Cycle Superhighway 2

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.

A triumph of hype over substance.

This entry was posted in Boris Johnson, Bow Roundabout, Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, Infrastructure, London, Parking, Subjective safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Cycle Superhighway 2

  1. Sir Velo says:

    I have it from a reputable source that the £4m per mile is an overall cost for the project; therefore, it includes planning costs (viz consultancy fees; feasibility studies etc). The actual infrastructure costs are, therefore, literally just a fraction of the total cost.

    • Paul M says:

      Sounds about right. When we looked at how the City of London deployed money from the LCN budget provided by TfL, we found that you could broadly divide it into thirds. One third was spent on consultants’ reports commissioned from independent, private sector consulting firms. A second third was spent on the road surface itself, in paint, tarmac, concrete etc and the labourers who lay it. The third third vanised into the City’s own coffers, as a subvention towards the City’s own staff costs – for the highways engineers department, planning etc.

      This has always struck me as daylight robbery and I don’t know how TfL let the City get away with it – remember that the Ciy is the wealthiest local authority in the land, possibly the world. Its LIP (transport plan) budget is around £115m, which is several times the size of Lambeth’s.and most of it comes from its own sources including the parking account, the Bridges Fund, and rates.

      We also found that rather a lot of what actually got spent on tarmac and concrete could hardly be described as of real cycling benefit. Quite a lot was siphoned off in dribs and drabs to fund “street scene” projects – prettification of the built environment largely using granite setts. Somehow, the scheme to build raised tables of granite setts at road junctions along Fleet Street and elsewhere would grab £20k here and £30k there on the spurious basis that these stone patios somehow improved things for cyclists, though I have seen no rational explanation of how.

      The cheekiest though in my mind was the work on Southwark Bridge. An entire year’s LCN grant of circa £200k was hoovered up to pay for the concrete barriers along the roadsides on the bridge, behind which a cycle lane now nestles on either side, but the way these apparent cycle facilities simply vanish the instant you reach dry land either side gives the game away. The real reason for them was to prevent coaches parking on the bridge, which was considered not strong enough to support the extra weight.

      Also, although no LCN money was involved here, the massive narrowing of the carriageways on Cheapside, and removal of the old cycle lanes, was justified as “providing a benefit to cyclists, who account for [25%] of all traffic in peak periods” according to the report by City Officers to the Planning & Transportation and Streets & Walkways Committees. Quite what this benefit was to be was never expanded upon in the reports.

      So, I would be less than totally gobsmacked if I were to discover that, for example, the budget for a superhighway had paid for conversion of a light controlled pedestrian crossing to an uncontrolled crossing, or to countdown timers etc, on some fanciful argument that this somehow benefited cyclists. Indeed, I should imagine that these are about the most innocuous explanations we might find.

  2. The Superhighways are pretty poor at the moment, there is no doubt about that. But I think we can dare to hope that over time (a long time), they will gradually be improved upon, with more segregation and all parking bays removed or at least moved off the CS themselves.

    I see the (often pointless) blue paint as just the first step in the process of creating this CS network. As for the extraordinary cost, it’s worth noting that this includes some additional measures for businesses located near the new routes. This is what TfL have to say:

    “One Barclays Cycle Superhighway typically costs between £8 and £11 million, depending on
    the infrastructure required. This includes the Supporting Measures to encourage increased
    levels of cycling such as cycle training, maintenance and parking.”

  3. Rob says:

    I’m generally unimpressed with the Cycle Superhighways too but the stretch of CS8 after Chelsea Bridge, along Grovesnor Road to Lambeth Bridge is really rather nice. It is a mandatory cycle lane for most of the length, wide enough for 2 lanes of cyclists and you don’t feel squeezed in by cars or buses.

    Unfortunately the bit south of the river is pretty poor, especially heading away from town towards Wandsworth where the conditions are a mirror of what you describe above. In rush hour it’s hard to make any progress due to the traffic.

  4. Cyclestrian says:

    So what SHOULD it look like? It would be nice to show visitors to this page how “cycle super highways” should look. Even better if exemplar infrastructure had a rival bank’s logo!

