Friday, 27 August 2010

Boris Bikes and Super Highways

I am not grumpy all the time. Not all cycling initiatives in London are misguided or unworkable.

The Cycle Hire Scheme, proposed by Ken and implemented by Boris, is something that looks like being greater than the sum of its parts.

Already generating more column inches about cycling in London than anything else I have ever seen,  60,000 people have signed up and 250,000 journeys made since it started at the end of July.

This is whilst the scheme requires you to sign up on the website and purchase a key. When the "casual hire" capability is introduced, I would think that more tourists and day visitors to central London would be tempted to use the facility instead of bus or tube.

Of course, it hasn't gone completely smoothly. But glitches should be expected, and considering the scheme was rolled out quite quickly, I think the problems have actually been less than one might have feared.

There are also criticisms of the concept of the scheme. Sure, it won't suddenly change model share overnight.  But this to miss the point somewhat. Of those 250,000 journeys, there will be people who have swapped taxis, tube or bus for a bicycle. Having done it once they will probably do it again. There will be more people for whom a cycle trip becomes just another option - it normalises cycling as a mode of transport. 

Time will tell with this. I hope it is a success. In these economic times, £140M sounds a lot of money for anything (even though it would barely get a rail, underground or road project started), so failure means further cycle projects would probably be more difficult to fund. 

Of course, I cannot be optimistic for long. If the Hire Scheme could become greater than the sum of its parts, it looks like the Cycle Super Highways are going to be considerably less.

I haven't tried them out myself, but the videos of Gaz545 on Youtube have featured in blogs and online newspapers enough for us to get a general idea of them. Such as this video which shows the "superhighway" as a thin strip of blue paint in a bus lane, pretty much completely blocked by ...errr... a bus.

I struggle to understand who the cycle superhighways are aimed at. Hardened cycle commuters were already using these roads, and will probably eschew any type of ill-conceived cycle-lane. Novices will hardly be reassured by the fact that they are being cut up whilst on blue tarmac as opposed to red. People who have never cycled before are unlikely to be swayed by these types of cycle lanes - it is hardly likely that concerns about the safety of cycling are going to be addressed by a strip of blue tarmac which is full of cars, motorbikes and buses.

There appears to have been some improvements to some junctions and the fitting of trixi mirrors  seems a good idea. But, at £22M, the scheme should be more than this.

I think the cycle-superhighways are somewhat doomed. At the moment the funding and will to make proper infrastructure that makes a difference is simply not there. So, from grand plans one actually gets the same cycle infrastructure crap, but just a different colour. Hardly progress.

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