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London Bike-Only Superhighways

It’s ‘on yer bike’ as transport gurus switch focus to two wheels

Tim Bryan – Updated on Mar 05, 2008 – SCMP

Two wheels good, four wheels bad. So say London’s transport gurus. After years of criticism, delay, and seemingly endless consultation, transport chiefs have come up with sweeping new cycle plans – backed by £400 million (HK$6.18 billion) of public money – to transform some of London’s main routes into bike-only superhighways.

No more green-asphalt cycle lanes that start suddenly and end mysteriously 50 metres later. Out with cycle lanes that pit cyclists against oncoming one-way traffic. An end to bike lanes blocked by parked cars or invaded by buses. So dangerous is cycling in London that some bike riders wear cameras on their helmets and post dangerous drivers on the internet.

The 12 new cycle-only routes are to hail from known cyclist-heavy residential areas such as Clapham, in the south-west, Greenwich in the south-east, Hackney in the east, and Kilburn, in the north-west.

The superhighways will also link suburban centres such as Croydon, Kingston and Richmond, with local networks, and dedicated lanes linking parks, schools and train stations. “Integrated transport”, say planners – a novel idea for London, which has developed for centuries in an organic (read chaotic) fashion.

The plans fit snugly with greener tenets of transport wisdom. The successful congestion charge has been expanded, fees raised for high-polluting cars, while parking is becoming more and more pricey.

There’s also the planned London-wide launch of a scheme pioneered in Paris, in which thousands of free bikes are offered to commuters for a minimal charge.

Overall, planners hope to lift the current 500,000 cycling trips made per day to 1.9 million, double even the best forecasts, by 2025.

The London Cycling Campaign hailed the superhighways as a watershed. A spokeswoman told The Guardian newspaper: “This proposal will transform London, making cycling more visible.” The really interesting thing, she continued, was that “cycling is now associated with a modern cosmopolitan city that is in control and at ease with itself”.

Even the motoring group AA backs the plans, albeit cautiously, saying the system of haphazard provision for cyclists was no good for cyclists or other road users.

The Freight Transport Association also welcomed the move only if it was aligned with more education for cyclists “so they obey the rules of the road”.

The FTA has a point. Cycling in London may be the most efficient, cheap and timesaving way to get about, but it is fraught with danger, not least because of the higgledy-piggledy nature of cycling provision. Cyclists do ride down one-way streets, on pavements and jump lights. However, they do so knowing they are at the bottom of the transport chain. Cyclists often need to be aggressive and far from law-abiding to survive.

Cycling deaths are on the increase, largely because more people are taking to two wheels, but also because those who do obey the rules are forgotten. The major cause of death involves trucks and buses turning left at junctions and crushing cyclists against railings. The cyclists are where the Highway Code says they should be, but until proposed European legislation makes mandatory a longer wing mirror on British trucks, drivers cannot see them.

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