CityMapper is offering Londoners journeys involving Crossrail, which doesn’t exist yet

That's some pretty heavy disruption on this line. Image: screenshot from CityMapper.

Unless you live in a rural area, or your phone battery ran down in 2012, or you're still relying on a Nokia with a copy of Snake on it, there's a fairly good chance you've used CityMapper. The urban transport planning app has proved so popular that, at time of writing, it's available in 27 different cities.

One reason the app has been so successful, we'd warrant, is that it's pretty reliable, flagging up where routes are disrupted rather than simply letting you find out the hard way.

Another is that it's agnostic about which mode of transport you take. It doesn't assume you'd rather take a quick trip on a crowded tube train than a longer walk through a park. Just tell it where you want to go, and it'll lay out all the options for you.

Including, as it turns out, ones that don't actually exist. Check out this screengrab from a journey I took yesterday:

This will be a pretty good route for anyone trying to get from King's Cross to Gidea Park in about 41 months’ time. Right now, though, thanks to the whole Crossrail-not-existing thing, it’s not.

At the moment, in fact, CityMapper is reminding you of the future existence of Crossrail whenever it can find a reason to justify it. It shows up on the list of lines on offer on the app's front page:

And it pops up on the list of options for almost any east-west journey across London (albeit, at the very bottom, beneath more viable routes involving walking, cycling, and tunnels that have actual trains in them). This is what the app suggested when we asked it the quickest way from our offices out to Southall, in west London.

It's the "every 6 minutes" that really hurts.

This service is, best we can tell, specific to London. We asked CityMapper for routes in a few other cities with major transport schemes under construction, but in none of them did it offer any routes that involved travelling forwards in time first. (The first phase of New York's Second Avenue Subway line is due to open next year, a good two years before Crossrail; yet CityMapper remains oddly silent on that one.)


This service does highlight quite how much the new line will speed up certain journeys. At the moment, getting from Canary Wharf to Heathrow will take you a minimum of 71 minutes; with Crossrail it'll be 63. Abbey Wood to Ealing Broadway? 86 minutes at the moment, 44 minutes after 2018. It does highlight that Crossrail will be useful.

In the mean time though, it kind of feels dangling the future in front of us, then snatching it away and cackling. The app is playing Lucy to our Charlie Brown.

Thanks, CityMapper. Thanks a lot.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.