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).


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.


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.”

  • BBnet3000

    Given the resources that are clearly being devoted to this, why a crummy 2-way lane rather than a proper Dutch/Danish treatment? London and New York are in a remarkable cycle of reinforcing each other’s mistakes (and ensuring a low ceiling on cycling mode choice).

    At least in the UK left-side protected bike lanes are on the correct side of the street though.

  • I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around why it’s costing over $11mn/mile.

  • Greg Costikyan

    In the US, left-side protected bike lanes are on the correct side of the street, at least on a one-way street; right-side bike lanes are more appropriate in two-way traffic. 1) Most cars are driven solo, therefore the driver (in the US) gets out on the left side. Thus, a left-side bike lane cyclist is less likely to be doored by an emerging passenger (on a one-way street), since it is less likely that someone will emerge on the right side of the vehicle. 2) Since, in the US, the driver is situated on the left side of the vehicle, they are more likely to have visual contact with a cyclist on the left side of the street (on a one-way street). Thus, cyclists are safer if on the left side.

  • BBnet3000

    Protected lanes are typically between parked cars and the sidewalk, so the drivers side door will open into the left side ones. There’s a striped buffer but since most are so narrow here this space is often used for passing.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. If I remember correctly, France built some of the original TGV lines for about that much in the 1980s. OK, it might be closer to $50 million per mile now corrected for inflation, but this is for building a high-speed railroad from scratch. Nothing about what London is doing here is even remotely that elaborate. Maybe if they were building the SkyCycle ( ) that much might make sense, but not here.

    On another note, I see lots of traffic signals. To me a so-called “cycling superhighway” shouldn’t have traffic signals. It should resemble a motor highway, complete with grade separation where needed to avoid stopping or slowing. Now if there were liberal use of grade separation to avoid busy intersections, the $11 million/mile figure might make a bit of sense.

  • Walter Bishop

    They also need a barrier to prevent people from throwing eggs and coffee at me. That breakfast does not have enough carbs in it for me.

  • Yes, another very valid point. The image at the top is a perfect example of a largely useless signal installation. Those going straight at a T-junction have no reason to even see a light at all. If they feel that they simply must show the cars a light, then it will be necessity require a light where the bikes would cross the cars. But that’s the only place.

    The commitment is admirable, but I have serious concerns about the implementation itself, especially given the price tag tacked on. Doing it wrong will leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. Bicyclists won’t like it, drivers will resent the bicyclists who do the logical thing and avoid using it, and the public will be outraged that the money was wasted. About the best thing about it that I see at the moment is that they’re thankfully not putting foam cups on the heads of the models in the pictures.

  • Gezellig

    “London and New York are in a remarkable cycle of reinforcing each other’s mistakes”

    Somehow in the Anglosphere the breathtakingly backwards and counterproductive agendas of the likes of J-Fo and J-Fra took off and misled bike infrastructure policy planning for decades. Looks like Anglosphere countries are still not always so great at accepting the notion that maybe someone else’s ideas (especially those on The Continent which is sooooo different) might work on their own turf:

  • Forester is still around spitting out nonsense, so there’s plenty fodder available to make more of these.

  • IanS

    As someone who rides that junction regularly, it is actually really complex. It is also where the East-West and North-South cycle superhighways meet so I think some signalling is inevitable to deal with the numerous flows of traffic. One of the challenges for this route (or any route of any length in London) is that London does not have a simple gridiron street pattern

  • It’s important to separate Boris’ rhetoric and reality. I spend considerable time in London, much of it on a Boris bike, and I do support this project. However, the design includes several awkward/dangerous junctions and creates numerous points of conflict between pedestrians, bicycle riders, disabled, and motorists. Whilst it is protected in some places it is quite unprotected in some very critical places.

    It’s better than nothing but does fall far short of Dutch standards and could be improved considerably without additional funding or space requirements.

    For more on this project:

  • Jeff

    The protected bike lanes are on the left side because it interferes less with busses. In keeping with the theme of this comment thread, this is because New York is the only city in the world with both bikes and busses. We’re really, really special.

