Rebecca's radio debut: cycling on London's backstreets is like cycling in Cambridge

In yesterday's blog I mentioned that Rebecca Watts, Cycle Lifestyle's assistant editor, managed to get through on the phone to the BBC London radio breakfast show (you can hear her speak here, at 02:51.50, and if you run it to 02:54.00 you can hear the presenter, Penny Smith, say she agrees with what Rebecca said).

Rebecca spoke about how the experience of cycling on backstreet routes in London is similar to cycling in Cambridge, where there are proportionately more cycle journeys each day than in any other place in Britain, and where cycling is generally recognised as a casual, pleasant and fun daily activity for commuters, students, kids and pensioners alike.  

Rebecca's point is such an important one, I want to elaborate on it. We need to draw all the lessons we can from cycling success stories like Cambridge. Given that people evidently love cycling on Cambridge's roads, and given that there are roads in London that are just like Cambridge's, then it makes sense - does it not? - to help and encourage Londoners to cycle on these Cambridge-like roads.

These roads, just like Cambridge's, have fewer buses, trucks and coaches, the large vehicles that pose the biggest threats to cyclists. And these roads, just like Cambridge's, mostly have single lanes rather than dual carriageways. This makes it easier to turn off, and makes cycling a generally less stressful experience.

At this point, I can hear dismal, capital-C, hard-core London Cyclists (and Boris Johnson) saying "I don't want to cycle on meandering backstreet routes; I want segregated cycle lanes on the main roads in London because those routes are faster; why should I be shunted onto quieter streets?".

Here's why.

Because it is about as realistic to demand segregated cycling facilities on all of London's main roads as it is to demand cycle lanes on all of Britain's motorways.

Because, anyway, the backstreets are just as fast as the main roads in London. Fewer traffic lights, traffic jams, and lemming pedestrians make it quick and easy to glide along. 

Because putting segregated cycle lanes on main roads would slow those roads down even more for cyclists. The cycle lanes would make it difficult for cyclists to overtake, thus slowing the fastest speed-demon down to the speed of the slowest granny.

Because residents of Cambridge aren't agitating for the council to build massive roads with cycle lanes alongside. The residents know that the size of the roads in Cambridge makes these roads perfect for cycling on already. 

Because the backstreets in London can be much more direct than the main roads. You can cut through, cut corners, go across parks, use footbridges, slip through alleyways, and so on.

Because many of the backstreets in London have already been provisioned, over the last 30 years or so, with cycle lanes and other cycling infrastructure improvements; this 'London Cycle Network' comprises 2000+ kilometres of quieter, safer routes.

The problem is, it is hard for people to know where the London Cycle Network's routes are, or where they go. They are appallingly signed, and there is no single map showing how the entire network hangs together. In general, Londoners are unfamiliar with the backstreets, because backstreets are hidden away; so people find it too hard to navigate on these safer, quieter streets, and don't cycle. This is in contrast to Cambridge where there are no massive roads hiding the good cycling roads from view. Cambridge is more or less entirely made up of good cycling roads, roads which are comparable in size to the backstreets of London.

Cycle Lifestyle's London Cycle Map Campaign is calling for a Tube-style map and corresponding signage for the London Cycle Network, to enable cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital, safely and simply, by following trails of road signs and road markings on quieter streets. Simon Parker's wonderful London Cycle Map shows how the network could be organised as a series of long, straight parallel coloured routes, creating a direct connection between more or less any two areas in the capital.

A London Cycle Map would create a web of London streets that are just like Cambridge's. It would be like creating a Cambridge  - albeit a bigger one, 2000+ kilometre's worth of Cambridge - within a metropolis. 

If the authorities are serious about making cycling in London mainstream, they need to help regular people to access streets in the capital which, just like Cambridge's, are perfect for cycling on.

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