Last week I visited the University of East London’s Stratford Campus to attend the launch of the Cycling Cultures report (pdf) (you can read the Cycling Embassy news story on the launch here). This gave me – and a few colleagues from the Embassy – the chance to ride the entire length of Cycle Superhighway 2, from Aldgate to Bow, and back again, as well as to sample the extraordinarily hostile road conditions in Newham, where the east-bound Superhighway simply disappears, leaving you alone on a road network seemingly designed to eradicate the bicycle as a mode of transport.
I am given to believe that the Superhighways cost a staggering sum of money – between £2 and £4 million per mile. The figure is so high it is, quite literally, incredible – so much so that the Mayor’s outgoing Director of Environment and Cycling, Kulveer Ranger, was forced to trot out the line that the Superhighways are ‘more than just paint.’
This is odd, because with the lone exception of Bow roundabout itself, where the recent attempts to improve the junction have introduced a limited degree of segregation by means of a kerb, I did not see any location along Superhighway 2 that did amount to anything more than paint. Nothing has been done here that changes the layout of the road, or actually gives any space to cycling.
Worse than that, what paint that exists is basically useless. The great majority of the length of Superhighway 2 is not even a cycle lane, bordered by a solid or dashed white line. It is simply a ‘guide stripe’, running either inside an existing vehicle lane, or a bus lane. It is consequently of no help whatsoever in moving past stationary vehicles (of which there are plenty at peak times), which will block it.
Likewise I suspect it encourages closer overtaking by vehicles; drivers doubtless imagine that you are cycling in a cycle lane, when in fact you are merely occupying a stripe within a vehicle lane. These vehicles overtook me with very little distance to spare.
The most comfortable cycling is in the bus lanes, where they exist.
They give the separation from motor traffic that is so badly lacking while cycling in the ‘stripes’ where bus lanes are absent. However, they are still ‘stripes’ and involve overtaking (and being overtaken) by taxis and buses. The half-arsed solution to negotiating past parked buses are the square ‘footprints’ painted outside the bus stops.
The other function of these ‘footprints’ is to provide a miniscule degree of continuity to the Superhighway when it ceases, passing by parked vehicles.
It would be dangerous to run a cycle lane right next to parked vehicles. But instead of creating a continuous route that would be safe, the planners of the Superhighway have essentially just given up at the first sniff of a conflict. How did this cost so much money?
Worse still is the amount of parking that exists in the Superhighway itself.
In places the blue paint is only itermittently visible.
Hopeless. Some kind of ‘continuity’ has been created here, but I’m struggling to understand the thought process involved in creating a blue guide stripe that lies under parked cars. It’s not to anyone’s benefit. A ‘Superhighway’ should surely have its own space, and not be completely inaccessible for long stretches. With the huge sums of money that have been thrown at these projects, and the amount of space available between the building frontages along the entire length of Superhighway 2, there was surely scope for moving the parking bays, or for realigning the carriageway markings, anything that might have created a useful route. I cannot fathom how we’ve ended up with what amounts to nothing, with so much spent. Quite honestly the blue paint has not made a bit of difference. It has not improved the cycling environment one bit.
This is ‘just paint’; paint that disappears whenever there’s a problem, that slips under parked cars, that gets blocked off by stationary vehicles, that doesn’t provide any margin of comfort from overtaking vehicles, that is absent just when a proper route is needed (CS2 vanishes at Aldgate gyratory).
The only purpose I can see for Superhighway 2, as it currently exists, is firstly as a ‘directional aid’ – hardly necessary, because it runs entirely along an enormous, dead-straight road. And secondly, as an apparent reminder to motorists that this is a road where, in Mayor Boris Johnson’s words, “they can expect to find cyclists.” This shouldn’t be necessary either; motorists can (and do) expect to find cyclists anywhere in London. Some terribly-designed blue paint isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference to their standard of driving, or to the comfort of cyclists.