Croydon’s Low Traffic Streets as a Cleaner Greener Grid – explained.
In an ideal world there’d be no need for me to write this post.
In an ideal world, the council would have done an adequate job of explaining the road closures around South Norwood, Upper Norwood and Selhurst and how they fit together to help people get around without relying on cars for everything or putting extra strain on public transport.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, so here’s my attempt – as an individual citizen concerned about air quality, physical and mental health, and climate change – to set out why the council are doing what they’re doing, at least to the extent that I’m able to read the tea leaves.
If you’re not familiar with the background issues here, some links that may be helpful:
Why Low Traffic Streets? Article written by pedestrian’s advocacy group Living Streets, Blog post written for the London Borough of Enfield.
Why cycle? All the obvious reasons and some you might not have thought of. Even if it’s not an option for you some or all of the time, wouldn’t you like it to be an option for a wider range of other people?
So how do these specific Low Traffic Streets help people lead greener, cleaner and happier lives in South Norwood and the surrounding area? What are they for?
Why can’t we have safe cycle routes on main roads?
Starting at the beginning. The most direct route from “A” to “B” – and therefore the quickest (and, on an unpowered bike, the least tiring) – is usually the main roads. In an ideal world (that phrase again) it’d be a simple case of installing protected bike lanes on those roads with concrete / rubber kerbs or plastic wands – if you’ve been to Central London in the last year or two, you will have seen how this is becoming the new normal in Zone 1.
In our area, that presents two specific challenges.
First, the hill. That’s something of an inevitability – electric-assist bikes, which are increasingly widely available and affordable in recent years (starting from £429 at Argos – less for some rather questionable imports on Amazon), make it quite manageable even for people who aren’t used to cycling and may not be as fit as they’d like. But breathing lungful after lungful of main-road traffic fumes is not a step in the right direction for health and fitness. [Annabel quote on electric bikes]
Secondly, and most definitively, road space. Here’s a typical main road in North Croydon (the B266 Whitehorse Lane, carrying more than 10,000 vehicles per day).
There’s an ineffective “advisory” dashed-line cycle lane on the left, which is literally narrower than the handlebars on a standard mountain bike, and offers zero protection from the HGVs thundering along this road at 30+mph. On the right hand side, the road is so narrow that residents have been granted an exemption allowing them to park their cars on the pavement (usually illegal in London – not here though), taking space from pedestrians.
Let’s be realistic. There is zero prospect of a safe cycle lane on this road. The same goes for our other busier roads: Church Road. Selhurst Road. Spa Hill. Whitehorse Road. Portland Road.
Just to clarify. You can cycle along here and not die. I’ve done so a bunch of times. But “safe” in the context of cycle lanes means: an adult can use it with a child of 8 years plus; a 12-year-old can use it independently to get to secondary school; an active older person of 75 can use it without feeling endangered and intimated by traffic whizzing past a hair’s breadth away. Would any of those people use Whitehorse Lane as it’s currently configured – or similar roads like Grange Road, Portland Street, Selhurst Road, Church Road?
So the main roads are out. What’s the alternative?
The Cleaner Greener Grid
Simply put – a green grid of traffic-reduced (sometimes called “filtered”) back streets, running parallel with, and perpendicular to, the main roads.
This approach means people on bikes are using a different street network from fast through-traffic and HGVs, with overlap only at crossing points. The result is that they enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of travelling through cleaner air in quieter surroundings.
What does this look like in practice?
Here’s the current state of play at the time of writing (July 2020). The traffic-reduced streets provide a workable Green Grid approximately two miles (or 10 minutes’ cycle) from end to end. Some of the junctions are still in need of safety upgrades for sure, but that’s to be expected with a new scheme built to a minimal budget. There are gaps – most significantly at Tennison Road Bridge – but with time and money we can hope that those may be addressed.
The onward connections outlined above are, in most places, able to meet the “8-80” safety standard outlined above (or involve a short dismount and a couple of minutes’ walk in the case of Thornton Heath High Street and Elmers End Road). The route to Central London via Crystal Palace Park, the recently upgraded Double Roundabout and the high-standard Cycleway 17 is a particular boon to commuters, taking about 45 minutes to get to/from the Square Mile on mostly quiet and enjoyable streets and with the added benefit of park scenery at Dulwich and Burgess Parks.
In more depth
So how do these specific interventions work together? I’ll focus on those sitting north and west of the Selhurst rail depot, as I live on that side of things and have more local knowledge there.
