Cycle Superhighways have been getting a pretty bad press. Part of the problem has been the expectations created when they were first announced. Calling anything ‘super’ was bound to raise questions about what they could be: Dutch-style segregated cycle tracks? Elevated cycleways?
Much of the commentary to date on the cycle superhighways has been quite negative, if not downright scathing. But is this fair?
It is best to understand two things: (i) what is involved with the implementation of the Cycle Superhighways, and (ii) what the potential might be.
An important point is that Cycle Superhighways are more than just the infrastructure (or blue paint) you see on the road. But TfL have funded a whole programme of complementary measures associated with the Cycle Superhighways such as promotional events at workplaces and homes, including cycle training. Plus there will be support training and awareness for schools, and pilot HGV and freight driver training specifically to reinforce the needs of cyclists, and other associated measures.
Colin Buchanan did a business case for TfL specifically for these complementary measures and found them to be good value for money. Also, a lot of demand analysis has gone into determining the target market for the Cycle Superhighways, and the complementary initiatives have been tailored for such groups.
This leads us to the crux of the matter. ‘Ah’, the cynics might say, ‘that is all very well but if the conditions on the ground are not right people will not choose to cycle.’ This is true, but misses some essential realities about trying to promote cycling in London.
First of all, the chicken-and-egg situation. Like it or not, our society has been on a trajectory of increasing car ownership for well over half a century, with all the political, institutional, and infrastructural implications that entails. Once we realise that maybe that was not such a good idea and we want to promote something else, we have to extricate ourselves from the entrenched position we find ourselves in.
The facilitation of cycling often requires measures that appear to be at odds with the requirements of facilitating mass motoring. Wide busy junctions might have been okay for driving but are hellish for cyclists. So, in facilitating a really super cycleway, we can just do away with a few traffic lanes, right?
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 current promotional initiatives focus on two groups of people: those who currently cycle, and those non-cyclists who are just on the threshold of cycling and would do so with a little support. There is no point trying to target people who would never cycle – that would be a waste of resources. But if you can reach those potential cyclists who would cycle with just a bit of support that would be effort with clear pay back.
Since it is reasonably clear that there will be an increase in cycling with the combined effect of complementary and highway measures, this means there will be an increasing constituency of cyclists who will have demands on the highway. This means more and more cyclists who complain to the Mayor and Transport for London about any shortfalls they may find. So more and more pressure builds up to remedy design flaws. This in turn helps cyclists to become more and more mainstream, rivalling the car lobby, and the powers that be are boosted in their confidence to push for more cycle-friendly infrastructure.
A dream scenario? Yes, but a realistic one. Implicit in some of the commentary is that we are not going to get more segregated facilities now. Correct. It took the likes of the Netherlands 30 to 40 years to get to the kind of cycling levels you see there now. London has in reality only just started.