You might have heard that Greenwich is in line to get its own cycle superhighway by 2015. A blue, painted streak is due to wind its way down the A200 from London Bridge, through Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford, then via Greenwich and Charlton before ending in Woolwich. So far, there’s no plans to extend it, or join it up with the one that’s planned to run to Lewisham.
But Greenwich borough has its own cycle superhighway which has already had a bit of cash thrown at it, but with a bit of forethought could be just as important – maybe more so – than the one planned by Transport for London. It’s the Thames Path, otherwise known here as National Cycle Route 1. Apart from one short stretch (more of which later), it more or less hugs the river all the way from Erith town centre to the Dome. Or, to put it another way, from beyond Thamesmead to North Greenwich station. The route’s surprisingly direct too – it’s quicker pedalling from west Thamesmead to Woolwich than it is driving.
But it’s been put in place as a leisure route, when with a bit of forethought, it could make a proper link for commuting – getting people from Thamesmead, Woolwich and Charlton to North Greenwich station and the developments at the tip of the peninsula. In the future, Woolwich’s Crossrail station will also be on this route. If the willpower is there, Greenwich Council could have something special on their hands. Because at the moment, the way up to the river is worthy of Crap Cycling In Waltham Forest.
With bus route 472 overloaded, and the Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme long ditched, promoting this cycle path as a simple and safe way to get to North Greenwich Tube station could be hugely valuable. Right around from the Greenwich borough boundary (and from some distance into Bexley, in fact), it’s almost all decent-sized footpaths or separate cycle lanes.
Here’s the path at the Bexley/Greenwich borough boundary – not bad, is it? But in much of Thamesmead, access to the waterfront isn’t actually easy – it’s as if the new town was built with its back to the river from which it took its name. As you head west, a mile-long stretch of gravel path doesn’t make for simple riding through Tripcock Point, the stretch once earmarked for the Thames Gateway Bridge. This land feels untouched from when it was Plumstead Marshes (rabbits are a common sight) and gets muddy very easily.
Improving access from north and east Thamesmead will be important when Crossrail comes along – because it’ll be simpler to cycle down to the planned station at Woolwich than to get to the terminus at Abbey Wood. But from West Thamesmead – remote from the 472 trunk route to North Greenwich, things pick up. It’s easy to ride along and easy to join from here, and through Woolwich. Well, almost – the Royal Arsenal development is bedevilled with these ornate but cycle-unfriendly speed humps…
Things come to a shuddering halt at the King Henry’s Wharf development, with the riverside path blocked by old industrial estates at Trinity Wharf. Cyclists are told to join the Woolwich Road as it enters Charlton, just at one of the points when drivers really enjoy putting their foot down. In the long term, Greenwich Council wants to run the path right the way through to the Thames Barrier, but it has hit a number of difficulties.
But there is an easier way along, through the Westminster Industrial Estate. Unfortunately, the gap between Westfield Street, Woolwich and Eastmoor Street, Charlton is blocked by two posts, placed by the Westminster Industrial Estate’s owners to prevent cyclists from passing. It’s incredible how this cannot be overcome, especially considering Lewisham’s Waterlink Way path from Deptford to Beckenham uses part of a retail park’s road in Catford.
Around the Thames Barrier the cycle path is landscaped, but could do without this particular petty “CYCLISTS DISMOUNT” instruction when crossing a little-used service road…
Up through Charlton, it’s pretty good going through towards the Greenwich Millennium Village. Except it’s a bugger to access from anywhere in Charlton.
Try joining it from Charlton Lane? No chance, you have to turn left and go back on yourself at a roundabout. (Solution – wheel bike across pelican crossing and dive down Penhall Road to river.)
Try joining it from Charlton Church Lane? Technically, you can’t – ahead is for buses only. (Solution, stick two fingers up at the bus only sign and go ahead.)
Try joining it from Victoria Way? You have to take a left-right turn into an industrial estate; ride gingerly through Asda’s car park (as seen above) then emerge onto a dual carriageway. Not enticing. (Solution, do just that, then cross at pelican crossing and take bike on pavement as far as Peartree Way to join paths to river.)
I thought that perhaps, cyclists were encouraged to head down to Aldeburgh Street, just before the east Greenwich flyover. After all, there’s a contraflow cycle lane in the opposite direction there. But that’s even worse – that will simply lead you back on roads towards the flyover, and away from the river. (Solution: take bike across short stretch of pavement by children’s playground at end of Aldeburgh Street to get onto Horn Lane, then join Peartree Way towards river.)
So while Greenwich and Charlton have one of the best cycle routes in London, nobody’s ever really thought out a coherent way that people can join it; and the further stretches into Woolwich and Thamesmead are blighted by the barrier at Westminster Industrial Estate, the gravel stretch by Tripcock Point, and more poor access issues around northern Thamesmead. It’s a gigantic missed opportunity, especially considering the funding that must have gone into bringing this path up to scratch in the first place.
Some of the solutions should be fairly simple, though – if there’s the willpower to put them in place. Like allowing cyclists to ride through the Westminster Industrial Estate, taking out some of those cobble stones, improving the signage and putting in some cycle priority measures. Others are more difficult, but with a mound of empty land at the foot of Victoria Way, there must be room to persuade a developer to put in a cycle route here, for example.
Another example of something dumb is on the route up through the Millennium Village. Who on earth thought square, raised cobble stones – just like the ones on the speed humps in the Royal Arsenal – would be appropriate for a cycle path?
The ride continues. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how 11-year-old North Greenwich station should be a simple spot for cyclists, but is anything but that.