Covid shadow over Lewisham cyclists

  • by

Reflections for anyone interested in the climate emergency, sustainable travel, and improving health and equality.

By any measures Lewisham has had a poor pandemic in terms of improving the borough for people on bicycles. While neighbouring authorities have put down new cycle lanes, installed filters to reduce through traffic, and introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), Lewisham has achieved comparatively little to date. Of the six filters Lewisham installed in March, only three are working as originally envisaged. The LTN in Lee Green has been partially reopened to through traffic, and other schemes are yet to get off the drawing board.

Why has Lewisham fared so badly?

Several reasons stand out. Firstly, because initial funding was part of the Covid emergency everything had to be done in a very short time frame. Inevitably, this favoured boroughs with experience of making active travel improvements, which had “shovel ready” schemes. Lewisham had relatively few schemes ready to go apart from the Lee Green LTN, which is why that scheme became their main focus. Secondly, Lewisham may have been somewhat unlucky. We learnt that a key funding application was missed because of a simple admin error at TfL. Thirdly, the introduction of the Lee Green LTN became mired in negative publicity which ultimately led to the Mayor changing the scheme. Although it should be said that he has committed publicly to extending LTNs in future, and we will continue to hold him to account.

It’s easy to be critical of Lewisham’s attempts to introduce pro-cycling measures, but it should be remembered that there are some councillors who remain committed to the LTN and other measures. It’s not easy making these interventions under such urgent conditions, and significant schemes are always likely to attract opposition. It’s indicative that school streets that have also been introduced by Lewisham are much less controversial, and our hope is they become a permanent feature.

However, if we are to tackle active travel seriously, this will require commitment across the Council, something which doesn’t seem obvious at the moment. Communications need to be improved, as this is generally the biggest issue raised by opposition. Lewisham looked to be floundering in the face of criticism rather than being proactive, both with their communications and implementation. The LTN scheme was implemented piecemeal with poor signage, stuttering information, and PCN cameras that were introduced late then fined individual motorists multiple times.

What can Lewisham Cyclists do about it?

What can we do as activists? There are some positives that lie ahead. Despite the many problems endured by the Lee Green LTN, the principle of reducing through traffic has attracted many favourable comments. Further afield, residents’ groups are raising the prospect of LTNs in their districts. We will work with them to identify schemes and lobby councillors. If councillors feel there is support for improving their area, they will be supportive.

Other funding rounds will come along and we will support anything the Council does to reduce traffic, filter busy roads, and install cycle lanes. We will especially push for the current temporary scheme along the A21 to be enhanced, and ultimately made permanent. This is something TfL are already looking at which was delayed by Covid.

It’s not widely known that virtually all of Lewisham’s funding for cycle schemes comes from TfL. Because of their funding crisis Lewisham effectively lost all the money destined for current schemes. This includes new crossings along the Waterlink Way, and completion of Cycleway 4 (C4) between Surrey Quays and Greenwich. C4 construction is delayed (but is apparently being reviewed by the TfL Streetspace Team), despite the route recently being completed between Rotherhithe and Tower Bridge, meaning there is still a Lewisham-sized hole in the route between central London and Greenwich.

We are encouraging Lewisham to pursue other sources of funding at least to pursue local schemes. We think Section 106 funding from developers might be one source, but so far this hasn’t been forthcoming. Realistically relations between the borough and TfL are critical, and we will continue to lobby councillors and other key stakeholders.

How can you help?