Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I cycled out to the Museum in Docklands today, and was surprised to find myself in the future. Here's what it looks like:

That, reader, is a wide, continuous cycle lane for segregated two-way traffic, with dedicated junctions (and, you'll notice, dedicated lights that let bikes set off before cars); in other words, a Ken Livingstone-style cycle corridor, as conceived of by the journalists who have written them up as bike motorways, superhighways, &c &c. It runs from Tower Bridge to the Isle of Dogs (Isle of Dogs to Tower Bridge in the picture above, which was taken on my way home) and it offers a fair preview of both the attractions and the disadvantages of this kind of scheme.

Plus points

1) It feels incredibly swift and non-scary. This would be a wonderfully soft introduction to cycling in London.

2) There's usually a kerb separating you from the pavement, which stops pedestrians wandering across and eliminates the live-Frogger aspect of your standard London off-road cycle path, which is either officially shared use or effectively shared-used because the only segregation is fading paint, making it slow and tricky for cyclists and scary for pedestrians.

3) It's pretty much impossible to get lost once you've found the path. None of your usual chipped-paint-splodge-to-indicate-sharp-right-down-otherwise-unmarked-side-road nonsense. This is a cycle route you can get right first time without going at walking pace or developing psychic powers.

Minus points

1) It still does the classic cycle-lane thing of forcing you to ride dangerously close to junctions, so that you can't see any traffic approaching from the side and the approaching traffic can't see you. The markings give the cycle track priority, but cars were coming through without stopping anyway; that enthusiastic novice cyclist I was imagining at point 1) above might well end up as a kebab.

2) You can definitely still get lost on your way to the main route: rejoining the track from Limehouse meant navigating a complete mess of "CYCLIST DISMOUNT" signs and apparent instructions to ride on unmarked pavement; I ended up walking my bike back up the one-way street that comes off the track to Limehouse. Ken's superhighways will only be as good as the connections to them; which, on past evidence, means not very good at all.

3) It's no use making something a cycle highway if you're going to let highway engineers treat it like a pavement. On the way back, a hefty chunk of super-cycle-route was simply closed, with no diversion marked; with no obvious place to turn off, even. The solution taken by all the cyclists I saw was simply to use the part of the road dedicated to cars, which meant cycling the wrong way up a one-way street. That was what I did, too, because there were so many people doing it that I thought at first I must have misread the markings, and I got too far to turn back. (Cycle routes in general go from being moderately helpful to catastrophically unhelpful when they have roadworks and no suggestion for a quiet way around them - and a hell of a lot of routes seem to be in that state at the moment.)

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