17 October 2016
Dear Mr Justin James,
Proposed primary and secondary schools on Lea Bridge Road
Thank you for your letter regarding the proposed new schools on the Thames Water Depot site on Lea Bridge Road. We hope that the proposed new school can be designed with active travel in mind and staff and students should be encouraged to walk and cycle. In fact, we believe that the school being located on what will effectively be a new “Cycle Superhighway”, plus next to entrances to the Lee Valley towpath and near the new Lea Bridge Station means there is a great opportunity for the entire school body – all staff, parents and children – to avoid using cars to access or travel to/from the site.
At £18m the Lea Bridge Road cycle superhighway represents the biggest single component of the £27m TfL funded Waltham Forest Mini Holland project, which seeks to encourage greater use of active travel modes, and a reduction in the use of private motor vehicle use. Even though only 20% of the scheme is complete, it has already won a large number of awards for its visionary aims and innovative designs.
The importance of cycling and walking
Active travel is essential to ensuring our young people get the daily exercise they need. Public Health England  say that only 21% of boys and 16% of girls aged 5 to 15 meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity. They emphasise that building walking or cycling into daily routines is the most effective way to increase physical activity.
More widely, physical inactivity directly contributes to 1 in 6 deaths in the UK and costs £7.4 billion a year to business and society. In London, one third of residents – parents, children, teachers, support staff etc – do less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week. The recommended minimum is 150 minutes. Cycling and walking are key to improving health through physical activity but also have benefits to society and the environment. Within Waltham Forest increased cycling and walking is essential to boost levels of physical activity, reduce transport related air pollution and provide affordable transport for many.
Short car trips such as the school run and journeys to work, are a prime area for switching to active travel. These trips are also a major cause of congestion in Waltham Forest and a significant increase in traffic on Lea Bridge Road would negatively impact on safety and exacerbate congestion. An estimated one fifth of all peak traffic is school run-related.
So it’s absolutely vital, given the opportunity the school has because of its location, that the school fully embraces active travel, and actively discourages private motor vehicle trips to and from the school. At the very minimum, access to and from the school across the new cycle tracks must be designed very very carefully to minimise any impact on cyclists using this key route.
Site traffic and road danger
We are most concerned that the new school design could pose a risk to pupils and members of the public cycling if there is significant traffic turning across the Lea Bridge Road cycle tracks. A key feature of the design of these tracks has been to reduce unsafe movements of motor traffic crossing cycle flows, through road closures and high-quality signalled crossings. Without substantial curbs on motor traffic movements in and out of the site, these principles will be seriously undermined. Elsewhere in Waltham Forest, the presence of ‘drop off’ points for those driving their children to school causes severe traffic disruption in the mornings and is badly managed, posing a risk to children.
Even though the former Thames Water depot was responsible for a relatively small number of motor vehicle movements across the existing cycle track, it was considered one of the most hazardous sections of Lea Bridge Road and was the subject of a number of meetings between campaigners, council officers and Thames water officials. Unless motor vehicle movements across the track were to be limited to a small proportion of teaching staff (who would presumably be carefully briefed about how to safely cross the track), we regard the consequential risks of injury to people on bikes and on foot to be high, with the consequential risk of adverse publicity for the school.
In response to the current consultation, we recommend the following points are addressed as the design develops and are included in the planning submission:
- The school should develop an ambitious active travel plan to maximise the opportunities of its location, and maximise the number of staff and students walking or cycling to school. This might include walking/cycling ‘buses’ for students, recommended routes from feeder areas and cycle proficiency training for all students.
- The school’s travel plans should also include restriction of vehicle access to the site, with minimal parking on-site and parking controls in the surrounding area. It could go so far as to copy trials currently ongoing in Edinburgh – where cars are banned from driving into and parking in streets around the schools at pickup/dropoff times (with obvious exceptions for blue badge holders etc.).
- All staff who use motor vehicles to travel to/from the site to have regular training in the dangers they pose to people on bikes, and how to minimise risks of collision at the site. We recommend that any dropping off points should not involve vehicles crossing the Cycle Superhighway.
- All provision for cycling should be designed inclusively to accessible for staff or students who are disabled or with restricted mobility. In addition, the plans must enable parents to bring their children to school using cargo bikes or trailers – a method which is increasing in popularity within Waltham Forest. All routes for bikes should be designed to enable tricycles and cargo bikes to access the schools, and not just ‘conventional’ bikes.
- The school should provide high quality and aspirational amounts of secure covered cycle parking for staff and students, including spaces for non-standard bicycles.
I hope you find this feedback useful and productive.
Fred Smith (Chair)
Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign