Cycle Superhighway 11 is dead

Cycle Superhighway 11, and with it Sadiq Khan’s entire walking and cycling policy, is effectively dead today.

The key element of the plans by the last mayor – approved by 60% in public consultation – has been dropped.

This was to close four of the eight gates to Regent’s Park for 20 hours a day, seven days a week (13 hours more on top of their existing midnight-7am closure) to prevent the Outer Circle being used as a rat-run for speeding cars. See this map.

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You would still have been able to drive into or out of the park at any time, and its residents would have had special access. But it would have been impossible for any non park resident to drive through it in the north-south/ south-north direction, by far the main rat-run axis. Regent’s Park would have gone back to what Nash meant it to be, a place of recreation and tranquility.

It would have benefited the millions of non-cyclists who visit the park every year. It would also have provided a highly attractive low-traffic cycle route from Swiss Cottage to the West End, taking thousands of vehicle movements out of the whole area as more people switched to cycling. The closure of the gates, and the removal of rat-running in the park, is the only thing which makes CS11 a meaningful route.  But a nimby minority is vocally opposed to losing their rat-run.

Sadiq’s new plan, I have learned, is to close only two of the four gates we proposed – North Gate, 1 on the map, leading from Avenue Road, and Park Square West, 5 on the map – and for only five and a half hours more each day instead of 13 hours more. The hours of closure would be 7 to 9.30 and 4 to 7 on Mondays to Fridays only; there would no longer be any closures of any gate at the weekends.

Two of the three gates in the south of the park proposed for closure under our plan – York Gate and Park Square East, 4 and 6 on the map – will now remain open at all times (except midnight-7am) under the new Sadiq plan. There is also a new proposal to make Hanover Gate in the north-west corner (8 on the map) entry-only during the rush hours.

What this means is that the vast majority of drivers who use the park as a north-south rat-run now will still be able to do so. For much of the day (and all weekend), including the congested school-run time, they will be able to drive exactly as they do now.

In the rush hours, drivers will still be able to rat-run between Hanover Gate/ Gloucester Gate and Park Square East (in the north-south direction) or between Park Square East and Clarence Gate/ Gloucester Gate (in the south-north direction.) During the rush hour the proposals will, in fact, create significantly more traffic than now on some roads in the park, and on some roads outside it too (including, with a certain justice, several of those inhabited by the shrillest nimbies).

Southbound rush-hour drivers wanting to rat-run through Hanover Gate will have to turn left there under the proposals, and go the slightly longer way round via the zoo. Traffic which currently uses North Gate will divert through residential streets to reach Hanover Gate or Gloucester Gate instead. The eastern side of the Outer Circle, and Park Square East, will become much busier.

Throughout his time in office Sadiq Khan has constantly promised to “transform London’s streets for walking and cycling,” to have an “unprecedented focus on walking and cycling,” to make London a “byword for cycling,” and so on.

The easiest place imaginable to keep these promises is surely a park. But no. And if Khan cannot even manage it here – in a scheme with the support of 60% of the public, one of the two local councils, the Crown Estate Paving Commission (one of those which controls the roads in the park), and the Royal Parks themselves – it is very difficult to see him managing it anywhere. This act of defining weakness effectively ends any serious cycling and walking programme in this mayoralty.

City Hall, aware how bad this will be for its credibility, has been trying to find other people to blame – firstly the Crown Estate Paving Commission, which is false and unfair. The CEPC strongly backed the original plan and continues to do so. It is opposed to this new dog’s breakfast, but only, it has told me, because it’s not good enough. Max Jack, its director, says: “We don’t want an unsatisfactory compromise that won’t promote road safety and won’t work for anyone.”

Then there’s Westminster Council, which was in my time the most lukewarm main stakeholder on the scheme and is now apparently against any gate closures at all. Westminster has a terrible record of hostility to cycling and it definitely deserves blame here. Its role has been entirely negative.

But do you know what? When I was at City Hall, we got Westminster to agree to several things, like the East-West superhighway, which they didn’t really want. If the Mayor does really want something, and is prepared to press for it, you can overcome stakeholder opposition. Instead, by delaying any decision for almost two years, Sadiq emboldened the antis and told them he wasn’t interested in the scheme.

Let no-one imagine, by the way, that this abject capitulation will satisfy anybody. The pro-cycling groups are and will be against it. But nor will the antis be satisfied, because the scheme still includes some gate closures and a remodelling of the gyratory at Swiss Cottage, which they hate.

With exquisite political skill, Sadiq and his A-team have now succeeded in changing a scheme which would have done real good, and had 60% support, into to a scheme which will do little or no good, and which has no support at all (including, crucially, from one of the controllers of the roads.) For that reason, what will almost certainly happen is nothing, not even the brief gate closures proposed. CS11 is dead.

“Byword for cycling?” Bye is indeed the word.