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“It’s not a sports venue” – MP urges Richmond Park cyclists to slow down

Sarah Olney says some park users “need to think about the impact of their behaviour on others”

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney has urged cyclists in Richmond Park to slow down, telling a local radio station that “it’s not a sports venue.”

Covering 955 hectares, Richmond Park is the largest of London’s Royal Parks, and is hugely popular with all kinds of cyclists ranging from leisure riders including families with children to people on road bikes, drawn by the park’s 11-kilometre loop on roads that provide a mixture of flat terrain and a couple of sharp climbs and descents.

But with the park experiencing unprecedented visitor numbers for the time of year as people take outdoor exercise there during the current lockdown, tensions have arisen, with the Telegraph, for example, claiming last month that cyclists riding at high speed put other park users at risk.

Asked about the issue at the weekend, Olney told Radio Jackie: “I do find it frustrating that people are put off cycling by this sort of behaviour and there's no doubt that it’s a hazard.

“I would just implore cyclists, especially if they're in the park – which is a national nature reserve, it's not a sports venue – to be thoughtful.

“They need to observe the Highway Code, speed limits and they need to think about the impact of their behaviour on others.”

Tim Lennon, co-ordinator at Richmond Cycling Campaign, which is affiliated to London Cycling Campaign, told road.cc: “While we recognise there’s a small minority who break the rules while cycling in the park, there really is a bigger story here.

“Cycling by all age and ability groups has positively blossomed in the Royal Parks during the pandemic – we need to start treating complaints about cyclists breaking the law the same way we treat complaints about drivers breaking the law.

“Deal with the minority, rather than tarring everyone with the same brush.

“The borough has made big changes in the last year, but ratings-chasing, loaded interviews like this do nothing but hold back cycling as a simple, cheap, easy way to get around.”

Olney was first elected to Parliament for Richmond Park in a 2016 by-election when sitting MP Zac Goldsmith stood down to focus on his unsuccessful campaign as Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Goldsmith won the seat back the following year, but Olney defeated him in the December 2019 general election with a majority of 7,766.

Currently the Liberal Democrat spokesperson in three areas – transport, business and industrial strategy, and energy and climate change – last September, on car-free day, she tweeted a picture of herself and one of her children heading off to school.

In June last year, she also rode from her home to the Palace of Westminster to take part in a Parliamentary vote.

Her constituency includes the southern end of Hammersmith Bridge, currently completely closed on safety grounds, and last November in the House of Commons she urged the government to support a temporary cycling and walking bridge to enable people to cross the Thames there.

Ahead of the first national lockdown in March last year, motorists were banned from Richmond Park, with The Royal Parks subsequently also excluding cyclists other than children under 12 and NHS workers.

> Cyclists banned from Richmond Park due to “congestion”

The ban on all cyclists was gradually lifted from June last year, but in August the park was fully reopened to all road users, including drivers, in a move branded as “reckless and drastic” by cycling campaigners, and videos and photos posted to social media afterwards regularly showed park roads clogged with queues of motor vehicles.

> Richmond Park reopens to rat-running drivers after almost five months of car-free roads

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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