It's clear that the cycle superhighways are a branding exercise designed to demonstrate to new and potential cyclists the possibility of cycling. Outside of the cycling fraternity most people would have no idea that the cycle lanes are less than perfect by international design standards; they'll see Boris riding on the tea time news tonight, and the well-branded direct route running past their local tube station, and consider cycling. For that, and for all the peripheral works surround the cycle superhighways (free cycle training, increased cycle parking, better signage etc) the bright blue lanes should be seen as a good thing.
As to Boris Johnson's original claim that "No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power... ...the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them", the cycle superhighways are not going to provide that kind of utopian reality. There is off peak parking on top of the blue lanes all along the routes, and there has been no re-allocation of road space along the routes meaning that the width of the 'car' lane has been effectively narrowed by 1.5 metres; we should not therefore be surprised to find cars on the blue paint. Does the bright blue paint help to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists? Maybe. But we should all be acutely aware that the non-segregated lanes do nothing to provide protection to cyclists from other road users. Indeed, if a car wants to swing into the cycle lane there is nothing to stop them from doing so, as Secretary for State Vince Cable so ably demonstrated last week, and as these photos so keenly show:
Photo from the Bike Show, with thanks
It's worth bearing in mind, of course, that the two routes being opened today are pilots, with lessons learnt from these taken on to the construction of the future routes. It's essential that as many cyclists as possible engage with Transport for London as to what their ideas would be to improve the scheme. It's clear that like these two routes, the future superhighways will not be segregrated 'Dutch-style' lanes. Colin Buchanan over at his transport planning blog, argues that this is a classic 'chicken and egg' situation; "Unfortunately pursuing really radical measures for cyclists will come up against the inertia of a whole range of political, institutional, and professional pressures. The question is, how do we create mass cycling in a society that has for so long accommodated mass motoring? The answer is you start where you can!" The future of cycling policy in London rests in the hands of cyclists; it is up to us to write the letters, lobby our MPs, point out the design faults and praise the good stuff, effectively 'crowd sourcing' the shape of things to come. It's clear that the fancy branding and headline nature of the cycle superhighways will inevitably lead to an increase in cycling rates - a good thing of course - but if we wanted to really increase the rate we should be looking at increasing, not cutting the level of traffic police and safety cameras, retaining the western congestion charge zone, a 20MPH blanket speed limit for all of London, and of course removing HGVs (the biggest threat to cyclists) from our roads during the morning rush hour. As the LCC correctly points out, at present the success of the cycle superhighways currently rests with other road users and how they choose to treat them. A splash of blue paint goes a long way for raising awareness of cyclists, but some strong quality legislation, and effective enforcement of existing rules would go even further, as Green London Assembly member Jenny Jones explains:
Bringing about a cycling revolution in London is no easy task, and of course it's great that something at least is being done. But if we all want to see a cyclised city in the future it's up to us all to get involved and shape the direction of things to come - whether that be Dutch-style cycle lanes or bright blue paint - what would you do to improve the lot of the London cyclist?