Transport for London isn’t mapping its new cycling routes. One resident is trying to keep up.

Cyclists on Oxford Street. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

With Covid-19 still raging in the UK, fewer passengers are travelling by public transport, and Transport for London is rapidly rethinking its streets to accommodate a huge increase in cycling. Anyone hoping for an official map of the city’s growing cycling network will have been disappointed, however: So far, communicating the extent and the quality of the routes has been left to users.  

One of them is cyclist and planner Dermot Hanney, who in 2016 published Route Plan Roll, a sort-of cycling equivalent of the tube map. In recent weeks, Hanney has been tracking London’s new cycle lanes as a Google Maps layer. CityMetric caught up with him to talk about the challenges of monitoring an area the size of Greater London, and why more cities should be mapping their cycle networks. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you end up doing this?

It was around the time Boris Johnson’s mayoralty was coming to an end [2016], when they started bringing in the really high-quality stuff. But there was a feeling that no one had a clue where these routes were going. There wasn’t really an inventory. It felt like there was a critical mass of routes that you could just about hang together as a network, which allowed a full map to become a thing. 

Transport for London produces the tube map and a load of other maps of the city’s transport network – so why aren’t they doing this in house?

I think there’s a couple of things. Firstly, the problem is that TfL has to work with the boroughs, and don’t want to put their noses out of joint. If TfL produced a map based on quality, it’d mean bad-mouthing some sections of track the boroughs had done.

An extract from TfL’s cycle map, such as it is. (TfL)

Secondly, TfL took the view a couple of years ago – I think this is coming back to haunt them a little bit – that it’s better for third parties to do app-based work and data-led work. So people like Citymapper and Google Maps have taken on that role of presenting wayfinding information. 

But if TfL was more active on that, it’d be in a better position not only to represent the cycle tracks, but also to gather data on where people are actually cycling. So I think TfL really need to develop an app.

Of course, you can’t really keep looking at a map while cycling. How do you imagine people using your maps?

I see the schematic map as kind of an advertisement for cycling. It’s something that’s meant to be there to catch people’s attention, but it’s not really a tool to use as you go out the door. So what I’m trying to do now is put that information in the Google map, so people can follow more of a blow-by-blow account of where they move around.

The schematic version of the map. (Route Plan Roll)

Of course, the vast majority of people need to put their phone away while cycling. But at least with a Google Map, if you do feel you lost, you can stop, open up your phone, and say, okay, well this is where I am.


So where do you get your data from?

It’s a mix. Twitter keeps you up to speed – people tweet, “I’ve seen this new section go in today”, and with videos you can see a lot of what’s going on. That’s combined with things like Open Cycle Map, which have a lot of dedicated people, who put down all the routes. 

And then whenever I get time I go out and try to cycle the routes. But some of them can be quite hard to gauge: You go down on a Saturday and it’s nice and quiet, but then you look on Twitter and find that at 5 on a Monday it’s hell because everyone’s using it. 

Your map doesn’t just show the routes – it also tries to map their quality. How do you make those decisions?

It’s really a personal judgement, mostly based on the level of separation and protection on the route. At the moment I colour code the routes as red, orange, and green. The green, the highest quality routes, are really easy to capture. At the other end of the spectrum, red “routes” where there’s just nothing there, those are really easy to capture, too – I try to avoid highlighting those, but sometimes they’re the only way of getting between two points. Everything else is sort of in a bundle in the middle.

 

A screenshot of the Google Maps version. High quality routes are in green; poor but necessary ones in red; those in between in yellow and orange. Recent additions are blue, and cycling-friendly river crossings in purple. (Route Plan Roll/Google)

My ideal thing would be for people to come along and rate each section on a 1 to 5 scale, and then just use the average number. That’d be less arbitrary and would be a helpful resource to feed back to TfL and councils.

There are a few aggravating places where the official cycle routes just don’t quite link up – on the eastern fringe of the City of London, for example, CS2 gets to within 500m of CS3 but then just stops. But that’s obviously no use if you want to create a network, so how do you decide how to create those links?

I try to think of who’s going to be using the map. The main audience for the cycle map is probably people who are on the edge, thinking “I’ve seen other people do it”, but aren’t quite doing it yet. So I’m trying not to put down any links where people will be intimidated off the road and don’t want to cycle again. I probably err on the side of caution and use links that are a little bit less direct but have less traffic, rather than the quickest route.

Between CS2 and CS3 I think it’s Jury Street, because that has a contraflow cycle lane, and at least when traffic is bad it’s just not moving. So you can just about persuade new cyclists to use this section, but you probably have to be with them and hold their hand.

The map is so far focused on the city centre – how far out do you want to go?

I want to do the whole of London! What you find in outer London is that, a lot of the time, the links kind of exist, they’re just not finished very well, and there’s a lot of gaps in between. But if someone had time and just a little bit of money, there’s probably quite a lot of quick wins.

Also, we’re always focused on just cycling into London – but realistically, unless you’re really dedicated, you’re not going to do that whole cycle in from, say, Bromley. But there’s loads of town centres in outer London – or you could get people to cycle to the railways station and then get the train in from there. The opportunity is there to develop a local network, more focused on trips within the borough rather than into the city. Hopefully with a single map of the whole of London, people can take what they need from us to help their local cause and their local needs.

Are there other cities internationally you’ve been looking at for inspiration?

Not really – that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the schematic map, it felt like a really big gap. If you go to Paris or Berlin or Rome, the first thing you do is get the metro map out and go, okay, that’s where that is, this is where I’m staying, this is how I’m going to get around town. I’ve always felt there’s no equivalent for cycling.

So I guess one of the things at the back of my mind is that, if I wanted to be super aggressive in expanding, I’d like to have all these different maps for different cities and for people to go, okay I’m cycling in Europe, I need a cycle map – let’s go to Route Plan Roll.

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

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.