What the 12 cycle superhighways mean for London Cyclists

In less than a year cyclists in London will be able to cycle along the first two cycle superhighways. Their aim is to provide a safe and direct route into the city centre to cyclists. Is this a major cycling revolution or is it just a normal bike lane with a lick of blue paint and a bit of clever branding?

Design of the cycle highways

Cycle superhighway artists impressionThe artists impression (showcasing some excellent Photoshop skills) from the TfL website basically looks like a normal cycle lane painted blue. In fact taking a closer look at this picture you realise its a bit of a marketing disaster. Not only does it show a scared individual cycling in the gutter but also it shows a London bus driving in the cycling lane. Not exactly dream conditions.

The limited information that has been given so far suggests that the cycle lanes will be:

  • Separate from motor traffic wherever possible
  • Painted blue
  • Following the route of main roads

Definitely nothing too “revolutionary” there. The description on the TfL website is slightly more positive:

Direct and continuous – The routes will be clearly marked from start to finish so you’ll have no trouble following them. You’ll also see information along the way about journey time and links to other cycling routes.

Comfortable – We’ll be improving road surfaces along the route so you can pedal more comfortably.

Easy to find – Each highway will have a clear and unique identity.

Safe – Signals, road markings and continuous cycle lanes at junctions will help you keep safe.

Suggested routes

The first two routes that are currently under development are very direct and a decent cycling length. However, they have limited space to develop larger cycling lanes to accommodate the suggested threefold increase in cycling users that the scheme aims to achieve. If the lanes did eat further into car users space then there would be a highly negative effect on rush hour traffic. Perhaps the standstill would be enough to encourage motorists to switch to pedal power as they watch even the slowest cyclist beat them to their destination.

(Find out if there is anything ‘super’ about the cycle superhighways)

southwark bridge road cycle superhighway

Route 3

  • Barking to Tower Hill via the A13 and Cable Street
  • Opening: May 2010
  • 9.8 miles (estimated) so roughly 39 minutes bike ride (riding at 15 mph)
  • View map

map of cycling superhighway

Route 7

  • South Wimbledon to Bank via A24, A3 and Southwark Bridge Road
  • Opening: May 2010
  • Follows Northern Line to Bank
  • 8.9 miles (estimated) so roughly 35 minutes bike ride (riding at 15 mph)
  • View map
    cycle highway route 7 map

Remaining routes

  • There are also 10 more routes that will be developed after the 2 pilot routes are completed.
  • TfL appear to be aiming for completion of all 12 routes before the end of 2012. However, considering the length of time taken to develop just 2 routes I can’t see that happening.
  • cycle superhighway
    Image source: TfL

Marketing gimmick or positive step forward?

If Boris’ big blue bike lanes catch on then the outcome can only be positive. After all, any cyclist would be crazy to wish away good cycling lanes along major routes. It is important however not to have the wool pulled over our eyes. The new mayor of London famously cut spending to the London Cycle Network which resulted in 400 new cycle lanes been scrapped.

(See all cycle superhighway coverage)

There are three measures of success here. The first is weighing up the quality of the cycling highways compared to traditional cycling lanes. If the superhighways delivered the promised improvements such as greater road comfort, more room to cycle and priority over traffic then they may raise the bar of what is expected from a cycling lane thus prompting improvements across the network of cycle routes. Conversely if the cycle superhighways end up being just a glorified cycle lane then the benefit will be marginal to cyclists.

The second measure of success is the completion of all 12 cycle lanes. In a positive scenario all 12 would be completed by the end of 2012 as promised. This would have a strong impact to the London cycling scene. If however the scheme is scrapped before completion, which may well happen depending on the feedback from the first two cycle routes and a negative backlash from motorists, then a lot of time will have been wasted.

The final measure of success is the positive impact it has on the number of cyclists and on the awareness of cyclists as fellow road users. If drivers end up paying more attention to cyclists then maybe less accidents will occur.