  • Joe Enoch


  • Southeasterner

    Is that expensive? In most American cities you would be talking about twice that much just to paint sharrows and put up a few yellow caution signs that say “share the road with bikes” – Seattle Greenways are the perfect example!

  • ahwr
  • Not quite, though I get what you’re saying. There has definitely been a lack of adequate designs for years. But for reference, $11mn/mile is what BRT costs.

  • Bicycles don’t need traffic lights. Traffic lights are just to control their interactions with cars and if the cars are removed, the bikes can navigate all on their own. Even at the crossing of two major routes (notice that the traffic lights in this video control the cycletracks and the road, not the cycletracks with each other). As such, there is still no reason for the cyclists going straight on at a T-junction to have to stop at all. Create a merge area for people turning that is separate if there really are that many people making turns.

  • That bike interaction doesn’t look so great to me. While we bicyclists don’t need red lights, do need stop signs. Wherever two roads cross, there ought to be a clear hierarchy indicating which road takes precedence. (Which is why I don’t like the all-way stops either.)

    And the reason for bicyclists to stop at a red light even at a T-junction is to give crossing pedestrians a safe route across the street. Pedestrians who have the light in their favour are entitled to a free crossing without any fear of cars or bikes coming from the perpendicular direction.

  • USbike

    I think in the cases that you mentioned, a yield would be more appropriate. Otherwise, anyone not coming to a full stop would be breaking the traffic law even if there’s no other traffic around. As described in the article featuring that video, there is a priority hierarchy here, where traffic from the right is suppose to have priority. I wonder if actual signage (whether yield or stop) would actually have much affect here.

    This is also one of the busiest junctions for cyclists in Utrecht (perhaps in the entire country) and, along with all the construction that’s been occurring nearby, is probably not the best example to argue that traffic lights are not necessary when cars are not involved.

  • Gezellig

    You can accomplish this with yields (both for bike-bike crossings as well as bicycle-pedestrian crossings) whether that’s signage or shark teeth or both. At this junction of two bikeways in the Bay Area (see attached photo below) you can see one has been given a yield sign:

    As space and resources allow, heavily traveled bike-bike intersections benefit from bike roundabouts, such as this one currently under construction in the Bay Area:

  • Gezellig

    Here’s another example of a bikeway (this in Philadelphia) with shark’s teeth indicating people on bikes must yield to those on foot:

    This is far preferable to a Stop sign.

  • Matthias

    “The central portion of the bike route…will cost £41 to construct…”

    That’s surely supposed to be £41 million, right?

  • Joe R.

    I was actually thinking “roundabout” when I saw that intersection above. Given the volume, it would make the flow quite a bit more orderly.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I think this is comparable – BRT requires tearing up the street, putting in curbs to separate a new lane, and building stations every half mile or so. A cycle superhighway requires tearing up the street, putting in curbs to separate a new lane, and hopefully some good intersection treatments. Neither requires putting in rails, catenary, power sources, or anything like that.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    When I’m biking across town, I don’t want grade separation – I’d much rather deal with traffic lights. With a traffic light, if I see a red ahead, I can take a moment to coast and slow down and catch my breath and still get through without stopping. With a grade separation I have to suddenly work harder to get up the hill (unless you make crossing pedestrians and cars go underground or above, which is both more expensive and awful for street activity).

  • Kenny Easwaran

    And as for price, I would guess that the urban stretches of TGV were far, far more expensive, but that in rural areas even something like HSR can be done relatively cheaply.

  • Joe R.

    It wouldn’t be like that. Either there are relatively infrequent intersections, in which case you could have the bike route at grade level except at intersections, or if intersections are more frequent you just put the bike route on a viaduct for its entire length so you only go up once. I can’t imagine any scenario where it would make sense to go up and down every few blocks. That would make for tedious riding, plus it probably would cost as much as just putting the entire thing on a viaduct. In a busy city like London it’s entirely possible it might make the most sense to just put the entire thing on a viaduct, at least until it gets to the outer fringes where you might only have a busy crossing every mile or two.