The closures here are similar to those used for match day crowd management, with an additional one near the junction with Oliver Grove. This joins up with an existing quiet-ish route down to East and West Croydon: under the railway bridge on Dagnall Park (which was closed to traffic years ago but remains open to pedestrians and cycles), and on down Gloucester Road. The major rail/bridge works due to happen on St James’ Road in the next few years is supposed to bring a cycle-able connection direct on to Lansdowne Road, but for now there’s a bridge underpass and a short (50 metres) walk along the A222.
Motor vehicles have a choice of Selhurst Road or Whitehorse Lane, and the various “cross” streets like Clifton and Park roads remain open.
This is a keystone in creating a safe corridor along Lancaster – Auckland – Hamlet roads. Prior to this, traffic would cut between Goat House Bridge and Southern Avenue / Woodvale Avenue at high speed. Southern and Woodvale residents probably suffered the most as their roads are narrower than Auckland – their vehicles were frequently damaged by rat runners, people had their cats run over, there were big problems with speeding and road rage.
With the Lancaster/Auckland corridor calmed, there are connections to the Holmesdale Road corridor via Southern Avenue, and to Regina Road (as with Dagnall Park, this one was closed to traffic back in the 90s/00s) which links up to South Norwood Country Park, Albert Road and various onward links – including the utterly fab Waterlink Way leisure route
At first sight this one seems illogical – but when Lancaster Road was closed, rat-runners immediately diverted from Lancaster on to Avenue Road and the southern end of Warminster. I don’t know why they didn’t just put in a single closure point where Lancaster Road meets Goat House Bridge (would have created less of a sense of Lancaster Road being cut in two, and allowed Warminster residents a bit more flexibility on ways to get in and out to South Norwood Hill), but when there’s an “obvious” answer and the authorities choose differently, it’s usually because they know something that we don’t. I have no idea what that something is
I don’t completely understand this one, to be honest. Possibly has more to do with creating space for people to get in and out of South Norwood Lakes instead of crowding the gate and pavement. It doesn’t appear to be part of any cycle grid, but as it was quiet to begin with with Warminster providing an equivalent and also fairly quiet east/west connection a few yards away, it doesn’t appear to inconvenience anyone. It’s nice for the families living in flats long Avenue Road – gives their kids space to play out without having to worry about traffic coming around the blind corner.
Auckland Road / Cypress Road bus gate
This is the newest installation at the time of writing, and allows the 410 bus to proceed on its usual route, while not allowing traffic to cut through from South Norwood Hill towards Church Road (avoiding the lights at the top of the hill) or towards Anerley. It’s essential to making Auckland Road safe to cycle on – or even walk: a council funded speed survey in February 2019 recorded more than half of all cars breaking the 20mph limit (median speed 23mph), 15% doing more than 30mph, and some doing as much as 70.
It’s slightly incongruous in conjunction with the very popular and successful Cypress Road “School Streets” – the council should look at extending the permit exemption for the School Street a little further south along Auckland Road and to include High View Close.
As the route is hopefully extended north, this connects up nicely to Crystal Palace Park, which is the start of a very nice quality commuter cycle route to Central London, via Dulwich Park, Dulwich Village, Green Dale and Burgess Park. It takes about 45 minutes to cycle this route all the way to the Square Mile – less than that on an electric bike.
Future plans for these routes are unclear – money is painfully tight in Croydon at the moment (Inside Croydon has written about it) – all boroughs have suffered deeply under austerity and from COVID, but our Inner London neighbours have been able to ride the wave of the central London property development boom to some extent, whereas most of what’s planned for Croydon has yet to come to fruition. From what I’ve understood, funding is coming down on a piecemeal, drip-by-drip basis for each individual intervention across tens of boroughs.
However, it’s clear that more is needed: Stambourne Way and Sylvan Hill are now being used more than ever as cut-throughs, and this (along with the jams) is being exacerbated by the two sets of traffic-light-controlled road works along Church Road. It remains to be seen whether they wait for the works to finish or take more urgent action, but Auckland Road north of Sylvan Hill is currently busier than ever, as drivers seek to avoid the queue to get on to the Triangle.
Routes, maps and resources
If this post has piqued your interest and you’re looking to explore some of these streets and the onward connections they offer, I’ve mapped out a few routes to try here:
If you don’t have a bike yet, did you know you can try one from just £20 per month? And £50 per month for electric bikes, £100 per month for family or goods cargo bikes? Compared to the cost of a Travelcard, never mind running a car, it’s a bargain!