Two new cycling superhighways planned for London

A whole road, just for bikes. Image: Greater London Authority.

As one door closes, another opens. In the same week as his plans for an airport island on the Thames were rejected by the Airports Commission, London mayor Boris Johnson has unveiled plans for two new cycling superhighways across London. Subject to public consultation, they could be completed as soon as May 2016.

The two routes, according to the Greater London Authority, would be the longest cycling superhighways in Europe. One will run for three miles, from King’s cross in the north to Elephant & Castle in the south; the other will run for 18 miles from Barking in the east to Acton in the west, swallowing the existing Cycle SuperHighway 3 from the City through Docklands, and taking over an entire lane of the Westway flyover. (We’ve included full route maps at the bottom of this post.) Once completed, these two will make Copenhagen’s 220m orange superhighway look like a tiny village lane by comparison.

So how did TfL figure out where to put 21 miles of cycle-only highways? For a start, planners found roads where traffic had fallen by around 25 per cent over the past decade. Then, they narrowed it down to roads with little residential parking and where TfL buses don’t currently operate. All this should minimise the impact of the new routes on existing road users.

The proposals also include fixes for other problematic sections of London’s cycling network. The segregated routes should give cyclists a safe path through dangerous junctions such as Tower Hill, Blackfriars, Parliament Square and Lancaster Gate (no mention of segregated lanes at other cycle injury hotspots at King’s Cross or Elephant, though).

There’s also a buried reference to improving the CS2 route to Stratford. Let’s hope this includes upgrading the cycle route through Bow interchange, a notoriously dangerous junction which is less “segregated bike lane” and more “a narrow blue stripe on road which stops mid-roundabout”:

This week’s plan isn’t just good news for bikes, either. It also includes the introduction of bus priority lanes, as well as new pedestrian areas at Parliament Square and Victoria Embankment.  Here’s a mock-up of what the new layout at Victoria Embankment would look like:  

So far, the plans seem to be going down well with cyclists, mostly because they actually offer fully segregated routes. Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, said:

“LCC is really pleased to see commitments to substantially reallocate carriageway space to ensure protected space for cycling – particularly on the east-west superhighway, where cyclists regularly make up almost half of traffic during the morning peak.”

He added, however, that the group has concerns about the width of the track and the safety of some junctions.

The new routes don’t cover the entire city, of course. Let’s hope this is a start, and not a conclusion.

Here’s a map of the East-West route:

And the North South route (the intersection with the E-W route is marked in pale blue stripes):

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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