Otherwise known as “motorways”. Freeways. Die autobahnen. A road specifically designed for those whose journey takes them quite some distance, designed to carry a large volume of traffic at speed. They have special engineering features and special rules and regulations. Junctions are grade separated such that through traffic can sail past unperturbed; there are no zebra crossings for pedestrians, level crossings for railways; the carriageways are wide, to accommodate vehicles of a variety of speeds and power. No bicycles, no farm tractors; cars and motorcycles must meet a minimum power requirement.
What’s a “cycle superhighway”? What special engineering features and special rules and regulations are they marked by?
Certain cycling campaign groups, political parties, and local authorities subscribe to a belief that cyclists should be on the road, in traffic. There are good reasons for this belief, and I agree with it: the road is a much better way for a cyclist to get around London than any of the variety of styles of pisspoor cycling infrastructure put in by the boroughs, and we should certainly be doing all that we can to reclaim the City and West End streets from the Motorist for the people. The problem is that the aforementioned organisations are dogmatic in this belief. They believe that all cyclists should be in traffic, all of the time. But a street lined with bus stops and 25 sets of traffic lights per mile is not the best that we can provide for cycling, any more than it would make a suitable intercity infrastructure for a Motorist.
A true cycle superhighway, providing an efficient and safe route between the parts of London where people live and the parts where they work, would have some specific engineering characteristics. It would not be a lame blue strip along the side of a road, too narrow to accommodate the required volume of cyclists and variety of cycling abilities, surface smashed by the buses, air stuffed with the fumes of the trucks, too saturated with signals and crossings to allow reasonable journey times. Nor would it be like the embarrassing wastes of money that are our current selection of useless and dangerous segregated roadside bicycle paths; the ones that weave through street furniture, over kerbs, in and out of traffic, and force the cyclist to stop to cross every small side-road.
A true cycle superhighway is a cycling freeway. It is not shared with inappropriate transport modes: no cars, no buses, no motorcycles. It does not have level intersections with roads: minor roads that cross its path cease to be through routes, while major roads fly over or under, with slip lanes for access. It can accommodate high volumes and variable abilities — at least two lanes in each direction, with a verge for those who need to stop. And it’s straight enough, flat enough, and smooth enough for people to cruise uninterrupted at speed. It looks a bit like the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, the arterial cycle path through north-east Bristol along the route of an old railway: gentle gradients, gentle radii, and no level-crossings with roads.
If London were serious about cycle superhighways, that is what it would be building. In the outer boroughs the superhighways would follow suburban streets that have been fully closed to other traffic — having the beneficial side-effect of making neighbourhoods more pleasant as they are freed from speeding taxis taking short-cuts through residential streets. As they reached the inner boroughs they would converge to continue as elevated cycleways, often alongside or above existing railways — in the south, for example, three great arterial routes alongside the elevated railways that come in to London Bridge, Elephant & Castle, and Waterloo; finally converging, perhaps, upon a de-Motorised Southwark Bridge.
That would be expensive, compared to a few barrels of blue paint. But the pay-out would be huge. It’s called “investment”.