The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, in south west London, commissioned design consultant Atkins to deliver a 1.6 kilometre, two-way, segregated cycle track on the riverfront alongside the Thames, going into Surbiton town centre. This has been accompanied by public realm improvements for pedestrians to the adjoining Queen’s Promenade on the riverside. This is part of Transport for London’s Mini-Holland initiative, which aims to provide attractive, safe cycling routes in outer London boroughs.
The improvements were completed about three years ago and the new cycle lanes and the promenade seem to be used quite extensively. The majority of the cycle track has been simply created by annexing 3.5 metres of carriageway on the river side of the road. A series of kerb units has been fixed into the carriageway, with regular gaps to allow the surface water to drain to the existing gullies. At 500 millimetres wide, the units also act as a small buffer zone, helping to separate the cyclists from the traffic. At both ends of the route, however, the cycle track becomes shared with the footway as the space available reduces.
Compromises, omissions, successes
As often happens when trying to introduce segregated cycle tracks into a town centre environment with limited space, compromises have to be made. There is a section where the cycle track takes over the former footway, and pedestrians are signed to either cross the road or use the Queen's Promenade route. Many, it seems, still prefer to take the direct route and walk in the cycle lane. Similarly, the first 100 metres travelling north from Brighton Road are quite constrained, with cyclists and pedestrians having to share a footway that in places is little more than 3 metres wide.
Although Queen's Promenade has lots of benches, the quarter mile stretch of Portsmouth Road into Surbiton has no incidental seating to offer pedestrians a place to rest.
There are a number of existing and new zebra crossings, some with ‘elephant’s feet’ markings to allow them to be used by cyclists, that make connections to the numerous side roads running east off the Portsmouth Road. Several of the side roads, however, have neither zebra crossings, informal crossing places or even dropped kerbs.
Along Queen's Promenade, new walls, seats, ramps and steps interplay with each other to create a variety of connections between the lower level riverside path and the upper level Portsmouth Road. The changes in level and alignments allow a variety of planted beds to intersect these elements and create playful spaces, with inset timber seats and built-in timber recliners.
Perhaps the most important things these access interventions create are breaks in the old riverbank retaining wall and dense planting, which open up views of the Thames and Hampton Court Palace.
The Mini-Hollands projects were designed to help boroughs to improve streets and public spaces to make cycling and walking attractive, safer and more convenient. This scheme has achieved that aim, but with some caveats, particularly in relation to walking and connections for cyclists.
Ian Hingley is co-founder of transport and planning consultancy Urban Movement.