Greenwich Park: Where they’d rather cyclists didn’t exist?

Here are some arsey tweets from the police.

What brought those about, then? Well, these “burglars, we’re coming to get you”-style messages (can’t wait to see the same tactics used for ALL car drivers because a few arseholes use their mobile phones behind the wheel) came as a result of Greenwich Park being closed as a through route for motorists, but most of all, cyclists.

The Avenue (the hill which runs into Greenwich town centre) was closed suddenly a couple of weeks ago for repairs to be carried out to repair damage caused by the heavy vehicles used when the Olympic equestrian stadium was being constructed.

LOCOG is coughing up for the repairs, and the all-new road will open at the end of March – which should also be roughly the time the stadium site will be fully back in use, too. So it’s fair enough the road should be shut. And since no pedestrian is going to want to share a pavement with a downhill cyclist (and neither is a downhill cyclist going to want to share a path with pedestrians), then it’s understandable the whole thing’s shut – although whether or not the whole thing could have been planned better is another issue. Royal Parks only gave about a week’s notice of the closure, and seems to have allowed its contractors to dictate the timetable.

The loss of The Avenue only affects car drivers for a few hours each weekday. But it’s a cycle route throughout the day, weekdays and weekends – something which seems to have been lost in the planning of this closure.

So if you’re approaching the park from Blackheath, expecting your normal ride down the hill, what notice are you given of this closure? There’s nothing at all on the paths crossing the heath approaching the park. The best you’ll get is a sign like this on Charlton Way…

Charlton Way, Blackheath, 3 February 2013

…which is aimed at the tiny minority of motorists who drive through the park. If you’re on a bike, a diversion towards Blackheath Village is absurd, and you’ll probably think you can squeeze round the roadworks, which is what you can normally do – bikes being a bit more agile than cars – so you’ll enter the park with no warning signs at the gate, ride down, and then find a rude shock.

Greenwich Park, 3 February 2013

Well, at least it says “please”. But if you’re in a hurry, you’ll probably think you can get around this by nipping down the pavement – or, as the cyclists in the picture above did 30 seconds after I took the photo, riding down the other footpaths. And then that leads to the unpleasantness and bad feeling and, for some, £50 fines.

Yet if some warning signs had been put up before people cycled into the park expecting to ride down the hill, pointing people towards diversions, perhaps there’d be less need for the arsey messages, and fewer £50 fines. But even in Greenwich Park, the supposed needs of a tiny group of car drivers outweigh those of the hundreds of cyclists for whom this has become a reliable and safe route to travel along.

This isn’t a plea for special treatment – it’s simply a plea for the same treatment that drivers get. There’s been some interesting discussions going on in Westminster with an all-party inquiry into cycling, which is finding that cyclists are largely ignored when it comes to road planning. In Greenwich Park, cyclists have been ignored when it came to planning the road works, except for sticking the “no entry” signs up.

If a cycle route, which Greenwich Park effectively is (albeit shared with cars for a few hours), has to close, then some proper diversion signs should be put up – like cars get. Then nobody has the slightest excuse for breaking the law. This isn’t rocket science. But I can’t help thinking Royal Parks would rather not have cyclists spoiling their park, which is a shame bearing in mind it’s such a vital route for people from all over south-east London.


  1. They’re not ‘arsey tweets’. And the signs are quite clear, asking cyclists to dismount so they walk down the section of the hill, and resume their journey at the bottom exactly as the person in your photo is doing. It’s not much to ask, and I suspect most cyclists are perfectly happy with this arrangement and wouldn’t want a massive diversion just so they didn’t have to walk a few hundred yards.

    The law applies to everyone, cyclists included, so what’s your problem? You think it’s OK for cyclists to ‘squeeze past’ roadworks and other diversions – even if it expressly breaks the law and endangers themselves and others?

  2. I don’t think Darryl is saying it’s ok and it’s not ok to squeeze past. The road is closed for a reason. The point is though that very rarely will you see road closures without a diversion route for cars. All to often you don’t see them for cyclists. Given the size difference it is a fair assumption that although the road is closed there might be a cycle route available if there is nothing outside the park to say otherwise.

    It’s frustrating when on a bike to find your route closed. It’s even more annoying that if you had known before you got there you could have taken a different route to avoid it.

    As for the fines, it seems a little steep especially if no danger is being caused. It is a good deterrent but from driving and cycling I see far more dangerous behaviour from motorists that goes unpunished. I’m all for getting people to follow the rules but I think there are other things that perhaps would benefit more people if the police targeted them instead. And that goes for all, not just motorists.

  3. There’s an important point here that people cycle because it’s a flexible form of travel. Not as flexible as walking, but it’s more flexible than being in a metal box. So of course, if a road’s being dug up for a short stretch, it’s less of an obstacle.

    But the park closure is an equally big obstacle for hundreds of cyclists and the tiny minority of car users who travel through it each day. So you’d think that a suitable cycle diversion route would be signed, no?

    But instead, it’s the usual trying to pretend they don’t exist. It’s all a but self-defeating, really. I don’t have a problem with people being fined for haring down pavements, scaring the bejaysus out of everyone – I wonder in which language Matthew read the post in – but at least treat everyone else with a bit of respect.

  4. I really do see your point here, Daryl – and you’re right that cyclists haven’t been fully considered, and the police/Greenwich Park could better handle the situation now. However, you also highlight what might happen if they were … “But if you’re in a hurry, you’ll probably think you can get around this by nipping down the pavement” … So it’s probably a good idea that additional signs weren’t used since, correct me if I’m wrong, using pavements (which everyone knows is forbidden) appears to be an increasingly popular tactic fir cyclists on our streets to ‘nip past’ any obstacle to save time.

