Jonn Elledge: Transport is not enough for London’s cycle route map
It takes more than a trip planner to encourage more bike travel
On a recent trip through north London, somewhere on the west side of Clissold Park, I noticed something exciting. Green Lanes now has a bike path! Even two of them! Separated from the rest of the traffic! Through plastic rods! “Looks like Green Lanes got some … green lanes,” I chuckled to myself, or I would have if I’d only thought about it sooner, and it wasn’t incredibly lame, either.
A few days later, while driving through central London, I noticed something depressing. The cycle paths on Euston Road, which were laid out last spring with a great din and wailing and gnashing of teeth, have been partially demolished. The lane to the east remains – bus stops have even been repositioned slightly, which means that they will be closed in the long run. But it still starts and ends at seemingly random points and the west lane has been completely removed: if you don’t know this and decide to use the separate bike lanes you heard about last year, you’ll unexpectedly get stuck on several Traces of a terrifying amount of traffic.
Now. For a moment, put aside your strongly held views on whether bike lanes are good or bad, whether cyclists should wear helmets and pay road tax, whether drivers who drive dangerously should be publicly embarrassed and / or executed. Instead, consider the fact that I – a person who spends more time thinking about London’s infrastructure than any sane man really should – knew nothing of either. That’s because transportation is for London doesn’t do a good job talking about them.
TfL maintains a some kind of card the city’s bike paths. But it’s a pretty straightforward kind of affair that shows completed sections of the new generation of signposted routes but makes no attempt to suggest safe passages or quiet roads that night, which makes the fairly random choice of routes something that’s citywide Network is similar.
It’s also incomplete – the Green Lanes lanes do not currently exist (the closest is the unseparated CS1, a few hundred meters to the east). Euston Road happens to be there, but the map doesn’t bother to mention that it’s only half there and that if you try to go the other direction you will quickly find yourself competing for space with several tons of buses. This map is pretty useless when it comes to travel planning.
What TfL says about this is that it doesn’t matter because it isn’t to the Travel planning. There is an actual one Trip planner for having a bike mode that guides cyclists through quiet back streets and so on. Part of the reason the agency keeps things simple, spokespersons say, is because new bike routes are being rolled out so quickly: It’s just easier to keep track of the cartographic equivalent of attacking a map with a magical marker pen than it is over a carefully designed but constantly changing diagram like the subway map.
Maybe. But travel planning isn’t the only reason for a card. They also don’t show how much infrastructure you’ve built. A great benefit of having a bike map would be to show users where they are could go: brilliant ideas for traveling and the ambition to explore new parts of the city by bike.
It can be done. The people behind the unofficial Route planner roll Maps includes both a tube-style diagram of Central London that highlights the best routes and some links between them, and a Google Maps layer that provides useful cycle routes across London. Some of them are officially signposted or separate from car traffic; others aren’t, but are introduced anyway to turn a disjointed tangle of separate routes into something that resembles a network.
There’s no obvious reason why TfL, with its greater resources and better understanding of the streets of London, couldn’t do the same. However, there are clear reasons why she might choose not to. The route planner highlights the quality of different routes, shows which are safely separated from car traffic and which are connected to buses and Uber drivers.
A TfL equivalent would either have to do the same thing, thereby pointing out problems with the existing network, or deliberately foregoing it in order to potentially mislead users. On top of that, a comprehensive map would remind everyone that certain districts just don’t want bike infrastructure and there’s not much TfL can do about it – hello, Kensington & Chelsea – and you can see why the agency may have decided it just isn’t worth it.
That feels like a mistake. If London’s transport companies really want to get more people on their bikes, it is not enough to offer them a route planner: it has to show them where they can go. The current card is not enough.
Jonn Elledge is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.
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