The cyclists’ stairs of Deptford, and other bicycle barriers

Joe’s post on At War With The Motorist about useless bits of the National Cycle Network reminded me of a curious section of the Thames cycle path at Deptford.

In south-east London, most of the Thames Path is also part of the National Cycle Network. Heading east towards Greenwich, it’s NCN4, which runs from Fishguard on the Welsh coast. Between Chelsea and Deptford, you’re riding along the Thames pretty much all the time – but there’s a big gap in Deptford between the Pepys Estate and Millennium Quay, where Convoys Wharf gets in the way.

If you’re heading east, brand new signs take you to a newly-landscaped area as you head off the path towards Grove Street. Follow the signs, and you get to this wonderful piece of cycling infrastructure.

Yes, it’s a set of steps. The daft thing is, there’s a turning just before this which takes you to the same spot without having to take your bike down the steps. Simply turn right from Deptford Strand into Foreshore, down Bowditch and into Grove Street. Yet either Sustrans – which is behind the NCN – or Lewisham Council seems to think cyclists would prefer to get off and walk. Weird.

On the whole, though, I don’t think we don’t do too badly in this corner of south-east London for cycling infrastructure. “This corner” being inside the borough of Greenwich, and precisely a mile from the border with Lewisham. Both boroughs could do things better, and both could learn lessons from each other and beyond. But things could be a whole lot worse – as they are in Waltham Forest and Newham, for example. And between them, they’ve given us the Thames cycle path and the Waterlink Way (which I shall get around to writing about some day, honest). We’re relatively lucky here.

Still, there’s some odd bits. Lewisham Council’s put a lot of effort into improving cycling across its side of Blackheath. There’s a well-used cut-through from west Greenwich, across the heath, past the Princess of Wales Pond, and onto South Row and Kidbrooke Gardens. But if you’re heading from Lewisham to get to the same route, you hit this…

Clang! Yet Greenwich Council manages to block roads to cars, and still let cyclists through…

The tables are turned at Elverson Road DLR station, which sits right on the boundary of the two boroughs. Before the light railway came to Lewisham, Elverson Road itself continued through to the Orchard Estate, and cyclists can still make that journey thanks to a nifty bridge, maintained by the DLR.

On the Lewisham side, getting onto that bridge is nice and easy – a dropped kerb, and a double yellow line to keep the way clear. (You’ll see this also leads off NCN21, another Sustrans-backed route.)

Once you enter the borough of Greenwich, though, you’re greeted with a bent sign, and a dropped kerb which leads… straight into a parked car. While Lewisham remembered the double yellow line, Greenwich forgot.

I understand Greenwich Cyclists are haranguing the council about this – but it’s a reminder that planning for cyclists and common sense can sometimes be miles apart.

Finally, here’s a man in New York’s protest against crap cycle lanes. Ouch. Now, I hope YouTube isn’t blocked in the offices of London’s boroughs, because our planners need to see this too…

PS. If this kind of thing interests you, come along to Street Talks at the Yorkshire Grey, opposite Gray’s Inn, on Tuesday evening. They’re monthly discussions about how to make London better for walkers and cyclists – and they sell good beer there too.


  1. The stairs at Pepys Park are annoying, but at least they have included a ramp on the left hand side so that cyclists can wheel a bike up or down. It’s not a bad solution given the limited space available at this site, and I guess they are planning for when the Convoy’s Wharf path reopens and cyclists will be going straight on along the river. However I usually miss out this bit and take the route you mention; the footpaths in the park are so thick with gravel they are not great for cycling on.

  2. have you tried the bridge over the railway which goes from the golf course on The Waterworks – what was the Essex Filter Beds off Lea Bridge Road? Sorry not to be more precise -the bridge is part of a cycle path – don’t know the name of it – across a big rail depot (used to be called Temple Meads) to Orient Way – and then over towards the Orient Ground and Coronation Gardens. It has some now rather elderly adaptions on it for taking the bicycle down steps

  3. The other prominent bit of the Thames Path that isn’t officially for cyclists runs along the embankment past City Hall. In the morning it’s usually quiet enough to cycle along. Except for the blue-jacketed security guys who tell you to get off. I’ve given up trying to cycle along there (except for the few metres between Tower Bridge and the path to Tooley Street) but it would be great if someone could put a marked cycle route along the very wide embankment there.

  4. In theory, Greenwich shouldn’t need yellow lines there — it’s illegal to park on dropped kerbs, yellow lines or not. They should be ticketing the owner of the car.

  5. Oh, and, cycling in Deptford: Douglas Way is a pretty nice example of streetspace redistribution. Not perfect, but as close as it gets in London…

  6. @Joe there’s almost always a car parked on that side of Elverson Road DLR bridge

  7. Efforts are underway to improve the connection between Deptford town centre and the Hapenny hatch, we hope to see this happening as soon as they have agreed a route that is acceptable to Crossfields residents.

Comments are closed.