When they go low…

When they go low TFL CS9

So, debate has changed. We all know that now.

Brexit was the warning shot, and then there was Trump…the cheeto-coloured toddler currently President-ing our home country. Politics had been going that way in the States for a number of years, we didn’t see it creep into life here, our adopted home.

So, CS9.

Not a rejected android from the mind of Mr Lucas, rather the plans to build a segregated, two-way cycle path – like those along the Embankment, Blackfriars Bridge etc – along the length of south side of Chiswick High Road and through onto King Street. The full details of the proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 have been blown up and are displayed on our window at the moment. In our usual Irreverent way (one-eyed monster anyone?) we went with the tag Stick it to TfL, asking people to give it a thumbs up or down. Some weren’t sure and have an unsure thumb – or maybe they need a lift?

There were a number of reasons we did this, starting with the very simple fact that we wanted to raise awareness of the proposals. We own a business and live just off the Chiswick High Road, but we were unaware of any plans until they were mentioned to us in passing. TfL sent out letters in unaddressed envelopes (their distribution courtesy of a Rorschach test), there was a press statement, press release etc. It is on their website – which I know we all have in our faves! (Journey Planner and Status Updates don’t count). There have been public events, these were detailed on the letters, so if you didn’t get one…

When we put up the display, we were inundated with people asking what it was about. I know what you’re going to say. Anecdotal. True, but we see over 2,000 customers a week, and around 75% are local. Roughly 90% knew nothing about the plans. On top of that, we’ve spoken to around 30 independent business owners – on Chiswick High Road and King Street – none of them knew a thing. At some point a trend appears.

On twitter we’ve been attacked for our presentation of the plans. This is a tricky one to fathom – do proponents not want too many people to know about it? Do they not want people to look at the map in detail and think about the practical implications of the proposals day to day?

Next, we’ve had complaints that there are too many thumbs going down and then more about the whole ‘Stick it to TfL’ tag (again, if that’s not your sense of humour, we’re probably not for you). To be clear, we’re not telling people how to stick just where to stick.

The overall aim stated by TfL is:…a clearer and safer route for people to cycle in west London, making it easier to cross busy roads and removing through traffic on some residential roads. Changing the layout of many of the roads along the CS9 route would create a more appealing environment for everyone to enjoy. (https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/cs9/?cid=cs9)

To do this on the High Road they are removing pavement (reducing it to 2m at some points), parking, loading bays and reducing bus lanes. This is part of the Mayor’s Healthy Street Approach which aims to encourage walking cycling and using public transport – to make London “greener, healthier and more pleasant” – which sounds nice.

What would also be nice is evidence to back up those claims. We can see how this design helps cycling. But walking? Hard to be a pedestrian when there’s nowhere, or very little space, to walk. Public transport? Bus lanes removed or reduced, bus stops moved, double track cycle way to cross to get to bus stop…hard to see how that one works either.

Straightaway, any opposition is NIMBYism. God, people love that word. Cyclists often say they’re not a homogenous group. Might we suggest this also applies to people with concerns and challenges to the design? What’s funny is that NIMBY was a word created in the 1970s by large American power companies looking to push through development for nuclear power stations in areas of natural beauty like New England. NIMBYism, it could be argued, is environmental awareness at its most basic – giving a damn about what happens on your doorstep. So, it’s odd that proponents of this plan are aligning themselves with projects as controversial (and non-green?) as nuclear power stations, incinerators, waste dumps etc. It’s important to understand the history of words and phrases, just ask Galaxy ice cream.

We’re residents and business owners in the area directly impacted. And, true story, some of our best friends and customers are too. An overwhelming question has been “was this drawn up on Google Maps?” The lack of insight of the area, especially the roads directly off the High Road and King Street, has been staggering to locals, rarely allayed by attending the TfL presentations and speaking to officials.

Yes, they’ve counted cars and they’ve ‘modelled’ (always been a dream of mine), but really? Is an algorithm run on a computer in an office in Southwark any substitute for walking the streets, asking the locals? Have they spoken to residents and business owners? Have they counted the people on the pavement on both sides, at all times of the day and year (hello-December anyone?)

TfL say this is the first time they’ve taken the Cycle Superhighway design down a High Street and they’re ‘feeling their way’ – direct quote from one of their events. Would it not be better to consult before planning? To get some ideas of the requirements of all the unique independent and large businesses, to get a sense of the complicated, historical layout of Chiswick’s (and Hammersmith’s) back streets?

Transforming road layouts is not without impacts, and there are difficult choices to be made in determining the layout for roads on the alignment. For example, our proposed changes would affect travel times through the area for many people. (https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/cs9/?cid=cs9)

These may not be issues that worry you – but they do worry us, both as business owners and as part of the neighbourhood. I suppose we don’t think about how you lawyer, or teach, or project manage, so I guess there’s no reason why you should worry about the sheer volume of deliveries that go to all your favourite shops and restaurants down the High Road, all day every day. With loading bays gone and cars turning having to give way to cyclists – idling traffic is a big concern. Far from reducing fumes, more standing vehicles will increase hot spots of pollution on the High Road and King Street. TfL admitted this at another of their events and strangely, there’s been no modelling of this (I guess they didn’t have time for the casting?) And, just as an aside, residences are also constantly getting deliveries – online shopping in the UK is higher than any other country. And growing.

As the good Dr (Norman, Will) said on stage at the George IV for the Chiswick Calendar debate – this is not a referendum. And he’s right, there are options.

There are some that would have you believe any dissension will lead to the scheme being scrapped. Which is kind of weird, as they say on their website:

We want to hear your views on these proposals during this public consultation. We are actively reviewing ways in which we could change the design and optimise the way roads would operate, and we will consider views submitted during the consultation period. (https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/cs9/?cid=cs9)

If you like the plans and think they’re a work of beauty even Michelangelo would be proud of – by all means vote yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Thumping the desk as you type.

If you’re too scared to say no, or have not looked at the design in detail, why don’t you take a look and express your thoughts? Do you think TfL are lying and will just take it all away? You grew up in North Korea – the haircut should have tipped us, sorry.

If you think that there are things missing (er, bike loops?), overlooked, or just plain wrong with the design – say so! Add your comments, explain to TfL what you would like to see. You can say no and articulate why – then they revise the plan. That’s how it works. And how a consultation should work – they say it on their own website. This is a big picture, long term plan – rushing the build with this second-hand, one size fits all, Boris-hangover approach is short changing us all. Even Trump is auditioning walls (8 to choose from – super excited for the talent round. One will have to do Jenga, right?).

As people not alien to being judged, we’ve always tried to operate with a little compassion. Middle aged men screaming “Murderer” at us because we want to discuss the specifics of a huge logistical change to our home and place of business? That’s out and out adopting the tactics of Trump and Farage. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Exclaiming on Twitter that any cyclists who don’t like, or are intimidated using, Cycle Superhighways are ‘lying’ or ‘losers’ – see above. Heard of empathy? It’s a bit out of fashion at the moment. We’re hoping for a revival.

And, if on a Friday night, the only thing you have to do is goad us on twitter and then delete your tweets when we call you on it? Well that’s just #sad.