Monday, 17 September 2012

Fantastic news: TfL confirms extension of Cycle Super Highway 2 to 'GoDutch' standards. Rather worrying news: Once you get to Bow roundabout, the rest of the road is just blue paint which is 'essentially useless'. Let's have a bicycle transport network but any chance we could do it properly?

TfL confirms more protected bikeways like this
to head out beyond Stratford and that it will
involve Danish road engineers
Earlier this month, Germany issued its new National Cycling Plan 2020. The fact that Germany even has a Cycling Plan is already something of a step ahead of the UK.

And the plan is incredibly bullish. The German government expects bicycles to become an increasingly serious part of the national transport mix. The government is backing e-bikes in particular and thinks electric bikes offer a serious alternative to car trips up to 15km. It is also getting behind cargo delivery by bicycle. It is planning to build infrastructure and systems to support cycling so that 15% of all journeys are undertaken by bicycle by 2020. It expects that number to be slightly higher in towns and cities (16%) and slightly lower in rural areas (13%). Some cities will see radically bigger percentages: 25% of all journeys will be by bicycle in Berlin by 2025, 18% in Hamburg. 

To put that in context, the Mayor of London is planning 5% of all journeys in London should be by bicycle. But not until 2030. London doesn't seem to think that cargo can be delivered by bike and is making no serious steps to reduce the rapidly growing number of vans on its streets. Germany is. London, meanwhile, is going to choke on more and more motor traffic while Germany builds its economy by freeing people from the costs of running a car and frees its economy from ever-worsening congestion and pollution.

The German National Cycling Plan talks clearly about the need to have an all-emcompassing 'system' around bicycle transport. That should include funding and infrastructure but also support in the form of cycle parking and hire bicycles. The most important requirement, though, is 'safe, convenient and comfortable bicycle infrastructure'. That cycle infrastructure should be "consistent and free of barriers". So, the German government is saying something that the UK government is only just beginning to realise: To make bicycle transport a realistic option, you need proper cycle tracks, consistent quality and without barriers.

An article in today's New York Daily News says more or less the same thing:

"Bike paths need to flow like bloodstreams: We need networks, not snippets.... [They] cannot be developed piecemeal, with bits of bike lanes that stop and start within one Community District (which might be more-welcoming to bikers), skip the next, then start up again on some distant street that doesn’t lead bikers to where they really want to go anyway."

The problem is that TfL doesn't propose to do anything with
the rest of the route, which is 'essentially useless' for bicycle
transport (Picture courtesy AsEasyAsRiding blog)
Welcome to the reality of London. A city in which bike lanes like the protected bike path through Bloomsbury comes to a complete halt as soon as the road crosses into Westminster. Westminster prefers to use its road for car parking, not for safe bicycle transport infrastructure.

In today's edition of The Times, four Olympic cycling champions all said more or less exactly the same thing. Victoria Pendleton commented: “I think cycle lanes should only be cycle lanes,” she said. “I get really p****d off with people parking in cycle lanes and forcing you to move out into traffic. Cars shouldn’t be allowed in them at all. They shouldn’t be there for effect or aesthetics; they are there for a purpose.” Jason Kenny "said that he took up cycling on the roads after becoming sick of paying for parking. 'Bike lanes are nice to get you away from the traffic,' he said. 'I prefer ones that don’t make you get off and on again.'"

In that context, it is fantastic news to hear from the London Cycling Campaign that Boris Johnson is planning to extend Cycle Super Highway 2 from the City of London out all the way beyond Stratford. It is even better news to hear that Transport for London is considering a Danish approach this time, possibly with proper protected bike lanes.

There's plenty of room for protected bike lanes along here as you can see in this excellent profile of this ghastly street on AsEasyAsRiding blog.

In fact, there's plenty of room for protected bike lanes along the whole length of cycle highway 2. And they should have been built in the first place. AsEasyAsRiding blog calls the existing Cycle Super Highway 2 "essentially useless". I agree.

The risk is that the Mayor might be about to build a spur of really good Danish-style bicycle transport infrastructure from beyond Stratford to the dreaded Bow roundabout. But once you reach Bow on your way to the Square Mile? Nothing. Just blue paint in the bus lane or under the car parking.

In other words, the Mayor's very positive step to improve Cycle Super Highway 2 could end up as an isolated 'snippet' (to coin a phrase from New York) rather than part of a network that could make a real difference. There's a risk that good quality, safe, consistent bicycle transport between Ilford and Bow roundabout could throw users on to the hopeless and dangerous blue paint between Bow roundabout and the Square Mile. Same road, same people, totally different bicycle infrastructure.

So, good on the Mayor for committing to real bicycle transport infrastructure along Cycle Super Highway 2. But let's hope he means to see the Cycle Highway go from end to end, not just as far as Bow roundabout and then you're on your own.

New York, Germany and the UK Olympic team have all flashed out loud warnings this week. If you're going to build a bicycle transport network, then build it propely. Don't just stick on snippets here and there.