  5. Paul says:

    I don’t live in London, but I visit friends there often. I was shocked the first time I rode a cycle “superhighway”. I couldn’t see how it was any different from any other pitiful bit of painted cycle lane in the rest of the country. It’s blue rather than red or just a white line, but it does exactly the same thing as all those other poor cycle lanes: stops just when it’s needed; disappears under car parking spaces; and defers endless to motor vehicle priority.
    A real opportunity was lost with the cycle “superhighways”.

  6. Also worth noting that of course the bus lane sections of superhighway, in nearly all cases, are peak hours only. Outside those hours you’ve got ‘undertaking’ drivers racing up behind you and squeezing past in a way that buses can’t do. As an aside, why are private coaches/tourist coaches allowed in ‘bus’ lanes? They’re not public transport, they’re not stopping at bus stops and they’re built for Motorways not for city streets.

    “Supporting Measures to encourage increased levels of cycling such as cycle training, maintenance and parking.”

    Forgive my skepticism but why would you include ‘cycle training’ in the cost of an infrastructure project? What has taken place – I use parts of a few CS routes but don’t remember being offered it.

    Parking seems to be on the superhighway – as we’ve seen above, it’s not been relocated or removed.

    Maintenance seems to be non-existant – sections of CS7 paint are already worn away around Clapham Common (within sight of the point at which Boris ‘launched’ the route). Other sections have been cut up by road works and not reinstated. Even as just a line of blue paint it’s not holding up very well.

  7. Peter Clinch says:

    In the interest of balance we need something positive to be said, so I will point out that it’s a much nicer colour than the pointless road paint you get on most routes.

  8. Chris says:

    Has anyone else noticed that the blue paint seems to retain surface water more than bare tarmac? So when it’s wet, it’s actually safer to ride on the road to the right of the blue stripe. Amazes me…

  9. Sir Velo says:

    Excellent points made by Paul, inter alia. If anyone is wondering why TfL would want to claim that CS2 cost £15m when any firm of painters and decorators could have done the job in a day, it’s so that Boris can point to it,and say “Look how much we’re spending on cyclists, and all you ingrates can do is complain”.

  10. Alan Schietzsch says:

    Is driving training budgeted from the cost of a car superhighway?

  11. Barry K says:

    Car superhighway? Ah, you mean the CS2 , but the lanes aren’t quite wide enough…..

  12. I visited London this spring, and was choked about the conditions for bicycle users in London and UK in general. The best you can do is to “go dutch”, I belive.

    Se also:

  13. It’s not great is it? I did however meet somebody the other day who really likes it. She is not a lycra clad racing cyclist, just plodding along from Mile End to the City. I was as surpirsed as you might be.
    Just to say they did do some structural changes. At Cambridge Heath rd they have taken out the terrible slip lanes and squared up the junction. It’s a fundamental improvement. But don’t think I’m trying to defend the indefensible. I don’t.

  14. Bob says:

    You Brits are so funny. This is a joke right? I’ve always enjoyed the antics of such brilliant comedy troupes such as the Monty Python lot. So Boris has his own comedy troupe now? Not a stretch I suppose.
    Is the “Ministry of silly bike lanes” two doors down from the “Ministry of Silly Walks”. Just curious.

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  16. Steff Davies says:

    Personally, I’d say the Cambridge Heath Road junction is now slightly worse, in that dedicated phases for turning right are now gone, so you have to judge gaps in fast-moving (too fast moving, in general – Mile End Road and Whitechapel Road look like dual carriageway and temp drivers to speed outside peak hours) oncoming traffic. Not a problem for anyone reasonably fit, but I’ve seen people who are obviously less fast and confident dangerously stuck.

  17. Olivia says:

    Cycling this route every day from Manor Park to Tottenham Court Road I think this post gives a pretty accurate impression of what CS2 is like. Looking forward to the new part opening from Stratford to Bow but just wish they would extend it further both ways. Cycling on the Romford Road is terrible – road surface full of potholes and no cycle lane to be seen!

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