Monday, 18 October 2010

Kidbrooke to London - the cycle (not so) superhighway

This is a tough time of year for bike commuters. Mornings and evenings are dark and cold, and when it rains (or snows) the journey can seem unending:

However, for those of us that bike regularly, switching to the train often seems the worse option – standing on cold platforms to battle for a tiny space on a regularly delayed train is hardly an attractive prospect.

The transport authorities agree and are spending tens of millions of pounds on schemes to encourage you, dear commuter, to jump on your bike. So, what are your options?

A starting point could be TfL's Journey Planner. The site gives you options – easy, fast, leisure – and then shows you a map according to your preferences.

It’s a nice idea, but there’s a big flaw: it assumes that the capital’s cycle infrastructure is the best option for cyclists.

However, bike lanes in London, even recently built ones, seem designed for cycle commuters that do not exist - ie ones that ride slowly, like reading signs, follow complex routes, stop and start frequently, give way to tiny side roads, and like to share pavements with pedestrians.

The ‘fast’ route suggested to travel from Kidbrooke to the City is a case in point: it is full of twists and turns, pointless deviations and so is 15 kilometres (just over 9 miles) long. This would take around 50-60 minutes to ride:

The route I take is much more direct, and totals around 11.5 kilometres (around 7 miles).

Almost all the way I ride along main roads, precisely the routes London’s transport planners try so hard to make cyclists avoid.

The bus lane that runs along much of Jamaica Road makes it both pretty safe and fast, though cyclists riding in bus lanes now have to be much more aware of motorcyclists than before.

Unsurprisingly, most other cyclists also use main roads and ignore the odd deviations suggested by the blue signs erected by transport planners. The journey takes 30-40 minutes to ride.

In the future, we will benefit from two proposed ‘cycle superhighways’ – one that runs from Lewisham to Victoria the second from Woolwich to London Bridge (this is likely to follow my route from Greenwich to Tower Bridge).

However, the initial feedback on two Cycle Superhighways launched so far has not been good – as you can see here it often amounts to little more than some blue paint on a road, and some minor remodelling of junctions:

This is not a subject that can be easily resolved. London is not Amsterdam, and there is neither the political will, critical mass of cyclists nor the finance for an ambitious reworking of the capital’s roads. 

Compromises have to be achieved and accepted. However, given the limited funds and energy for cycling, some of the decisions made by the authorities are baffling, at least from the perspective of this Kidbrooke commuter.

Tom is a journalist who's lived in south-east London for most of the last decade.

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