Superhighway 5 on diversion

Late last year, the initial plans for Cycle Superhighway 5 were released by Transport for London. The Superhighway was routed over Vauxhall Bridge, and straight up Vauxhall Bridge Road, to Victoria station, where it ended as it met the current gyratory.

The initial planned route of Superhighway 5

The initial planned route of Superhighway 5

Unsurprisingly for a main road in London, Vauxhall Bridge Road is quite wide.

Clearly there's Space for Cycling here

Clearly there’s Space for Cycling here

As it approaches Victoria, it does narrow slightly, although remains at least four lanes wide, with reasonably generous pavements on either side.

Still not a problem to accommodate cycling here, if London has genuine aspirations to become a cycling city

Still not a problem to accommodate cycling here, if London has genuine aspirations to become a cycling city

The initial TfL plans were not particularly ambitious, at least as far as cycling comfort was concerned. The route southbound was to be a combination of widened bus lane, and mandatory 2m cycle lane, and the northbound route would have been a 2m mandatory cycle lane, similar to that currently on Millbank. An important detail is that these arrangments would have seen the stripping out of the (intermittent) vehicle lanes on each side, leaving just a single lane for private motor traffic in either direction.

Part of the original CS5 plans for Vauxhall Bridge Road

Part of the original CS5 plans for Vauxhall Bridge Road

It now appears that these plans have been abandoned, and the Superhighway will be diverted away from Vauxhall Bridge Road, onto the adjacent Belgrave Road.

The new proposed CS5 route, diverting onto Belgrave Road

The new proposed CS5 route, diverting onto Belgrave Road

Now this wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a problem – Belgrave Road is only marginally less direct than Vauxhall Bridge Road.

But there are two troubling aspects here. The first is that a Superhighway on a main road in London has simply been abandoned because of the concerns of Westminster Council about ‘traffic capacity’, and residents’ concern about rat-running. In the words of Boris’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan,

… cycle superhighway 5 was planned to come from New Cross and Peckham, over Vauxhall Bridge and up Vauxhall Bridge Road, ending at Victoria.

Nobody liked that idea much, frankly. We would have had to remove some general traffic space on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Both Westminster City Council and local residents feared that that would cause extra congestion on the road itself, and lead to rat-running through Pimlico’s residential streets.

I didn’t much like the prospect of cyclists using Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is extremely busy and in the northbound direction requires you to cycle into the middle of the road, often in heavy traffic, to avoid being taken left into Drummond Gate. There’s also the Victoria end itself, which requires cyclists to navigate one of central London’s worst gyratories, especially chaotic at the moment (and for years to come) with the station rebuilding works.

So it seems that Westminster Council simply didn’t want motor traffic lanes to disappear on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Gilligan’s comments about Vauxhall Bridge Road being ‘extremely busy’ and having to ‘cycle into the middle of the road’ are, I think, just window dressing in an attempt to back up Westminster’s position, because a properly designed Superhighway should insulate anyone cycling from that busy traffic, and not require them to cycle on a blue stripe in the middle of the road, as originally designed. It should be possible to design a junction where cyclists can progress straight ahead in safety – if we can’t do this, we might as well just give up now.

The TfL design for the junction with Drummond Gate, as referred to by Gilligan. Everton Smith died here in 2010.

The TfL design for the junction with Drummond Gate, as referred to by Gilligan. Everton Smith died here in 2010.


The second issue of concern is that the route the Superhighway is being shunted onto is not going to be adjusted in any way to make it attractive for cycling. All that will happen here is the painting of the now familiar blue squares, intermittently on the road, which serve only for ‘wayfinding’. In Gilligan’s words –

Because Belgrave Road is fairly quiet, we wouldn’t need to make any changes to the road, apart from intermittent markings – square symbols every so often on the road surface to reassure cyclists that they were on the right route. There wouldn’t be any continuous lines of blue paint. There wouldn’t be any physical change to the vast majority of the road. There wouldn’t be any changes to the bus stops. And there wouldn’t be any loss of parking.

Well, frankly, this is ridiculous. Belgrave Road is only ‘fairly quiet’ by comparison with Vauxhall Bridge Road. It still carries over 8000 vehicles a day, which is about half the amount of motor traffic on Vauxhall Bridge Road. (Figures from the London Cycling Census Map show that Vauxhall Bridge Road carries around 17,500 motor vehicles per day.) So Belgrave Road is not a quiet road, at least by standards that would make it appropriate for cycling for all – and nowhere near the 2,000 PCUs per day recommended by new LCC guidance as appropriate for a road without physical segregation. (Another detail – will it even have a 20mph limit?)

Gilligan writes

I would expect that a substantial proportion, but not all, of the cyclists currently using Vauxhall Bridge Road will switch to the new route. So adding the switchers to the existing users, Belgrave Road might see perhaps 1600 a day.

But this doesn’t make much sense – given that nothing is fundamentally changing on Belgrave Road, it begs the question why people cycling on Vauxhall Bridge Road haven’t switched to Belgrave Road already. Some blue squares painted on the road aren’t going to make a jot of difference to the attractiveness of the route.