    Traffic lights use just as much energy as climbing a decent hill. In fact, if you do the math, it takes as much energy to accelerate from 0 to 20 mph as it does to climb up 13.5 feet. Moreover, they’re major time wasters. If you hit a dozen traffic signals in a 1 or 2 mile trip, which probably isn’t unusual in NYC or London, you just threw away 5 to 10 minutes. That makes cycling so slow as to not even be worthwhile.

    With a traffic light, if I see a red ahead, I can take a moment to coast and slow down and catch my breath and still get through without stopping.

    Maybe in London but the light cycles in NYC are typically ridiculously long. I’ve seen red lights 4 blocks away where I thought like you-just coast until they change, and they were still red when I hit them-often for another 30 seconds. A better idea if you don’t want to grade separate to avoid traffic signals is to just let cyclists pass reds if it’s clear.

  • I stand by my previous statement. Cyclists need to be able to make their journeys with as little delay as possible, so there is rarely a reason to ever put stop signs on a bikeway at all unless the sight lines are simply atrocious. Many Dutch bikeway intersections operate like many of their streets in general: default priority for those on the right (left in UK). If everyone is antsy about that idea, then use the ‘shark teeth’ markings and yield signs to assign priority to one of them. As for pedestrians, the very existence of designated crossings is also an artifact of cars. Before the widespread use of cars, everyone just ran into the street whenever they felt like it. So unless there are crowds of scores of pedestrians at a time at this location, people on foot can navigate across bikeways safely without lights to control that interaction.

  • Right, that’s true; a yield sign would be better.

  • lop

    Surface rail projects are often dramatically more than that 11 million/mile, but not because of rails, catenary, power stations or maintenance facilities for a new vehicle type. None of that is free, but the costs are generally dwarfed by utility relocation – in eighteen months when you have to dig up the street to replace a water main or something you can run buses, cars, bikes etc…around the construction, on a different street if necessary, that doesn’t work with a rail line with no redundancy – and project creep. You might do a major road rebuild every 45 years, that often gets wrapped into a rail project. Sidewalks and the like generally get installed where they don’t exist. Utility upgrades, not just relocations, are often tied in. In Portland the new max line under construction includes a bridge that will be used by bikes, pedestrians, and buses as well as trains. Play the accounting right, attribute all costs to rail, and you can make a project look outrageously expensive.

  • lop

    You think it’s reasonable to ban overnight parking when there isn’t much other demand for the road space, but you don’t think about shortening light cycles to make lights less bothersome for cyclists? And where in NYC do you hit a dozen reds in two miles of biking. Even heading crosstown in Manhattan I’ve never hit that many reds. The only places where it’s possible are the densest most crowded portions of the city, the proverbial last mile.

  • Bolwerk

    First world double track surface rail projects without flourishes like handsome stations seem to run $35M-$60M/mile. In Europe, they sometimes have to move buried power infrastructure. In the USA, it’s usually above ground already. Otherwise I’m not sure utility location is really bothered with.

    I think some German city (Dresden?) had a cool system where they could just lift a street segment up with a crane instead of digging as ConEd and Verizon like to do. (Union rule: can’t even share each others’ holes.)

  • Gezellig

    It’s interesting that despite all this, people on bikes are still quite good at negotiating space with one another and conflicts are rare:

    I used to travel through that station occasionally during rush hour and my experiences also align with what Mark Wagenbuur writes there. Btw, all this construction is not for nought, and it is improving bike flow in the area. This is an area that once looked like this:

    Where that big parking lot once was now stands the building in the video below (with the Starbucks and Zara), and is an example of the new bike improvements in the area:

    Compare to some more pics of what that same intersection once looked like:

    1961 v. 2014. No bike facilities vs. top-notch bike facilities.
    1964, with new cycletrack behind bus stop and at intersections

    This area is a kind of a special case for a number of reasons:

    1) It’s a bottleneck due to being in central Utrecht and located near a major train station, limiting crossing points due to all the rail lines

    2) This particular train station (Utrecht Centraal) is actually *the* central train hub of the Netherlands (it’s the largest and busiest in the NL).

