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Segregated cycle lanes – a waste of money and space

David Tarsh London W14
15 May 2020

I am a cyclist and am very much in favour of encouraging people to cycle but not building new bike lanes.  Please don’t be fooled by what the politicians are telling you about their plans for new cycle lanes. Demand to see hard evidence. They are well-meaning but their dogma is flawed.

Winston Churchill said never waste a good crisis. The reason – a crisis is a moment to make a bad or unpopular decision and get away with it on spurious grounds. This will happen if the Government uses the Covid-19 crisis to encourage the construction of new segregated cycle lanes.

Today’s appeal to people to walk or cycle to work is admirable but any encouragement of the building of cycle lanes is highly questionable for the following reasons:

  • They are not needed – the roads are currently empty and the pavements too. For example, one of the roads proposed for a new bike track in London is Park Lane. During lockdown, I have cycled up and down Park Lane on numerous occasions and in all that time I have only once seen another cyclist!
  • There is insufficient demand – cyclists make up fewer than 3 per cent of road users, excluding pedestrians. Even if cycling were to grow by 100 per cent, a tiny fraction of road users would still be cyclists. However, in London, the number of Santander bike hires is falling dramatically. Don’t take my word for it; look at TfL’s own data at https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/number-bicycle-hires [This shows that the number of hires fell from more than 20,000 a day on most days in February to less than 10,000 a day by the end of March, the latest available figures – Ed] 
  • Segregated cycle lanes are a bad and inequitable allocation of road space because they give over 25 per cent of precious road space to a tiny proportion of road users who use that space for less than 20 per cent of the day and for 80 per cent of the day that space is empty and unavailable to all other road users. That is not fair to other road users and it is not an efficient use of road space
  • When the traffic comes back the cycle lanes will create unnecessary gridlock – there is clear evidence of this by studying places such as Blackfriars Bridge, where you see queuing traffic for most of the day and no cycle traffic for most of the day
  • The argument that people will cycle if cycle lanes are provided is proven to be wrong – take a look at Stevenage, a town designed for cycle usage; it’s full of bike lanes just like Ghent but cycling uptake is just 3 per cent.
  • If you have the opportunity to quiz transport ministers and others on plans for bike lanes, please ask the following questions:
  • What study have you done on the demand for cycling as a proportion of road traffic and what does it show?
  • What work have you done on the business case for cycle lanes and what does it show?
  • What modelling have you done on overall traffic speeds and what does it show?
  • What will be the impact on congestion when the traffic returns?

One place where a new segregated cycle track, known as CS9, has been proposed is Hammersmith Road but Transport for London’s own study forecast that the traffic will be reduced to just 3.75mph and there will be no benefit to air quality. How can it make sense to create such congestion? 

TfL often cites the Embankment as a cycle route success. The question there should be: what has the construction of the cycle track done to the overall throughput of people along that route across the whole day? The answer according to the model I built, using TfL data, shows it to have been cut down by a third. So overall that cycle track has been highly congesting since it was the primary East-West route across the centre of London.

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