18 cycling videos made as part of a landscape architect’s survey-assessment-analysis-design for an East Central London Cycle Network
Please give Amazon-style *Ratings for: A2, A200, CS3 Cable St, CS3 Embankment, Quietway Q1, Thames Path, Sustrans NCN1, Sustrans NCN4, Sustrans NCN13. The themes of these videos are (1) planning for London cycling has been terrible, with the exception of the post-2015 cycle superhighways (2) there is a distinction between planning for cycle commuters and planning for recreational cycling (3) the Quietway programme, like the LCN network, is a failed compromise (4) cycleway planning should be integrated with the urban landscape architecture of roads, streets, parks and greenways (5) all London cycle routes should be subject to survey, assessment, analysis and design.
Cycle planning in East Central London A cycle network for East Central London: planning, design and landscape architecture of cycling infrastructure facilities. Managing such facilities will be difficult, which is why the council is looking to many a resource to consider for how to keep on top of such workloads this will generate.
Cycle infrastructure assessment methods Assessment methods for London cycle infrastructure: CROW, CLoS Cycling Level of Service, SCRAM, Simplified Cycle Route Assessment Method for cycleways, bike paths, bike lanes, cycle routes etc
London cycle route maps and mapping Cycle mapping in London is chaotic but the OpenCycleMap, using OpenStreetMap data, is better than the cycling maps by TfL and Sustrans – and better than the cycling strategy maps in the London Borough plans
Q1 Review of Quietway 1 cycle route Quietway 1 in SE London goes from Waterloo to Greenwich. Q1 is a compromise between planning for leisure and planning for commuter cycling. It falls between two stools.
Brunel Bike Bridge: Rotherhithe or Deptford? The Brunel Bike Bridge was approved by the Mayor of London in 2016. It will be a great cycle facility for East London. But if it was moved 1500m downstream, from Rotherhithe to Deptford, it would be a much more significant component of London’s cycling network
TfL Olympic Cycle Route on the Isle of Dogs Transport for London TfL planned a cycle route on the Isle of Dogs to take cyclists to the 21012 Olympic Games. It’s a disgrace, with no segregated facilities, no cycle path and no useful cycle lane.
The proposed Isle of Dogs Cycle Superhighway A cycle path of superhighway standard is proposed for the west bank of the Isle of Dogs in London. It would link the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to Canary Wharf, CS3, the City and Westminster. Approximately 97% of the land is paved and has public access. See also:
National Cycle Route NCN13 was planned by Sustrans. It is an enjoyable ride from Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf (via Wapping, London Docks and Limehouse Basin) passing attractive landscapes and architecture
National Cycle Route 13 is planned to run from London to Norwich. This video follows the section from Tower Bridge to Limehouse Basin. I like it. Though you do feel as if you’re being allowed to cycle on a route which was designed in part for cars and in part for pedestrians. A surprising 56% of it runs beside water and most of the route is segregated from motor vehicles. Scenic and environmental conditions are good – though a fair-bit of the track is cyclist-unfriendly. It goes through the area which used to be called London Docks and looking for surviving fragments is fun. This part of docklands was used for luxury goods, like tobacco. It would have been a good place for a ship museum.
The first section, beneath the Tower Hotel, is the worst section, and a reminder that the hotel has been voted London’s ugliest building. Twice. Cycling on the waterfront would be much pleasanter – but obviously can’t be done when it’s busy with pedestrians.
St Katherine’s Dock takes its name from the medieval church which was destroyed to build the dock – to a design by Thomas Telford. After it closed, in 1968, the dock became a commercial success for the first time, and set the standard for docklands redevelopment after 1981. The planners completely ignored cyclists. Retrofitting of a cycle network has taken place but there is more to do.
NCN13 goes through the old London Docks, making use of the Ornamental Canal – a waterside greenway designed in the 1980s
For most of the past half-century London’s cycle transport planners have had their heads in the sand. Instead of looking for desire lines which link origins to destinations, as other transport planners do, they have looked for underused ‘quiet’ roads and for underused space on busy roads. They don’t seem to have realised that the usual reason for roads being underused is that they go from nowhere to nowhere. Painting white bikes on the road and putting up blue and white road signs cannot make indirect routes through housing estates popular with cyclists. Commuting by bike is not the outdoor equivalent of a session on a fitness bike in a gym. It can be a heavenly experience or a hellish experience. Too often, it is a purgatory experience. We ride in fear. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
Transport planners and landscape architects should together work to create a cycle network which is functional and enjoyable. The Embankment section of East-West Superhighway 3 has both these qualities. I could spend a happy day riding back and forth between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. But it is only a good quality urban landscape because of what was there before TfL built the excellent cycle route. When combining use and beauty in a cycle route is impractical, as in Upper Thames Street, then:
For journeys to work, to school, to the station, to the shops and to other destinations, cyclists need routes which are as short and as safe as possible. Directness is much more important for cyclists than it is for motorists.
