A couple of months ago I wrote about the difficulties that have been created for cycling in London by the unhelpful use of ‘Superhighway’ and ‘Quietway’ terminology. That post looked at how the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling gave the impression that ‘Superhighways’ were places for fast cycling – confident, lycra-clad men speeding along main roads – while ‘Quietways’ were places for people who wanted a slower and calmer cycling experience. This passage, in particular, was especially unhelpful –
There will be greatly-improved fast routes on busy roads for cyclists in a hurry. And there will be direct, continuous, quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly.
The language of ‘Superhighways’ and ‘Quietways’, I wrote,
is actually leading to worrying problems of understanding (or, more cynically, wilful misinterpretation for political expediency), particularly by prominent members of the Conservative party in London, all describing Superhighways as some kind of Mad Max-style environment where testosterone-fuelled men in lycra go to lock handlebars with one another.
And it seems problems with ‘Superhighway’ language have surfaced again, this time with the RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People), who staged a protest on Friday calling for the north-south ‘Superhighway’ to be routed away from their headquarters on Judd Street in Camden.
Fazilet Hadi, director of engagement at RNIB, said: “Hundreds of people with sight loss come to RNIB each week as staff, volunteers and visitors.
“We are extremely concerned that the dramatic increase in the number of cyclists, combined with the removal of the pelican crossing, will put many blind and partially sighted people at risk of injury.”
The problem here is that, even if the ‘Superhighway’ gets routed somewhere else, Judd Street will still remain a desirable road to cycle on, even more so if the changes that Camden are proposing – independently of TfL – go ahead, both to the northern end of Judd Street, and to Midland Road, which lies directly across Euston Road from Judd Street. Let’s briefly look at those changes.
The desired proposal is to completely close the junction of Judd Street with Euston Road to motor traffic, leaving a small cycle-only access road in and out of the junction.
This will be a huge change, given that this junction (looking north from Judd Street) currently looks like this.
Judd Street itself will be converted into a much more pleasant environment, with substantially lower levels of motor traffic. That’s better for all the users of the street, whether they have visual impairment or not. So this change should happen, independently of where a ‘Superhighway’ ends up going.
And across the junction, Midland Road, which is currently a fast one-way road that broadens out to four lanes at the junction with Euston Road, will be narrowed, with cycling infrastructure added in the form of stepped tracks on either side of the road.
Again, this is something that should happen, regardless of where a ‘Superhighway’ ends up going. It would represent a substantial improvement for pedestrians and people cycling on this road, as well as simplifying the junction for people driving.
If these changes go ahead – and they should, regardless of how you feel about cycling – then plenty of people will still want to cycle on Judd Street, even if it isn’t a ‘Superhighway’. Judd Street itself will be a much more pleasant cycling environment, and it will connect up Bloomsbury with the roads north of Euston Road, thanks to the improvements to Midland Road that will allow cycling northbound.
In short, the RNIB’s protest about ‘routing’ is a bit of a pointless one, because it doesn’t matter where the ‘Superhighway’ goes. It could be sent down streets 500m to the east, or 500m to the west, but whatever route is chosen for it, that won’t have any effect on the numbers of people cycling using Judd Street, because what matters are the changes Camden are proposing to make their streets and roads more attractive, not an arbitrary ‘Superhighway’ designation. The RNIB seem to think that shifting the ‘Superhighway’ onto a different street will stop people cycling on Judd Street, but that simply isn’t going to happen when Camden are proposing changes that will make a huge difference to the quality of Judd Street and Midland Road, a much bigger difference than where Transport for London draw a squiggly blue line on a map.
What I am driving at here (in case it isn’t obvious) is that the ‘Superhighway’ label is pretty irrelevant. What should be happening to roads and streets in London are the kinds of changes that Camden are proposing, and they should be happening to every single road and street, not just to a handful of routes drawn on a map. The future for London – and towns and cities across the country – has to be a dense network for cycling, composed of protected cycleways on main roads, and access roads without any visible cycling infrastructure, but with low levels of motor traffic, kept low through the use of interventions like bollards, one-way flow, and so on. The entire city should be a cycling network, a network that will inevitably include the headquarters of organisations like the RNIB.
So the RNIB have a fairly stark choice. They can either argue for maintaining the motor-centric status quo, keeping roads like Judd Street and Midland Road places where only a small number of people will be willing to cycle, in dense, fast flows of motor traffic. To be clear, this would involve actually opposing the proposals to close Judd Street to motor traffic at the northern end, and to improve Midland Road, regardless of where a ‘Superhighway’ eventually goes. It’s regressive, but it would at least keep cycling levels on Judd Street relatively low. (I note, in passing, that it hasn’t actually been specified by the RNIB exactly what amount of cycling on Judd Street, in terms of numbers per day, they might be happy with).
Or, alternatively, they can support the changes that Camden are proposing, and wider proposals to improve conditions for walking and cycling, on all streets, everywhere. Forget about the ‘Superhighway’ term, because it is misleading, one that I suspect will start to disappear completely as the density of routes in central London increases. (Hopefully). Cycling isn’t going to go away, and the best policy has to be one of constructive engagement, rather than a vain hope that it can somehow be routed away or even prevented on roads and streets that people want to use, whether they are on foot, a mobility scooter, wheelchair or cycle.