i b i k e l o n d o n

Boris gives green light to Cycle Superhighways to unlock central London for bikes

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, today confirmed he will go ahead with his proposed "Crossrail for Bikes" Cycle Superhighways across central London, following one of the largest public consultations in the history of Transport for London.

The East / West Cycle Superhighway will form Europe's longest substantially segregated urban cycleway, stretching from Tower Hill in the east to Acton in the west. Intersecting with a new North / South Cycle Superhighway from King's Cross to Elephant and Castle, the new routes will form the flagship facility in Johnson's £913million 10-year cycle investment plan.

Boris Johnson rides the route of his future Cycle Superhighway on the Embankment with Olympic champion cyclist and campaigner Chris Boardman. Photo via Press Association with thanks.

The Mayor said: “We have done one of the biggest consultation exercises in TfL’s history. We have listened, and now we will act. Overwhelmingly, Londoners wanted these routes, and wanted them delivered to the high standard we promised. I intend to keep that promise."

Subject to approval by the Board of TfL next week, construction on the routes will begin as soon as March, with the first route complete and ready for riders by spring 2016. (It's worth pointing out that Johnson's term as Mayor concludes in May 2016)

The nine-week public consultation on the plans saw an overwhelming 21,500 responses from individuals and business organisations, with 84% in overall support of the plans. A YouGov opinion poll taken during the consultation found 73% of Londoners supported the Cycle Superhighways, even if it meant taking a lane of traffic away.

Coordinated by pop-up campaigning group CyclingWorks.London, over 170 businesses and organisations pledged their support for the Cycle Superhighways and called on the Mayor to construct them without delay, including key employers along the route such as Unilever, Orange, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Deloitte. 

Businessman and cyclist Chris Kenyon from CyclingWorks.London said:
“Rarely if ever has a scheme by TfL gathered so many CEO-level signatures of support. Surely that is the big story. The backers represent every major industry sector and show that Londoners are in it together and believe that it's time for kerb protected lanes in the heart of the city.” 

The original route along the Embankment, which will still incorporate Parliament Square, subject to modifications.

The original plans from Transport for London have been revised in response to concerns by the City of London, the taxi lobby and the Canary Wharf Group that building cycle tracks would cause too great a delay.

The lanes for other traffic on the Victoria Embankment were to be cut from two to three between the pinch points of Blackfriars underpass and Temple Station. By squeezing the cycle tracks at these points, the three lanes of traffic will be able to remain. 

The Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, believes delays will be cut by 60% on the original plans. The worst affected journey - from Limehouse Link to Hyde Park Corner - will now only take an additional 6 minutes, rather than 16 minutes under the original plans. The traffic models do not account for people switching to other types of journey (ie cycling) as Rachel Aldred explains in her blog about why we should not fear the worst case scenario.

These new routes will fundamentally change London. Currently we stand with our back to the Thames and the Embankment. What is currently a traffic-choked, noisy and dirty rat-run for the city will become the spine of London's safest cycling infrastructure, where cyclists of all ages and abilities - from roadies, to children - will be able to undertake their journeys in safety. 

Transport for London's rendering of the north / south Cycle Superhighway from King's Cross to Elephant and Castle.

Cycle use has already doubled across London over the past ten years, but these ambitious plans will see cycling levels rocket.  Sir Peter Hendy CBE, transport commissioner for London, said: 

“Cycling is clearly now a major transport option in London, with over 170,000 bike journeys now made across central London every single day... These projects will help transform cycling in London – making it safer and an option that more and more people can enjoy."

We should be clear that the Cycle Superhighway plans are not perfect: the width of the tracks being reduced to approximately 3 metres through the Blackfriars Underpass and at other pinch points on the Embankment is very much of concern.  Once built they must be monitored, and potentially dangerous sections must re-assessed.  Furthermore, the route through the Royal Parks is still not clear and will be consulted on at a later date, as explained by Danny over at Cyclists in the City.  Could the Royal Parks put a spoke in the wheel of the whole scheme?

And there's no guarantee that the Canary Wharf Group will back down in their opposition to the Cycle Superhighway plans, despite the reduction in delays.  You'll remember they employed a professional lobbyist, distributed an anonymous briefing paper full of dodgy statistics, and badgered politicians at party conferences over the scheme. The Canary Wharf Group's Finance Director is one Mr Peter Anderson.  He's also Chair of Transport for London's Finance and Policy Committee and a member of their board - and therefore will have a say next week over whether the plans will go ahead or not.