For recreational journeys, estimated to be 35% of all trips, the pleasure is as much in the travelling as in the arriving. Cyclists want to experience fine streets, gardens, forests, rivers, lakes, beaches and the other visitor attractions in which London is so rich. I guess this applies even to people whose reason for cycling IS the outdoor equivalent of an exercise machine.
The map of designated cycle routes in South East London is superficially impressive (see post on cycle mapping). But the 2014 Government data showing how much of this exists as facilities on the ground tells a very different story. It’s like bits of branch without trees. It’s not a network.
The admired Netherlands CROW manual argues for a network that connects origins with destinations. This is very good. But we also need leisure routes.
North of the Thames, East Central London’s cycle planning is much better. CS3 is a good, fast, A to B connection and a key component in East London’s cycle infrastructure. Though it could be safer and more of a pleasure to ride. NCN13 is also good – but as a scenically attractive leisure route, planned for this purpose, by Sustrans, and largely segregated from motor vehicles.
The Isle of Dogs could be transformed into a cyclists paradise, instead of a tangled wire pie without wire, by completing the Cycle Superhighway on its West Bank and making a leisure cycleway on its East Bank. The Isle could have London’s first Five Star Cycling Greenway.
Planners are catching up with the fact that cyclists are now a quarter of Central London’s commuter traffic. So they now need a five-year plan for doubling this figure. Like the money homeowners spend on insulation and double glazing, investment in cycle facilities produces long-term benefits – and without the ongoing costs of fuel, health-damaging air pollution or climate change. Planning for the bicycle has to become a fundamental aspect of urban landscape planning and design.
A network is an important aspect of a London Cycling Landscape (LCL) with full consideration for the needs of both commuter and leisure cyclists. This proposal, made in 2017, is based on the evidence from assessments of cycle routes in the area east of Central London. It shows a network which could have been made and should be an aspect of the All London Green Grid.
My experience as a London cycle commuter
After becoming a London commuter in 1973 I read about Cycle to Work Week (now Bike Week). The hour-long walk-and-train journey seemed un-cyclable but I decided to give it a go, riding from Wimbledon to Baker Street. There were few other cyclists, the traffic was terrible and the air choked me – but I loved it. The weather was beautiful and I’ve now been cycling in London for 45 years, in wind, sun, rain, snow, fog and floods.
My first experience of a signposted cycle route was in the early 80s. I was riding along the A2, as usual, and noticed a sign to what is now London Cycle Network Route 2. So I turned off, got lost 6 times, fell off my bike and ended up at the Elephant and Castle instead of Westminster Bridge. There was no cycling infrastructure at all and the route was longer, slower and more dangerous than riding on the A2. This absurd and tokenist approach to London cycle planning continued until the first of the 2015 cycle superhighways opened some 40 years later. After using many of the routes shown on the above map I revisited them and produced a set of videos:
18 cycling videos (see Youtube LCL Playlist) made as part of a landscape architect’s survey-analysis-design for an East Central London Cycle Network
The landscape architecture of cycleway planning and design
The video at the top of this post proposes a landscape approach to London cycleway planning and design. To make a good cycle network, engineers and landscape architects need to work together – just as engineers and architects need to work together to make good buildings. Individual routes are important. The aim is to plan and design a cycle network which is a joy to use and which takes cyclists from origins to destinations, including leisure destinations. It’s likely that:
Some routes will have the primary role of taking commuters directly from A to B,
Other routes will have the primary role of letting cyclists experience great urban landscapes
You can see the advantages of this approach by riding the Royal Cycle Loop in Central London. Amazingly, it now has both a high quality commuter cycle route and a high-quality leisure cycle route – some parts of which have to be walked because there are so many pedestrians.
London is in urgent need of cycling plan. It should connect origins to destinations, including leisure destinations, and the routes should be designed to get high scores on cycleway assessment methods, typically for: Safety, Directness, Coherence, Comfort and Attractiveness. London also needs better cycle maps – which tell the truth about their qualities. Maps of backstreets daubed with white bikes and blue signs are a waste of everybody’s time and money.
Bike Bridges and Skycycle Tubes
As London moves, slowly but surely, towards becoming a Great Cycling City, more imaginative investment projects will become feasible.
