The Olympics cycling road races on July 28 (men) and 29 (women) went through Richmond Park on both the outbound and return legs. Semi-official estimates are that there were over 100,000 people in the Park over the two days, the majority on the first day because of the much better weather and because well-known names (Wiggins, Cavendish, Froome) were riding.
Over 70 Friends’ volunteers were stationed at the gates to welcome visitors; they handed out 10,000 leaflets giving information on the races and how visitors could minimise their impact on the Park (you can download the leaflet below). Other volunteers monitored the protected sensitive areas of the Park. We and The Royal Parks are very grateful to all the volunteers. Many visitors also thanked them and were very appreciative of our work.
Both races were wonderful events, with a great atmosphere. The spectators were generally very well behaved. There was little litter and people kept outside the barriers which Park management had put around the valuable acid grassland and veteran trees, although some areas of acid grassland suffered.
However, there were significant problems with off-track cycling, particularly leaving the event. Many people ignored the signs and the requests of Friends' volunteers and LOCOG stewards not to go off-track. There were three bike parks, which the Friends had fought hard to persuade LOCOG (the race organisers) to provide, but they consisted of no more than two poles strung between stands and were poorly located; the smaller parks provided by Park management worked much better. But there were too few spaces in total and many people locked their bikes to railings and fencing or simply left them on the grass.
The toliets were a disgrce, with many out of action very quickly on the first day.
Many of the deer were stressed by the event and some people ignored the 'dogs on lead' rule – a potentially disastrous combination; there were at least two incidents where dogs started to chase deer, but were caught in time.
Finally, while the crowd control was generally good (e.g. at crossing ponts), there were big gaps in steward staffing at the gates, they were poorly trained and informed and most were unaware of the key features of the Park and the need to protect it. Their uderstanding and enforcement of Park regulations was very poor, althoug some did take strong action when told about it by the Friends' volunteers. In contrast, the Park management did a great job in sorting out problems on the day.
A future event in the Park on anywhere near this scale is problematic, given the restrictions needed to minimise the impact on the Park. In particular:
- There should be barriers around sensitive areas to at least the level used for the Olympics, with particular attention to side of sensitive areas away from the route.
- The deer will need to be controlled more tightly and dogs banned from the Park on the day if the near misses of the Olympics road races are to be avoided
- Off-track cycling should be better controlled; there should be widespread signage, stewarding and police presence
- More and better bike parking spaces will be required
- Stewarding must be improved, with more willingness to stop irresponsible behaviour by spectators
We will be giving our detailed report to LOCOG, The Royal Parks and the Mayor’s office, and posting them on this website in the near future.