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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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.