Discussing what is or should be a “cycle route” is one of the more tedious (but necessary) parts of considering cycling as a mode of transport). All roads except motorways can be seen as “cycle routes”: if you want to use a bicycle to get from where you live to where you need to go, you have to use the public highway.
That said, there is a plausible case for engineering the highway to reduce danger and inconvenience for cyclists, so there is a need for engineering at particular dangerous or inconvenient locations for cyclists like large gyratory systems. Or a network of signed cycle routes. Or both. In fact, it is arguable that without doing anything special “for cyclists”, all roads should have danger to cyclists engineered out of them as much as possible as a matter of course.
So what has happened in London?
Various plans for cycle routes were promoted by the old Greater London Council, but the first “strategic network” was planned in the 1990s, backed by organisations representing the 33 London Boroughs, and called the “London Cycle Network” (LCN), and due to be on 25% of London’s roads at some 3000 kilometres.
When Ken Livingstone became Mayor of the new Greater London Authority, Transport for London “reconceptualised” cycling and walking and the LCN was ended, to be replaced by the “London Cycle Network Plus” (LCN+) at a somewhat reduced 900 kilometres. Thus was born the first step in ushering a less extensive engineering scheme with a more impressive name. (Of course, it can be argued that having a “cycle route network” in the first place when all roads should be properly cyclable is the first step in this process.)
LCN+ was never finished, with some 600 kilometres completed. Why? One central reason is that if there is to be a special “route for cyclists”, space will have to be allocated to it. Either there happens to be lots of spare road space around, or else it has to come from motorised traffic. Since there has been no large scale removal of motor traffic road space, “cycle routes” dependent on this do not get completed.
In fact, Boris Johnson refused to complete the LCN+ on the grounds that doing so would be “unpopular” – that is to say, inconvenience motorists. (To be fair to Johnson, Livingstone had not pressed Boroughs to finish the LCN+).
This brings us to the latest step in the progress to more grandiose terminology combined with a shorter network: the Cycling Super Highways (CSHs) – now down to 250 kms by 2015, if the money does not run out.
The Cycling Super Highways
Under the heading “Not so Super Highways”, our colleagues at the CTC address some of the issues:
“This video of riders on trial Cycle Superhighway 7 http://www.youtube.com/user/gaz545 in London shows that simply painting a thin blue line isn’t enough. While CTC supports the approach of creating continuous routes and making the busiest roads more cycle friendly, proposals on the cycle superhighways don’t go far enough to make conditions safer and more attractive for cycling. More must be done to reduce overall levels of motor traffic or reduce speeds on the routes. You can read further comments from CTC on the superhighways in this article from yesterday’s Guardian. http://email.ctc.org.uk/a/tBL7S6QB7uaWDB8Ily4NKS87ymQ/superhigh . “
Despite the CSHs being supposedly committed towards less confident cyclists, criticisms have been pouring in that they do not offer sufficient safety. This is precisely because the old bug bear of “cycle route” engineering – namely taking road space from motorised traffic – has not been dealt with, particularly at gyratory systems and other junctions. At the same time, those practitioners who have focussed on training cyclists to ride in urban traffic without relying on “cycle routes” have claimed that the positioning advised by National Standards cycle training would not be in the marked out blue lanes for much of the CSHs’ length.
Mayor Johnson looks like getting criticism from all sides of the “cycle route” debate, with plenty of jokes about CHSs being little more than expensive blue paint. Then there is the issue of cost – possibly £150 million if all the CSHs are completed. But apart from these issues: do we seriously think that Boris’ targets are going to be significantly met by this kind of engineering on 2% of London’s roads?