Joanna spent Monday, 25th February 2019 in Enfield listening to independent traders about their experience of the Mini-Holland scheme along the A105 through Palmers Green and Green Lanes then on to Winchmore Hill. This is her report.
What they told me wasn’t a surprise – traders have been saying out loud what TfL doesn’t want to hear: badly thought-out dogma-driven cycle schemes on shopping streets are bad for business. If they are bad for business, in an area noted for its independent shops and wide pavements, they are bad for residents. What will Chiswick become? Yes, a ghost town.
I was in Enfield for five hours, between 11am and 4pm, with a local resident who shops in the area and agreed to introduce me to local traders to ask the about the impact of the Mini-Holland scheme. We spent our time walking along various parades of shops in between sections of housing. It’s about as close to Chiswick High Road’s retail character as it’s possible to be – a main A road with numerous residential side roads off it and with many independent shops, cafés and restaurants along the route. As with Chiswick, residents walked to their local shops but also came by bus or car. If there were any differences, it was that Enfield’s local independents seemed more edgy than ours. The cycling scheme is different, too – a mini Holland scheme rather than a cycle superhighway – but the effects, as anyone could see, would be the same.
In those five hours we saw 12 people cycling. Twelve. Interestingly, two of them were cycling the wrong way along the cycle path, one of them crossing from one side of the road (where he was cycling in the right direction) to the other (where he carried on in the same direction, against the direction of the lane). Although different from what is planned here in Chiswick, with a proposed twin-track segregated superhighway, it provided more evidence that cyclists will do whatever they wish even when they have what they say they want. (What they want in Chiswick is any cycling infrastructure for the sake of the free money that will pay for it, not cycling infrastructure that would work for local residents). Of the 12 cyclists only one stopped outside a shop. He went in for about 20 seconds. I can’t imagine how much he spent in those few moments but unless he threw a stash of cash at the owner it can’t have been much and certainly not enough to keep a business going.
Our sightings were not untypical. Shop owner after shop owner told me that cyclists had not visited their shops. One said he had not been visited by as many as we’d seen on the cycle path that day – twelve – in a year. These linear cycle schemes do not help residents who want to cycle to the shops; they help people passing through. And there aren’t even many of those in this part of in Enfield.
Other comments confirmed the fears our independent traders have about the impact of the construction of CS9 and after work has finished: shops will lose significant levels of business during construction; many shoppers will change their habits permanently; the loss of pavement will put off previous regular shoppers and new customers; there will be accidents; cyclists will not stop and shop; it will reduce employment; congestion will increase; pollution will increase including on side roads and new rat runs.
I talked to 10 owners of independent retailers, almost all of them with similar independent equivalents in Chiswick:
- a natural health and supplements shop
- a pharmacist
- a patisserie/café
- a contemporary furniture shop
- a locksmith and supplier of safes
- an interior design shop
- a homeware accessories shop
- a delicatessen
- a men’s clothing and accessories shop
- a decorators’ merchants shop
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Shops will suffer. Of course they will suffer.
“As soon as work started further along the road, trade started shifting. Business went down by 20 per cent in the first month. It was down by 18 per cent in the second month. I lost £20,000 in sales. It recovered slightly during the fourth month when locals started to come back but my trade customers had gone elsewhere; their habits had changed. They are beginning to come back but with no thanks to the cycle scheme – trade customers drive vans. I have had to expand my range and stock different products – we were very close to going under – in a business that had evolved over time. The scheme has brought several changes for the worst – they took out some of the street lights and now cars collide in the middle of the road. Junctions have been altered. You must look at what gets removed – if you take out pedestrian refuges, you lose footflow. It will stop people from crossing. The designers were incompetent. It was designed on CAD; no-one did a walk-through until just before construction. Shops will suffer. Of course they will suffer. Pavements are narrower and down to the recommended minimum – what they can’t do, they will fake the effects; they skim an inch or two to favour the bike lane. In the judicial review, our case was put across very, very badly. TfL said that this would be experimental and they would evaluate it. The experimental orders were never issued. The judge was lied to. As for cyclists, I’ve seen a few kids doing wheelies. Look at the bike hoops! They are empty. The scheme hasn’t brought anyone new to us and it never will as the cyclists don’t exist. I don’t receive any extra trade. Nor do I see any extra cyclists.