    3) As mentioned earlier the whole area around Utrecht Centraal has been undergoing a huge multiyear renovation with lots of construction on many blocks, further impacting the bottleneck situation for the time being.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t know if I demand complete grade separation, but the lack of barriers at all seems…troubling?

  • Bolwerk

    Well, I guess I should say, the lack of more than token barriers, going by two of those pictures.

  • Joe R.

    Of course you can shorten light cycles, but then there wouldn’t be an adequate pedestrian walk phase on the widest streets. As far as hitting lots of lights, it’s easily possible. I think I was on 101st Avenue coming back from a trip to a friend’s place in Coney Island when I saw really atrocious traffic signal timing. Basically, ALL of the lights went green or red simultaneously. At my quick riding speed plus rapid acceleration I could go only four blocks before hitting a red. Actually, scratch that because this was four blocks after treating a red like a yield. If I had bothered to wait the full cycle, I probably only would have went 2 or 3 blocks. It’s easily possible for a much slower cyclist who waited out every light to be stopping every single block on that street. This wasn’t a crowded portion of the city. Moreover, the light timing went on like this for the few miles I was on this street. Towards the end it was getting tedious slowing for red, then slingshotting back up to speed, so I said f it. I just ran the last 20 blocks at full speed, including through the reds. 1 AM and OK lines of sight so it wasn’t dangerous even if it probably looked that way to a casual observer.

    Anyway, there’s that, plus I’ve seen lots of double or triple stops. These are places where the lights are deliberately out of phase, so you hit a red every block. I wish I knew what the people who set the light timing were thinking.

    Making lights less bothersome for cyclists equals getting rid of them as far as I’m concerned. The Dutch tend to agree. Most of the time when you see a traffic light on a Dutch bike route, it’s there to give bikes priority over motor traffic.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I’m not sure that I would want to ride my bike up the ramp to the viaduct if I’m just doing a trip of a couple miles, which is most of my trips. So we’d need good street-level bike infrastructure paralleling the superhighway, and I think I would prioritize that, since it would help long commutes, in addition to short trips.

    As for the lights, I guess it depends on how long they are. I recently moved from Los Angeles to College Station, TX, and here we’ve got incredibly long light cycles (though fortunately there are very few lights on the streets that are worth biking on). I could see the desire for a ramp to bypass those few. But in Los Angeles, even with all the lights, I could generally beat anyone who was driving somewhere if we were traveling within a 3-4 mile radius. I could even beat them out to 5 miles if we were traveling during peak rush hour and they didn’t have a convenient freeway. So bike is still the fastest mode even with no particular effort made to make the lights bike-friendly. (Unless Los Angeles has done more to make the lights bike-friendly than I realize!)

  • lop

    101 is ~45 feet. Could cut that down to ~33 feet at intersections, leaving room for two travel lanes and a turn lane. Figure you want to accommodate pedestrians who walk at 2 mph, then the flashing don’t walk phase has to be 11 seconds. Maybe replace some traffic lights with yield signs for cross traffic, time remaining lights for 15-20 mph. Much of 101 is a commercial corridor that breaks off from liberty and runs for only ~3.3 miles. Parallel to the larger Atlantic, a bit more than a quarter mile away. It’s a good place to privilege local use, including bikes, over speeding through traffic. Maybe add a couple diverters too. My point is you look at a badly designed road and say surface treatments suck, you need a grade separated viaduct. Why not compare it to what the road could be instead? If you think it’s possible to declare a full scale war on cars, ban them from much of the city, ban parking everywhere etc…then rearranging a street to privilege local access over through traffic is politically feasible.

    I don’t know what double stops you are referring to, are they where the grid is offset? If so, probably to serve cross traffic, some of them are basically a three way intersection.

