Strand-Aldwych: Great! But what about cycling?

Westminster City Council’s consultation closes today for its hugely significant project on the Strand/Aldwych gyratory. This bold scheme will remove motor traffic from the Strand to create a people-friendly pedestrian and cycle zone, surrounded by historic architecture and greenery.

What’s our take as Westminster Healthy Streets on this bold new plan? Well, it’s mixed. First, we’re very excited about the plans to remove traffic and reclaim this stretch of the Strand - with its iconic buildings like St Clement Danes church and Somerset House - for people to relax and move around away from the noise and fumes. It’s the most ambitious reclamation of road space in Westminster since the north side of Trafalgar Square was pedestrianised.

But there is a spanner in the works: where are people supposed to cycle? Before Covid-19, the Strand-Aldwych gyratory saw 2,000 bike journeys per day, despite the hostility of the roads, so it is clearly a useful, direct route for bikes. Lockdown has since produced many new and returning cyclists, who need safe routes to feel confident to keep cycling. But after this scheme is built, anyone riding east-west will have to choose between Aldwych - with four lanes of motor traffic, parked vehicles on both sides and no protected space - or the Strand, thronged with people on foot. The first will be off-putting and dangerous and the second will cause conflict and stress to both walkers and riders. This may well lead to the council restricting cycling on the Strand as well.

Semi-circular Aldwych will become two way, with four lanes for motor traffic and no cycle tracks

Looking at the bigger picture, ignoring cycling here is more than a minor oversight. First, in this age of social distancing and reduced capacity on public transport, provision for cycling is more urgent than ever. Second, while Westminster say they are committed to reducing air pollution, this is a huge missed opportunity to enable more journeys to shift to cycling. How will this help Westminster meet its target of going carbon neutral by 2040? And finally, new government policy requires councils to put walking *and* cycling at the heart of their highways plans - with safe, joined up, borough-wide cycle networks - which this scheme disappointingly fails to do.

So, in brief, we warmly welcome the plans for a traffic-free Strand, but we urge Westminster City Council to urgently review cycling provision on these streets. Having introduced miles of pop-up bike lanes this year to help people travel during the pandemic, can it act for cycling here?

  • On the Aldwych, permanent, protected cycle lanes should surely take priority over parking spaces; removing parking on the south side could allow for a two-way cycle track, for instance.
  • On the Strand, access to the pedestrian and cycle zone will need to be designed well to reduce conflict. The two toucan crossings which appeared in the February 2019 design would help eastbound cyclists enter and enter and exit the zone safely, but it's not clear if these are still planned.

These measures would improve the Strand-Aldwych design and help fulfill the council’s responsibility to provide a safe, attractive cycle network for all ages, moving towards the less polluted, climate-safe Westminster we all want to see.

Do you agree? Tell Westminster City Council at before midnight on Wednesday 9 September.