Open letter to Boris Johnson
Your Cycle Superhighways are advertised as “safer, faster and more direct” routes into the capital, providing routes for cyclists along the roads they might otherwise drive down – quick, direct routes into the capital that follow trunk roads. The infrastructure for motor vehicles is direct and clearly signposted, whereas for bicycles, it is winding, slow, and, more often than not, poorly signed.
Why, then, does CS1 not follow these guidelines? The original idea was to build a route that followed the A10: a fast, direct route into the capital. The new Cycle Superhighway 1 follows the old London Cycle Network route: a quiet route meandering around back streets from Tottenham to Old Street. Not to be confused with the new ‘Quietways’ scheme, providing cyclists with ‘an alternative to busy main roads’ along ‘direct and clearly signed’ routes. Sound familiar?
I would argue that diverting the Cycle Superhighway from the A10 is slower, less safe, and definitely less direct.
Have you ever tried cycling from Tottenham to Dalston at rush hour? Because that’s when most of your target audience will be trying to get to work. The traffic on those ‘quieter residential streets’ is i n s a n e. Everyone is trying to by-pass the A10, or get to work, or drop off their kids at the many schools along the route. The junctions are narrow, the sight lines are poor, and the traffic is coming from all directions. It’s a symphony of the car horn. It’s impossible to filter safely, people are turning in and out of junctions all over the place, and there is precious little room to pass the queue. Doesn’t sound fast to me.
And as for safety: do you know what the highest cause of accidents is for cyclists in London? It’s being ‘doored’ – hit by a car door as it opens. We teach cyclists to ride wide of the door zone, but what about those riders who are unaware of the dangers, or haven’t had training, or simply don’t have space because of all the traffic? Let’s take a look at these ‘safer’ roads that you’re sending cyclists down. Every single one of them is lined with parked cars.
According to TfL statistics, 77% of accidents happen at junctions. On the CS1 stretch between Tottenham and Dalston, there are 16 junctions at which you have to make a turn. On the A10 there are three.
The signage isn’t great, either. It’s impossible to just follow your nose or the flow of traffic: instead of a straight line south from suburbs to city, it twists and turns all over the place. Wasn’t that part of the point of the Cycle Superhighways? That they would follow those predictable routes?
But whatever I think of the terminology, or the marketing of cycle routes, or the roads that have been chosen, my main concern is segregation. Many cyclists will see cycling infrastructure and think, “Great! This has been put here for me to use by someone who knows what they are doing. This will keep me safe.” They do not think, “OK, this is a cycle superhighway. This is intended for commuters who have some kind of road sense,” or, “Look at this Quietway! What a perfect way to travel for families who don’t have to use the roads at rush hour,” or, “Hmm, that cycle lane is in the door zone. Perhaps I shouldn’t use it.” I once taught a lady who lived on the trunk road south from Elephant and Castle, and was thrilled that a new cycle route had been built outside her house. She merrily went out for a ride on the blue paint, and was passed too close by a bus within minutes. She didn’t try a second time.
All cycling infrastructure needs to be safe for all cyclists all the time. The re-designs of large junctions such as at Pitfield St / Old St are terrific, but until we see large scale segregation that is well-maintained, spacious, and goes where you want it to go, cycling in the capital will not be truly safe.