London invested fifteen years in creating a watered down version of Amsterdam’s comprehensive, web-like bicycle network with the London Cycle Network. Unsurprisingly, the resulting change in levels of cycling was similarly disappointing, and the city’s more recent approach to its bicycle network is dramatically different. Perhaps aware of the failure of the London Cycle Network, 400 additional routes proposed by former-Mayor Ken Livingstone were scrapped under newly-elected Mayor Boris Johnson, with Livingstone’s plans for bike lanes tailored to London’s commuter habits actively supported instead. Twelve direct routes stretching from outer London into the city centre were commissioned in 2008, forming a pattern reminiscent of bicycle spokes. Two of these twelve ‘Cycle Superhighways’, as they have been branded, launched in Summer 2010, with two more opening a year later, and another two planned to open each summer until the completion of the network in 2015. Feedback has been mostly negative:
The superhighway offers in practice no protection against what is a very busy, and in places very narrow and congested, main road. Many junctions are cramped and hazardous, full of revving traffic. Cars often cut across the cycle lane, and are allowed to. – Andrew GIlligan
But despite the overwhelmingly negative response, data collected by Transport for London (TfL) from a one-day manual count suggested cycling levels have increased by 70% along the first two routes compared to one year previous. Whilst a single day count is an unreliable figure, it is at least an acceptable estimate. Cycling levels have clearly risen along the routes, despite the frequent critique of their functionality.
Current efforts with London’s bicycle network show a clear prioritisation of the city’s predominantly non-residential centre. A cycle hire scheme launched alongside the first two ‘Cycle Superhighways’, operates in central London alone, or Zone 1, as the locals call it. Once again, feedback on its functionality has been mostly negative:
It is a very good idea but in practice it is unusable. I used it from nearly day one, but I gave up about three months ago when I had to go to nine different docking stations before I could park my bike, which took over an hour. It’s not a reliable transit system for working people, it’s an amusing curiosity for tourists. – Stephen Bayley
Even Serco – the private firm that runs the service on behalf of TfL – admits there have been problems, saying ‘some aspects of the service still need to be improved’. Yet once again, the numbers suggest the scheme has been a success, seeing over 6 million journeys made by members and casual users just a year after its launch. Its been so popular that capacity is being increased in the city centre, and the scheme will be extended east in the direction of, but not actually reaching, the London Olympics site.
Prioritising ‘zone 1’ is understandable. London’s centre is an economically integral part of Greater London, shaping the culture of city in the process. Efforts to supplement the city’s bicycle network with facilities that cater to the commuting culture and city centre-focus of London, whilst receiving some criticism, have clearly worked, if increasing levels of cycling is the single goal. But what about developing sustainable communities? Cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen aren’t envied merely because of the amount of people that are on bicycles, the cultural effects are just as important. Whilst still pretty new, London’s recent bicycle network developments appear to be contributing to an increase in levels of cycling in the city, yet their role in developing sustainable communities seems less certain.