What’s the difference between London’s Quietways and Cycle Superhighways? A brief explainer

There’s gratitude for you: Boris Johnson crosses Vauxhall Bridge on CS5 in 2015. Image: Getty.

For a while there, London was taking great strides in building some very good cycle infrastructure. Much of what was put in, and what is still going in, was begun by former London mayor, Boris Johnson, and his cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan – albeit only after years of planning and consultation and argy bargy with opponents of road space reallocation.

The current mayor, Sadiq Khan, began at a slower pace. But when I met his new deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander last week, she talked about “supercharging” the cycling programme. So – what’s being supercharged?

What the now former foreign secretary Boris Johnson – a cyclist himself – started was effectively a two tier network of routes. The headline projects are the superhighways – originally 12 direct, often kerb-segregated routes on main roads, for the faster commuters. These are numbered broadly on a clock face alignment, so CS6 runs south from the city centre, CS2 runs north east, and so on. These were mostly on the 5 per cent of London streets controlled directly by Transport for London (TfL), and so were easier to complete.

The original proposed cycle superhighways. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Seven of these were built, and plans for three more are in the offing, albeit in some cases with severe delays, thanks to push back from boroughs. These are the three – CS4, CS9 and CS11 – that Alexander and her team have their “supercharging” eyes on.

Then there are the Quietways. These are largely un-segregated routes on lower traffic back streets. They’re often less direct, but are oftentimes on less polluted roads, and are intended for less confident (and some would read, female) riders.

Simple enough, right? If only there weren’t so many exceptions.

For one thing, the Quietways are on the 95 per cent of London’s roads run by its 32 boroughs, which take a variety of very differing view on cycling. The result is an at times notional mixed bag of routes: some are little more than signage and painted bike stencils on roads, but they’re interspersed with good interventions, dependent largely on which borough boundary you just crossed.

The 2016 proposals for Quietways. Note how the numbering scheme bears no relation to the cycle superhighway one. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The good ones, like Q1, include “modal filtering” – blocking rat-running traffic but permitting cycles and pedestrians through. (Q1 also features an excellent new bike path alongside Millwall FC’s stadium.) The bad ones pit those “less confident” cyclists against one way traffic on narrow roads head on.

Then there are the ‘blue paint’ superhighways – sections of seriously busy roads painted blue and given over to cyclists. These were Boris’ early stab at main road cycle routes, painted as far back as 2010 to match the bike hire scheme’s original sponsor, Barclays Bank. However, many lacked even white lines to indicate dedicated cycle space, instead sharing existing bus lanes with heavy, and at times irate, bus traffic. Some were fatally poor, and deaths on CS2 helped make the case for improvements.

That route was one of the first to be re-built as a segregated route. But although many more have since been upgraded to include kerb protection and first-in-the-UK infrastructure like cycle-specific traffic lights, some blue paint cycle superhighways still remain.


Then there’s the anomaly of CS1 – a Quietway in all but name. Built largely on Hackney and Islington roads, the route follows residential streets, some of which also happen to be popular driving rat runs. Although these are heavily used by bikes, some sections are also heavily used by vans, cars, taxis and so forth, making it fairly unpleasant for cyclists in places. The one bit of planned kerb-protected cycle lane, where the route runs briefly on the busy Balls Pond Road, has not yet been built, despite winning support in a consultation back in 2015.

More Quietways and Superhighways are being planned, and built – but Khan and his team are a long way from meeting his pledge to triple the length of bike lanes Boris built. The last mayoral administration completed 41km of main road TfL physically-protected cycle tracks and a further 39km from borough schemes. That of Sadiq Khan has built just 14km of cycle tracks since becoming mayor: he’s got two years left before his first term runs out. It’s a tough ask but, to be fair, it took Boris until his final two years of eight to really get going on decent protected routes.

London’s boroughs are in some cases hindering progress, and Heidi Alexander, and walking & cycling commissioner Will Norman have a challenge on their hands. Take CS11 (West End to Swiss Cottage), planned and consulted on under the former mayor, but now stuck in a quagmire of opposition from Westminster City Council. The borough, one of the least bike-friendly in the city, recently launched a legal challenge against the route, at the same time as going back on plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street. CS9 in West London also faces opposition, from local politicians, businesses, residents – even a church.

So can Heidi Alexander really “supercharge” the city’s cycling programme? Her strategy, she told me, is to work collaboratively and “condense the development phases, so do things in parallel around the consultation and the design”. The proof will, as always, be in the pudding. For now, though, there’s a way to go.

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Uncertainty is the new normal: the case for resilience in infrastructure

Members of the New York Urban Search and Rescue Task Force One help evacuate people from their homes in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in September 2018. Image: Getty.

The most recent international report on climate change paints a picture of disruption to society unless there are drastic and rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And although it’s early days, some cities and municipalities are starting to recognise that past conditions can no longer serve as reasonable proxies for the future.

This is particularly true for America’s infrastructure. Highways, water treatment facilities and the power grid are at increasing risk to extreme weather events and other effects of a changing climate.

The problem is that most infrastructure projects, including the Trump administration’s infrastructure revitalisation plan, typically ignore the risks of climate change.

In our work researching sustainability and infrastructure, we encourage and are starting to shift toward designing man-made infrastructure systems with adaptability in mind.