  5. But if an additional sign in advance of the roadworks – such as on Charlton Way above – told cyclists to go another way, they’d be somewhere else and well out of the way.

  6. I think you’re being massively oversensitive about those tweets, I’m afraid. The Sgt Wilson-style ‘would you mind awfully…..’ approach goes out the window when you only have 140 characters.

  7. How on earth does a sign that says ‘please’ equate to a £50 fine? If there is a fine involved should it not say ‘cyclist MUST dismount, fine applies’. I would not have thought I was breaking the law by riding past that sign as to me it is only strongly suggesting that I should dismount and not that I have to by law. An interesting post on the subject is here,

    Daryl is bang on here when he says roadworks don’t bother taking cyclist into account. The bike lane is usually the first thig to go in roadworks.

    This is just yet another place you can’t ride in Greenwich along with the University grounds and Cutty Sark gardens when in any other country these would be the best place to cycle.

  8. You can cycle around the edge of the old naval college grounds – which is full of pedestrians – but I’ve had security guards try to stop me from using the *road* through the site, which isn’t full of pedestrians.

  9. @ Darryl If you have the right permission (which hundreds seem to have) you can drive through college in a car, bus truck etc but what ever you do don’t cycle. It’s stupid and pointless.

  10. Is it really such a hardship to get off and walk?

    As for the issue of the Naval College, that all sounds a bit dodgy. The road through the middle is classified as a public highway I believe. Obviously it has limited access but there’s no chance someone can try and stop you cycling on it.

  11. Alex, could you read the post again and find the complaint about the road being closed?

    Very interesting how whenever there’s a post about cycling, people read into it what they *want* it to read.

  12. Best place for signs would be by the Blackheath gate — telling cyclists that they should go down Crooms Hill. It can be scary, with parked cars and some oncoming traffic, but it’s what I used last summer during the games.
    Once the Avenue is reinstated it would be a great idea to have a cycle lane clearly marked (maybe in green?) along the road, and not the footpath. That would help alert pedestrians and others to the fact of our existence. There used to be one on the lefthand footpath going downhill, but in the morning that’s full of parents and children going to school — not a good place for a cycle path.

  13. @Steve: You are wrong about them being pavements, when LOCOG are not digging up the road they are technically shared use paths (witness the cycle symbols painted on the Eastern path, and the scars where they have been removed from the Western one). Admittedly it makes more sense for cyclists to use the road (as most do) but they are allowed to use either.

    Personally I think some “Cyclists Please Give Way To Pedestrians” signs would be more appropriate than closing the route entirely. The vast majority of cyclists are perfectly capable of negotiating safely around pedestrians in shared environments. Complaints only ever seem to appear when a cyclist is breaking the rules.

  14. Darryl. Seems to me that you are actually asking for special treatment for cyclists. Luckily I have a proposal that should solve your problem, here goes…

    Ride your normal journey up to the warning boards in the park.
    Get off your bike.
    Walk past the roadworks pushing your bike
    Once past the roadworks get back on your bike
    Continue your journey and try not to lose sleep over tweets that could not have been more laid back if they tried!

    Hope that helps

  15. I agree with much of what you say, treating cyclists as fairly as motorists would be sensible. I also don’t see much problem with cyclists using the road through the Park if arrangements had been put properly into place (shouldn’t be too difficult I’d have thought) I’m sure a compromise wouldn’t have been to hard to sort out in advance.

    But I disagree when you say (as you’ve implied before) that the Royal Parks are anti-cyclist, after all they’ll be allowing cycling for the first time (officially anyway) along Bower Avenue soon. And until recently a blind eye was turned to those cyclists who disregarded the other users of the Park and strayed far from the designated cycle paths – racing down the Maze Hill side or Crooms Hill, for example (and unfortunately it wasn’t just one or two people doing that). Children or even adults may have the shocking audacity to wander unwittingly into the middle of a footpath and, like it or not, you don’t expect fast traffic when out for a stroll in the Park! So a bit of thought from both sides would help.

  16. Oh, are they allowing cyclists on Bower Avenue now? That’s good, I always thought it was strange that it was off limits to them. I think adults should be able to have a leisurly cycle around the park.

  17. Greenwich Park is very cycle unfriendly. One of the only cycle paths is from Vanbrugh Gate on Maze Hill, which runs to the main intersection with the Avenue. The painted cycle path has faded away and has deliberately not been repainted in the post-Olympic reconstruction. There is a small sign on a post at the start and end of the path- eminently missable by pedestrians , who regularly stroll with baby buggies etc in the cycle path when the whole path is free of other people.
    I remember the daft gate that Royal Parks briefly put up just inside Vanbrugh gate entrance a couple of years ago, expressly to deter cycling. (It didn’t last long only because of repeated complaints from mums who couldn’t get their pushchairs through it.)

    I’ve always felt that royal parks would like to ban cycling entirely in the park. I cycle through the park to reach central Greenwich from the Standard/Charlton area as the roads are busy, scary and steep for older, slower cyclists. Maze Hill, Shooter’s Hill, Crooms Hill aren’t fun – they’re also a lot harder to cycle up than the Park Avenue.

    The current Avenue closure could have been better handled. eg cyclists and pedestrians share one side of the pavement mon-fri and pedestrian-only on the other side.

    Separate, but linked issue – what a pity no cycle path was created running alongside Blackheath (the fields used for the Olympic horse stables) on Charlton Way. At weekends, when parked cars line the Park wall, cycling in that narrow 2 way traffic is dangerous. The only alternative is the narrow cycle path on Shooter’s Hill itself, which is strictly for those with a death-wish.

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