Can the Mayor treble London’s protected Cycle Superhighways by 2020?

By Nicholas Sanderson,
cyclists on Cycle Superhighway (CS) route in London

Before the 2016 Mayoral election, all the main candidates committed to triple the extent of protected space for cycling, through the cycle superhighways programme. With 27 more months guaranteed in office, what does Sadiq Khan need to do to meet this commitment?

The London Assembly Transport Committee are currently investigating the issue and here’s what we know and what’s needed.

If we take the baseline as those built between 2015 and 2016 and exclude some of the non-segregated superhighways from this figure – including routes 7 and 8 and the ‘strategically’ separated route 1, the baseline figure is 15.5 kilometres. Tripling this, then, equates to completing an extra 31 kilometres of segregated route before 2020. This would take the total length of street in London with a new cycle track to over 45km – or 90kms of cycle protected track each way.

While this might sound like a lot, and it is compared to most UK Cities, an international comparison shows how far behind we are. The Copenhagen City Region has 375 kilometres of cycle track each way, which is almost ten times that of London – serving a quarter of London’s population. But Copenhagen wasn’t transformed overnight, so what can London achieve before 2020?

How quickly can Cycle Superhighways be built? 

Nearly five years ago, then London Mayor Boris Johnson cycled up and down the Embankment for the TV cameras to launch his Vision for Cycling in London. In October that year, the first short but sweet section of segregated route opened in Stratford. A sign of things to come.

Construction of the new or upgraded protected Cycle Superhighways promised in the vision began two years later in February 2015, no longer just blue paint but building on international best practice to provide a safe cycle track. By November that year a new protected cycle track –Cycle Superhighway (CS) 5 – from Oval over Vauxhall Bridge had opened – 2kms added. By April 2016, CS1 from the City to Tottenham and the upgrade of CS2 from Bow to Aldgate were complete – a further 6 kilometres. The following month, large sections of the East-West and North-South Superhighways opened just in time for the Mayoral elections – 7.5kms added.

A transformational 14 months in which London’s substantially segregated superhighway network grew by 15.5 kilometres – building at a rate of one kilometre per month. Cycle on these routes and your chances of being knocked off by a vehicle falls to almost zero – its why we need more if London is to keep moving while bearing down on air pollution and physical inactivity.

Of course, the figures exclude all of the planning time dating from before spring 2013 to launch in spring 2016. But it does show what can be achieved with political determinism, technical expertise and major campaigning efforts that went into the East-West route in particular.

What's in the pipeline? 

While CS11 has appeared to stalled and the discussion re-emerges about the status of Regent’s Park, there are hints that elsewhere things are beginning get moving. Construction continues on the East-West through Hyde Park and North-South Superhighway to King’s Cross. Ground has broken on Superhighway 11 in Swiss Cottage – albeit doubts remain about the rest of the route – and consultations have been completed on routes 4 and 9 in south east and west London respectively. Out on the Westway, a short 1.5km section between East Acton and White City is reportedly soon to begin. Taken together these would extend the Superhighways a further 20kms. This leaves a further 10km to be developed. 5km of which could be the missing link from Lancaster Gate to White City, or on CS5 from Oval to New Cross, or revitalising CS12 to connect the transformed Archway with the to-be-transformed Highbury Corner, on which construction has just started. Upgrades of routes 7 or 8 are much needed. But at this point it’s probably time to ask the Mayor to come out with his plans. We’re 21 months on from the election with 27 months left to go. 

The Mayor’s increased cycling budget, the adoption of a Healthy Streets Approach and the draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy have set a very welcome new direction for transport investment in London. But it’s time the Mayor, jointly with boroughs, published a cycling plan for the remainder of his term – providing the near-term version of the targets in his draft strategy and further detail on what will be built where by 2020. There are 27 months left to build cycle tracks on 30 kilometres of London’s streets. We are all keen to know if this will happen and where these will be. Time is running short.

Read our written submission to the London Assembly Transport Committee inquiry into Cycling Infrastructure