|Here we go, into the radical redesign of Clapham Old Town on the new cycle-friendly pathways....sort of.|
What's more, this year's weekend - on the 16th - 17th September - is the 25th anniversary of Open House London, which took a brilliant, simple idea and made it happen: why not open up interesting buildings - however grand or however modest - to the public, just for one weekend in the year?
This year's catalogue includes a great Top 25 of the most popular buildings it has featured over the years - the perfect trigger for debates. It also includes several topical essays on the big issues facing the city now, notably affordable housing, transport and traffic congestion, and accessible open spaces.
As a creature of bad habit I turn immediately to my local borough - Lambeth - and find amidst a well-stocked selection of local treats, this slightly curious entry in the Walks & Tours section:
"Clapham Old Town and Venn Street: This guided walk...looks at a radically redesigned public realm which re-balanced the street environment in favour of the pedestrian and cyclist..."
This refers to the recent tarting up of the old Polygon area which was commented on by this blog back in 2014.
|So here you are at the end of Bromells Road. Cars have to turn|
left across the pavement. No signs to say what bikes should do,
even though a bike path starts just across the road...
Well, the patch of artfully sown wild flowers at the northern tip of the Polygon (or is it "piazza" now?) is gorgeous. The new public space around the Polygon and Rose & Crown pub is certainly neat and tidy but to be honest it's a bit sterile. Especially now that the old public toilets have disappeared behind hoardings.
There are a few of those metal chairs scattered around, single seaters which look like they were designed to give bankers who have just been told their bonuses are frozen, somewhere to sit and contemplate their futures.
There's a very celebrated upmarket restaurant, a trio of pubs (if you include The Sun and The Prince of Wales across the road) and...well, a couple of cafes, also over the road...but not much else.
As for it being more cycle friendly: well, how, exactly?
After a couple of years of trying to get to grips with the remodelled and supposedly bike-friendly traffic flows, they still seem at best puzzling, often confusing, and in some places downright dangerous to both cyclists and pedestrians.
|Here it is - so off you go, heading north against the traffic|
But if they're in a hurry, or just typical motorists, there's nothing to stop them going the old way, up past The Sun pub and the local Sainsburys and a load of new flats, then pushing their way back onto the one-way system via The Pavement. It's a new rat run beloved of big white vans and equally big black SUVs.
Originally under the new scheme, as I remember, this road was gated at the northern end, and should have been for resident and delivery access only.
|A few yards on you get to this bit, but no explanation why|
you might want to turn right across the road...nothing!
Mysteriously they have now moved that crossing just 20 or 30 yards further east, past the Starbucks, and just far enough to make it seem an annoying diversion if you're in a hurry.
The trouble is, this road is now two-way and there is also a bus-stand a few yards to the west. There are almost always a couple of 249 double-decker buses waiting there, which completely block the view, making it impossible to see approaching traffic until it is literally upon you. This is so dangerous for all pedestrians.
As for cyclists, well it seems like the cycle route has been sketched-in by some town planner at the end of a long liquid lunch; clearly they all forgot that this bit of the scheme was never fully planned.
Not that anyone expects joined-up thinking from a council that has recently shut down one of the finest, best-loved and most-used libraries in London. (In case you missed the stories, I mean the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill).
But a joined-up cycle route through this complex junction of roads would be good. The route as it stands is, frankly, bonkers.
|If you do cross the road, you end up on this scary contra-|
flow bike lane where you are glared at by drivers of big
black shiny SUVs (and OK, other vehicles too...)
There are no signs to encourage cyclists to use, for example, Venn Street - which looks pedestrianised, but is it?
So the bike lane seems to start quite arbitrarily on the edge of the Common, 100 yards further north, opposite the junction with Bromells Road. This is a one way street with no bike lane. Cars and bikes have to cross the wide pavement to rejoin the road (which, confusingly, is called The Pavement at this point).
Cyclists can then cross the road and get onto a little bit of bike lane going north; but a few yards further on it sends them back across the road and onto a contra-flow bike lane which is frankly scary.
If you follow the cycle path past the above-mentioned wild flower patch, it sends you back west towards the Common - and to re-cross the main traffic flow, this time on a zebra crossing - so
|As you can see, parked cars and oncoming traffic both |
habitually impinge on the so-called cycle lane.
There's a tiny bit of pavement here which has one of those joint use cyclist/pedestrian symbols in one paving slab - but who notices that? And the path is not wide enough for this dual use.
Like you, I hate seeing cyclists charging around recklessly on footpaths - but around here, it's sometimes almost understandable.
Lambeth Council is still open to changing these arrangements, apparently, so let's hope this Open House Weekend walk makes the crazy layout of these bike lanes clearer to all.
Plenty of really great stuff in the Open House programme, though. In Lambeth, the residents of the threatened Cressingham Gardens Estate have organised a tour, as have the residents of the Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace. Both these estates were built in the 60s and 70s; a Lambeth architect, Ted Hollamby, was involved in both; they are both largely judged to be successful in meeting the need for low-rise, high-density, housing - important in the 70s, absolutely vital now.
In neighbouring Southwark, there's a chance to learn more about the Dawson Heights Estate, a place that has always caught my imagination. From the distance, say in Brockwell Park, it has the look of some re-imagined version of a medieval hill-town. Somewhere, in other words, where I always wanted to live!
There's so much to see, and only one short weekend to see it all in! Until 2018.
Meanwhile, September's also the month of the Lambeth Heritage Festival. Plenty of fascinating things are promised: must try to digest all this info, and get along to at least some of these events. Thanks!