Controversial bicycle “superhighways” open in London

The road to central London is a notoriously dangerous route for the city’s many cycling commuters. But now, the first two of 12 proposed bicycle “superhighways” have opened, in a city-sponsored effort to encourage bicycle commuting as a way of reducing traffic and pollution in the city. The lanes are part of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s ambitious, “cycle revolution” campaign, which coincides with preparations for the 2012 Olympics. Johnson has stated that his program will change the London experience for the better and serve as a model for other cities.

The lanes are part of an effort to increase cycling in London by 400 percent  by 2025. According to Transport for London [TfL],the goals of the program are to:

  • Improve cycling conditions for people who already commute by bike
  • Encourage those who don’t to take to pedal power and keep fit
  • Help cut congestion
  • Relieve overcrowding on public transport
  • Reduce emissions.

The first two routes cover about 8.5 miles each, linking south and east London—where there are already many bicycle commuters—to the city center.

What makes these “superhighways” different from ordinary bike lanes? Mainly, it’s the planning behind them: The 12 routes, when completed in 2012 [if all goes well], will form a radial pattern of
“spokes” leading to central London.

The “superhighways” are, in fact, side-of-the-road bike lanes, painted bright blue. Presumably, cyclists and motorists will come to recognize the blue lanes as a “brand,” so that sharing the road becomes a norm, rather than a competitive sport.

To get all of the details, you can watch the  Official promotional video here.

But not everyone is convinced. Critics say that the lanes’ width—1.5 metres [4 ft., 11 inches]—is not adequate to keep cyclists and motorists apart, although the design appears to fall within minimum standards set by bicycling organizations.  Many would prefer the segregated bike lanes created in other countries, particularly the Copenhagen/Netherlands model, in which road space is allocated away from cars and into bike lanes. They cite the Mayor’s own words as evidence that the bike lanes are merely a branding gimmick that continues to “prioritize private car ownership and use over walking and cycling.”

Further criticism comes from London cyclists, who say the new routes may be an improvement, but by no means live up to the name “superhighways.” And London’s Green Party says the administration is underspending on its cycling budget.

Will the new bike lanes achieve their goals? The two-wheeled jury will decide the ultimate verdict.