London’s first cycle tube could be built above London’s first railway track – the London & Greenwich Railway. The capital cost would be a fraction of providing equivalent capacity on trains and the running costs, year after year after year, would be negligible. Charmingly, and the air pushed forward by each cyclist in a one-way tube would help other cyclists going in the same direction. Oli Clark, a London landscape architect, did some great designs in 2014 and Norman Foster helped publicise them with the name Skycycle.
Cycle Route Maps
London cycle maps are better than its cycle network – but chaotic. The recommended solution is for public bodies and local councils to contribute data to the OpenStreetMap database.
35% of cycle trips in London are made for leisure – so recreation should become an important objective for cycleway planning
The video gives a snapshot of London’s best and worst cycling conditions, hinting that the city needs more cycling heavens, fewer cycling hells and a lot less purgatory. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
Cycleway planning and design are often regarded as a branch of transport planning a matter for engineering-only. This is wrong. In Vitruvian terms, cycleways involve issues relating to
commodity: cycleways should be functional, comfortable and convenient
firmness: cycleways should be safe, smooth and durable
delight: cycleways should provide users with such a pleasurable experience that more and more of them are attracted to go by bike
Nor should cycleways be treated as a separate facility that can be designed in isolation. They must be desire lines. Provision for cycling is an inextricable aspect of street design, highway design, park design, forest design and landscape planning in all its varieties. The objective is to create urban and rural landscapes in which design for cycling is a primary objective.
We need a London Cycling Landscape (LCL) with provision for cyclists throughout the urban area. Cycle routes require interconnection, as do telephone cables. But planning for cycling is more than network planning. It involves the composition of streets and buildings with landform, water and vegetation – to create good landscape as an environmental public good.
A London Cycling Landscape should include a London Cycling Network so that both commuters and recreational users have the cycle infrastructure they need and want
The section of Cycle Superhighway CS3 between Canary Wharf and the City is said to be the busiest cycle route in the UK and could therefore contribute more to public health than any other street in London. Though most of it is ugly, narrow and badly surfaced, it has significant virtues. First, it’s a direct route between two financial centres. Second, it’s a key component in the wider pattern of East London’s cycle network, used by commuters from north and south of the river. Third, the section through St James Gardens is a pleasant surprise. It’s fresh, it’s green and it has seats for those who want a rest – which is what you need before and after crossing Butcher Row.
CS3 Cycle Superhighway Cable Street Section Limehouse to Tower Hill
The Cable Street section is as straight as the railway it parallels. But like the whole of this section, it needs is a re-design. The case for three-metre-wide lanes in each direction is strong because:
the volume of cycle traffic is high
the volume is fast growing
the flows of cycle traffic are less-tidal than in most of London. This is because there are important destinations at both ends of the route.
Cable Street should be redesigned to make it an urban cycling greenway and a pleasure to use. Cyclists also like having comfortable street furniture for when they stop to make phone calls or to drink coffee.
Access for motor vehicles should be on a residents only basis, with through traffic guided to use The Highway and Commercial Road.
Car parking should be allowed only if there is spare road space after creating the cycle lanes in each direction. Parking isn’t allowed on busy motor roads and shouldn’t be allowed on busy cycle roads. Is the plan to wait for cyclists to start banging into each other before creating more space for cycling?
Cable Street has an interesting history which could inspire an urban landscape design. In 1936 it was the scene of Britain’s first successful battle against fascism. Some 20,000 demonstrators turned back 3,000 fascists – who were protected by 6,000 police officers. This led to a change in the law on public demonstrations.
In the 19th century, the area had specialised trades in nautical equipment, cheap lodgings, brothels, and opium dens. The ‘cables’ which gave the street its name were hemp ropes made for ships. What about putting an overhead cable along the street for climbing plants?
In 1812 the last English sinner to have a stake driven through his heart was buried, upside down, beside Cable Street. It was a punishment for his alleged offence of committing suicide. It’s not quite certain that he did it. But the fact that a good landscape design could make Cable Street a charming multi-purpose greenway IS quite certain. Let’s have a budget – and a design competition. The investment would do even more good for Europe’s financial centre than bankers’ bonuses.
