Cycling over to meet Nigel Hardy, the project manager for the cycle superhighways, I had one question running through my mind. “Why didn’t they just call it blue lanes and avoid all the hassle and criticism they’ve drawn?” Soon this question along with another barrage of questions from London Cyclist readers would be answered.
My test ride with TfL would finally put to rest which of the two visions would become a daily reality for 1000s of London Cyclists. Would it truly be continuous lanes that provide a safe and direct route into the capital. Or would it be more of a marketing gimmick, a glorified cycle lane that is a missed opportunity for real progress.
The first two of the cycle superhighways are on track for their completion date of the 19th of July. After this we will see an incremental increase in cycle lanes with two more superhighways being added every year. These two cycle superhighway routes are pilot routes and while a lot of criticism has been coming in it’s important to note that up until the 19th of July they are still not officially finished. In fact the final thing we will see is the signage being added and the last road markings going in on busy junctions.
The main criticism of the cycle superhighways is also the most obvious: “It’s just a lick of blue paint”. This is justified as large parts of the first two routes already existed as the more traditional green cycle lanes. However, TfL were keen to stress that a lot has gone into it that we don’t see. For example, the road surface has been re-done in many areas that were suffering from potholes. There’s also been a lot of behind the scenes engineering work, planning and testing. The blue paint has been running through light box tests where they run a tyre over it many times to test it doesn’t fade. A couple of previous revisions of the paint used have been scrapped as they were found to fade far too easily.
There are three types of road surface in use for the superhighways. The surface you will see near the junctions is high-friction to prevent accidents. I raised the reports that have been coming in of slippery road surfaces. TfL told me that they’ve run extensive tests and not found the paint used to be slippery.
Talking to Nigel Hardy I was also very keen to raise the point of “why the blue?” and “why call it a superhighway?”
Branding was the short answer. Perhaps fears of a “marketing gimmick” were coming true. The hope with the branding is to make drivers aware that high volumes of cyclists will be travelling along this route. It also makes it easier for cyclists to follow the route and know where it is leading them.
Why not segregate?
Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rio De Janeiro, Barcelona. All places I’ve seen segregated cycling infrastructure work well. It’s one of the main things cyclists request to feel safer. A small barrier between drivers and cyclists would surely make this more of a cycle “super” highway.
Segregation however, is not something that is being considered for the cycle superhighways. TfL said the routes are simply not being used frequently enough to warrant separation of traffic. It is only during peak hours that you will see many cyclists in the lanes. TfL claim that segregating the lanes would create many problems for loading vehicles. They also claim that cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles.
TfL are more keen to address the problem of motorists in cycle lanes through police enforcement, branding and working with companies to ensure their drivers are not blocking the lanes during peak hours. The experience of cyclists will tell if this approach will have the desired effect.
Direct and continuous cycle superhighways
Cyclists have also been raising concern about how continuous the cycle lanes are. Around 80% of the route is covered by the blue lanes. The other 20% involves blue boxes with CS markings in them and crossings at junctions. The break in the continuity is meant to inform cyclists that they need to pay extra attention. It is used when a continues blue lane was deemed inappropriate.
A super experience
Riding the superhighway side-by-side with Nigel Hardy, which is barely possible along much of the route as the lanes are often just 1.5 metres wide, I wondered what he thought beginner cyclists would think of the experience.
As we stood at the final junction of our tour with Nigel pointing in various directions and explaining to me what cyclists need to do to pass this complicated junction I thought it was the right time to ask the question.
His response is perhaps the ultimate conclusion to the cycle superhighways. Without training he wouldn’t expect them to feel very happy riding along this busy A-road even with the superhighways in place.
A cycle superhighway should surely be designed to give beginners that confidence they need to tackle London’s roads. It should be a pleasure to ride along without any fear. This was my experience of the equivalent of superhighways in other countries and unfortunately it was not the same in London.
In the end the superhighways are a compromise. On one side you have organisations such as the LCC and bicycle activists calling for more to be done. On the other you have motorists. TfL and the Mayor have to try to decide how the two sides can work together. There has been a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to complete the first two routes. Whilst it remains hard to discover the “super” in the cycle superhighways they are a positive step forward in the vision to make London a cyclist friendly city.