20 January 2010

Cycle Superhighways egged on at City Hall

In the basement of City Hall (right), over by Tower Bridge until 31 Jan, you can see for yourself what Cycle Superhighways and the Bike Hire Scheme - both starting in May - will look like. (If you were at the Bike Show in London last autumn you might have seen these. If not, get down to the steel'n'glass egg and try them out.)

A Superhighway simulator puts you on a stationary bike hooked up to a screen running film of the coming route CS3, Merton to City, on sections from Wandsworth to Elephant and Castle. The faster you pedal, the faster the film goes. As you go, a blue strip rolls out in front of you, Andrex-puppy-like.

Pop-ups (right) inform of you of the triffic features the Superhighways will have: regular inspection and maintenance to keep them smooth; clear signs showing distances in minutes to other destinations; and 'continuous wide blue lane going through junctions will help you on your route'.

It's fun, and it's great to see money and credibility being staked on cycling. A continuous blue strip - well, yes, fine: that's good, and will send a clear message that cyclists are legitimate users of this route. Signs: good. Distances in minutes: good, though I'd prefer geographical distances too. Smooth, rigorously-maintained surface: good, if it happens.

But you still come away with a nagging feeling that it's mostly branding. No mention of bricks-and-mortar stuff: no improved junction layouts, no changed priorities, no give-way-to-cyclists.

On the film, all the lights are at green, which would be wonderful in practice, but unlikely. And nobody cuts you up or shouts abuse at you, ditto.

And it ends, amusingly, just at the currently illegal left turn on to Churchyard Row before the Elephant and Castle's Dantean Southern Circle of Hell, where CS3 will limp, stutter and fumble its away along the 'Elephant and Castle cycle by-pass', as one wag amusingly dubbed it.

I look forward to the Cycle Superhighways, I really do. I'm glad that a fuss is being made and that cycling is being promoted, with genuine enthusiasm. It will encourage new cyclists and that's a good thing. And I'll be among the first to explore them for their commuting and leisure potential. If they work I'll be absolutely delighted. But on the basis of the City Hall Simulator, I'm not expecting them to be much more than a bright addition to the city's cycling colour scheme.

There's also a London Bike Hire Scheme docking post and bike (right). Enticing to see; but the test of the scheme will be in how efficient and reliable are the onscreen and online renting systems, how sturdy are the bikes, how convenient and dense are the docking stations, and - most crucially - how London's drivers take to the new addition to the roads. As it happens, we're very positive about it.

But maybe the City Hall's display suggests the best solution for the whole Cycle Superhighways thing. The simulator, for what it is, is pretty impressive.

So why not ditch the actual Cycle Superhighways, just make a really good Nintendo Wii version of cycle commuting instead, and encourage everyone to work from home?


  1. It's surprising that despite all this innovation, TfL doesn't seem to have discovered the mandatory cycle lane - one which it is mandatory for motorists to keep out of.

    The cycle lanes shown in the simulator have broken lines, which mean they will be advisory - so cars drivers and motorcyclists are free to drive or queue in them.

    On a road which already has double-yellow or double-red lines, the main difference in practice is that when traffic queues at a junction, it's completely OK for a second lane of traffic to form which blocks the advisory cycle lane. I see this every day on the road from London Bridge to Bank. If the lanes were mandatory this would be illegal.

    In Cambridge it's council policy for all cycle lanes to be mandatory. As a result, almost all of them are.

  2. I think they're a really bad idea. If there was no cycle lane, an experienced cyclist would be 'taking the lane' past side roads to avoid a following vehicle overtaking and promptly turning left across you. With the flow of cycles and motorised traffic separated, outside of the commuting rush hours, we are going to be seeing an increase in cyclists knocked off by left-turning vehicles. We all move pretty quick on our bikes, even if we're not racing, something most drivers underestimate. So although they will have just driven past us, they haven't actually had to do anything to overtake so they won't notice bikes on the blue lane. Drivers never check their inside mirrors for left turns so I predict a huge rise in cyclists getting knocked off. I'd prefer to see the majority of cycle lanes removed, unless as Nigel suggests, they are Mandatory ones. But even then, you have the same problem I've outlined above.

  3. Does the simulate come complete with parked cars, rubbish in the cycle lane and drivers edging out of side roads into it?

  4. *Just to clarify, I'm not the same Mark as the one above*

    I'm well aware that the cycle superhighways are existing parts of the existing cycle network 'upgraded' with blue paint and other complimentary measures such as signage and cycle training in the others (which makes me wonder why the budget for them is so incredibly large considering there is no engineering intervention on the ground) - all this is okay, as marketing is important to make people aware of where the cycle lanes are, but if all these new commuters come out and find something like the picture on the simulator above I rather fear they will be disappointed. That looks to be like an advisory (not mandatory) cycle lane, with about half a foot's clearance for bicycles besides the drains and red lines (which you wouldn't cycle over) Considering vehicles tend to pass cyclists in lanes more closely I'd hoped for something a bit, well, more substantial. Isn't the advised minimum width of cycle lanes supposed to be a metre and a half from the drain? I understand that the LCC has been consulted on the development of the superhighways, so I'd be interested to hear what they have to say about it - I just hope we don't get told to be 'happy with what we get' if they turn out to be rubbish....

  5. I've just realised how negative my comment sounds. The trouble is my impression of cycle lanes is based on the ones local to me, which i'm sorry to say are generally rather poor.

    I'm not actually anti-cycle lane. I just believe that the lanes need to be properly thought out and planned.

    Slapping a bit of paint on 100yrds of pavement and then calling that a cycle lane is simply not acceptable and in a lot of cases highly dangerous.

    Lets have these lanes done right or not at all!

  6. Agree strongly, Red Bike, and with others too.

    I don't want to come across as knee-jerk anti-Cycle-Superhighways; I know there are many very genuine and enthusiastic people who are working hard to get the best facilities they can in the face of many competing pressures and realities.

    But I worry that all we'll really end up with, after a lot of expenditure and PR, is a blue stripe on the road, and the same old conflicts at unmodified junctions, pinchpoints and signals. In fact, even more, as there'll be more cyclists using them. I hope I'm wrong.

  7. Why not just paint them red, call them bus lanes and restrict them to buses, taxis and bikes.
    Bus lanes are fantastic, by far the best "cycling infrastructure" in London.

  8. Too narrow, dotted lines along the edge, in the gutter where the broken glass is - will they never learn?

    Looks like another cycle lane I'll ignore completely when I'm cycling.

  9. Somefatsprinter beat me to it. Combined with truck drivers talking on mobile phones, local councils who don't give a toss about maintaining their cycle infrastructure (hello Waltham Forest) and a police force that's only interested in cars (one of eight of which in London is uninsured), this system is going to do nothing to change the miserable experience of cycling in London.

  10. All great, except that they closed it by 5pm on Friday 29th. Huh.