I understand it has to be safer for cyclists but the pavement is too narrow for pedestrians.
“The impact has been quite bad especially during the work. It took a lot of people away. In six to eight months they developed new shopping habits – they’ve gone. Some have come back but business is still 20 per cent down. There is not enough parking. The loading bay arrangement is not enough. In theory my drivers can stop – there is a loading bay across the road but it’s usually occupied by McDonald’s. It’s similar at the loading bay at Poundland. And I feel ashamed that there are so few cyclists.” Does he have any new customers who come by bicycle? “No! Not at all! By now, nine months later, it should be in full use. And I’ve been shocked,” he continued, “Some of the cyclists passing by are so aggressive. I understand it has to be safer for cyclists but the pavement is too narrow for pedestrians.” “I agree with you,” said a customer in the shop, overhearing our conversation. “Why have it in Green Lanes?” the trader continued. “Is everyone’s destination in Green Lanes? No. So why is the cycle scheme here?”
Elderly people have had accidents. They come in with cuts and bruises.
“It has affected our business. We were hoping that cyclists would come in but there aren’t any and they haven’t. It started during building. Customers preferred to park somewhere else and that changed their habits. Business is down by 50 per cent. They are just not walking in. Also, as I’m a pedestrian, I see that cyclists don’t stop at red lights but go through them. Nobody takes any notice. And they are really rude – even though we have given them quite a lot of space! Elderly people have had accidents. They come in with cuts and bruises. About three months ago, a pedestrian fell off the edge and hurt himself. When cars have to pay road tax, have number plates, etc, you can identify who has caused accidents. How do we identify cyclists in an accident? They have priority over everyone else!” A key member of staff adds, “My husband had an accident with a cyclist. She was rude, saying “Why are you crossing my path?” but you have to cross the path to cross the road. Why can’t cyclists be slower?” Another explains that it has added an extra 20 minutes to her journey as she gets stuck in traffic slowed down by the scheme then by trying to find somewhere to park as parking has been reduced.
We haven’t had any new customers – and no cyclists. They don’t stop and buy.
“There have been too many accidents. We’ve had to call an ambulance twice. A third time, a customer was grazed. There was a petition about customers who were hurt including when coming from the loading bay opposite. If a pedestrian has a buggy with shopping, no-one can pass. It’s the biggest waste of money. During construction our business halved. Some has come back but we haven’t had any new customers – and no cyclists. They don’t stop and buy. And they are very rude to people trying to cross the cycle path, very aggressive. Parking is a big issue. Loading is at the back. Residents are now asking for a CPZ in side roads – because there are many fewer spaces – which will kill business. I’d lose half my staff as they all need to park. Bulk-buy customers – we do a lot of big events, weddings and parties, which means big boxes – can’t park as the parking is too far away from the shop. We are trying to rebuild our business by marketing special offers, offering half price patisseries, to bring customers back. We are 13 miles out of London – we don’t need this scheme here.”
The damage is permanent.
“It’s a foregone conclusion. It will go ahead regardless of what the residents say about it. They do the consultation to appease people but have already made up their minds. It’s a pointless exercise. The contract for the construction was already issued – three days after the consultation started. There is factual evidence against the scheme. It’s here for life. There is a lot of underhandedness going on.” (This refers to the fact that, at judicial review, TfL said it would bring the scheme in as a trial so the application for an injunction ruled in its favour (against the applicants) believing it could be reversed if it failed; the trial order was never made; the scheme was installed as a permanent scheme from the start.) “They did not consult businesses about the CPZ nearby yet they know parking is a problem for retailers. We were told that construction outside our shop shouldn’t be more than two weeks. The sign said one month. After four weeks the sign came down but there were still JCBs parked in front of my shop. It dragged on. Three months later there was a bit of human activity. A 92-year old tripped on an orca and was found lying in the road. I’ve been crossing this road all my life and knew it wouldn’t work; locals want the orcas removed. My turnover is down by £72,000. I got a 10 per cent discount on business rates for the three months of construction but the rate review implied it would be for a year. The damage is permanent. Mine is a destination business – people don’t buy furniture if they can’t see it and try it – so many avoided the area and they haven’t come back. Plus they’re put off by the traffic calming, ie congestion, and misleading information about parking – it has been increased by 30 spaces but they are all at McDonalds. Bus boarders [arrangements for getting on and off buses, alongside the cycle path] have increased congestion. Promoting cycling is one thing. Forcing people to cycle is unrealistic. If there aren’t shower facilities when they arrive at work, they won’t cycle. Whoever designed it is a lunatic; it’s designed for accidents. And look at the beautiful public realm ‘improvements’! They now look disgusting. They moved my loading bay, which has seriously compromised my business, and I get a lot of calls from potential customers saying they can’t park. My customers inevitably come by car. No-one buys furniture on a bicycle.”
I had to reduce my staff as the shop was so quiet and another left as he could see the way the business was going.
“During construction it hit shop turnover – we know in that year it was down by £40,000 when we would have expected it to go up by £15,000, based on year-on-year increases. Building it took ages to do, not surprising as they were on a day rate – there was no incentive to complete the work. Meanwhile, I had to reduce my staff (I lost one and a half staff members) as the shop was so quiet and another left as he could see the way the business was going. Business has recovered to some extent but is still around 10 per cent down. I’ve had to increase my business-to-business marketing but that has its downsides – major companies don’t pay for three months so I’ve had to target smaller businesses; it all takes longer and costs more. I’ve had to borrow more as I have fewer cash sales; cash flow has been hit hard. Footfall fell hugely during construction. Our trade customers are battling on despite the parking problems but it has meant we have had to get more and more specialised. I’ve probably seen half a dozen people cycling here to buy and fewer locals come – they park at Sainsbury’s and get what they want there. The road no longer carries the same traffic – they all use rat runs on local roads.”
There has been a huge drop-off in people visiting the area. They got out of the habit during the year it was constructed. It was dirty, inaccessible, noisy and ugly.
“It would have been devastating if we hadn’t upped our game. There has been a huge drop-off in people visiting the area. They got out of the habit during the year it was constructed. It was dirty, inaccessible, noisy and ugly. My shop is on a corner, a curve; we need interesting windows to bring people in. The rent was pretty high as it was (I emphasise ‘was’) on a good parade. Now it’s an expanse of ugly concrete. It couldn’t be uglier – there are 10 surface treatments right outside my shop. And we are in the business of making things beautiful! This area is 100 years old. It has evolved and it’s linked. It’s the wrong scheme for the area. Traffic gets stopped behind buses. I’m a non-driver – I’m a cyclist – and it’s obvious people will be knocked over. The road is too narrow. If done properly, a cycle lane is not a bad thing. The timescale of the work was a big problem. And there was no compensation. I have survived partly as I have a second shop and I’ve taken on two more staff to do our marketing, including on social media – I need both to sell the same amount of business as before. I’ve had to wildly increase our costs. In the last year, two prospective clients have come by bike. I haven’t seen any cyclists today – and there are no bikes parked at the bike racks. My shop has been featured in the V&A because of our windows. My window was damaged by people working on the cycle path. It’s taken months to sort out and TfL has not admitted liability – even though I have photo proof it was done by the construction team – but has offered a payment as a good will gesture.”
People have stopped walking. There is more pollution now, with traffic stopped behind buses.
“The effect has been phenomenally bad on the Broadway. A few businesses have changed hands. One is trying to sell up. We’re all experiencing the same – habits have changed. It took so long to build it, then rectify it, people have moved to shop at places where they can park. Even with a car park nearby, it’s full of commuters. People have stopped walking. There is more pollution now, with traffic stopped behind buses. It was a complete waste of money. I saw an elderly man and woman holding hands as they tried to walk across the cycle path to the road. A cyclist shouted, ‘Get out of my effing way!’ They turn into monsters as soon as they put on the lycra. During construction, business went down by 35 per cent to 40 per cent and it has never come back – yet business rates went up at the same time. We also lost electricity over a weekend, when they cut the cable, and I had to be here throughout. There was no compensation. It was a TfL scheme but they used contracted-out workers; there was no sense of responsibility. It won’t work. The orcas are a problem – people have had their car tyres shredded. The main question is, “Where does it go to? Nowhere.”
It has increased pollution – and has pushed pollution to the side roads – and is for people with an agenda who are anti-car.
