There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘backstreets’ routes for cycling. Some of the highest quality routes I have cycled on in the Netherlands have been of this form, running away from main roads, passing through residential areas and parks.
These routes are excellent because they are direct, continuous, and involve little or no stopping. This is, in fact, an advantage over routes on main roads, which because they will be accommodating more traffic tend to require traffic signals, which unnecessarily delay cycling. They also have filtering, either in the form of physical blocks to stop motor traffic (the street in Nijmegen is closed at the far end to motor traffic), or simple signed exclusions on motor traffic, as on the pictured section of the Utrecht fietsstraat. Motor traffic can drive on this fietsstraat up to this point, but must turn left at the junction. The purpose is to keep motor traffic levels low enough for cycling on fietsstraats to be a comfortable experience for everyone.
I haven’t had a great deal of time to look in detail at the newly-released proposals for Superhighway 1, but it is quite obviously ‘a backstreets route’, running away from the A10, the most direct, north-south route that Superhighway 1 parallels – and indeed the road that CS1 is in fact an the obvious and explicit substitute for. Some parts of it – especially in Haringey – appear to be desperately poor. Meandering through the backstreets, Superhighway 1 has to take a turn up this tiny alley to avoid the A10 –
… and when it does run alongside the A10, it looks particularly shoddy, nothing more than a minor tidying of the existing (and deeply substandard) shared use arrangement on the footway.
The route in Hackney is a little better, but it is still meandering, it loses priority when it crosses major roads (a broader issue with Quietways), and, while there is some new modal filtering, it does not have a great deal of it. For instance, there is no filtering at all between the new closure where Pitfield Street meets Old Street, and Northchurch Terrace, a straight road of over a mile, open along its length to all motor traffic, in both directions. It’s not clear how quiet this route is actually going to be.
And of course there is the issue of whether this route even deserves to be called a ‘Superhighway’ at all. From the Mayor’s 2013 Vision for Cycling –
We will offer two clear kinds of branded route: high capacity Superhighways, mostly on main roads, for fast commuters, and slightly slower but still direct Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets for those wanting a more relaxed journey.
From this definition, Superhighway 1 is most definitely a Quietway, not a Superhighway. It runs on low-traffic side streets for almost its entire length, barring a short stretch on the footway of the A10 at Seven Sisters. It is not ‘mostly on main roads’.
I think this risks damaging the whole concept of Superhighways, and indeed opens the door to a return of the failed LCN+ approach of routing cycling onto wiggly backstreet routes that are less attractive than main roads, and (because of an absence of provision on main roads) don’t form part of a coherent network. Read this from David Arditti on the failures of LCN+, and it all starts to sound eerily familiar.
Since the LCN+ strategy was basically not about segregation, or even road-space reallocation, there was no coherent picture to put to councils, be they pro or anti-cycling, of what was supposed to be put in place on proposed main road routes like LCN+5 on the A5, and in the end it became a strategy just to spend the money somehow. The money for the A5 route just got spent on a few blue signs, cycle logos on the road, and speed tables on side-roads in Brent – none of which did anything to make cycling no the A5 any better.
For ‘A5’, substitute ‘A10’.
To repeat, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with routes away from main roads. High quality routes on minor roads can make sense. But they certainly should not be used as a substitute for addressing barriers to cycling on what should be more attractive, direct routes. And this appears to be precisely what is happening with Superhighway 1 – it has been shunted onto backstreets because of political opposition (and probably because of opposition from within TfL) from running it on the A10.
I don’t think the distinction between Quietways and Superhighways is particularly helpful, in general, but if these terms are going to be used, then in its current form, this route through Hackney and Haringey simply shouldn’t be labelled a Superhighway. It should be called a Quietway, because that’s what it is.
Calling it a Superhighway opens the door to other boroughs putting ‘Superhighways’ on fiddly back streets routes as a convenient way of avoiding the barriers to cycling on their main roads – a return to the LCN+ strategy of avoiding hard choices. That’s really not acceptable.