Designing for the past

Infrastructure systems are the front line of defense against flooding, heat, wildfires, hurricanes and other disasters. City planners and citizens often assume that what is built today will continue to function in the face of these hazards, allowing services to continue and to protect us as they have done so in the past. But these systems are designed based on histories of extreme events.

Pumps, for example, are sized based on historical precipitation events. Transmission lines are designed within limits of how much power they can move while maintaining safe operating conditions relative to air temperatures. Bridges are designed to be able to withstand certain flow rates in the rivers they cross. Infrastructure and the environment are intimately connected.

Now, however, the country is more frequently exceeding these historical conditions and is expected to see more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Said another way, because of climate change, natural systems are now changing faster than infrastructure.

How can infrastructure systems adapt? First let’s consider the reasons infrastructure systems fail at extremes:

  • The hazard exceeds design tolerances. This was the case of Interstate 10 flooding in Phoenix in fall 2014, where the intensity of the rainfall exceeded design conditions.

  • During these times there is less extra capacity across the system: When something goes wrong there are fewer options for managing the stressor, such as rerouting flows, whether it’s water, electricity or even traffic.

  • We often demand the most from our infrastructure during extreme events, pushing systems at a time when there is little extra capacity.

Gradual change also presents serious problems, partly because there is no distinguishing event that spurs a call to action. This type of situation can be especially troublesome in the context of maintenance backlogs and budget shortfalls which currently plague many infrastructure systems. Will cities and towns be lulled into complacency only to find that their long-lifetime infrastructure are no longer operating like they should?

Currently the default seems to be securing funding to build more of what we’ve had for the past century. But infrastructure managers should take a step back and ask what our infrastructure systems need to do for us into the future.


Agile and flexible by design

Fundamentally new approaches are needed to meet the challenges not only of a changing climate, but also of disruptive technologies.

These include increasing integration of information and communication technologies, which raises the risk of cyberattacks. Other emerging technologies include autonomous vehicles and drones as well as intermittent renewable energy and battery storage in the place of conventional power systems. Also, digitally connected technologies fundamentally alter individuals’ cognition of the world around us: consider how our mobile devices can now reroute us in ways that we don’t fully understand based on our own travel behavior and traffic across a region.

Yet our current infrastructure design paradigms emphasise large centralized systems intended to last for decades and that can withstand environmental hazards to a preselected level of risk. The problem is that the level of risk is now uncertain because the climate is changing, sometimes in ways that are not very well-understood. As such, extreme events forecasts may be a little or a lot worse.

Given this uncertainty, agility and flexibility should be central to our infrastructure design. In our research, we’ve seen how a number of cities have adopted principles to advance these goals already, and the benefits they provide.

A ‘smart’ tunnel in Kuala Lumpur is designed to supplement the city’s stormwater drainage system. Image: David Boey/creative commons.

In Kuala Lampur, traffic tunnels are able to transition to stormwater management during intense precipitation events, an example of multifunctionality.

Across the U.S., citizen-based smartphone technologies are beginning to provide real-time insights. For instance, the CrowdHydrology project uses flooding data submitted by citizens that the limited conventional sensors cannot collect.

Infrastructure designers and managers in a number of U.S. locations, including New York, Portland, Miami and Southeast Florida, and Chicago, are now required to plan for this uncertain future – a process called roadmapping. For example, Miami has developed a $500m plan to upgrade infrastructure, including installing new pumping capacity and raising roads to protect at-risk oceanfront property.

These competencies align with resilience-based thinking and move the country away from our default approaches of simply building bigger, stronger or more redundant.

Planning for uncertainty

Because there is now more uncertainty with regard to hazards, resilience instead of risk should be central to infrastructure design and operation in the future. Resilience means systems can withstand extreme weather events and come back into operation quickly.

Microgrid technology allows individual buildings to operate in the event of a broader power outage and is one way to make the electricity system more resilient. Image: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy/creative commons.

This means infrastructure planners cannot simply change their design parameter – for example, building to withstand a 1,000-year event instead of a 100-year event. Even if we could accurately predict what these new risk levels should be for the coming century, is it technically, financially or politically feasible to build these more robust systems?

This is why resilience-based approaches are needed that emphasise the capacity to adapt. Conventional approaches emphasise robustness, such as building a levee that is able to withstand a certain amount of sea level rise. These approaches are necessary but given the uncertainty in risk we need other strategies in our arsenal.

For example, providing infrastructure services through alternative means when our primary infrastructure fail, such as deploying microgrids ahead of hurricanes. Or, planners can design infrastructure systems such that when they fail, the consequences to human life and the economy are minimised.

The Netherlands has changed its system of dykes and flood management in certain areas to better sustain flooding.

This is a practice recently implemented in the Netherlands, where the Rhine delta rivers are allowed to flood but people are not allowed to live in the flood plain and farmers are compensated when their crops are lost.

Uncertainty is the new normal, and reliability hinges on positioning infrastructure to operate in and adapt to this uncertainty. If the country continues to commit to building last century’s infrastructure, we can continue to expect failures of these critical systems, and the losses that come along with them.

The Conversation

Mikhail Chester, Associate Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering, Arizona State University; Braden Allenby, President's Professor and Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University, and Samuel Markolf, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, Arizona State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.