How to make Boris Johnson's 'cycle superhighways' less pointless

They were still building Boris Johnson’s “Cycle Superhighway 7” from Southwark to Colliers Wood when I took a test drive last night, not much more than 12 hours before this first scheme opened to the public. Opposite Stockwell station, the men in hi-vis were spraying the blue covering onto the road – but happily the most important part of the exercise, the tents and PR banners for the launch event at Clapham Common, was already in place.

The point about almost all “cycle infrastructure” in London is that it is not designed for cyclists. It is designed so that politicians can say that something is being done for us. Perhaps 10 per cent of cycling schemes are worth having. The rest range from pointless, to ludicrously bad, to actively dangerous. At various points along its length, Cycle Superhighway 7 hits all four categories.

The segregated path across Southwark Bridge, and the diversion around Elephant and Castle, are worth having (though both existed already.) Most of the rest of the route is pointless, verging at some places on the dangerous.

In two places, it steers you into the middle of the traffic flow, across conflicting traffic. The greater danger, perhaps, is that novice cyclists will be attracted on to a route which offers very unpleasant cycling and very little protection. They could be put off for life – and the duration of that life might not be very long, either.

As many have stated, for most of its length the new superhighway amounts to little more than a blue surface on the road. This is almost never separated from the rest of the carriageway by a solid line (meaning that cars are not supposed to cross it.) Occasionally, it is separated by an “advisory” broken line – much more often by no line at all. Cars can, and do, drive and park quite lawfully in the cycle lane, forcing cyclists out into the main traffic flow; even on a Sunday, I counted 106 parked cars in the southbound lane between Southwark Bridge and Colliers Wood. At times it was scarcely possible to see the blue surface.

The superhighway thus offers in practice no protection against what is a very busy, and in places very narrow and congested, main road. Many junctions are cramped and hazardous, full of revving traffic. Cars often cut across the cycle lane, and are allowed to.

The scheme could be made less pointless by segregating not the cycle lane (that would cause problems for people getting on buses, who would have to cross the lane to board the bus) but by segregating the bus lane, perhaps with a low ridge of the kind often found in France. Where there is not room for a bus lane, a segregated cycle lane with a similar ridge could be created between bus stops.

Alternatively, the bizarre approach of putting these schemes on the busiest and nastiest main roads you can find should be completely re-evaluated. The really stupid thing is that there is an infinintely more pleasant and safer parallel route to Superhighway 7, on back streets and across commons.

I know that cycle-activist ideologues hate segregation, and cleave to the proposition that we must seize the main roads. But despite rises, cycle use in London – about 2-3 per cent  of journeys – remains very low. Having cycled in many northern European cities which enjoy cycling rates in the 20s and 30s of percent, I am sure that the key difference from us is the vastly greater number of segregated bike lanes.

9 thoughts on “How to make Boris Johnson's 'cycle superhighways' less pointless”

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