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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2017

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cycling

From A to Z and all stops in between

I cycled for the first time in two months yesterday. I’ve been taking the bus and walking, following an unfortunate tumble on Blackfriars Road that resulted in a broken collarbone.

It’s been nice to rediscover the pleasure of reading novels on the bus, or of walking through the mazy alleys of the City. But yesterday I picked up my bike at Waterloo and cycled back to Dog Kennel Hill, along my usual back route.

I remembered why this is such a delightful way to travel. First of all, it’s quick – half the time I’d spent on the bus in the morning rush hour. And my bag is on the pannier rack, so I don’t notice the weight of books or food shopping. But best of all, I revisited places I never see from the bus.

Past the Stage Door of the Old Vic, past clusters of London South Bank University students standing and chatting in autumn sunshine on Keyworth Street. (The buses run along the parallel London Road, where the pavement is crowded with people waiting for buses and everyone is in a grumpy bustle.)

Straight across the Old Kent Road, and then along a short section of cycle path, with a little swerve around the phone box. It would be great to see a segregated cycle path along the whole of the Old Kent Road.

Cycle path on Old Kent Road with red phone box

Past the building sites around Elephant with their chirpy slogans. Peculiar balconies like bay windows without glass have appeared on the block of flats being built at the corner of Rodney Road and Content Street – evoking Victorian mansion blocks, a kind of ‘facadism’ without an original building.

Instead of going straight down Portland Street, I make a quick diversion to the Walworth Road, for snacks supplies from Baldwin’s health food shop. A loop past the Newington Library, sadly still boarded up after the 2013 fire and I’m back heading south on Portland Street, past the almhouses and the place that sells parcel packaging and coffee – I always mean to stop there one morning. Past Nursery Row Park, East Street market and Faraday Gardens.

A sign on the Giraffe House at Burgess Park advertises collage sessions all week. I pop in to say hello. On the table in the centre, there is a huge, inviting heap of pages torn from magazines. On the walls, funny, inventive images of the future made by local children: superstars and chimeras and football pitches.

The meadow by the Burgess Park lime kiln is steeply banked, displaying a rich, messy variety, studded today with purple and gold. It’s always a joy to see, the colour almost unreal on a grey day.

Meadow flowers

Past Caspian Street allotments and Brunswick Park. On Wilson Road, a tree turning red – I stop to take a photo and catch the scent of winter jasmine hidden in a hedge.

Finally, I make it up Camberwell Grove, the steep climb made easier without rush hour drivers nudging my rear wheel – at the moment the road is closed at the railway bridge.

This little journey reminds me of the pleasure of crossing the city under your own steam. The route leads me past a whole alphabet of small personal landmarks. Once I’m on the bus home – especially if I’ve got a seat – I rarely feel like getting off to run an errand and having to wait for another bus. But on the bike I make all sorts of brief stops, say hello to friends, do some essential (or inessential) shopping … I remember how leafy the city is away from the main junctions, my route taking in four parks and avenues of huge plane trees.

Southwark Cyclists have been running a free Bike Train on Wednesday mornings to share this route with people who want to try cycling into central London (reducing to monthly services through the winter – the next one is on 16 November).

I first found the route described here on an LCC map showing the London Cycle Network: it reflects years of small improvements, dozens of interventions that start to make the city more ‘permeable’ to people on foot and on cycles while discouraging motor vehicles from rat-running down back streets. For example, Keyworth Street is closed to vehicles at one end; there is a 3 second advance signal for cyclists at the junction of Webber St and Blackfriars Road; and a light for cyclists to cross Newington Causeway (although it needs a few tweaks). There’s a lot more to do to make the route feel really inviting and safe (as Quietway 7) but on a sunny autumn afternoon, it was pretty nice. Cycle superhighways are very visible transformations – and I love the new segregated path from Oval over Vauxhall Bridge. But the best thing about cycling is that it’s not just about getting from A to B, but also B, C, D … X, Y and Z.

Bike your way IN to history

Ever wondered about the names of Calais Road, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill or Delft Way? Did you know that Camberwell had a thriving German population in the 19th century, supporting bakeries, a German church and visiting composers? Or that a community of French Huguenot refugees settled here? Have you spotted the Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Camberwell New Road? Ever bought Cypriot pastries in SE5 or French chocolate in SE15?

In June 2016, participants on a cycle ride led by Eleanor Margolies uncovered the European history of Camberwell and Peckham. They began under Peckham Arch, cycled to look at the mural of the ‘Camberwell Beauty’ butterfly (an immigrant from Scandinavia), visited the park that the French Huguenot Minet family donated to the people of Camberwell, looked at the remnants of grand mansions built by German residents (a portico now part of Ruskin Park; the Platanes, now student residences for King’s College London) and ended at the French chocolatier Melange on Maxted Road.

Some of the sites visited were described in a 2007 article for Camberwell Renewal.

 

camberwell-immigration-2007 camberwell-immigration2007b

greenerin

Cleaner Greener Safer – what’s your idea?

Cleaner, Greener Safer (CGS) is a Southwark Council scheme that allows residents to suggest projects. Local councillors draw up a shortlist with advice from council officers. In the past the scheme has funded things like cycle lockers, gardens and street lighting, as well as the beautiful wolf and sheep sculptures of Grove Lane.

On the East Dulwich Estate, we applied for cycle lockers because this…

A bike locked to railings on the East Dulwich estate overnight lost a wheel - not an unusual occurence
A bike locked to railings on the East Dulwich estate overnight had a wheel stolen – not an unusual occurence

…was getting on our nerves, costing us money we didn’t have and putting people off cycling. We’re not allowed to keep bikes on balconies and there’s no room inside the flats – and if you’ve got nowhere to keep a bike at home, how can you cycle to school/work/shops/friends? The result of our application was 20 of these:

Vertical bike locker
Vertical bike locker

They cost £30 a year to rent, to cover maintenance costs. With no advertising, they were rented within a couple of weeks of installation – and residents keep asking for more spaces.

It’s quite simple to apply to the CGS –  you just need a good idea and the support of local residents. Full details here.

If you have a good idea for the CGS but you’re not sure how to apply, then Pete Wood can help. He’s working with Southwark Cyclists, but you don’t have to be a cyclist to get his advice!

In fact, applying to the Cleaner Greener Safer fund might be particularly relevant if you don’t cycle at the moment but have an idea that would make it possible for you to start cycling.

 

 

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