Greenwich and Lewisham councils will open streets for walking and cycling

Social distancing banner in Maryon Park, Charlton
Greenwich Council has placed banners across the borough imploring people to keep their distance – but in many places this is difficult

Both Greenwich and Lewisham councils are considering ways to make their roads safer for walkers and cyclists during the coronavirus pandemic.

With social distancing guidelines likely to be in force for some time to come, and capacity on public transport set to be sharply reduced, cities around the world have been taking steps to discourage non-essential car journeys and create more space for people on two feet and two wheels.

London’s boroughs, who control most of the capital’s roads, have largely been slow in implementing measures such as widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and blocking rat-runs.

Social distancing sign on Bugsby's Way
Visitors on foot to Charlton’s retail parks may find it harder to stay two metres apart in a landscape designed for motor vehicles

The government has loosened rules to make it easier for councils to make changes to roads, for example, removing the obligation for councils to make order documents available at their offices.

This week Hackney has announced it will widen pavements outside supermarkets, Lambeth is creating a “low traffic neighbourhood” around Railton Road in Brixton, and Croydon has announced plans to close rat-runs in South Norwood and Addiscombe, including one route outside Crystal Palace football club’s stadium.

Charlton Church Lane
Supermarket shoppers on Charlton Church Lane find themselves lining up on a narrow pavement

Yesterday, Will Norman, City Hall’s walking and cycling commissioner, promised to “fast track the transformation of London’s streets to enable millions more people to safely walk and cycle as part of their daily journeys”. He added: “We will rapidly transform local town centres on the TfL road network to enable these local journeys to be safely walked and cycled where possible, and work with the boroughs to make similar changes on their streets.”

In south-east London, the TfL road network includes the South Circular Road, the A2 through New Cross, Deptford, west Greenwich and Blackheath, the A20 through Lewisham and Lee, and the A21 through Lewisham and Catford. It also includes the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach and the southern section of Kidbrooke Park Road. Other roads are the responsibility of councils.

Woolwich Road cycle lane
There is no space to cycle on this stretch of Woolwich Road in Greenwich, despite the two cycle lanes

Greenwich’s cabinet member for air quality, sustainability and transport Denise Scott-McDonald told 853 that the council was looking into what it could do. She said: “Social distancing and the reduction in public transport services and capacity has changed the way people are currently travelling around the borough. In response to this, the council is working to implement measures that will help pedestrians and cyclists to observe social distancing while on their essential journeys.

“We are prioritising the need to create more space for social distancing, particularly in key locations where footfall is high, and will be implementing measures to support the increased demand for walking and cycling.”

Victoria Way
Schoolchildren walking up Victoria Way in Charlton have to contend with rat-running traffic and these barriers

Her counterpart in neighbouring Lewisham, Sophie McGeevor, the cabinet member for environment and transport, told 853: “We know that Lewisham residents are walking and cycling more and we want to support them to do that now and in the future. We really welcome the reduction in traffic and improvement in air quality in recent weeks and want this to continue as much as possible in the post-lockdown period.

“Our transport team are drafting proposals for temporary schemes to improve the walking, cycling and social distancing measures in response to Covid-19. These measures include pavement widening, temporary cycle lanes to give more space to cyclists and expanding our school streets programme.”

Stowage, Deptford
Greenwich Council has blocked Stowage in Deptford with planters to stop rat-runners; Lewisham Council has blocked nearby Prince Street to do the same

Residents of both boroughs will know many places where pavements could be widened, including major town centres, although there are also locations outside town centres where shoppers have to queue on narrow pavements.

Other areas suffer from road designs that prioritise cars over pedestrians and cyclists. In Charlton, a narrow railway bridge at Victoria Way, a route to major shops and a school, has fences on either side of the road that reinforce its status as a rat-run for speeding cars – an “improvement” installed only six years ago. In many locations cycle lanes are frequently blocked by parked cars because they are not made mandatory or parking restrictions are not enforced.

But work by both councils in Deptford has shown that simple changes can be made to make life easier for walking and cycling – in Prince Street, by the Dog & Bell pub, and Stowage, next to St Nicholas’ Church, the councils have put planters in place as a quick and easy way to block two rat-runs to cars.

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