So something needs to give here – if the Vauxhall Bridge Road route is being abandoned, then Belgrave Road needs to be properly adapted, to make it suitable. There are simple ways to achieve this. The road could be made fully one-way for motor vehicles, to allow space for protected cycle tracks behind the existing parking (which wouldn’t need to be removed).

Belgrave Road, courtesy of Google Streetview

Belgrave Road, courtesy of Google Streetview

The road is already one-way only at the northern end, and residents would still be able to access their properties, albeit via a slightly more circuitous route.

Alternatively – as the residents claim to be concerned about ‘rat-running’ (remember, this is the reason given for not removing capacity on Vauxhall Bridge Road) – the road could be bollarded at intervals to cut out through traffic, while still allowing the Superhighway to pass through. This would improve the quality and safety of the street for local residents, while making it appropriate for a Superhighway.

It is not acceptable to shunt a Superhighway onto another street, and to assume that street, without any adjustment, is acceptable simply because it carries less motor traffic than the thunderous Vauxhall Bridge Road. The rhetoric contained in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling is not being matched  by policies on the ground. Some quotes from that document –

Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.


Our policies will help all Londoners, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bicycle. Our new bike routes are a step towards the Mayor’s vision of a ‘village in the city’, creating green corridors, even linear parks, with more tree-planting, more space for pedestrians and less traffic.


The next all-new Barclays Superhighway, the route currently named CS5 from Victoria to New Cross, is being further improved from the already-announced plans. Details of this and other improvements and reroutings will be announced soon.

This is a test of commitment. Will this stretch of Superhighway 5 be designed appropriately, or will it be yet another timid and half-hearted compromise of the kind we are so familiar with?

This entry was posted in 20 mph limits, Andrew Gilligan, Boris Johnson, Go Dutch, Infrastructure, LCC, London, Space for Cycling, Subjective safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Superhighway 5 on diversion

  1. Andre Engels says:

    I wouldn’t call this a “half-hearted compromise”. I’d say this is perfectly in line with “we will do things at least adequately, or not at all”: They seem to have decided to do “nothing at all” at this stretch.

  2. cyclegaz says:

    Belgrave road will be a major step down for CS5.

    – Door zone: A majority of the road has parked cars on either side.
    – Traffic signals: The traffic signals on Belgrave road are almost impossible to hit green green green, meaning you have to spend some time at some junctions waiting. In turn making it slower than taking vauxhall bridge road.
    – Traffic: at the victoria end of Belgrave road sees a lot of traffic, meaning cyclists currently have to filter past lots of traffic, to make it safe for cyclists, it will mean loosing a lane of traffic.
    – Going South: Getting to Belgrave Road going south from Victoria is a right pain, I suspect cyclists won’t use it and will continue just to cycle down vauxhall bridge road, which going south is currently mostly bus lane.

    I don’t think losing a lane going north is that much of a problem. I cycle down the road everyday at rush hour and it’s not a problem south bound and when there has been roadworks going north with one lane shut, everything has moved smoothly.
    I suspect this is down to traffic light phasing, it is in the favor of traffic on Vauxhall bridge road and it flows very smoothly throughout the day.

    I already have no faith in TFL for delivering a safe solution for Vauxhall Bridge, this is just the icing on the cake.

  3. kruidig meisje says:

    I am wondering about the (heated) space4cycling arguments between cyclists and car drivers. Because in most pictures I have seen (and from the 1 day of experience I have walking around in London), there are quite broad pavements in most situations. Some of the pavement might be used for cyclist/car infra when redesigning, of course always leaving enough (like 2 meters?). Sometimes the pavements width must be ample enough not to have to diminish any space4motorising even. I never see that in the reasoning/calculations. Do I miss something?

  4. Barnie says:

    Er yeah… I used to use Belgrave Rd to bypass Victoria Rd when driving, the only reason I stopped was congestion charging ( ironically forcing traffic on to the already more congested route )… Obviously this doesn’t affect drivers who are paying the congestion charge anyway… nor… the great many taxi’s that use the road.

    Assuming it’s not changed in the last few years, the junction at the north end of Belgrave Road isn’t very friendly for turning right, even in a car, as everyone ( inc. taxis ) jostles for lanes… This may or may not be OK for confident cyclists, but not for more regular cyclists…

    I actually used to skate up the road on my way to Hyde Park ( less busy times of the day ) but on skates I had, and took, the option of nipping on to the pavement at the north end…

    • Barnie says:

      In terms of cyclists switching to the new route… being pretty familiar with the road… I’m pretty sure I’d just cycle straight up Victoria road myself… as CycligGaz has already pointed out… reduced issues with parked cars and side turnings.

      The junction at the north end surely makes it utterly unsuitable to encourage less strong and confident cycles to use it… unless they’re some magic reason why they’re all expected to turn left.

