London’s Cycle Superhighways are frequently referred to as ‘safe, direct and continuous.’ This was, for instance, the wording used in the Mayor’s Cycling Revolution document from May 2010 –
London’s Cycle Superhighways will provide cyclists with safe, direct, continuous, well marked and easily navigable routes along recognised commuter corridors into the centre.
Again, the word ‘continuous’ appears in a later description of the Superhighways, where it is asserted that they will
Provide routes that have continuous clear blue markings from beginning to end
Although less promisingly
Cycle Superhighways are trialling a system of continuous blue paint road markings providing a clear message to cyclists that they are heading in the right direction
A passage which suggests that the purpose of the paint is little more than a directional guide. The impression is further reinforced by another paragraph in the document –
All Cycle Superhighways will have distinctive blue markings to highlight the presence of cyclists to other road users and make them easy for cyclists to navigate. The use of road marking will reduce the need for signage and street clutter. Cycle route signs will have distinctive branding to distinguish the Superhighways from other cycle routes. There will also be cycle logos and route numbers on the road surfaces and in bus lanes to clearly identify the Cycle Superhighways.
The ‘Superhighways’ blue markings, in other words, are merely about ‘highlighting’ the presence of cyclists, and for making the routes easy to navigate. Whoop-di-doo.
But nevertheless, they’re continuous, right?
Some scenes from Cycle Superhighway 8, as it passes through Battersea.
Worse than useless, because this kind of road marking subliminally encourages people to duck back onto the blue paint between the parked vehicles, when they should probably be holding a straight-ish line between them, to avoid conflict when re-emerging into the ‘traffic’ stream.
It’s quite clear, therefore, that the Superhighways themselves are far from ‘continuous’. You can find scenes like this on any of them. So were TfL and the Mayor being dishonest when they said they were?
Not exactly. Because they haven’t described the Superhighways themselves as continuous. Only ‘the routes’, and the indication of where to go along them. This is clear when we refer back to the quotes that open this post. In the first, it is the routes that are described as continuous, and in the second and third, it is the markings.
Now, I’m not really clear why the Mayor and Transport for London feel the need to boast about a ‘continuous route’, because a ‘continuous route’ is simply anything that doesn’t turn into a dead-end, or stop in the middle of nowhere. The Superhighways are ‘routes’ that go from A to B, and they are ‘continuous’ only in the superficial sense that you can get from A to B without being forced to turn around and go back to A, or isolated at an impenetrable junction.
A ‘cycle route’ that doesn’t force cyclists to turn around and go back from where they came is not something that anyone in their right mind is going to get excited about, because that is the most basic requirement of any route. Indeed, a route that is not ‘continuous’ can hardly be said to be ‘a route’ in the first place.
But talking about ‘continuous routes’ is a neat, suggestive way of make the Superhighways sound fantastic, when in fact the superhighway itself – what really matters when you are cycling along it – is anything but continuous.
As for the ‘continuous markings’ – well, that means that we have square blue blobs of paint on those stretches of road where TfL haven’t been bothered to sort out the conflicts between parked vehicles and the Superhighways. These blobs helpfully tell us that we are still ‘heading in the right direction’; presumably we might swerve off into a side road without them. As long as we can see the next blob of blue, and head to it without getting lost, then the Mayor and TfL are doubtless satisfied that the markings are ‘continuous’.
While I was writing this piece yesterday, Kulveer Ranger gave an interview, in which he had the thankless task of not only attempting to defend this crap, but also sell it as somehow being about ‘safety’.
Listening to Ranger, it’s quite hard to escape the impression that he doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about, or that he’d rather be somewhere else, talking about something, anything, other than cycling. All he seems to have are tired soundbites and ‘initiatives.’ On interactions between HGVs and cyclists, he acknowledges that
The worst possible interaction on a road surface – and the scariest thing for a cyclist – is an HGV. There’s a myriad of things; it can be road design, it can be, y’know, the cyclist positioning themselves [poorly? garbled], it can be the driver. So there’s a whole number of things in there that have to be looked at.
But when it comes to things that are actually being ‘looked at’, all Ranger talks about is training, and ‘awareness’ – no mention of fundamental changes to road design that might keep cyclists apart from HGVs in the first place.
We’ve been running exchanging places events where we take drivers out of their cabs and put them on bicycles, and take cyclists into the cabs, to see if they can get a better understanding of how to be more aware of each other. It’s voluntary, but also if we find that you’ve done something wrong and you get a penalty notice, we actually say ‘you don’t need to pay the fine, you can go on the course, and find out how to be a better cyclist or a better driver.’ And we’re looking at more things like that.
Great. On the Superhighways, the subject of this post, Ranger has this to say –
The Superhighways were actually designed with input from cyclists. They wanted continuous, direct routes on the main roads, because that’s what cyclists want, especially commuter cyclists. So to reinforce safety, we wanted to define where other road users could expect those cyclists to be, but also help the cyclist have that continuous route. So fundamentally it’s been about improving safety. People say, ‘Oh, y’know, it’s a bit of blue paint.’ Actually, the cost of those range between £10-20 million a highway. Now if that was blue paint, that would be very expensive! What it is actually is the civils work, we look at key junctions on those routes and see how we can improve them.
What cyclist, commuter or otherwise, would want a cycle lane that is interrupted continuously by parking bays?
What commuter doesn’t know where he or she is going, and needs paint to remind him or herself of the route?
In what possible sense are these routes any more or less continuous after the addition of the Superhighways?
Can the point of the paint really be to simply ‘define where other road users could expect those cyclists to be’?
Does Ranger really think this ‘awareness’ is a genuine safety feature, that makes these Superhighways ‘fundamentally… about improving safety’?
And for Ranger to have the chutzpah to say that the expense of these Superhighways has been incurred because of ‘civils’ at key junctions, and not through the cost of paint, is, well, incredible.
Pictures courtesy of Cyclists in the City
It’s at junctions where Superhighways tend to disappear, or are compromised, because the space is needed for ‘smoothing traffic flow’. (It’s also where superhighways tend to become rather less ‘direct’, where off-road bypasses do exist, for instance at Elephant & Castle, or at the Trinity Road roundabout in Wandsworth). Cyclists and HGVs are consequently forced into the same space, thanks to TfL’s own policy priorities. Meanwhile TfL seem to content to rely on training and awareness to stop further fatalities and serious injuries, and don’t apparently see the need to fundamentally address the issue of the design of London’s roads, the safety of which has not be altered one iota by the addition of these ‘continuous’ routes.