I cycled the length of all London’s Cycling Superhighways. Here’s what I learnt

Safe, bruv. Image: Getty.

The blue lane. The blue lane is what you concentrate on as you ride the cycle superhighways: the one or sometimes two metre thick painted channel between the pavement and traffic, between safety and danger. Sometimes the blue lane is segregated from the road; more often, you’re just part of the road, but with your own space clearly designated.

Sadiq Khan has promised to spend £770m on cycling over the four years of his term - £17 per Londoner, a record amount for the city – part of which will go on two new cycle superhighways. Ahead of that, it’s seemed reviewing the current cycling infrastructure in London. So I decided to cycle all of the superhighways, and take in just how much they’ve changed London.

I love cycling in London: there is something thrilling in going so fast in a city, especially when there is traffic congestion all around. This is what the superhighways are supposed to do: allow the cyclist to speed by, separated from the main road traffic and all the danger that entails.

There are seven current cycle superhighways, helpfully numbered CS1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The network stretches from Tottenham in the north to Colliers Wood in the south, and Stratford in the east to Lancaster Gate in the south. The missing CS4, heading from London Bridge towards Woolwich, is supposed to go into consultation this year; there are also plans for CS9 from Hounslow to Olympia, and a CS11 heading north west from the West End, through Regent’s Park. (What was planned as CS10 may end up as a western extension of CS3.) The point of the new routes is to make cycling safer, faster, and more appealing in the capital.

The plan as of 2012: not all these routes survived. Image: TfL.

The jewel in the crown is CS3, especially the section from Tower Hill to Westminster, which snakes around the curve of the Thames and completely segregates the bike rider from the main flow of traffic. Cycling along it, one can really appreciate the majesty of the Victoria Embankment – something that was previously impossible as you focused on dodging buses and lorries.

The best parts of the network are always those with separated cycle lane: CS3 along the Embankment and into Wapping, and the north-south superhighway CS6. What you soon learn though, riding the blue lanes, is that it is not always like this. For every safe, well built stretch of superhighway, there is a poorly managed part.

On CS7, as it passes through Balham towards Tooting, there are cars constantly parked in the cycle lane, along with drivers who don’t appreciate the sanctity of your metre-wide blue haven. On stretches like this, the superhighway might as well not exist. You find yourself needing to dodge buses anyway – what’s the point, when all that is different is the colour of the tarmac and a name?

While the scheme is a mayoral project, the infrastructure is actually put in place by each individual borough. That’s what creates this fantastic mismatch as you hurtle through London, and CS7 is the perfect example: Southwark and Lambeth seem to care about the cyclist; Wandsworth, on the other hand, seems to think the cycle lane is an afterthought, something to be shoved onto the side of the road.


CS1 is the newest route to be fully completed, running from Tottenham to the City. But it doesn’t seem to be very ‘super’: it’s more like a glorified Quietway (another form of London cycle route, linking up quieter back roads), only with blue branding. It’s also a genuinely confusing route, requiring careful checking of signs and road markings.

Superhighways are easy to follow when they are just a blue lane; a bit trickier when there are only occasionally reminders of their existence. The sight of someone stopping just to attempt to decode a blue sign isn’t a particularly edifying one, especially when you’ve had to pull over to the side of a main road to do so.

Cycling infrastructure in London still has a long way to go to make cycling safer: cars still turn without checking, or drive straight into the cycle lane. This is something that can be solved with segregated sections and separate traffic lights for cyclists, like there are on other parts of the network. Nonetheless, according to the London Cycling Campaign, 6 cyclists died on CS2 between 2011 and 2014; since then the route, formerly of the blue paint variety, has been largely separated from the traffic.

CS2 highlights another problem: how to cope with pedestrians blindly wandering into the cycle lane after they are disgorged from buses at bus stops. Inevitably, all they want to do is swear at you, and explaining that they’re standing in a cycle superhighway doesn’t particularly help. The route also features signs that can take a long time to understand – “turn right in two stages only”, “go left in order to go right” – all very entertaining as you attempt to cycle quickly into the wind.

The best superhighway has to be what used to be CS6, now more often termed the “North-South superhighway”, which at the moment  runs from Elephant & Castle to the Holborn Viaduct. The route is clear, the cycle lane stands completely apart from the traffic, and the dedicated traffic lights work without a hitch. You even get a fantastic view of St Paul’s as you cross Ludgate Circus. It is no wonder that Blackfriars Bridge resembles the peloton of the Tour de France on a weekday morning.

Cycle Superhighways are in their infancy, and there is no doubt that those that exist leave a lot to be desired. Yet everyone should have a go at riding within the blue line and explore London. It made me go to Colliers Wood for the first time in my life: there’s no reason why others can’t do the same.

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What it's been like living in one of the few places that never locked down

People enjoy sunny weather in Tantolunden park in Stockholm on May 30, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

While most of the Western world was confined to their homes for the better part of two months this spring, my friends and I in Stockholm continued hanging out. In stark contrast to most other places, we went to restaurants (occasionally, outside when possible), to one another’s houses (in our yards when possible), and even sent our kids to school. As the rest of the world opens up again, not much will change in Stockholm.

As an American expat living in the Swedish capital, I was initially angry at Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my home country, early outbreaks in locations such as Seattle, New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area led to strict rules that were soon mirrored in many other states and cities. The Swedish strategy, meanwhile, boiled down mostly to recommendations: If possible, work from home; avoid unnecessary travel within the country; engage in social distancing; and if you’re above 70, stay home. I felt that, in the face of a global pandemic, a country known for its generous welfare policies – that took such good care of its citizens – wasn’t doing its part to protect us.

My friends and I are mostly expats with young families who, early on, pulled our children out of school against official policy. (Schools here only closed for those 16 and over.) We eagerly waited to hear what further action our current country would take. Surely a country known for its progressive social policies would take fast, decisive action to protect its citizens?

The regulations that were put into place in Sweden amounted to restricting public gatherings to no more than 50 people (reduced from 500, which concert halls skirted by restricting entry to 499), limiting restaurants to table service only, and no visiting retirement homes. People here did take the work-from-home guidelines to heart – no one I knew was going in to work. But bars and restaurants were full. My Instagram feed was a highlight reel of acquaintances clinking champagne flutes at the city’s major clubs and restaurants.

After the first few weeks, I slowly started meeting up with friends again. I sent my kids back to school, where they intentionally spent most of the day outdoors and drop-offs were restricted to outside only (parents weren’t allowed to enter the building). I was careful to take precautions like bringing hand sanitizer to playgrounds and wiping my hands after opening and closing the gate to school. Hardly anyone wore masks to the grocery shop or inside stores – the few times I’ve seen people wearing them I’ve done a double take. One busy Friday night in late April at the local supermarket there was a line out the door and someone regulating the number of customers allowed inside at the same time. I took a photo and sent it to my family in the US saying “Sweden finally catching up with the rest of the world!” (I haven’t seen entry to that store being regulated since.)

When I spoke to Swedish friends about the strategy many agreed with the relaxed approach, mentioning that other countries’ draconian measures would be unnecessary in Sweden. A recent poll showed that just 11% of people in Sweden felt they did not trust state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is leading the strategy. In this country, the onus was placed on citizens themselves to follow recommendations. It's about personal judgement and individual responsibility within a framework that rested on mutual trust, rather than top-down control. Swedes’ high level of interpersonal trust and trust in authority was often cited in the press as the characteristic enabling the relaxed Swedish strategy in tackling the virus, as opposed to social distancing becoming a matter of surveillance and policing like in Spain or Italy, where any nonessential socializing was forbidden.

In early May, Sweden's ambassador to the US Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter said in an interview with the Washington Post that some media outlets made it look “like everyone in Sweden is out drinking and partying,” she said. “That is not the case.” But that was certainly how it felt to me. According to research by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in 2016, in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, more than 60% of respondents in the World Value Survey think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case.


Of course, many places in the US also took a similarly relaxed approach to tackling the pandemic, with conservative lawmakers and anti-lockdown activists citing Sweden as taking the right approach. Sweden, rarely finding cheerleaders among conservative US circles, suddenly stood as an example to follow. But since then, places such as Arizona, Texas and Florida have all seen significant spikes in cases following reopenings and are being deemed the new epicentres of the virus – while Sweden’s numbers have stabilised. According to some reports, the death toll in Sweden is one of the highest in the world per capita, but the total number of Swedish deaths remains at just above 5,000, compared to over 120,000 in the US, over 43,000 in the UK, over 28,000 in Spain and over 34,000 in Italy. The mortality rate in Sweden and the number of new intensive care cases in the country declined in the last week and contagion rates here are now “stable” according to the WHO.

Although it didn’t always feel like it at the time, Sweden issued clear guidance from the beginning, with the expectation that people would choose to follow it. It certainly was my experience that everyone I knew stopped going into the office and started working from home. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, attributed Sweden’s slowing of the virus to implementing guidance early on. “Sweden’s policy is unusual in that it took a much less stringent approach to preventing transmission," he says, "but interestingly it implemented those measures at a very early stage in the pandemic, before large amounts of community spread had occurred.”

Now I go outside and all too often realise I’ve left my hand sanitiser at home. I even met a friend for lunch outdoors at a busy cafe one particularly sunny day, and another indoors one Friday night for dinner. In May I had a birthday bash in my garden with a dozen or so friends and we ended up at the local bar. I always felt guilty after, as if I’d done something wrong that I couldn’t tell my family in Baltimore about. When I watched international news or spoke to family back home I would feel a certain cognitive dissonance between my own seemingly low-risk reality and what I knew to be happening in the rest of the world. My family in the US calls me skeptically questioning why I’ve had people over in my garden, or been out to eat. I can’t explain the lack of logic that permits an entire city’s citizens to operate life as normal in the midst of a global pandemic. But Stockholm has become a bubble of exactly this.

Being relatively young and healthy, I’m not so worried about getting sick. Even though young and healthy people have gotten seriously ill, there haven’t been any reported cases at my kids’ or any of my friends’ kids’ schools. Nobody I know in Stockholm knows has gotten sick, allowing me to feel a certain distance from it. But my husband’s parents are in their mid-70s and weren’t able to see their grandchildren for two months save for a few visits to their hallway, where we wave and blow kisses to them standing at the door.

I’ve been grateful – but also felt a sense of guilt for – my freedom here. When there are no hard and fast rules about how to act, it’s easy to constantly question yourself: Is it really okay to be outside, sitting at this full cafe? Is it okay to invite a few friends over for a birthday? Is it okay to send my kids to school? These questions have surely gone through minds around the world in the past several weeks, and now it’s clear that that behaviour had dire consequences in some cities and not others.

While Swedish social media at times suggests an endless friend-filled party at summer homes and popular hangouts, the reality here is a balancing act between personal judgement and the freedom to continue life as normal. Self-regulation is what it comes down to in Sweden, anyway.

Elysha Krupp is a writer and editor currently living in Stockholm.