The City and Canary Wharf Group have always been keen to demonstrate that opinion is divided on these schemes, whereas it has been my impression throughout that the majority of Londoners want these changes, they need these changes and they must be allowed to go ahead.  Those who oppose these changes would do well to remember we are talking about a tiny fraction of London's streets, even though it could have a transformative effect for cyclists.  Johnson has now made a big promise in the run up to the elections, it is important that he sticks to it. 

If all goes well - and not withstanding skullduggery and backroom dealing - London has achieved something incredible with this announcement.  It was only a few years ago, in November 2011, that Danny Williams from Cyclists In The City and I organised the Tour du Danger an initial protest around London's most dangerous junctions for cyclists.  Since then there have been countless campaigns, protest rides (not least at Blackfriars Bridge) and of course, cyclist's deaths.  Now we have a major UK politician staking their reputation on their cycling dream, prepared to put up the cash, and even ready to take roadspace away from other traffic to achieve their aims.  This is in no part is down to all of you who've badgered your politicians, signed petitions, come on protests and responded to consultations.  Give yourself a pat on the back, London.  Let's make a date in our diaries for a celebratory ride on our city's beautiful new cycling infrastructure, coming soon to a road near you!

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In defence of fair-weather cyclists: how do you keep a city cycling, even in the worst of winter?

One of the most persistent criticisms I hear levelled against investing in cycling is that as soon as the weather becomes inclement people stop riding, therefore making it an unreliable way of moving people in cities.

Cyclists in a recent rush hour snow storm in Copenhagen, via the Copenhagenize / Viking Biking Tumbr.

Whilst the difference between summer and winter cycling levels in London have been decreasing year on year, the number of cyclists on the road over the winter months is markedly lower than in the long, light and warmer summer days.

If a journey by bicycle is tolerated for the sake of convenience, rather than comfort, it is true that poor weather can serve to increase the perception of it being sketchy.  I personally dread cycling around Old Street roundabout or through Holborn Circus in heavy rain with reduced visability.  No matter how good your waterproofs, you'll still be soaked through with the sweat of anxiety by the end of your terrifying trip.

Cyclists in the snow, Bethnal Green, London, 2010

Of course, it is not the actual rain, snow or darkness that I fear but the chance that my fellow road users are not paying sufficient attention to the conditions, and do not modify their behaviour appropriately.

In successful cycling countries this problem is solved by separating cyclists from motorised traffic one way or another; perhaps with cycle tracks on main roads, or with closures, restrictions and one-way routes on lesser roads with lighter traffic.  But this in turn can pose its own problems: in the worst of the winter weather, how do you keep cyclists - and the city - moving?

When you have a high percentage of your population making their journey by bikes - as in Copenhagen or across the Netherlands - making sure that cycle routes are clear becomes a very serious consideration.  In another fascinating new post, video blogger Mark of Bicycle Dutch fame recently recorded how his home city of 'S-Hertogenbosch kept people moving through a recent snow storm, and made journeys by bicycle possible in challenging conditions.  

He explains: "On a cycle way the ‘gritters’ brush the surface first, and then it is sprayed with a mixture of salt and water. That film of salt water does cover the entire surface and that means most of the snow melts instantly on the entire street surface even without [passing cyclist's] tyres to disperse the salt. The difference between routes that were cleared and gritted and those that were not (yet) was huge."

I know what you're already thinking: here in the UK we don't deal with adverse weather well.  That we struggle to clear our roads and pavements, let alone cycle paths.  That we can't even build all-weather year-round cycle routes. 

Mud, mud, glorious mud! It's not Middle Earth, but all the same you shall not pass... Via As Easy As Riding A Bike.

Indeed, As Easy As Riding A Bike blog recently highlighted a Sussex cycle route which could provide a safe and convenient bypass to the busy A2 is impassable to all but those equipped with mountain bikes and wellington boots for much of the year.  It's never been laid properly due to concerns about an "urbanising effect" on the countryside, which clearly doesn't consider the same effect car journeys have that could easily be replaced by trips on this path, were it a viable route instead.  Making this journey on the path in its current form on a dark night in wet and windy weather would be reserved for all but the hardiest of thrill-seekers.

The heavy snow fall of 2010 caught London unprepared.  My street, seen here, remained uncleared for over a week.

But as the Dutch example demonstrates, winter weather need not be an insurmountable obstacle for successful cycling.  People always tell me that "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes" but I'd argue that there's more to it than that... 

You can have all the fancy water proof kit in the world, but if you're having to fend off thundering lorries and itinerant taxi drivers in addition to trying to stay upright through wet and windy weather you're not going to be having a very nice time.  And you could have all the cycle infrastructure in the world (and I'm thinking in particularly of the separated lanes we should start to see being rolled out in London over the next few years) but if the authorities don't have a plan for keeping them clear of mud, snow and ice they'll be next to useless.  Keeping your city cycling, even in the worst of weather, shows the special care and consideration people on two wheels need.

Further reading:
Bicycle Dutch: how to make cycling in the snow possible
Copenhagenize: the ultimate bike lane snow clearance post!
As Easy As Riding a Bike: Natural Character
ibikelondon: Cycling through epic amounts of snow, retro Norway style


Never mind "cyclists stay back", what about "drivers, watch for cyclists"?

They're big, they're yellow, they're angry and they're everywhere.  "Cyclists! Stay back!" they shout, and they seem to be stuck on the back (or even the side) of just about every working vehicle in London.

The ubiquitous yellow safety stickers first appeared on lorries as a warning to cyclists that they had massive blind spots, and slipping down their sides was a potentially fatal thing to do. But when Transport for London began requiring every contracted vehicle to also sport the stickers, they began to appear on vehicles ranging from-mini buses to ordinary cars; vehicles which are hampered not by blind spots but by the driver's failure to look.  Peter Walker of the Guardian explains very well just why these stickers seem particularly impertinent to cyclists.

There was uproar last summer as the yellow menace spread, and Transport for London agreed to begin replacing the stickers with more gently worded warnings to "avoid passing this vehicle on the inside".  But I can only assume the replacement stickers are lost in the post somewhere as just last night I saw what looked to be brand new "stay back" stickers on the rear window of two different taxis.

Popular cycling website Road.cc turned their hand to sticker making and came up with these "Cyclists! Stay Awesome!" stickers, and I can appreciate the humour: too often it seems that signs shouting at people on bikes lurk around every corner.  Cyclists! Stay Back! Cyclists! Dismount! Cyclists! Stop at red! Cyclists! Proceed directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200!

So I was really happy to see the below sign on the exit gates of the Crossrail station construction site at Bond Street, which is busy with lorries day in and day out.  The message is bold, the message is simple, the message makes sense: "Drivers! Watch for cyclists!"


Maybe I bear a two-wheeled bias, but I'd like to see a lot more of these around town.  In fact, I have a proposal to make: I'll agree to anyone slapping a "Cyclists! Stay back!" marker on the back of their vehicle so long as they also agree to stick "Driver! Watch for cyclists!" on their steering wheel.  Seems like a fair deal to me, don't you think?

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Will Camden deliver the UK's best urban planning scheme (with HUGE benefits for cyclists)? 48hrs to tell them to DO IT!

Back in June we explored Camden Council's exciting plans to improve the Tottenham Court Road area with their West End Project.  The plans for cyclists have been made better following the public consultation. Now it is time for Camden's Cabinet to make a decision on what is ostensibly the boldest urban realm scheme proposed by a local authority in Britain today.  But not everyone is happy about the scheme, which is why it is important we tell them to "Just do it!".

Tottenham Court Road will become a primarily pedestrian route, with safer and easier crossing of the road, 20mph speeds and bus priority.  Cycle-specific provision will be supplied on parallel Gower Street.

So, what are the plans? Some £26million pounds will be spent removing the one-way gyratory which currently ensures speeds are much too high on Tottenham Court Road and condemns Gower Street (which should be one of London's finest Regency-era streets) to exist only as a traffic sewer filled with three lanes of buses and speeding vehicles. The area is currently described as one of the worst in the borough for collisions, with 259 casualties in total in the last three years, of which 36% involved pedestrians and 27% involved cyclists. 

You can view the amended plans in full here.

Some would argue that we could save a lot of money leaving the roads exactly as they are today, but in a few years Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station will open, flooding the area with pedestrians.  We should not underestimate the effect this will have; the new rail line will add 10% capacity to the entire London Underground network.  By 2018 Tottenham Court Road train station will be used by 200,000 passengers a day, rising to 306,000 a day by 2026 according to latest predictions.  Some 38,000 people an hour will use the station during week day peaks.

 The new pedestrian plaza proposed around Tottenham Court Road station.

It was for this reason that I explained why I thought it would be a bad idea to keep the one way system whilst running a two-way cycle path up Tottenham Court Road, a suggestion proposed by other campaigners.  I felt then, and still believe today, that at TCR's narrowest point there would be so many pedestrians in the area that the track would be swamped, rendering it useless.

Instead, I encouraged readers to support the principles of the plan and to push for more space for cycling on Gower Street, where Camden had proposed 1.5m bike lanes in each direction, separated from the main carriageway by using rubber armadillos.  The good news is that Camden have listened, showing why it is so important people respond to consultations.  They've found more space by planning to build Copenhagen-style stepped cycle tracks instead of using armadillos, which will be wider; between 1.75m and 2m wide in each direction.  Where loading bays overlap with the stepped cycle tracks and cyclists will have to re-join the carriageway, exposure will be limited by introducing a timed delivery control scheme so that the loading bays are only occupied outside of the busiest times.  This is not perfect, but I think reasonable, and still an improvement on cycling provision on Gower Street at present.

Gower Street in its current form: "beautiful bones, terrible skin".

The latest plans also include a trial to improve conditions for cyclists on the hugely popular and over-subscribed two-way Torrington Place cycle track.  By making the adjacent road one-way for vehicles (vehicular access is still necessary to allow taxis to reach Euston Station) there will be room for wide separated cycle tracks on each side of the road on this key route, which currently carries over 1,000 cyclists an hour.

In total, the West End Project will provide some 4km of separated cycle paths, will increase bus priority for passengers on Tottenham Court Road, will improve the public realm on both Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, and also make room for significant new public space - including the first new park to be built in the West End in over a century.  It will also allow two-way cycling on an additional 15 streets in the area.  

I've looked at the proposals wearing two hats; that of a cyclist and that of a Londoner who often comes to this area by tube and walks.  I believe that this scheme is the best for everyone, is exceptionally bold for a local authority, and deserves our support.

Not everyone in London feels the same way.  In order to provide priority to buses and to keep traffic levels low on Tottenham Court Road, taxi drivers will only be able to access sections of the road by traversing it from east to west - they will no longer be able to drive "up and down" the full length of the road from Monday to Saturday during the daytime.  Over 50 people responded to the consultation complaining about this element of the plans.  Others claimed that the plans went too far for cyclists who should not be prioritised over other road users.  A number of respondents questioned whether cyclists "deserved" Camden's attention due to our perceived poor behaviour on the roads.

I don't think the plans are perfect, but London is not a perfect city by any stretch of the imagination, and I can appreciate just how complex the needs of differing road users in this area are.  I'm also aware that these plans have taken about a decade to get this far, and as we discussed in my latest post there is a "policy lag" between the aspirations of cycle campaigners then and now.  I don't think the proposals for Gower Street do enough to protect cyclists at junctions.  Camden's Cabinet won't be looking at details but instead making a "stop" or "go" decision on the plans.  With the money secured, the opening of Crossrail approaching and workable plans ready to go, now is not the time for us to tell Camden to go back to the drawing board.

The current plans for Gower Street around the UCL - nice tracks, but could do better at junctions.

Those who are disgruntled with the plans will be writing to the committee and making deputations at the planning meeting on Wednesday, which is why we need to ensure that supportive voices are heard.

Some influential local residents and a number of taxi drivers plan to speak at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, which takes place at the Council Chamber on Judd Street at 7PM.  If you would like to speak at the Planning Committee meeting you must request to do so 48 hours before so by emailing the Cabinet Services coordinator

In the meantime if you want to see this scheme go ahead, I would encourage you to email the Cabinet before noon on Wednesday making the following points:
  • The principles of the plan are ambitious and should be applauded.  Camden should be proud for leading amongst other London boroughs in aiming to create a safe and attractive urban realm, most especially for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The timed exclusion of taxis on Tottenham Court Road is essential to ensuring the area has sufficiently low traffic volumes to be reasonably safe for pedestrians and for cyclists.  It is important to distinguish that taxis can still make kerb-side drop offs on TCR, but will be restricted from traversing the full length of the road.  Without this timed control, TCR will become like another Oxford Street with traffic volumes increasing by 24%, which would compromise the fundamental principles of the plan.
  • The timed loading control scheme proposed for the area must be implemented in full to ensure the cycle tracks on Gower Street which intersect with loading bays do not make the road more, rather than less, dangerous for cyclists.
  • The trial scheme for Torrington Place is much needed and well overdue to relieve dangerous over-crowding on the Torrington Place cycle track, and will help to ensure many more people are able to switch to making safe cycle journeys.
  • The increased space for cycling that has been found by using stepped tracks instead of "armadillo separators" on Gower Street is welcome, however there must be more focus on providing safe navigation through junctions for cyclists on the route to ensure maximum safety and comfort.
  • The Cabinet should vote for "Option 1" and proceed with their plans promptly.
Please send your emails of support to the Cabinet at the following addresses:

Councillor Sarah Hayward 
Councillor Theo Blackwell  
Councillor Patricia Callaghan  
Councillor Julian Fullbrook 
Councillor Abdul Hai 
Councillor Angela Mason  
Councillor Phil Jones  
Councillor Sally Gimson 
Councillor Georgia Gould  
Councillor Jonathan Simpson  

Responses to the consultation written by people like you and I have already seen massive improvements in the plans in the shape of the Torrington Place trial and the stepped cycle tracks on Gower Street.  Now it is time we see this key plan for unlocking the West End through to delivery. Please write today! 

*This article was edited at 10.30PM on Tuesday 20th January as the window in which to contact the cabinet had passed.  In order to protect them from spam, I have removed the email addresses of the Cabinet Councillors.  The rest of this article remains for our archive.

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Policy lag (or why bike lanes will be crap for a while yet)

Mark from As Easy As Riding a Bike blog tweeted a screen grab from Streetview recently of a newly painted bike lane in Horsham with the caption "Where that Department for Transport 'cycling money' is going. Brand new (2014) cycle 'infrastructure' painted in Horsham with Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash".  It doesn't take a rocket scientist - let alone a road engineer - to work out that this is crap:

This shouldn't just make cyclist's blood boil. Not only is at best unusable and at worst downright dangerous, it's also a complete waste of tax payer's cash; something we are frequently reminded is in short supply these days.

However Horsham is not alone in splashing the cash (and the paint) around.  Here's a shot I recently took in London's shiny new Olympic Park.  This road layout is little more than a year or two old, and yet contains poorly painted sub-standard bike lanes which really help no one and serve no purpose:


There's a faction of cycle advocates who would say it is not worth asking for cycle infrastructure at all, because all you get is nonsense like this.  I can empathise with their position - the internet is filled with pages and pages of examples just as bad as this (or worse).

I've argued before that you need three things to make successful cycling cities:

  • Political Will
  • Money
  • Design knowledge

And in the above cases I would strongly argue that it is the latter - design knowledge - which is lacking.  There are plenty of road engineers out there who don't have a clue how to accommodate cyclists in their designs, but there are plenty more who would like to do so but are nervous from straying from the manual.

In UK road design circles innovation cowers in the shadow of liability, perhaps understandably when you consider that it is people's safety potentially at stake.  As a consequence most of the space between buildings is filled in like a "Paint by Numbers" picture, fitting in whatever the manual says is appropriate.  
Busy road with lots of vehicles?  There's a pre-defined solution for that.  
Quiet cul-de-sac with heavy pedestrian activity?  There's a pre-defined solution for that, too.  Call it "tick box urbanism", if you like.

The trouble is that most streets take a few years to get from the drawing board to reality, and in that time I would argue the aspiration of cycle campaigners has evolved whilst the guidance has struggled to keep up.  In just a few short years in London we've gone from a situation where campaigners (and campaigns) could not even decide whether they wanted cycle provision or not, to a much broader consensus with far more ambitious aims.  The London Cycling Campaign and others are now asking for - and getting - high quality, European-style separated infrastructure.

How wide do you want your spanking new bike tracks?

Transport for London have been quick to get their design skills up to date (see the Cycle Superhighways proposed for central London and the construction work currently ongoing around the Oval) whereas some of our local borough authorities are much further behind the curve.

And here's the trap. For those behind the times who are still following guidelines to the letter, there's a real policy lag.  As has been remarked elsewhere, not all of the guidelines designers and engineers are employing are particularly effective at prescribing environments suitable for cyclists of all ages and abilities.  Whilst there has been much in recent years to help make streets more attractive, there has been less about improving the actual subjective experience of riding a bike.

This policy lag - the inability of the paperwork to keep up with the aspiration - will ensure that for every fantastic new cycle track built over the next few years there's going to be plenty of crap, as well.

Further reading:

Rachel Aldred: what's wrong with place and movement hierarchies?
As Easy As Riding a Bike: when will design guidance think of cycling as something for all?
A View From The Cycle Path: 3 types of Cycle Safety