Cycle Superhighways

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.


6 thoughts on “Cycle Superhighways

    • I’ve put my comments on my blog ( I think transport for cyclists has to be less incremental and more bold. I would argue that Holland and Cambridge has a lot of cyclists because they are first of all flat, I think we underestimate gradient considerably.

      I think you make a good point saying this is a zero sum game at the moment. If we want more facilities (road space) for cyclists it has to prised from the tight grip of the motorists who loose space.

      I think we need some imaginative thinking to build real cycle superhighways. As a motorist we tend to us the motorways to speed our journeys and I think that if we had the equivalent of a motorway for cyclists then with the right origin/destination mix we might be surprised at how may people would be prepared to cycle!

  1. Spot on.

    You do need to give folk a gentle nudge *as well as* providing highly visible infrastructure (big blue cycle lanes are certainly visible).

    The infrastructure provides the “cyclists have a right to be on the road” factor while the nudging gives a bit of motivation/momentum to the unsure.

    I’m all for off-road cycle routes but, I think, most often the fastest way to get about town on a bike is on the roads (with the cars and HGVs). Hence, anything that can provide a bit of bike presence has to be a good thing. It’s far too easy to slag off cycle lanes as “just paint”.

  2. Pingback: Cycle Superhighway site updated - Page 6 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  3. Pingback: Bicycle Highways « Bluegrass reVISIONS

  4. In 1958 Prof’ Sir Colin Buchanan (as he then wasn’t) said, in his book, “Mixed Blessing, the Motor in Britain” (see p131)

    “The meagre efforts made to separate cyclists from motor traffic have failed, tracks are inadequate, the problem of treating them at junctions and intersections is completely unsolved, and the attitude of cyclists themselves to these admittedly unsatisfactory tracks has not been as helpful as it might have been”

    Nothing changes.

    Jeremy Parker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s