    I biked on 101 once, didn’t like it. Travelling from the belt greenway across the conduit, belt, Woodhaven, QB, GCP and VWE you might be better off taking cohancy or the ped overpass around Whitelaw and later a street around 107-109, forget which one, to head north to FP, ride through the park or on Park lane S to Kew Gardens Rd, then 83rd/Hoover to Parsons

  • Joe R.

    You obviously do the street level stuff before viaducts simply because it’s “last mile”, so the viaducts will be nearly useless without it. The viaducts would be analogous to car highways, while the street level stuff would be, well, like local streets. I feel to have a good comprehensive network for short, medium, and long trips you eventually need both.

    I would certainly use a viaduct for a short trip if I didn’t have to go much out of my way to reach it. Something where I can consistently average 18 to 20 mph makes the time savings enormous for many trips. If I have a 3 mile trip, average 10 mph on local streets but 18 mph on a viaduct, I save 5 minutes, 20 seconds each way if I can do two of those three miles on the viaduct. That certainly seems worth it to me.

  • Joe R.

    To be sure, I’ve said many times if we radically reduce car use the need for any elaborate viaduct system totally vanishes. We can make the surface streets into a virtual cycling/walking paradise. However, as if I didn’t need any more convincing, my recent posting in the EDC thread tells me the concept of radically reducing or eliminating private autos from cities has very little traction even among livable streets advocates. That means it’s hopeless politically among the masses, many of whom still see car ownership as a symbol of success. Therefore, since we can’t make the streets suitable for cycling given the traffic controls for the volume of cars, we must think in terms of going above or below the street. Lately, I’m also thinking of making parallel elevated pedestrian infrastructure. Walking on streets where biking is unpleasant is often unpleasant also, so why not put pedestrians above the fray? It would help sell the project by making it useful to nearly everyone, not just cyclists.

    Sure, 101st Avenue is a really bad example, but my point is most streets aren’t all that great in their present state. The double stops I refer to are in places like Parsons between 75th and 77th Avenues, on Jamaica Avenue somewhere in the 180s, a few other places I can’t recall. These are just run of the mill road crossings where for some reason they synced the lights so the next one goes red right after the one you’re at turns green. Really stupid, as is the overuse of traffic signals in general in NYC (really, 101st Avenue only needs them at major cross streets). Then again, that’s another function of local politics. Someone in an LED lighting company I did business with actually bragged to me about paying off some community board members and politicians so they stick traffic signals everywhere. That kind of proves the old adage “when something makes no sense just follow the money”.

    On another note, if NYC even just had stuff similar to the Belt Parkway Greenway paralleling every expressway that would be pretty good. Most places in Queens or Brooklyn are within a mile of a highway, two at most.

    I biked on 101 once, didn’t like it. Travelling from the belt greenway across the conduit, belt, Woodhaven, QB, GCP and VWE you might be better off taking cohancy or the ped overpass around Whitelaw and later a street around 107-109, forget which one, to head north to FP, ride through the park or on Park lane S to Kew Gardens Rd, then 83rd/Hoover to Parsons.

    I took Atlantic Avenue going in, but I was tired and needed to climb a fair grade to reach it coming home, so I just ended up on 101st Avenue. The next time I made the trip I took Liberty Avenue. The el aside, it made for much better riding. The entire route was something like 164th-Union Turnpike-Parsons-Atlantic Avenue-Woodhaven/Crossbay Blvd.. Off Crossbay I did a right onto 153rd Avenue, then two lefts and a right onto the Shore Pkwy service road for about 1/3 mile. Left on 84th Street under the Shore Parkway, then onto the Belt Parkway Greenway until it ends. That route was pretty good other than the last part on Crossbay where I rode on the sidewalk a few blocks simply because Crossbay there is practically a highway. I know about the other route with the ped overpass. A bit too many turns for me to remember, probably slower also.

  • Justin

    If only San Francisco mayor Ed Lee was this ambitious, just imagine the amount of protected cycling infrastructure the city and county of San Francisco could build and have.

  • lop

    Don’t like kerbs?

  • Bolwerk

    Well, depends. Those looks like streets with rather heavy/fast traffic, and the barrier looks narrow.


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