Will Cycle Superhighways solve congestion problems?

Despite the anonymous scaremongering reported in the press and coming from some businesses opposed to the Cycling Superhighway projects in London there is a real chance that better cycling infrastructure can be part of the solution to motor vehicle congestion.

Three radical plans are currently been consulted on by Transport for London. The East-West 'Crossrail for the Bike', the North-South link from Elephant to Kings Cross and upgrading the casualty strewn CS 2 route from Aldgate to Bow roundabout.

Transport for London has published impact studies of computer generated, worst case scenarios of what might happen to motor traffic. LCC have been looking at these numbers, published on the TfL consultations website.

We have been testing TfL figures. Their report on Cycle Superhighway 2 claims that current peak hour journey times from Bow to Aldgate are 14:29 minutes and that after the superhighway is built this may increase by 7 minutes. Every driver we have spoken with has said that it takes much longer so we went out to test it.

We have cycled the route 5 times over recent weeks, keeping up with the peak hour motor traffic from Bow to Aldgate rather than moving ahead with all the cyclists. The times measured varied from 16:20 minutes up to 34:50 with an average of 23:42 minutes.

The quickest journey was at 7.40 in the morning. There was very little motor traffic, showing how much spare capacity on that route. We had to cycle fast to keep up with the free flowing cars. To reach TfL's “average” time for this journey the cars would have to get half the green lights and have no queues anywhere else.

We cycled back again and on the second run there was massive congestion from Bow. We soon found the cause: a cyclist lying on the ground being attended by doctors from the Helicopter Emergency Service.

The crash happened when a van driver turned right into Campbell Road, not seeing the cyclist on the blue paint lane. The cyclist didn't have enough time to stop. He was taken to the Royal London Hospital with a broken leg and severe concussion. We are hoping he is making a good recovery.

Just this week we saw video of a similar crash on CS2 in the other direction. A car driver carelessly turned across the path of LCC member Honor at Harley Grove. The driver didn't stop but returned 15 minutes later after he had been accosted by other motorists. Hopefully Honor has only minor injuries but her bike has been destroyed.

Crashes cause congestion. A report to the TfL board estimated that 28% of the congestion in London is the result of crashes. If a cyclist is seriously injured there can be huge delays. The police investigation into the crash we saw took several hours. One side of the road was closed with jams in each direction.

The next two journeys we took that day took 17:40 and 19:20 minutes. Those times grossly underestimate the delay. The motor traffic we joined at Bow roundabout had already been jammed for 5-15 minutes.

Delays at junctions

On other days we have had even more delays, the longest trip being just under 35 minutes. Cycling along with the cars is not a pleasant experience but you do get to see where the delays occur. Mostly it is at the main junctions.

It is clear that some traffic engineers are concerned that Superhighways will add to the delays at junctions. We believe this is unfounded. One of our consistent criticisms of the proposed designs is that the junctions are far too complicated. The most serious collisions happen at junctions and all agree that separation of motor traffic from cyclists and pedestrians is the most reliable way to reduce this danger.

At some major junctions TfL plan to introduce a version of what we call the Eliminating Left Hook junction design. If implemented properly, the signal control allows all traffic, pedestrians, cycles and  motors to go in the same direction at once. Turning motor traffic is held until the next phase, then all the traffic flows in the cross direction, followed by a final phase for turning.

This system gives long periods for pedestrians to cross in safety, resolving some of the objections from local highway authorities and bus or tube passengers.

Traffic in the Aldgate area is particularly slow at the moment caused by the closure of Minories to enable construction work.

We have little confidence in the method of estimating extra delays, the science is limited and the input data so variable that the estimates can only be considered little better than a guess.

For example one of the main reasons for building world class cycling infrastructure in London is to get more people cycling. The modelling software used by TfL assumes that there will be no change in travel behaviour as a result of the changes. All the evidence suggests that even mediocre cycle infrastructure encourages more people to cycle. Andrew Gilligan told the GLA transport committee yesterday that 30% of the increase in numbers of people cycling on Superhighway 7 from Clapham to the City were people new to cycle commuting.

Find out more about the Cycle Superhighways proposals and take action now.