      Having stopped at some traffic lights your then cycling up a steep slope, with TWO lanes of traffic feeding in from the right… still going up hill…

      Then you have three or four lanes of traffic all crossing over and jostling for their lane of choice ( obviously some of the traffic that has just joined from the right, will be wanting to turn left, whilst some, possibly most, cyclists are trying to do the opposite ) :

      Notice how the lane markings just suddenly warp across the road 🙂 I generally find that’s a good clue that the junction designers pretty much gave up… for a reason…

      Even as a strong and confident cyclist who would take this on, I wouldn’t and worse still couldn’t if already fatigued, and even if fresh as a daisy, it”ll be a nightmare…

      I can’t see how they can possibly make this combination of junctions and bridge OK for a cycle superhighway without utterly borking it for motorised traffic ( which they won’t do, and in this particularly case, unlike Victoria Road, I’m not sure they can reasonably do… ).

  5. dave lambert says:

    So for anyone who believed Boris Johnson’s cycling vision bollocks last year, this surely must demonstrate that he can’t be trusted. If not then I give up.

    It’s just more of the same old crap from TFL and the Mayor and his so called Cycling Commissioner. They give us lovely words and then do the complete opposite.

    We need some serious disruptive protests now. No more pussyfooting.

  6. Paul M says:

    Love the layout – that cycle lane sandwiched between a turn-left motor lane and a straight-on motor lane. I can picture the manoeuvres now, as motor vehicles swerve at high speed across the blue paint as they realise they want to go left but are in the middle lane, or want to go straight on but are in the left-turn lane.

    Precisely this design prevailed on Blackfriars Bridge until about 2005/6 and caused the deaths of two cyclists, the latter, Vicky McCreery, leading to a complete rethink of the layout there and a much-improved design with a mandatory 2.5m cycle lane to the left and two, rather than three, motor lanes both to the right of the cycle lane.

    I cross Blackfriars Bridge every day, and am broadly comfortable with the layout of the northbound carriageway. It was only after this layout was introduced that I overcame my fear of cycling to work and started cycling instead of walking from Waterloo.

    • I should clarify that that design has been abandoned, with the Superhighway diverted left onto Drummond Gate, ‘around the corner’. (Of course the same conflict with turning vehicles will still exist for people wishing to cycle straight on along Vauxhall Bridge Road).

  7. So is this being consulted on? What is the mechanism for responding?

  8. Ken says:

    Looks like TfL planners pushed CS5 up Vauxhall Bridge Road and then freaked out at Victoria Station. Hence the new Belgrave Road cycle link idea. In Pimlico itself there seem to be a few pressure points:
    1) Bessborough Street narrows down towards the Lupus Street junction where it also runs into a primary school pick-up point, bus routes and a proposed new Sainsburys on the corner. Nine Elms want a new Thames cycle bridge to St George’s Square which would presumably join the Belgrave Road link at Lupus Street. Good luck with that.
    2) Eccleston Bridge end narrows and takes on a bunch of Victoria Station traffic via Bridge Place before Buckingham Palace Road.
    3) It’s a residential area with lots of resident parking, lots of kids and lots of car doors.
    Nobody has really figured out how to get cyclists safely from Vauxhall Bridge, past Victoria Station and on to Hyde Park and Marble Arch to join the superhighways coming down from the North. Yet…
    Thanks for quoting all the Gilligan stuff from our WarwickSq blog – he came to see Pimlico residents to canvas opinion and we persuaded him to write the article. Please get in touch with any ideas!

  9. what can I add…It is getting depressing being a highway engineer.

  10. Pingback: Extra, Extra | Londonist

  11. I just came back from a week in New York City, where I cycled a couple of days. WOW! NYC went from nowhere to far, far beyond London in both its cycling infrastructure and for tolerance (if that is not too strong a word) for other vehicles for cyclists. I am minded also of the August the mayor of Paris decided it was time for cycles and “made it so” while the rest of them were on holiday. London? All talk, very little action.

  12. Simon says:

    You can leave a comment on the website. Maybe Mr Gilligan will read them?

  13. Lap Chan says:

    This reminds me of before CS2 opened, and now that there have been deaths and injuries they’re finally going to ‘upgrade’ it to what is should have been in the first place. That’s not an upgrade, that’s righting a wrong.
    I fear that there might be incidents on CS5 before it gets ‘upgraded’. Either that, or no one will use it.

    Boris’s ‘vision’ seems to be: get people cycling and do the least amount possible to seem like it’s safer, then, after loss of lives and bad injuries, actually make it a little better and proudly claim that it is, which is true so no one can call him a liar.

  14. Stef says:

    Does anyone know when the CS5 section from new cross gate to the oval will be opened? It was meant to open in Autumn 2013 and the Tfl website says 2013 but I havent heared anything so far. I actually cycled the route today and not much has been done there at all so I can’t imagine this to open anytime soon…

  15. Robert says:

    However every road that has a destination needs a cycle route on it. If the main route is a couple hundred metres away, well the secondary route doesn’t have to be quite so wide. While a Dutch main route is between 3.5-4 metres in width, a secondary route is 3.2-3.5 metres in width if you have bidirectional cycle paths, and depending on the volume, a main route has 2.5 metres in width, a secondary route might have 2.25-2.5 metres of width. Cycle lanes are between 1.75-2 metres in width, but cycle lanes only if you are on a fairly low volume collector road or where you really don’t have space for anything better. And that means that you can only have 1 lane per direction if you have cycle lanes on a road that should have cycle tracks.

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