As part of an increase in funding for ‘routes, junctions and suburban cycling improvements’ (from just under £120m to between £550m and £600m), Transport for London (TfL) is promising a ‘Tube network for the bike’, consisting of ‘direct, high-capacity, joined-up cycle routes’.
Some of these routes will feature new segregated cycling facilities, while others will be on designated ‘Quietways’ using backstreets or green spaces.
The network will also include a central London ‘Bike Grid’ and a ‘Crossrail for the bike’, that is, an East-West Cycle Superhighway.
Threading these promises together are two further, interlinked TfL commitments. There will be ‘easy-to-follow diagrammatic Tube-style cycle maps showing the major routes and the interchange points between them’, while all routes will be equipped with ‘far better, more frequent signage using consistent typology across London’.
It is strange that TfL has not explicitly suggested making use of the routes of the old London Cycle Network, on which over thirty years and hundreds of millions of pounds have already been spent. That’s just politics – the old London Cycle Network is dead, long live Boris’s new London Cycle Network.
In short, it all sounds like good news for the London Cycle Map Campaign, which has been calling for a Tube-style map and network of cycle routes accompanied by road signs and markings in the capital.
But there is a long way to go before the campaign can declare victory.
For one thing, there is very little detail in the Major’s ‘Vision for Cycling’ about how the routes of the network will be coded and organized. If this is truly to be a city-wide network, how does TfL plan to consolidate and represent potentially hundreds of routes as a single network? With all the options TfL are proposing to employ – segregated facilities, Quietways, Superhighways, the Bike Grid, the bicycle Crossrail – the resulting ‘network’ may turn out to have a cobbled-together feel, and this won’t provide the ease of navigation which is so needed in a metropolis like London. (TfL’s mention of ‘Tube-style cycle maps’ – plural – compounds this worry.) Will TfL be able to ensure that cyclists can ride from anywhere to anywhere in the capital, on properly provisioned streets, by remembering and following no more than a handful of coloured routes, as Simon Parker’s single London Cycle Map would achieve? When it comes to coding and organizing large numbers of cycle routes, Parker’s Compass Colour System remains the only game in town.
A further worry arises from TfL’s mention of ‘orbital routes’. Although Parker’s network features one orbital route, all his other proposed routes are long, straight and direct. As Parker recognizes, cyclists naturally want to travel in straight lines. It is not clear that TfL’s commitment to direct routes is as rigorous.
A related concern arises from TfL’s promise to create cycle routes which ‘align with the maps Londoners carry in their heads, the most common of which is the Tube map’. This will involve creating cycle routes which are ‘where possible, in rough parallel with Tube lines’ as well as with ‘bus routes, and major roads’.
It seems fair enough to want to ensure that the cycle network links properly with major transport facilities and arteries. But at the same time it is arbitrary to restrict the network in this way. In contrast, Parker’s London Cycle Map (incorporating, as it does, the old London Cycle Network) is comprehensive, catering more or less for the whole of the capital and all journey trajectories, not just those which mirror the current infrastructure. This seems the more sensible priority. Where the network cannot be made to link with major hubs and arteries directly, subsidiary ‘grey routes’ could achieve the required connections. These grey routes could also be used to link the network to tourist attractions and major landmarks.
A conference is scheduled this week with London’s Boroughs, during which TfL aims to discuss route choices for the network. Unfortunately, no-one associated with the London Cycle Map Campaign has been invited. Clearly, some people are better at networking than others.