'BikeGrid' in Zone 1 could transform public spaces

Back in 2009, LCC published plans for a Zone 1 BikeGrid, a badly needed cycle network  for central London which could be implemented quickly and at relatively low cost. Here's the article as originally published in March 2009. In March 2013, the Mayor's Vision for Cycling proposed a Zone 1 BikeGrid, and details are expected to be published soon showing how this will be implemented. 

GARDEN SQUARES: the BikeGrid would link many of London's historic garden square to make them cycle-friendly and pleasant public spaces

The sad fact is there currently isn’t one complete east-west or north-south cycle route that crosses Zone 1 — and central London needs an integrated cycle network now like never before. In response to this serious problem, LCC has produced plans for how a Zone 1 BikeGrid could be built quickly and at relatively low cost. With the London Cycle Hire there are thousands of bikes and hundreds of docking stations across Zone 1, with many extra bike trips taken per day in that central area by business people, commuters, shoppers and tourists.

According to the Mayor Boris Johnson, the Cycle Superhighways will bring many new cyclists in central London. As it stands, there is no plan to create an integrated route network to meet the needs of this massive influx of new cyclists, or the long-suffering users of the existing road network.

Under current plans, cyclists using these commuter-friendly routes will simply disappear into the 'black hole' that is the current central London ‘non-network’, often being dumped unceremoniously into dangerous one-way systems like Aldgate or Tower Hill. It's a crazy situation and not one that's likely to help achieve the Mayor's target of a four-fold increase in cycling.

Action needed now!

We've used our cycling infrastructure expertise to minimise the need to build new cycle lanes. Instead, the BikeGrid uses existing road networks, improving them by making them two-way again, with traffic-calming measures designed to prioritise walking and cycling by reducing motor traffic speeds and volumes to levels that all Londoners find comfortable.

Chief Executive Koy Thomson said: “The BikeGrid is a realistic project that could transform swathes of London from noisy, grubby car alleys into open, safe and cheerful public spaces. Remember that 40 percent of households in London don’t have a car and Zone 1 is principally an area for commerce, shopping and tourism. There’s no reason why we can’t reallocate space to cyclists and walkers in our public squares, just like they have in Times Square in New York. The Cycle Hire Scheme and the Cycle Superhighways mean now is the time to get this done. 

"The BikeGrid would have an extraordinarily positive effect on Londoners’ mobility, reallocating streets with low motor-traffic flow into an active-travel network encouraging very high levels of cycling and walking, pushing the capital towards achieving its targets for lowering CO2 and air pollution, reducing road traffic deaths, while boosting public health. The time is right for it now.”

FREE PARKING: Too much space on our streets is currently devoted to cars and other motor vehicles

As well as providing complete east-west and north-south routes for cycling, the BikeGrid would also provide huge benefits for walkers. The project encompasses the regeneration of several garden squares, many of which are currently little more than car parks and roundabouts.

LCC’s plan proposes closing many of them to motor traffic and making them places (or plazas) where people congregate, just as they did many years ago before the massive reallocation of space to the car. Property is likely to become more desirable close to the BikeGrid, and road surfaces and signage would be improved throughout, along with decreases in noise pollution and road casualties.

The Royal Parks would finally be properly linked and the many Thames crossings that are dangerous to cyclists would be fixed.

ZONING IN: How north-south (red) and east-west (blue) routes meet 12 Superhighways forming a linked network

Transport for London has recognised there's a need for improvements to accompany the Cycle Hire Scheme, and has allocated £5 million pounds for what it calls 'complementary measures'. Despite the money being allocated centrally, there’s no mechanism or process for co-ordination. The nine central London boroughs decide independently where the money should be spent and, if they’re lucky, TfL can fit the bits together.

The BikeGrid provides the framework within which a new process of co-ordinating investment must fit. It will require the continuation of complementary measure funds and a dedicated delivery team. In other words, this should be a special project.

LCC first proposed a ‘Central Area Network’ back in 2002 and others have come up with similar schemes since. We argued back then, as we do now, that central London should have a proper, integrated cycle network and a single highway authority. We know we have backers for the BikeGrid project within TfL and borough councils are likely to welcome the plans if it draws money into their neighbourhoods and improves their streets. What cyclists need now, and what London needs, is the green light from our cycling mayor to make this essential and overdue project a reality.

