Cycle lanes create a lot of disagreement among cyclists and advocates of cycling, and among people whose job it is to enable more sustainable modes of movement in cities.
I am pretty clear in my mind that we need to separate cyclists from cars, buses and lorries because without doing so we will continue to have relatively low levels of cycling. I can foresee a future scenario where we have say 60% of traffic cycling, in which case the majority of the road is taken up with cyclists and vehicles have to move slowly behind. But we are a long way from that and in order to get there we need many more cyclists than we currently have, even thought the numbers are growing in cities worldwide.
The moment that convinced me that this was the way forward was, one morning in Rotterdam, seeing a young mother taking her children to school. She had a toddler on a seat on the crossbar and with a free hand she was pulling an older, yawning child along beside her on his little bike. They were meandering to school in the cycle lane at about 3 mph, inches from busy traffic, but they were perfectly safe, protected by a kerb from faster traffic.
Like most of Dutch cyclists they didn’t wear special clothing, the children, or parents, weren’t clad in racing Lycra because at the speeds they travel at they don’t work up much of a sweat. They are not competing with traffic and they can cycle at a comfortable pace and arrive to work or school energized but not stressed or perspiring.
Mixing cyclists and other traffic means that cyclists have to constantly speed up and down with traffic to respond to traffic lights, accelerating and decelerating. This is the most tiring option for cyclists who prefer to travel like a train, slowly and continuously.
Having a large urban cycling network would reduce cyclist deaths and road accidents, provided that there is a substantial continuous network. This requires a commitment to take road space from cars, and not from pedestrians, as most cities depend on their pedestrians to make the city function.
Mixing cyclists with buses seems to me to be a terrible idea, who wants to cycle up a hill with a huge bus bearing down on you from behind? It only needs a slip of the foot off the pedal and you find yourself lying in the bus lane under an enormous vehicle. This approach is never going to work. Every day that I travel to work on Londons buses I see this danger, its not relaxing watching!
Similarly a partial cycling network is the worst of both worlds as the junctions where cycling lanes stop are often the most dangerous points for cyclists.
Those who cycle argue that separated cycle lanes are unhelpful say that they separate two road users who often move at the same speed, cyclists and cars, and they often make cyclists slow down. This is true for the ‘committed’ and usually male urban cyclist who fears nothing and apparently has nine lives. These cyclists also complain that cycle lanes are often designed badly and then are more dangerous to use for cyclists than normal roads. All cycle routes are at their most dangerous when they end and the hapless and unsuspecting cyclist is propelled into normal traffic. Some of this is true. But my response is that able-bodied and fearless cyclists can join traffic if it appeals to them, and leave the slower and less confident cyclist to use the cycle lanes.
We all agree that pedestrians and cars should be separated, apart from those rare circumstances where shared surfaces make cars go so slowly that it is safe to mix them with pedestrians. If we all agree that separation is best in this case, is it such a philosophical step to say that cars, cycles and pedestrians should be separated from each other?
Looking at cities where cycling is much more common, we have plenty of examples of how to make cycle lanes work in favour of cyclists, and how to make junction design work to favour cycles over cars.
Lets stop making excuses, and creating half-hearted examples of cycle lanes like the London Superhighways and instead focus our attention on fully segregated lanes like those planned from Tower Hill to Acton and approved by TFL in February. Its a small beginning, but going in the right direction.
Here is an example from Copenhagen!