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?