EAST-WEST EXAMPLE: Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge

1. Active Ribbon: linking major employers

Problem South of the river is not over-endowed with transport links.

Solution An integrated cycle network creates quality links all over south London. This section of the BikeGrid connects two major health nodes, St Thomas' and Guy's hospitals, and links major employers such as Ernst & Young, the Department for Health and the London Fire Brigade head office. 

2. Remove rat runs

Example The Cut, Upper Ground.

Problem Streets in areas full of pedestrians (many pubs, cafés, bars, theatres) are used by taxis as shortcuts.

Solution Through traffic should be removed, with many entry points to these routes blocked. Access remains for taxis picking up and dropping off, and for deliveries.

3. Cycle Superhighway entry points

Example Superhighway 2 stops at Aldgate and Superhighway 3 stops at Royal Mint Street.

Problem Under current plans, commuters who disembark for a Cycle Superhighway will be dropped into the 'black hole' of central London's disconnected road traffic system which can include potentially dangerous one-way systems.

Solution Cycle Superhighway end-points must link seamlessly into Zone 1 BikeGrid.

4. Make Thames bridges safer

Example Tower Bridge.

Problem For cyclists crossing the Thames there's no option of nipping down a side street, they're forced to use a small number of routes with high levels of motor traffic. 

Solution Approach points to bridges and bridge routes themselves need cycle-friendly safety measures. 

NORTH-SOUTH EXAMPLE: Regent's Park to Green Park

5. Improve crossings

Example Junction at Harley Street & Marylebone Road.

Problem Intersections make cyclists follow convoluted routes or dismount to use pedestrian crossings.

Solution Provide Toucan crossings to allow cyclists to travel more directly and safely across major motor-traffic routes.

6. Make one-way streets two-way again

Examples Harley Street, Brook Street, Connaught Street.

Problem One-way streets encourage fast-moving traffic, and make direct cycle journeys more difficult; contraflows can be dangerous.

SOLUTION Convert several one-way pairs (where one-way streets going in opposite directions are next to each other) back to two-way. Converting both pairs to two-way, with one closed to through motor traffic, creates cyclist and walker-friendly routes.

7. Traffic calming & 20mph zones

Examples Harley Street, Belgrave Street, Long Acre.

Problem Many routes aren’t cycle-friendly, with fast-moving traffic. 

Solution Remove roads from the motor traffic feeder system, but keep them accessible for deliveries and residents. Traffic-calming measures and 20mph speed limits encourage cycling and walking.

8. Link the Royal Parks

Example Regent's Park to Green Park.

Problem Routes through parks are closed to cycles and green spaces are not linked by a coherent walking or cycling network.

Solution New cycle routes join green spaces, with new entry/exit points designed where necessary, plus increased access for cycles within Royal Parks on designated routes.

9. Revive public spaces

Examples Hannover Square, Berkeley Square, Belgrave Square, Portman Square, Hyde Park Square.

Problem Many of the West End's lovely open spaces have been turned into car parks and roundabouts. One-way systems encourage fast-moving traffic, discouraging pedestrian access and increasing danger and journey times for cyclists. Air and noise pollution mean walkers and cyclists visit less often.

Solution Close many square to motor vehicles/through traffic. Street-scape to rejuvenate them, making places people congregate. These are linked by the BikeGrid and cycling is encouraged.

London Cycle Network

The London Cycling Network Plus (LCN+) was to be a 500-mile cycle network in Greater London. It started in 2001 but most of the TfL funding stopped in 2010, leaving boroughs a choice whether to complete their sections or not. Unfortunately, only about 60 percent of the project (per TfL) has been completed (to varying standards). The hardest, most expensive and (many would argue) most important sections (often on TfL roads) were left until last. The end result is an incomplete project that is far from being a ‘network’.

In continental Europe most successful cycling cities boast cycle route networks and London still has the opportunity to create a basic network. New cycling projects like the Cycle Superhighways and Cycle Hire Scheme can tackle some LCN+ routes and barriers, while the Greenways programme and borough road improvements can tackle others. LCC suggests that co-ordinating new and old cycling projects could help create a basic London network and make the best of the millions of pounds already invested in LCN+.