Along with concerns about surrendering the road to motor vehicles, one of the main reasons for opposition to the physical separation of cycling from motor traffic is a fear of being ‘held up’.
This is the worry, from people who cycle already, that their journeys will be slowed down, by being blocked on narrow cycle infrastructure by people who can’t cycle as fast as them. I’ve attempted to dispel this notion – at least with regard to Dutch cycle infrastructure. Separation from motor traffic should not mean that you are impeded.
But with the tube strikes over the last couple of days, it’s quite clear that physical separation of cycling would provide considerable benefits. The pictures of Superhighway 7 in particular that appeared yesterday show the uselessness of ‘cycle routes’ that become clogged by motor vehicles.
Danny Williams also took a picture of Superhighway 7 yesterday –
Here is cycle super highway 7 in action this afternoon. It’s so good you can only use it by dismounting pic.twitter.com/TJfm5tLJck
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) February 6, 2014
Contrast this with the videos that have emerged of people cycling along the segregated sections of Superhighway 2 over the last few days. The segregation is far from brilliant (indeed in places it is worryingly bad), but cycling has flowed smoothly and easily past static motor traffic.
I suspect this uselessness of the original Superhighways was built in from the start. There’s a very revealing interview with TfL by Andreas of London Cyclist, dating back from when the Superhighways were launched, in 2010. TfL provide this justification for not segregating the Superhighways –
Segregation however, is not something that is being considered for the cycle superhighways. TfL said the routes are simply not being used frequently enough to warrant separation of traffic. It is only during peak hours that you will see many cyclists in the lanes. TfL claim that segregating the lanes would create many problems for loading vehicles. They also claim that cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles.
The implication of this is essentially that cycling was not considered enough of an important mode of transport in its own right to necessitate space being set aside for it – ‘routes not being used frequently enough’. TfL believed that the space properly-designed Superhighways would have taken up needed to be used instead for motor vehicles. Indeed, despite much progress in the last couple of years, this is probably the prevailing attitude within the organisation.
But I think we’ve seen over the last few days how wrong-headed this approach is proving to be. Despite the chaos on the transport network, with very little tube network running, desperately overcrowded buses, and clogged roads, cycling remains a non-option, principally because cycling through traffic – even traffic that is mostly stationary – is just deeply unattractive for most people.
I noticed that David Arditti left a comment below that London Cyclist article, in July 2010, which sums up the problem.
The big thing that tends not to be understood in the UK about segregated cycle lanes, Dutch-style, is that their main purpose is not safety, per se, as cycling is inherently quite safe anyway, it is the prioritisation of space for cycle traffic. It is, in other words, to give the bike a competitive advantage in the struggle for space on the roads, which makes bike journeys quicker and more efficient, as well as more pleasant. There is no other effective method of preventing parking, loading, queuing, bus and taxi stopping in cycle space, and general obstruction by motor vehicles, other than physical segregation. This is why it is used so extensively on the continent. It is not that the continentals have some malign control agenda to push cyclists off the general roads. Arguments that segregation slows down fast commuter cyclists are incorrect. It only has this effect if badly done, with insufficient capacity or other design faults. Fast commuter cyclists benefit equally with slower cyclists from the advantages that proper continental-style cycle tracks create. [my emphasis]
It’s hard to put it better than that. Space for cycling is needed for competitive advantage; to ensure that it isn’t impeded by congestion, and that journeys by bike are painless and pleasant.
This applies in the Netherlands too, where long queues of vehicles can easily be bypassed on cycle tracks – so easily you forget there’s actually ‘congestion’ on the road network.