London's second two Cycle Superhighways opened yesterday. One (CS8) goes from Wandsworth to Westminster, while the other (CS2) goes past my front door. So you can probably guess which one I intend to drone on about for a few days. Millions of pounds have been spent rejigging junctions and laying down lane markings in an attempt to make two-wheeled East End traffic safer. But will CS2 encourage me to buy a bike, entice me onto the road and enrol me in the cycling revolution? Not a chance. Because this may be a Cycle Highway, but it most definitely isn't Super.
Before you accuse me of being unqualified to comment, not being a cyclist, let me assure you that many of CS2's features have been operational since well before Christmas. I've therefore been able to watch and observe how cyclists have been using the big blue stripe for several months, in a variety of traffic conditions. So, if you don't mind, let me demonstrate some of the inadequacies (and successes) of CS2 by using Bow Road as an example....
i)CS2: between Campbell Road and Tomlins Grove
Bow Road is a wide road. Wide enough 100 years ago for trams to run alongside horse-drawn traffic. Wide enough this time last year for two lanes of vehicles plus a cycle lane in either direction. Ah yes, there was already a cycle lane along Bow Road before Boris came along with his blue paint, please don't think that CS2 is somehow utterly brand new. But the original cycle lane wasn't terribly wide, less than a metre, so it didn't meet the necessary specification for a Cycle Superhighway. They couldn't simply paint it blue, they had to realign the carriageway to ensure that minimum cycle safety requirements were met. This was a white-line-repainting job, no option. So, did they make each of the two lanes of traffic fractionally narrower and squeeze a wider cycle lane in alongside? Not here they didn't. They made each of the two lanes of traffic wider, removing the original cycle lane. And then they took their paint and they painted the left-hand side of the inner lane blue. I'd say about 40% blue, 60% normal lane of traffic. If you're in a car, you might be able to drive along the 60% without encroaching on the blue. But if you're in a lorry or a bus or a coach, there is no way to avoid one set of wheels pounding straight down the centre of the bike lane. This is not good if you're a cyclist. There you are pedalling along the blue bit, and a giant vehicle creeps up behind and can't get by. Or, in busier traffic, there you are pedalling along the blue bit, and you come up behind a giant vehicle and can't get past. This is lane-sharing, not bicycle segregation. [before][after]
The problem's worst in the rush hour when the two lanes of traffic are full. Either there are cyclists getting in the way of lorries and buses, or cyclists are unable to make good progress because there's too much blocking traffic in the way. But at other times, when traffic's light, something mysterious often happens. Car drivers notice there's a bright blue strip down the left-hand lane, decide it must be something to avoid and keep their distance. They all filter into the right-hand lane instead, leaving the left-hand lane clear for cyclists to ride in relative safety. One whole lane for bikes, one whole lane for other road users - it's not the way CS2 was intended to work, but sometimes it just does. But would you catch me riding along a lane-share like this? Not a chance, because even at quiet times there's nothing to stop something massive sharing my bike lane so closely that I end up underneath it. Alas, for a disturbing part of its length, CS2 is officially the left-hand half of a normal lane of traffic. It seems that Bow Road's original separate bike lanes were deemed unsafe because they were too narrow, so they've been absorbed into wider lanes that turn out to be even more dangerous. Verdict? Fail.
ii)CS2: Bow Roundabout - Advanced Stop Line
Let's shift to a strip of road which perfectly sums up how CS2 is well-meaning yet impractical. An idea which probably looked good on the drawing board but doesn't work. We're right at the far end of CS2, just before the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. There are traffic lights here, controlling flow onto the Bow Interchange roundabout. What's needed here, somebody thought, is an Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists. Give bikes some extra space, paint it blue, and then all the other traffic can wait patiently a couple of metres behind. Happens all over London, although not always in such dazzling colour, it's nothing special. Except here the planners forgot something important. An advance stop line is only any use if you can get to it. [photo]
When traffic's busy, cyclists can't get to this one. They whizz down the blue-painted stripe as far as the Bow Flyover bus stop, separate and safe, But then traffic narrows to two lanes outside McDonalds, at which point the Cycle Superhighway swings in to become the left-hand half of the left-hand lane of traffic. The lights are usually red so a queue of vehicles builds up, and there's usually a bus or a van or a lorry or something paused and waiting. And if there is, sorry cyclist, you're not getting past, not unless you're naughty and bike up onto the pavement and then back down again. Large amounts of money have been spent making the roundabout itself cycle-friendly, what with special ramps and segregated blue cycle lanes and all, but this Advanced Stop Line is an inaccessible white elephant. Whoever wrote the Cycle Superhighway rulebook, they clearly weren't thinking ahead. Verdict? Fail.