“One deliverer, forced to push a loaded trolley from a distance, on the other side of the road because our loading bays have gone, fell on the kerb and broke his leg in two places. After construction, the changes went on forever. I don’t think the cyclists like it either as it’s not consistent. Everybody hates it. The council is just ticking boxes. They do the consultation but don’t listen to what everyone says. It’s the same with the rubbish. The impact during construction was huge.” A customer interjected, saying, “I hate it. I’ve lived here all my life. Cyclists say it’s dangerous and that they can go quicker on the road.” “During construction, business went down 30 per cent to 40 per cent at least. It picked up a bit but it’s gone down again and is 20 per cent to 30 per cent down. A lot of customers came by car as ours is a destination business. Now they don’t come any more. It has increased pollution – and has pushed pollution to the side roads – and is for people with an agenda who are anti-car. Yet we want people to buy cars for the UK economy. It’s hypocrisy. Now it’s so awkward. Cars are parked next to the bike path; there is no place to stand. I’m trying to sell the business but it’s hard to sell as everyone knows the negatives of the bike scheme. There are so many other issues. The slope of the bike path – it’s on a camber – means the bike lane is at an angle and awkward to cycle. They should have cut it into the road. Plus rain drains into the flower bed which gets waterlogged. The cobbles collect fag ends. And there’s no parking which has affected so many businesses including the post office.
Business was 50 per cent down during construction and it’s 30 per cent down now.
“It’s terrible. You can’t park. Construction went on for ages. No-one could pull up and cross it. I lost 10 to 15 sales a week – at a cost of £1,500 to £2,000 a week. If they do come it’s because they can find a space but it’s random. Business was 50 per cent down during construction and it’s 30 per cent down now. There were no concessions. I have to stay open later, till 8.30pm, but half the parking spaces are taken by traders so there aren’t enough for customers. I have empty shops on either side of me. One went bankrupt. Rent and rates are too high. And cyclists do not stop and shop – not one. Professional cyclists don’t use it.
NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE
There were stretches of pavement where waste bins, essential street furniture and retailers’ A-boards have to be squeezed into a much narrower area, reducing space for pedestrians. Yet, retailers need, and more than before, to advertise their businesses; passers-by need to be encouraged to use bins rather than throw their litter to the ground; and everyone – walkers, drivers, cyclists – needs road signs to identify where they are and where they need to go. Reducing Chiswick’s pavements will make walking on the south side of Chiswick High Road an unpleasant and difficult task. Many won’t bother.
Drainage is extremely bad in some places. One significant stretch of cycle path tilts on a camber. Rain inevitably drains downwards where there are either no drains or drains that can’t cope with the quantity of water, flooding nearby shops. Although most of Chiswick’s pavements are on flat ground, this example shows the designers’ and contractors’ incompetence at understanding and managing the local landscape. What will it mean for the superhighway? Will it be flooded or will rain be slow to drain away, putting off cyclists who need to know what they are cycling through (water might hide broken glass, slippery leaf-slush, drain covers, potholes) so they prefer to cycle in the road? Won’t that make CS9 a white elephant?
Construction in phases means that businesses further along, not only at the construction site, will be disrupted. There will be less road space for drivers who will be put off and go somewhere else. Pedestrians, understandably, won’t want to walk through an extremely noisy, dirty and difficult to pass construction site. Through-route cyclists will find other routes (perhaps they will discover the value of the A4 as a cycle route or, be warned, race along side roads). Business will decline putting our local independents at particular risk given that the don’t have the economies of scale, national marketing, brand recognition and other advantages from which well-known brands benefit.
In short, CS9, if implemented, will devastate shops, cafes and restaurants on the south side of Chiswick High Road. It will turn Chiswick into a ghost town. It must be stopped.
Construction seriously affecting business
Congestion during construction
The red lines indicate the route a fire engine must take to turn into a side road
Before the Mini-Holland scheme was installed
After the Mini-Holland scheme was installed
The route floods (three photos below)
A closed shop
Another closed shop (the above shop’s twin, part of a pretty facade that adds character to the area – or did)
Not much space for walking – and look at the relationship of road, edge for standing on to cross, cycle path and pavement (that’s my shadow at the bottom, for those who doubt I was there)
Cycle path moves from road to pavement adding confusion
Cycle path on the pavement showing the narrow edge between it and the road
A crossing point (and my shadow)