Why cyclists must lead if "superhighways" are to be a success

Today sees the launch of the first two of twelve proposed Barclay's Cycle Superhighways; bright blue radial cycling routes running from the suburbs to inner London.  Perhaps because the word 'superhighway' counjures up images of smooth, broad fully segregrated Dutch-style infrastructure, and perhaps because in places they are more than a little bit crap in their design, their development has been monitored closely and received some fairly negative press from the bike blogging fraternity here, here, here and even by myself, here.

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"[1], 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?


Unknown said...

I think another major issue is theft. A big discouragement to me personally, is carrying a couple of chunky locks in my backpack every time I head out on my bike. Their weight really makes me think twice about using my bike. High on my wishlist would be public lockable bike racks. That's a positive measure, and perhaps more (or at least some) law enforcement deterrent to bike thieves. If you steal a bike, you should be treated exactly as if you stole a car. Now there's equality for cyclists. That would be the deterrent. Together these two measures would make cycling in London a more 'real', carefree cycling experience rather than adding the stress of possible theft to the stresses of traffic, crowds, silly pedestrians and pollution that discourage cyclists today.

jrg said...

The only real answer is going to be to remove all the unnecessary cars from central London.

But what constitutes "unnecessary"? Everyone driving their car there must think that they really need to, because it's not the sort of thing most would do if they could avoid it (except maybe the taxi drivers and the delivery drivers). It's just not a great place to drive, all those traffic jams. So clearly a bigger stick than the current congestion charge is required.

Re: theft, the Dutch in Amsterdam all seem very happy to lug about large linked chains, with big chunky locks, on their heavy 'sit-up' style bikes. They don't generally carry them in a bag, though - they either wrap them around the seat post, or throw them in the front-crate/basket, when not in use.

Having visited there again recently - and for the first time rented bikes - it seems to work ok. But there's definitely a strength-in-numbers for cycle parking as well as for cycle riding. But theft is rampant there, possibly even higher than London.

(Cycling in Amsterdam was great, by the way. I recommend everyone should do it. Perhaps it should be compulsory for all UK local and national politicians.)

I'm not sure enforcement should merely be "as if you stole a car" - they don't seem to catch car thieves in London either!

Fitness4London said...

We live in such a car-centric society, it will need a massive shift of resources and attitudes to achieve a decent cycle-friendly environment in London.

At least Boris is taking the first tiny steps in the right direction.

Freedom Cyclist said...

London's looking good - we have so much catching up to do. No kidding in the SMH today was a report of some daft lawyer who is threatening the City of Sydney with a 'class action' to 'RIP UP' the Bourke Road bi-directional cycleway!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Land of troglodytes Down-Under - depressing!

ibikelondon said...

Thanks guys for all your comments; I agree cycle theft needs urgent attention; not just from the Police but also from cyclists themselves; at the weekend I saw a brand new Gazelle locked up in Leicester Sq with just a flimsy bit of chain and a padlock that you could pick with a hair pin.

@jrg Glad you liked cycling in Amsterdam, it's an amazing experience isn't it? I'm going back later this year and can't wait to return.

@Fitness4London I agree it's great that our politicans are doing something, but would point out that the cycle superhighways and bike hire scheme were dreamt up and planned long before Boris came to power. As the video about enforcing the rules concludes, a lot more could be done.

@Sue I saw that article, the business man in question is an idiot and I don't believe he will even make it to court. Chin up!

Jim said...

Do we know what monitoring TfL will be doing of these first two lanes? Would be good to know what evidence, if any, would persuade them of the need to implement various safety measures, which should in my opinion include (in no particular order)
i) removing parking/loading bays from the routes
ii) installing segregated lanes where possible. Segregation should be the default unless there is a compelling reason not to do it - as opposed to the current default, which puts cyclists on the main carriageway.
iii) Cyclist-only traffic light phases at key junctions, or dispensation for cyclists to go through red lights on the all-pedestrian phase, with due care and attention for pedestrians of course.
iv) aggressive and high-profile enforcement of laws against speeding, reckless driving, infringement of ASLs, and driving while talking on a mobile phone.

Unknown said...

its getting better in london to cycle but a long way to go yet

wulfhound said...

Jim pretty much nailed it - though I'm also kind of puzzled as to why, besides marketing, they routed the Superhighways along main "A" roads.. as a long time user of the older London Cycle Network routes which mostly go for (admittedly slightly longer, also rather more convoluted) parallel routes. Those are just so much more pleasant to ride than hammering down an A-road -- would have preferred to see the money spent upgrading the LCN and NCN routes with wider lanes, better signage, facilities en route etc., not to mention promoting them to a wider audience.

One other thing - there are already tax breaks for companies to provide their staff with bikes, but this needs to be extended to secure indoor or outdoor cycle parking at the workplace - that would go a long way towards mitigating the theft issue. More secure bike parks like the big one by London Bridge as well...

Unknown said...

Two things are needed:

1) Proper end-of-trip facilities for cyclist to safely lock their bikes, shower and change there clothes. Places like Bikestations in the US, or the cycle2city station in Brisbane, or Lance Amstrong's cycle facility in the US. Not just cycle parking lots but full-on end of trip facilities.

2) The cycle super highways must be taken seriously by the government, if they could have built just one of the seven in the Dutch manner it would prove this city can do it. Why not just use one lane for Sportcommuters and simply have counterflow between the morning and evening rush hours, instead of two lanes poorly done?

Loving the Bike said...

I've never cycled London....yet, but I do hope things improve over there for you. It will be interesting to see how the superhighways make out and if cyclists will in fact become the leaders in making it a success.
Keep us updated and I hope to be riding with you guys over there one day soon.


Unknown said...

Hi Mark, I like your blog! To change the whole car-centic system takes (to much) time, especielly in huge cities. Something is changing and it's good.

I'm volunteering for the Otesha Project UK, would you like to write something about our sustainability learning (bike) tours?


Anonymous said...

Oh they gave us shit! But hey, don't stop the shit, we need more and more shit, maybe that way the shit becomes flowers (or we become shit-tolerant).

Willeke said...

I am Dutch, I cycled from home to Twickenham and back last May and used some of the quieter routes through London. I agree that upgrading those routes makes much more sense than trying to force a bike lane along the most busy streets.
There are a few functional bike lanes and routes in London, but the ones that are just a painted line on a road made me feel less safe.
If there is a painted line, cars pass you as if you weren't there, while if you use the same lane as the cars, they give you space to pass. (At least outside rush hours.)
The Dutch system where the less busy roads are one way for cars, changing direction every so often, so cars can not stay on them, but bi-directional for bikes works very good. The only thing you need are one way signs and notices with them that bikes go both ways, no big amounts of paint needed and bike riders will find their own routes through them if needed. Signposted routes might help though.
About bike theft in the Netherlands, everybody I know has had several bikes stolen, some new, often an old one that was not locked as good as it should have been. But we all have a good lock that locks the back wheel to the frame as well as a cable or chain.

Willeke said...

By the way, by using the quiet side roads, one way and only for local transport, you also get bikes and heavy transport separated.
I hardly ever have to cycle next to a truck, and where I do, there is enough space to make a cycle lane away from the road.
In cities and towns, heavy good vehicles are using a different set of roads from bikes.
Besides, all trucks have to have bike saving rails between the wheels and cameras or mirrors to look into the death angle, and as drivers know where to expect bikes and use those devices there, the number of fatalities has been going down for years, although I do not know the numbers.

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