each end.”

Graham Nash, the council’s assistant director for transport, was also asked to the meeting to discuss the council’s cycling strategy. He said the figure showing the fall in cycling trips was based on interim TfL data which the council was trying to get more information on.

“We’re also conscious that some of our cycle routes have been obstructed, like the Thames Path, and perception of safety is obviously a very serious issue,” he said, adding that end-to-end routes throughout the borough had not yet been delivered.

The council’s own cycle counting equipment had – when the closed section of Thames Path at Enderby Wharf had been removed from the statistics – shown a 5% increase, Nash said.

“Having said that, we are concerned about the drop in cycling levels, and we are working with other London boroughs and TfL to investigate,” he continued.

Nash said there were plans to create a new cycling link between Greenwich town centre and the start of the proposed Cycle Superhighway 4 at Deptford Creek Bridge, while TfL had committed to a feasibility study for extending the route to Woolwich. Addressing safety and bad parking, Nash said the council was moving towards segregating cycle lanes from general traffic.

Robertson told councillors that one quick win would be for planning permissions to demand that a percentage of lorries visiting each construction site would meet the Direct Vision Standard – a test of how much of the road a driver can see, and then to keep increasing that percentage.

But the lack of a joined-up safe cycle network was a deterrent, he added, pointing out placing wands in the road – as Greenwich Council has done on a short section of Rochester Way in Kidbrooke – provides a simple way to create space for cyclists.

“I think Rochester Way is very good,” he said. That cycle lane itself does encourage a lot of cyclists. I see a lady on a cargo bike there every day. But that’s only if where she’s coming from and where she’s going to on is a safe route.

“Wands and paint are a cheap solution but they can work. But we need a set of through routes – north south, east west, that people can join safely.”

He also spoke of the failure to create a space for safe cycling in Eltham High Street, which recently underwent a highway upgrade, because of illegal parking in cycle lanes.

“Every single Sunday, there are half a dozen cars parked in the cycle lane where I have to go out into the line of traffic. Every time I go to the high street there are people parked in the cycle lane. It needs enforcement.”

The committee also heard from Paul Ready, whose Twitter account depicts numerous incidences of dangerous driving on the borough’s roads, particularly close to his home in Charlton.

He said: “My children no longer want to cycle in the borough, they find it’s too dangerous. Would you cycle along the Woolwich Road, where you have to go into the dual carriageway, with your children?

“Or Trafalgar Road? You’ve got railings along the side, you get hit, you get squashed. Or the Bugsby’s Way shopping parks – that’s a terrible place to go. It isn’t safe, and there are a lot of different things you can do to make it better for us.”

One suggestion from Robertson was that Greenwich Council had a councillor who was a cycling champion.

Nash said that cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald was the council’s cycling champion. However, she was not present at the meeting.

  • To take part in a consultation on Greenwich’s transport policies, visit the council website.
  • Part of the meeting discussed how residents could get involved in planning policy. To see contributions from residents’ groups, see this YouTube playlist.
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