Declaration of interest: this post is about a Sustrans project. Sustrans are monthly contributors to the keeping-a-roof-over-my-head fund, and I have definitely drunk their Kool Aid (“Tune in, turn on, drop out & build your own transport network”). But that doesn’t mean that what follows isn’t true!
One of the criticisms levelled at cycle infrastructure is that it doesn’t go everywhere, and that it could never go everywhere. It’s then implied that to ask for any cycle infrastructure is to ally oneself with the shrill cries of the lunatic fringe (sandals & beard optional) who are more interested in being right than the pragmatic practicalities of maintaining the status quo.
This is plainly a nonsense, straw-man argument, because many roads have many of the same characteristics as a well-designed, dedicated cycle lane – they’re wide, well-surfaced, don’t stop and start, and are free of motor vehicles. Well, mostly free of them.
So for example, in the Netherlands, many residential streets don’t have dedicated cycle routes, as they’re safe enough not to need them. This is safety in the very real sense of actual risk, and the perception that people get when riding on them.
The trouble is, you can only get so far on those quiet residential streets. Sooner or later you have to go and play with lorries and taxis and buses (Oh, my!)
Let’s look at London as an example.
Coarse-scale cycle route projects like London’s Cycling Superhighways are an effort to integrate bikes with the main arterial roads leading into the city’s centre. But they fail in several respects:
- The current standard of design does little to protect cyclists from the dangers posed by fast-moving motor traffic. It’s probably worse than that, as the blue paint on the road is little more than a sign post as to the route’s direction – it has no legal standing as a bike lane.
- They’re remarkably intermittent and inconsistent. Gaps at critical junctions, suddenly skipping ten feet to the right to go around a bus stop. Stuff like that.
- Critically, even if the above were fixed, they’re still on too coarse a grid. So people have to use busy roads just to get onto the Cycling Superhighways.
If only there were something that could be done about this…
… which looks like this:
This is basically a large scale version of Sustrans’ Connect2 programme that saw routes put in all over the country. Unlike the typical British “leisure” routes, these focused on linking places that people need to get to – town centres, business parks, shops and schools.
So how much will this little lot in London cost? About ten million quid a year for eight years. Yeah, I know, that sounds like a totally infeasible ask to you and me.
But to people like TfL & the Mayor of London, it’s just far enough above the “chicken feed” level to be interesting, but not so pricey that it takes serious money away from the half a billion pounds worth of really (£225M) important (£50M) things (£200M) they might want to do.
Put it this way, the proposed level of spend is roughly in line with the cost of a new underground train every year. (Just for comparison, TfL are currently spending £1.5bn on a new fleet of those)
What this network is about is creating a comprehensive grid that makes cycling in London a realistic choice for people to use to get about – something that’s not just for the quick & the brave, and not just for the good residents of Hackney & Hoxton. Heck, it even extends into Waltham Forest!
So put your name to the petition for this project, and urge Boris Johnson to fund some proper joined up thinking.