The proposed Central London Grid, with its 60-mile network of cycle routes announced today, is another step towards a cycle-friendly city. Its aims are to encourage more people on their bikes who don’t cycle already, to “de-Lycrafy” cycling in Boris Johnson’s words.
The Mayor is right to focus on people vastly under-represented in London’s cycling demographic, currently overwhelmingly white, male and affluent. Those of us happy and fast enough to throw in with the traffic are already cycling; it’s the women, the older people, the kids and the BME (black and minority ethnic) groups with the greatest potential for growth, those for whom riding with traffic, understandably, isn’t their cup of tea.
However, with safe, quiet routes we also need directness and reallocation of space away from motor traffic. This is largely up to the seven central London boroughs who manage the vast majority of London’s roads (75 per cent of the Grid), and the degree to which they “get” cycling varies enormously.
The London Cycling Campaign’s Ashok Sinha pointed out in there are much less dense routes in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea than the City of London and Camden, for example.
Camden is seen as one of London’s leading cycling boroughs, willing to trial innovative solutions to get people on bikes, as they demonstrated with the excellent armadillos and planters cycle lane opened in September, and as part of the grid they will close certain streets to through traffic, making them even safer for cyclists.
Westminster, on the other hand, has much to learn. Both blogger Danny Williams and lecturer Rachel Aldred have criticised the indirect, “drunk spider” routes proposed in its part of the Central London Grid. Aldred believes Westminster sees cycling as a problem, rather than a solution to overcrowded, polluted streets.
We are on a steep learning curve where cycling is concerned. As London’s cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, pointed out last month to the Parliamentary Transport Committee London’s Cycle Superhighways represented a learning curve, and if we were to build Cycle Superhighway 2 again it would be vastly different from what we have now, thanks to lessons learned.
Gilligan has promised the routes won’t give up at the most dangerous places, as traditionally happens with British cycle routes. We are promised a balance between directness, usability and safety. What the routes mustn’t do is hide apologetically, or stop and start constantly, as is traditional with UK cycle infrastructure. If we use back streets for quietways it should be because they are direct, pleasant routes with greater priority given to keeping cyclists moving.
The Central London Grid is a great idea and feedback welcomed by London boroughs, and TfL are a chance to bring the boroughs up to the same high standard. Now it’s our chance to tell them what we want – a real opportunity to get Londoners on bikes. If we do it well in the capital, who knows, the rest of the UK could follow.
To comment, contact the relevant London council (whether you work, live or just cycle there) or email TfL at email@example.com with any general comments, by 14 February 2014.