What would be nice to see in future initiatives is a more united front between the mayor of London and London Cycling Campaign rather than arguments over who is right as this does not portray a positive image to us cyclists. I look forward to May 2010 and giving the first cycle superhighways a test run.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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29 Responses to What the 12 cycle superhighways mean for London Cyclists

  1. Ron 09/07/2009 at 3:09 am #

    The sheer fact that London is going ahead with such a scheme is commendable. However, I agree that not the brightest minds worked on the promotional aspects of it. It does look like its photoshopped doesn’t it? I wonder if all the superhighways will be connected to each other somehow to make one giant superhighway. What do you think?

  2. Andreas 09/07/2009 at 4:30 pm #

    Perhaps they will – Like the M25 motorway that engulfs London! I do like the idea of a cycle superhighway but I have a strong feeling it will just be a rehash of a normal cycling lane with no major improvements like being separate from the main road. As in the Netherlands: http://amsterdamize.com/2009/07/07/cycling-in-the-netherlands-facts-versus-dribble/

    • Clive 14/05/2010 at 1:02 pm #

      I agree – it does not seem as if an aim is a 60% use of bikes ratio as in Groningen.

      Surely by definition it must be completely separate from road traffic – will a seven year old be able to go to school on these? Motorways ban bikes, why not these ban cars etc?

      And are they suitable for mobility scooters?

      British cyclists are the equivalent of the medieval knight in full battle regalia – not the gentle enjoyable experience of the Netherlands.

      We were invaded and conquered by the Dutch in 1688. Why haven’t we learn’ from them?

  3. theandyman 06/08/2009 at 8:27 pm #

    I ride ‘route 7’ every day of the week and it beggars belief that they plan to paint even the gutter blue! From South Wimbledon to Tooting Bec there simply isn’t the road width to paint a cycle lane, let alone separate bikes from motors physically! Hard to believe there was once a tram line along most of this route. This is just cosmetic hogwash from our ‘cycling’ mayor. If he doesn’t have his clothes and shoes chauffeured behind him like his mate Dave then perhaps he has them couriered?

  4. Andreas 09/08/2009 at 12:13 pm #

    It is a shame to hear this may be primarily a cosmetic change – unfortunately I assume city planning is very difficult when everything is already built up around and there is not much room for manoeuvre. However, I’m glad to see that fellow cyclists are not having the wool pulled over their eyes about the potential benefits of these “cycle superhighways”

  5. Anish Patel 24/08/2009 at 1:59 pm #

    My name is Anish Patel and I am the husband of Catriona . On Monday 29th June at around 08.20, Catriona died as a result of a collision with a green Tipper lorry at Kennington Park Road, at the junction with Harleyford Street. I would like to make a personal appeal for anyone who was in the Oval area that morning , who saw Catriona or the tipper, to come forward as a potential witness. Even if you did not see the incident directly, you may still have useful information on the lead up to, or aftermath of the incident. So, please, I urge you to come forward. Any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, may be crucial to the case. I and the entire family would like to understand what happened on that day and you may have seen something that is relevant. Please contact the Collision Investigation Unit Witness Line on 020 8941 9011 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 if you have any information. Many thanks, Anish.

  6. Burt Kaufman 28/02/2010 at 4:59 pm #

    It looks to me if you are in the suburbs and work down town, you MAY be well served by the new bike routes, but if you want to go from one suburban location to another you will find it highly desirable to have LOOPS (ring roads) that allow you to get more or less directly to the location desired. (Or hasn’t anyone noticed that lack?)

    • MertonCyclist 18/05/2010 at 12:50 am #

      My main route into the centre is one of these new blue lanes in London. That’s what they are. ALL they are. A different paint colour at the edge of crammed Victorian-era roads. Ones that were never designed for motor vehicles, let alone sharing with bicycles (in fact, one could argue that bikes should be given far more priority as they came first on these very roads). Thus there is NO spare space, and in this area the drivers can be extremely ignorant, unlicensed/uninsured, or even just forced to park in the cycle lanes as there’s nowhere else to park. Not that I sympathise with the car-lover doing a casual 3km drive across town to pick up a meal, then parking in an illegal area, but I’m talking about delivery drivers, buses at bus stops and such. WHERE do you fit them all whilst giving cyclists 1m+ of clear, prioritised and ‘sacred’ space on each side of the road? You can’t! Well, there’s always the option of demolishing the buildings along the whole route and making the road much wider… No? Just the blue paint it is, then. This was implemented by the same mayor whose only other memorable act was to ban alcohol drinking on the London Underground. Making no real difference to anyone’s life. What a good use of tax-payers’ money.
      Anyway, cycling is only relaxing here at 2am onwards.