CS3 is the busiest cycle path in the UK but it a gloomy corridor and needs a landscape architecture design
If you would like to do an assessment of the Embankment Section of East-West Cycle Superhighway CS3, please retain your impartiality by doing the assessment before reading the post or watching the video. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
The Embankment section of Cycle Superhighway CS3 between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge is super:
Aesthetically, this is one of the best parts of Central London’s riverside landscape
The cycle path runs in the dappled shade of London planes
You see sunlight flickering on the water, boats chugging past, seabirds enjoying life – and an occasional represenative of the swans for which the river was famous in the Middle Ages
You see famous monuments, including the Palace of Westminster, the Battle of Britain Memorial and a three and half thousand year old Egyptian Obelisk from Heliopolis – Cleopatra’s Needle
The mingling of cyclists, runners and pedestrians can have the gaiety of a corniche
LONDON’S ONLY SUPER SUPERHIGHWAY: the Embankment section of CS3 East-West Cycle Superhighway 3 from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge
Cyclists may even enjoy the sight of stationary limos trying to take fat cats from their plush homes in Chelsea to their plush offices in the City and Canary Wharf. The Embankment section of the superhighway also does well on functional criteria
It is the pleasantest, healthiest, fastest, cheapest and most direct way of travelling from Westminster to Blackfriars
There are no junctions where motor vehicles cross the cyclepath
There is often a colourful line of parked coaches protecting the cycle route from traffic nuisance
But few things are perfect in this life. The fumes from motor vehicles are a drawback and TfL should not have created interruptions in the form of unnecessary traffic lights and ski jumps. Where did the idea come from? What research is being done to assess their effectiveness? How easy would it be to remove them?
The Embankment section of CS3 East-West Cycle Superhighway 3 from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge
If you would like to do an assessment of the Isle of Dogs section of NCN1, please retain your impartiality by doing the assessment before reading the post or watching the video. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
Sustrans planned the National Cycle Network Route 1 cycleway from Dover to the Shetland Isles as a recreational route. It was a romantic idea and serves this objective. But the Isle of Dogs section of NCN1 is pretty drab, apart from two short sections of ride by Millwall Dock the River Thames. The rest of the Isle of Dogs NCN1 route has too many dog’s-leg changes of direction, too many junctions and far too many parked cars. The result is a dog’s dinner and following the route is a navigational challenge. The underlying problem is that the creation of the route was not treated as the creation of a greenway, with landscape planning and landscape architecture inputs. The approach was ‘without spending more than a few bob, we have to signpost a route through the Isle of Dogs’. OK. They did it. But how many London cyclists use the NCN1 cycle route?
Sustrans planned NCN1 as a recreational cycle route on the Isle of Dogs. It is dogged by junctions and parked cars.
NCN1 National Cycle Route 1 on the Isle of Dogs was planned by Sustrans as a recreational cycling route. It is hard to find and affords little pleasure to the user.
Other posts on cycle route assessment in East Central London enable Amazon-style star assessments. The ratings below can be used for an overall assessment of London’s Cycle Network. This should be done before watching the video or reading the blog post. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
Simplified Cycle Route Assessment Method SCRAM using the criteria recommended by CROW and adapted for TfL’s Cycling Level of Service CLoS assessment method
Until 2015 London’s public authorities got away with murder by providing the most amazing set of rubbishy cycle routes for those who use what is by far the most civilized and sustainable means of land transport ever invented. If you’d like a good laugh about what they did please do a search on Britain’s Worst Cycle Lanes. Scarred by such absurdities, cyclists welcomed the publication of TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS) in 2015. It includes the Cycling Level of Service assessment method. Typically, a Level-of-service standard from a public authority is unambitious. It measures the minimum level of a public facility required to meet basic needs. The CLoS Cycling Level of Service Standards rest on six ‘core design outcomes’ which are then translated into ‘indicators’ and said to be drawn from ‘international best practice’. They are in fact a watered-down version of the standards from the Netherlands 2007 Design manual for bicycle traffic published by CROW – a public works research institute.
‘Directness’ is a good example of the dilution. Using the TfL assessment method, a route can get full marks if it deviates ‘only’ 20% from ‘the nearest main road alternative’. The CROW manual is more robust. It categorizes ‘directness’ as a ‘requirement’, rather than a ‘desirable outcome’ and it recognizes, on page 26, ‘that when a journey time by bicycle is longer than by car, this becomes an important reason for using the car and not the bicycle. On the other hand, many motorists appear to be prepared to use the bicycle instead of the car for shorter journeys when it is quicker and more convenient to do so’.
Cyclist behaviour in London confirms these facts. Many cyclists, but not all, prefer a faster journey on a main road to a slower journey on an indirect route. They they avoid segregated cycle lanes when sharing space with motor vehicles is quicker. With far too little money invested in cycle infrastructure, not one penny of it should be spent on ‘facilities’ that cyclists refuse to use.
The TfL assessment chart awards up to 48 points for Safety and up to 8 points for Directness. There are four problems with this.
First safety is not an option. If a cycle route is unsafe, then, as when a drug is unsafe, it should not be advertised to users. It’s true that some pregnant women used Thalidomide without their children getting birth defects. But the drug should never have been marketed.
