Boris Johnson Commits to a Protected “Cycle Superhighway” Crossing London

London's "crossrail for bikes" will be the longest protected bike lane in Europe. Image: London Evening Standard
London’s “crossrail for bikes” will be the longest urban protected bike lane in Europe, according to the London papers. Image: London Evening Standard

London Mayor Boris Johnson is showing cities what it looks like to commit real resources to repurposing car lanes for high-quality bike infrastructure.

Yesterday, Johnson announced the city will begin building a wide, continuous protected bike lane linking east and west London when the weather warms this spring. When complete, it will be the longest protected “urban cycle lane” in Europe, according to Metro UK, carrying riders through the heart of the city and some of its most famous landmarks. The bike lane will be separated from vehicle traffic by a curb, London-based design blog Dezeen reports.

While bike infrastructure is cheap, London is devoting serious resources to ensuring that this bike lane is as safe, spacious, and comfortable as it can be. The central portion of the bike route, about 5.5 miles, will cost £41 to construct ($62 million).

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Johnson’s announcement came after slight alterations were made to the plan to reduce vehicle delays. The original plan would have slowed driving times between Limehouse Link and Hyde Park Corners by 16 minutes. But the new version trims the delay to six minutes, which is apparently acceptable to the people of London.

The plan has the overwhelming support of city residents. Of the 21,000 Londoners surveyed about it, a remarkable 84 percent said they were supportive. The improvements are also backed by some of the city’s biggest businesses, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, Deloitte, and Unilever, though there was opposition from the London Chamber of Commerce and taxi drivers.

“We’re really supportive of the scheme, most importantly because it demonstrates a willingness to reallocate motor traffic space towards more active forms of travel,” Tom Platt, London manager of Living Streets, a bike and pedestrian advocacy group, told Streetsblog in an email, though he mentioned his group has some concerns about delays for pedestrians.

Construction of the route — a “crossrail for bikes,” as it has been called, referring to London’s high-speed rail system — is set to begin in April with completion scheduled for early 2016. Meanwhile, a companion north-south bikeway is set to break ground in March. Both are part of the mayor’s £913 million (about $1.4 billion in U.S. dollars) cycling plan for London.

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Cycling has doubled in central London over the last decade, while driving has declined 25 percent, reports the Evening Standard. Not coincidentally, former mayor Ken Livingstone implemented the city’s congestion charge in 2003.

The dangers faced by London cyclists are still substantial, however. Over the last 18 months, seven cyclists were killed on routes slated for improvements. The public response to those tragedies has built support for more ambitious changes to the streets. The local press has played a significant role in advocating for change, with the Times of London running an all-out campaign for safe cycling policies.

“Cycling is clearly now a major transport option in London, with over 170,000 bike journeys now made across central London every single day,” Transport Commissioner for London Peter Hendy said during the announcement, according to Dezeen. “These projects will help transform cycling in London – making it safer and an option that more and more people can enjoy.”

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