  7. JSize 12/05/2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I for one (as a regular cycle commuter) cannot wait until they turn on the bike super highways. The magic blue force field that will rise from the painted strips will protect me from the lorries, cars and buses who would otherwise will completely ignore it, or am I missing something?

  8. telos 13/05/2010 at 4:47 pm #

    the images showing artists’ impressions of the lanes on the tfl web site show that the routes will still be shared with buses and interrupted by bus stops. they will not be properly separated from motor vehicles, which is all the more important on big A roads. there is nothing substantial in this announcement. it is pathetic and deceitful. shame on the media for reporting on this so uncritically. “superhighways”… pure newspeak. check out scandinavian or dutch cities to get a taste of what a proper, efficient, safe cycle lane is all about.

  9. iMark 13/05/2010 at 6:52 pm #

    I live in Amsterdam, the city with the biggest modal split for cycling in the world. Just saw an item on the BBC about this.

    I think the designs are absolute rubbish. TfL should come over to Amsterdam or any other Dutch city to come and see how cycle routes are designed properly. Cycling is so safe in NL that hardly anyone wears a helmet.

  10. Clive 14/05/2010 at 1:22 pm #

    I have just remembered that over 20 years ago I was involved in mapping possible back street and across parks routes in East London. It is not difficult, in fact there are some being planned for the Olympics. Are the Superhighways part of this?

    and what happened to the green chains?

    • MertonCyclist 18/05/2010 at 12:56 am #

      Clive, complex, hard to navigate back-street and cross-park routes are great – but only if you like an average speed of 10mph for a huge amount of stopping and starting acceleration effort. Then there’s the related issue of junctions. Sure, one can go faster the better one knows a (complex) route, but it doesn’t help far enough to make cycling as time-efficient a form of transport as it needs to be to compete with trains, tube and of course cars.

  11. Non-Cyclist 18/07/2010 at 12:04 pm #

    As a non-cyclist can I simply ask, Where is the legislation behind this scheme?
    All other road markings are clearly defined as to their usage and restrictions.

    The Wimbledon/Bank one runs in a bus lane in several places and even takes a significant amount of road at pedestrian crossings etc.

    Do they also have traffic light immunity?

  12. Pat 21/07/2010 at 8:07 am #

    As a motorcyclist, I try and stay clear of the bus lanes and cyclists. But now with all the traffic being forced to the middle of the road, filtering is no longer a safe option for me. I will have to start using the half bus lanes all along the route!
    Add to this that the roads (Route 7) aren’t even wide enough for a medium sized HGV without it encroaching half way into the blue zone makes me think that it was not fully thought out.
    Does anyone know the law or expectation where the entire traffic lane has been painted blue? This information should be made available.
    Keep safe, be alert, and always look over your shoulder

  13. Keith 10/09/2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Pointless waste of money. Even with this cycle highway, they still want to ride on both sides of the road. I get cut up by cyclists more then I do cars or even pizza boys !

    • Josh 02/03/2011 at 2:01 pm #

      I feel sorry for Motorist. Cyclist are the most ignorant road users in London. They don’t obey any of the traffic laws or wear appropriate clothing and safety items. All the time being wasted on the useless cyslist could have been used to make the public transport more efficient. Also stop comparing London to any of the dutch cities. Each city have different transport system integrated at the very beginning, Cycling is only a small percentage in London.

  14. minnie 25/09/2014 at 7:57 pm #

    What we need is properly segregated cycle lanes for cyclist.Not much use just painting the road blue as most motorists just ignore it and drive on it anyway!
    Motorists also could never be arsed to wait behind cyclists and always overtake at earliest opportunity,sometimes with hardly any room to spare.Is something I have experienced myself,which is why I always give plenty of room for cyclists when I’m driving.I always use the quiet residental roads,footpaths,cycle paths or pavements when ever possible.Too dangerous on busy main roads,unless we get dedicated cycle lanes.Been too many fatalities recently 🙁


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