Second, TfL provides no empirical evidence for its weighting system. Why is safety six times as important as directness? Why not three times? Or thirty times? Or a thousand times?
Third, TfL state that one of the two main objectives for the Cycling Design Standards is ‘to entice new cyclists onto the network’. Good thing to do. But cycle routes which lack Directness won’t do it – as the CROW manual explicitly states.
Fourth, As with all the TfL indicators, safety varies between the sections of each cycle route. Some sections and some junctions are safe. Others are unsafe.
So what score should the whole route be given? I suppose it should be segmented and the scores averaged. But with 34 indicators and 100 points to allocate, a Level of Service assessments for a 10 km route would a big task for an amateur, like me. I therefore recommend a Simplified Cycle Route Assessment Method – SCRAM. It is aimed at cyclists and treats routes like consumer durables with Amazon-style star-ratings applied to five separate criteria. Since all of them are important, no weightings are involved. A 5-star cycle route will serve the needs of both commuter cyclists and recreational cyclists. When designed for only one of these groups, as is normal, a route cannot get five stars. If anyone knows of a 5-star cycle route in London, please make a comment below. I think the Embankment section of CS3 gets pretty near it and that a riverside cycle superhighway on the Isle of Dogs would hit the jackpot.
London’s printed cycle maps is chaotic, contradictory and useless.
The problem began when they started signposting ‘cycle routes’ instead of ‘cycle facilities’. Mostly, the ‘routes’ were just plans for getting cyclists out of the way of motorists. The law is of course that except were specified (eg motorways) every road is a cycle route.
The agencies which provide cycle mapping for London include the Boroughs, Sustrans, Google Maps, Transport for London and the many apps and websites which use Openstreetmap data. They all show ‘routes’ instead of cycle paths, lanes. or other physical facilities. In Switzerland most of these routes would be classified as ‘Dangerous roads with heavy traffic’. List of 18 London cycling posts and videos.
Kümmerly+Frey publish a 1:301,000 Velokarte of Switzerland and 1:60,000 local maps. The maps show ATE recommended routes, leisure routes, national routes, mountain bike routes, routes that are dangerous because of traffic, unpaved routes, distances and gradients
Borough maps are often comprehensive but they’re of little use to cyclists because they map too many routes with no facilities. They only cover a single Borough and they are produced in different formats. Sustrans are mostly interested in mapping routes they have helped plan. Googlemaps show Sustrans routes. TfL’s mapping policy is unfathomable. They publish paper maps and show recommended routes online: after planning a journey see the bottom section of the TfL Journey Planner ‘Cycling and other options’ ). On its paper maps TfL show many routes but not all routes and they use an A-Z basemap instead of an Ordnance Survey basemap. For the journey from Blackheath Station to Canary Wharf TfL does not recommend Greenwich Park (which is the route all local cyclists use) and does recommend its own Olympic Route on the Isle of Dogs, which is horrible.
All the cycle maps produced by public bodies are outclassed by maps based on copyright-free open data. The Openstreetmap is ‘the Wikipedia of mapping’. Like Wiki, it has masses of good information and some oddities. The mapping is freely available as an open source database produced by volunteers and used to generate electronic maps. Anyone can code a stylesheet which will use the database to render a specialised map. Different search criteria generate different maps. Andy Allen has done a very good job for cyclists, resulting in the OpenCycleMap.
The signposting of cycle routes raises two issues.
there is absolutely no point in it, unless it’s sufficiently well done for cyclists to follow the route without a map.
there is absolutely no point in mapping or signposting routes which are so awful that no cyclists use them
there is absolutely no point in signposting routes unless the signage is maintained and kept up to date. Routes change more often than paper maps.
So what’s the solution to the mapping and signposting problem? Public authorities should do four things
They should place route data in the Openstreetmap, as well as maintaining their own mapping
They should expect cyclists to use digital maps on their mobile devices, rather than carry paper maps in their pocket.
They should concentrate on signposting facilities that have been provided for cyclists, instead of waymarking idiotic ‘routes’ which cyclists scarcely use
They should desist from insulting cyclists by signposting dangerous routes: heavy traffic, lots of junctions and lines of parked cars are not what cyclists want or need
Cycling maps by (clockwise from top left) Strava, TfL, OpenCycleMap and Sustrans
Strava’s Global Heat Map is a byproduct of its mobile app. Data is collected from cyclists who use the app. The user group is estimated to be 10% of London’s commuter cyclists. Though a vast sample, it is not a representative sample. Strava users tend to be young, male competitive cyclists. That said, the Strava map is the best available data on the relative intensity of cycle traffic in London.