Imagine if your town or city had just one suitable driving route across it, or just one suitable walking route – a line drawn on a map from A to B.

horsham-east-west-lstf-route-editHow many trips would be driven, or walked, in your town if this was the extent of the driving or walking network?

The answer is clearly ‘not very many’ – only those trips that happen to start or finish at some point along the line of the route, or reasonably close to it. A very small proportion of the overall number of existing or potential trips.

So we shouldn’t be at all surprised that that cycling levels remain low when the full extent of a ‘cycle network’ in a town or a city is this kind of line, drawn on a map. Even if the quality of the route is high (and very often it isn’t) the use of cycles will be limited because the vast majority of people simply can’t get anywhere near that route in safety, or in comfortable conditions.

So as impressive as the initial amount of use of the new cycling superhighways in London might appear, especially at peak times, the use of this cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly suppressed because there is so little of it. The people using it will mostly be the small minority of people already willing to cycle on the hostile roads and streets across the rest of the city, that need to be cycled on to access the superhighways.

This partly explains why use is relatively low outside of peak times. Non-commuting trips like, amongst others,

  • children cycling independently;
  • retired people cycling independently;
  • people going shopping;
  • cycling to social activity

will all rely to a much greater extent on a dense network that takes people from A to B in comfort and safety, and not on a specific commuter-focused route. In addition, these kinds of users – particularly, children and the elderly – are of course much more sensitive to hostile road conditions, the kind of conditions that will have to be tolerated to get onto ‘the superhighway’.

This explains the marked contrast in cycle use during the daytime on a typical cycleway in a Dutch city centre, compared to the superhighways in London.

1pm, in the centre of Gouda. The cycleways are still busy, but use is dominated by children, the elderly, and women. People who are are not at work.

1pm, in the centre of Gouda. The cycleways are still busy, but use is dominated by children, the elderly, and women. In short, by people who are are not at work.

Unlike London, Dutch cycleways will still see heavy use during the day. However, that use is dominated not by commuters, but instead (unsurprisingly) by all the people who aren’t at work. The reason for this is not some difference in Dutch character or behaviour; it’s because a typical Dutch city has a high quality network that connects up all the start and finish points of the journeys these people are making, not just one ‘route’ that goes from A to B.

This is why it is so important not get bogged down on drawing ‘a cycle route’ and agonising in great detail over where that ‘route’ should go, because the long-term goal has to be a dense network of routes that go everywhere.

I was reminded of this by some of the reaction to the news yesterday of the cancellation by Mayor Khan of the proposed route for the ‘East-West Superhighway’ extension, along the Westway, into west London. Much of the discussion focused on whether the Westway was actually the appropriate location for such a ‘route’; whether there might be better alternatives at ground level nearby; whether Kensington and Chelsea might be persuaded to allow protected cycleways to be built on parallel main roads within their borough.

My own view is that, if we are indeed focused on building ‘a route’, the Westway is (or was)  the best option, given Kensington and Chelsea’s intransigence in refusing to allow cycling infrastructure on its roads, and the generally poor quality of back-street ‘Quietway’ routes that have been delivered in London so far.

But this kind of discussion is really missing the bigger picture. There should be a ‘cycle route’ on the Westway and cycle routes everywhere else. Not one or the other.

Why should there just be one route into west London from central London? To take just one example, how many people will cycle from Hammersmith (in the bottom left of the map above) into central London if there are no cycle routes in Kensington and Chelsea apart from one on the Westway, some 2km or more north of the direct route? Quite plainly, there needs to be a cycle route on the Westway, and on Kensington High Street, and on Holland Park Avenue; and on all the roads that people will use to get from A to B.

This is why the logic of cancelling the Westway scheme, and coming up with an alternative somewhere else, is flawed. Not just because the Westway scheme had been consulted on, and was ready to go, and because devising an alternative route will inevitably result in years of delay. It’s because the Westway scheme is needed alongside many other east-west routes in Kensington and Chelsea, and alongside north-south routes. Everywhere.

The original plan for Delft's cycle network. Routes that go everywhere. Not just one line.

The original plan for Delft’s cycle network. Routes that go everywhere. Not just one line on a map. Source.

So, regrettably, it appears that the Westway decision betrays a failure to understand how cycling should be planned for. Cycling doesn’t just require ‘a route’; it requires a network, of which the Westway should have been just one component.

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7 Responses to Network

  1. Bmblbzzz says:

    Historically, roads grew by demand; they were created by the traffic of people going from wherever to wherever. Movement created the paths, not the other way round. Planning for roads goes back to the Roman era at least but it’s only in the last couple of hundred years that it has permeated to the level of each individual street. So it’s natural that there should be – I think I’ll say cycleable roads rather than cycle paths, tracks or routes – wherever there exists demand, ie reaching every building. That there isn’t at present is down to the nature of traffic on these roads; either that traffic has to be changed (which might yet happen through developments in technology and society but not in ways that can be predicted reliably, much less controlled) or the roads have to be changed.

  2. congokid says:

    I’ve made this point before. London’s high profile city centre projects are very welcome, and I enjoy using them, but
    – they tend to be expensive, which attracts criticism,
    – they can be very disruptive, even if only for a short time until construction is complete and traffic adapts,
    – they do little to encourage people from the suburbs on their bikes – particularly if they’re too scared to ride their bike to the end of the street they live on, and
    – they also provide a handy and visible excuse for noisy vested interest groups to complain about congestion and the like, and are vulnerable to active transport policies being watered down or reversed altogether.

    I imagine these kinds of projects are the antithesis of how the Netherlands got its bike lanes.

    • mike__c says:

      Cycle tracks are not relatively expensive. They only attract criticism from people who think £30 million is a lot in transport terms. It isn’t. Crossrail costs £20 billion.

      All construction is disruptive.

      If they go form the city centre to the suburbs, they will encourage people from the suburbs to cycle. Or they might bridge an important city centre deathtrap (like CS5 and Vauxhall), which makes the rest of the route from the suburbs palatable to more people.

      Vested interests will complain about anything. Why let them govern our cycle infrastructure policy?

      The Cycle Superhighways, so far, have been watered down much less than the Quietways, because they are largely on TfL roads, and TfL is currently the only transport authority in London willing to remove large amounts of road space from motor traffic to benefit cycling.

      Have you never been to Amsterdam and seen entire city centre roads dug down to earth so improved cycle tracks can be installed? Believe it or not, they do it exactly the same way we do.

      • Simon Parker says:

        “Believe it or not, [the Dutch] do it exactly the same way we do.”

        This isn’t true. The Dutch install high-engineered infrastructure within the framework provided by a developing network. That is not how we do it in this country.

  3. paulc says:

    They’ve just announced a ‘big’ project in Gloucester and believe the sop to cycling (Toucan crossings) will encourage modal shift when really the entire project is about increasing motor vehicle through-put in and out of the city at rush hour… the very antithesis of modal shift…

    Abbeydale, Abbeymead and Cooper’s Edge are all within easy cycling distance of the city centre and there’s nothing at all in this scheme being done to actually encourage people to switch to bicycle riding… not decent protected infrastructure… just the usual on road cycle lanes (too narrow and giving a misleading impression that cyclists can be safely overtaken) and shared use footpaths which as usual make you stop to cross every flipping side street….

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