Superhighways

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?

Blue paint.

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”.

France sends naval support for War On The Motorist

The scene at Tower Bridge during the evening rush hour, 6:25-6:50 this evening, a French Naval frigate arriving in the pool, to the faint notes of La Marseillaise blowing on the fresh sea breeze:

While not especially known for their military prowess, the French fought hard and brave, with an inspired strategy, sitting stationary downstream of the bridge for a good ten minutes after it opened, ensuring that the traffic was halted for the best part of a half hour at the height of the evening rush.  Word had leaked out in advance and assorted photographers and media gathered, while tourists and City workers flocked to the river to enjoy the evening sunlight and the show.  A flotilla of tourist river boats accompanied the French for their arrival, and open-top tourist buses accumulated on London Bridge.  It was a great street party; all the citizens came out onto the streets of London, happy, relieved, hopeful, excited by the developments.

And all the while that the French were dawdling up the river, a vast crowd of subversives quietly moved in for a parallel attack: while the bankers, drug dealers, and delivery vans (collectively, “the types of people who drive in London”) grew ever more irate over the money they were being forced to waste by burning petrol while going nowhere, just watching the queue ahead of them, the subversives were creeping past them with bicycles, cleverly building up a critical mass surrounding the Motorists.  So when the seamen finally pulled up alongside HMS Belfast, and the bridge decks had crept back into position, the poor white van drivers were still unable to go anywhere, as the cyclists held the bridge for the next five minutes.  (click thumbnails for full size images.)

The rumours are that the French will be playing the same hilarious military trick in reverse during the morning rush hour on Monday.  But for now: at ease, boys.  Mission accomplished.

On Oxford Street

Wikipedia / GFDL

The Grauniad Bike Blog asks, “why are taxis the king of the road when they carry so few passengers?”  That is, the obvious question that most people in London have been asking for some time, why, given that taxis are responsible for at most one in every 200 commuter journeys in London, and given that for the vast majority of these journeys a taxi is a needless and extravagant luxury, and given that taxis are a major contributor to congestion and pollution, why the fuck do we publicly subsidise their industry by allowing them to use the infrastructure that is supposed to be set aside for the transport modes which actually solve those problems?  Why, when politicians words are of increasing bus and bike share, do their actions say: we don’t care for bus users, we will penalise your transport choice by creating taxi jams to hold up your bus; we don’t care for cyclists, we will force you to share space with some of the widest, tallest, most polluting, and most erratically driven vehicles on the road?

Well, think, dears.  Who uses taxis in London?  The people who can afford it.  Politicians, for example, and the businessmen that fund their parties.  Councillors, mayors, and assemblymen aren’t going to do anything to inconvenience taxi drivers, because that would inconvenience themselves, and perhaps even make the businessman who arranged to buy them lunch late.

And anyway, taxis need to use London’s bus lanes: they need to make sudden swerves into the pavement on a red route, cutting up bicycles and buses, because they need to pick up fares.  It’s in the interest of everybody’s safety if they only brake suddenly in one lane, without having to cut across two.  But still, they would need to use bus lanes for a third reason, because otherwise it would take them hours to get across town, and then how would they be able to compete in the free and fair market for transport modes?

But one bus lane they don’t need to use is Oxford Street.  People who can afford taxis don’t go to Oxford Street.  They go to the arcades of Knightsbridge or Kensington; Smithfield boutiques if they’re trendy; or jump on a Eurostar and combine it with lunch.  So taxis don’t need to go to Oxford Street for their fares.  But do they need to go through Oxford Street in order to avoid the jams on the conventional roads which would amount to an unfair burden on their industry?  Well, according to the BBC, taxi drivers are complaining about how long it takes to get down Oxford Street — because of all the buses and pedestrian crossings full of common non-taxi using plebs getting in their way.

Perhaps Westminster council and the London authority could consider doing a little something to help taxi drivers, by banning them from Oxford Street entirely — thus doing their bit to end the end the war on the motorist, and, in the process, creating the city’s first real bus lane.

In pictures: Bollard collides with motor vehicle

Here on the Old Kent Road, a bollard has been involved in a collision with a motor vehicle.  It is not yet clear which party was at fault.

Bollard collides with motor vehicleBollards are fascinating creatures.  Over the course of a number of posts, I want to show you how the once humble bollard turned its back on life as an innocent east end docker,

and took up position on the front line of the War On The Motorist, multiplying, moving west, and infiltrating every part of the city.  Bollards are at right in the thick of the action, and I will explain how they represent perfectly the issues that are the centre of this dispute.

I will tell you of the history of bollards, and how the history of bollards is a history of the war; how the different varieties of bollards reflect the various major developments in the conflict; and why the true test of whether the war is over would be whether Britain could survive without its tens of millions of bollards.