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London's somewhat bizarre plan for better cycling

Photo from Cyclists in the City blog

Photo from Cyclists in the City blog

If I were being especially grumpy today, I would call the Mayor of London's plan a cop-out. That seems even more so, given the city's world-class status and generally good atmosphere for walking. Feargus O'Sullivan writes about the plan for a network of "Quietways":

The idea behind making these streets more cycling-friendly is simple, but impressive. As this excellent Cyclists in the City piece from last year details, London cyclists often get snarled up in traffic control systems designed to prevent cars from turning side streets into rat runs. The new Quietways are designed to help bikes avoid these issues by turning one-way streets for cars into two-way streets for bikes, beckoning cyclists along lanes blocked to cars with bollards. Old barriers that sometimes force riders to dismount will be smoothed away, while road markings will be made clearer.

So, in essence, it's a vastly improved network on the quieter side streets, but not much to address the busiest streets that move a lot of traffic. Again, that seems like a weak attempt from such a prominent world capital. But this blog from Cyclists in the City gets into more of the details, and gives a more nuanced view of the plan. A couple of highlights:

I've cycled around Fitzrovia a lot recently and been hugely impressed by the work Camden has rolled out. The area takes up most of the block north of Oxford Street and west of Tottenham Court Road, as far as Great Portland Street, where car domination courtesy of Westminster council kicks in. Across the entire zone, the council employed a number of strategies:

It has removed several traffic lights and replaced these with zebra crossings on speed tables. This makes it easier for motor vehicles to get through without constant stop-starting. And it makes it easier to cross the road as the cars are going more slowly and you don't have to wait for a green man to cross the road.

It has installed bike parking throughout the area, replacing a handful of car parking spaces with dozens of bike parking spaces. (Meanwhile, neighbouring Westminster says it can't find space for bike parking. On exactly the same streets)

It has turned a maze of one-way streets into streets that are almost all two-way for cycling.

And last week, it closed Warren Street to motor vehicles to stop taxis and minicabs using the street as a ratrun to avoid the junction at the top of Tottenham Court Road.

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Fitzrovia is not now a car-free nirvana. But compared to 10 years ago, the place has changed hugely. When you cycle through most of the streets here, you now feel like you're on equal status with motor cars. Not on every street, but on a serious slice of them. Frankly, it's quite uplifting to cycle here knowing that you're no longer the underdog on the streets.

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Boris's document slightly misses the point that this strategy isn't just about cycling. It's about creating a better neighbourhood for everyone. Bye bye to unnecessary traffic lights, hullo to calmer streets and less rat-run traffic. If you link streets like this together, you end up with a really useful cycling network.

What I do find interesting for American cities and smaller cities are the use of a variety of techniques on low-volume mostly-residential streets. I'd like to see a city like London do a whole lot more for cyclists, but there are some solid examples and lessons here for cities that are just getting into providing new bicycle infrastructure.

Parking: an issue for bikes, too

Cycling safety has a long ways to go

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