Crystal Palace Transition Town Transport Group

The Golden Circle – or What Use Is A Good Quality Cycle Network?

“The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The TfL Quietways programme in this part of South London has so far succeeded in generating rather more in controversy than in actual usable cycle routes. In order to demonstrate the usefulness of a genuinely inclusive cycle network, suitable for all ages, I’ve written this blog to illustrate what such a network actually enables.

The Golden Circle is simply a three mile radius, placed around any point. Such a distance can be cycled by any able-bodied adult, or child aged 7+, in half an hour. This map shows such a circle, together with points of interest – parks, sports, culture, and major rail connections – for the Crystal Palace area, centred on Westow Hill. It is not intended to be exhaustively complete – merely to demonstrate just how much is on offer within a short distance, – in principle, at least, easily reachable by almost anyone, for free, with nothing more than a bicycle.

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(Original map – full view)

Why a 3 mile radius?

Three miles is a distance that, with a little practice, most adults & kids can ride without a break, and is also easy to manage for an adult with younger children in a cargo bike or on a bike seat. At 8mph cruising speed (equivalent to a brisk jog), it means a journey time of half an hour door-to-door, allowing for turns, junctions and traffic lights.

Three miles is a little far to walk routinely (taking over an hour, for most people), but cycling it at a gentle pace is still typically a lot quicker door-to-door than public transport – and not so much slower than driving (especially once you consider finding a parking space) as to be much of a disadvantage.

It’s very much a utility cycling distance – equivalent in effort and exertion to walking just one mile, which most able-bodied people feel is reasonable. A three mile ride leaves you plenty of energy to do whatever you’ve gone to do, and of course make the return trip. It’s not cycling for exercise or for its own sake – the exercise is a benefit, certainly, but a routine and incidental one.

It’s Hip to be Square

Three miles of easy cycling versus a mile’s easy walk may not sound like that big a difference in terms of what you can access. But because it represents a radius, and the places in a big city people want to go (town centres, parks, cultural attractions, public transport hubs etc.) are, roughly, evenly distributed by area, being able to go three times as far means being able to access at least nine times as much Good Useful Stuff.


Push things a bit and cycle four miles instead of three (still quite easy provided you’re not doing anything too physically exerting at the other end), and there’s sixteen times as much as you can access compared to a mile on foot.

The importance of a network fit for 7-14+

From the age of seven, kids should be beginning to take their first steps towards independence. Within living memory, many would have roamed for miles – some older readers may remember doing so themselves.

(Link: Daily Mail).

By the age of 7, kids are getting too large and heavy for most transporter bikes or child back-seats. Younger than that and many will have difficulty understanding the mechanical essentials of bike handling & operating gears; seven is just old enough to learn and put in to practice the fundamental rules of the road needed to deal with even the easiest on-road conditions: road positioning, traffic signals, Give Way lines, right turn priority rules etc..

With a little practice, a child of seven has the strength and energy to handle gentle adult pace (8mph) on a bike for a considerable distance.

Nevertheless, as their judgement is still evolving & their experience limited, conditions must be benign – no more than two or three cars per minute, and 20mph limits that are actually complied with – in order for them to enjoy this freedom. Most of the potentially useful minor road links carry more, and faster, traffic than that. Because these are minor roads, there’s not a lot of room to overtake – most so-called traffic calming does not actually have the desired effect: it is the nature of through-traffic that it does not wish to be calmed.

At around the age of 14, teenagers are able to take “Bikeability 3” training. With this qualification, they have the necessary skills – plus strength, speed, experience and, hopefully, judgement (parents of some teens may question this!) to deal with back-road conditions as they are today. An experienced & properly trained young person of this age should be as competent as many adults, if still prone to the occasional misjudgement – after all, in less populated parts of the world – Texas, Kansas, Alberta – they’re allowed to start learning to drive a car.

So investment in cycling in suburbia should be focused in three ways – on tackling dangerous junctions where the majority of injury collisions happen to today’s adult cyclists; on creating safe conditions on main roads with protected bike lanes where there’s space to do so (it’s never safe to mix cyclists & heavy 30+mph bus/lorry traffic); and in creating a genuinely satisfactory, safe and comfortable network of back street cycle routes, which would greatly add to the liveability of the area – improving health, reducing air and noise pollution and CO2 emissions, allowing kids greater freedom.

Shouldn’t kids cycle on the pavement?

When the current legal framework around cycling on the pavement was established in the early 2000’s, under which PCSOs, Police Officers & various other officials can issue Fixed Penalty Notices for cycling on the footway, guidance was issued by the then-Home Office Minster, Paul Boateng, as follows:

“The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users.

Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road. Sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

This guidance continues to be supported by the current Government – and children below the age of 10 cannot, in any case, be issued with an FPN.

However, the law was made for good reasons, and most of those reasons are relevant for children beyond infant-school size as they are for adults. If we want kids to use their bikes to get from A to B routinely, it can’t, in general, be on the pavement, or life will be made very difficult for the people these laws were written to protect.

From a purely practical point of view – although cycling on the pavement may confer a greater sense of safety, the risk at driveways is not to be underestimated – and, whereas the road itself has priority across minor junctions, the footway does not. This makes for a needlessly slow, energy-sapping, stop-start experience.

On the busiest roads and those carrying significant volumes of heavy vehicles, pavement cycling may sometimes be the lesser of two evils – especially in places with few pedestrians. But in general, on residential side streets, it should be designed out.

What’s on the map?

The Golden Circle map is not intended to be an exhaustive catalogue of every attraction within three mile, 30 minute range. But to give some idea:


Parks: Crystal Palace Park (and its famous Dinosaurs). Brockwell Park, its cultural attractions and BMX Track. Streatham Common & Norwood Grove. Tooting Common. Dulwich & Sydenham Woods. Beckenham Place Park. Dulwich Park – and more than 40 others.

Town Centres: Croydon. Streatham. Balham. Beckenham. East Dulwich. Penge. West Norwood, Tulse Hill & Herne Hill. Brixton.

Cultural & Sports: Four leisure centres with swimming pools. Two outdoor pools. Three museums and at least one major art gallery. Several great libraries, although sadly too many of them are under threat recently. Cinemas, including at least three mainstream and two independent / arts oriented venues (with a third due to open in a year or two). Three theatres (two while Fairfield renovation takes place – but the Churchill at Bromley is only another ten minutes). Two BMX tracks and a skate park, with more of each on the way. The 1948 Olympic Velodrome at Herne Hill. Two very different but equally great football stadiums at Selhurst Park and Dog Kennel Hill.

Public Transport: 

  • Tube connections at Balham (Northern) and Brixton (Victoria – central London in 12 minutes).
  • Norwood Junction with its fast link to London Bridge (12 minutes). East Croydon for Sussex & the South Coast
  • Beckenham Junction for connections to the Kent Lines – fast links to Bromley and beyond.
  • Crystal Palace and Anerley for two Overground branches, or Sydenham to get both of them (a train every seven minutes to New Cross, Rotherhithe, Shoreditch, Highbury etc.)
  • Tulse Hill for Thameslink trains to Wimbledon and the City.
  • Harrington Road for Tramlink connections to Croydon and the Wandle Valley.
  • ,. and a dozen or more useful suburban connections, either in their own right or as alternatives when your first choice is closed for engineering or subject to delays.

All accessible with very high journey time predictability – no more having to leave twenty minutes early because your bus might not turn up or get stuck at roadworks.

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