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Cycling London’s Bicycle Superhighways

After years of incremental but frustratingly slow progress, London is making huge strides on creating a safe, all-ages bike network. The big breakthrough was the city's launch of physically protected "bicycle superhighways" that separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic over long, continuous routes. Two years after the first of these bicycle superhighways debuted, they are clearly making an enormous difference.

People are voting with their pedals. The number of bicyclists entering central London is now approaching the number of cars. At rush hour, people on bikes account for 70 percent of all trips over Blackfriars Bridge.

Under Mayor Sadiq Khan, London has budgeted £169 million per year to build out the bicycle superhighways and other elements of the bike network, according to the mayor's walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman.

The bicycle superhighways are not perfect. The bike lanes, although impressively wide, already can't contain the numbers of cyclists at rush hour. The speed of bike traffic can be so brisk that it intimidates pedestrians and discourages some people from getting into the habit of cycling. And advocates say the city needs to pick up the pace of implementing the bike network so "the brave" aren't the only ones out there.

But there is no denying that the bicycle superhighways are succeeding. Video footage of cyclists streaming over the routes is breathtaking. I visited London in 2015 and at the time I thought the city had a healthy level of cycling, but the bike network was only getting started. Returning to London this June, the changes were truly impressive. Enjoy this Streetfilm and hear from local riders, researchers, advocates, and public officials about London's push to become a great city for cycling.

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  • Joe R.

    This looks like a good start. I wouldn't call anything with traffic signals on it a bicycle superhighway but I imagine as cycling increases, while driving decreases, it will be feasible to remove most of those traffic signals. That's exactly what happened in the Netherlands.

    The speed of bike traffic should be touted as a feature, not a bug. Fast bike traffic helps keep bike lanes clear of pedestrians. It also increases travel radius in any given time period. This makes bikes more useful as transportation appliances.

    The key here is investment. London is spending the equivalent of $220 million annually. NYC is probably spending $220,000, all of it on paint and plastic bollards.

  • AMH

    It warms my heart to see motor traffic confined to a single lane while cyclists enjoy a wide path. This is what NYC needs to replace its cramped one-way lanes.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Well in all fairness, NYC is spending $20 million alone on the redesign of Queens Blvd (the actual physical redesign in the works to replace the temporary structures) so it really is much more than $220,000 per year.

  • Joe R.

    I know that. I was merely being sarcastic. My point is that what NYC is spending is a pittance compared to what it should be spending.

    And I think part of the physical design of Queens Boulevard should include bicycle overpasses at the ten or so busiest intersections. Those lights are really long, plus it's a safety issue to cross those intersections even on the green with cars going every which direction. If the overpasses add a few tens of millions, so be it. NYC will still be spending less per year than London.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I figured it probably was a joke. But you know, others will take that number and start touting it as fact!

    Overpasses would add an insane amount to the budget. One overpass alone could cost millions.

  • Joe R.

    http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/planning/facilities_crossings_over-underpasses.cfm

    It looks like probably in the range of $150 to $250 per square foot. I'm figuring ~6 feet wide, maybe 150 feet to span the intersection, and maybe 300 feet on each side for the approaches. That's about 4500 square feet, so the cost should be $675,000 to $1.125 million per bridge. You'll need two per intersection, one for each direction. So figure $3 million per intersection tops, perhaps $30 to $50 million for the entire thing. That's a rounding error in NYC's budget. We could probably do it way cheaper if we go with prefab bridges.

    At some point we're going to have to realize, like London did, that you need to spend serious money if you want to get cycling mainstream. The costs of bridges wouldn't be justified on any route except a major trunk route like Queens Boulevard, so it's not as if every bike project will run into the millions.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    The number of bicyclists entering central London is now approaching the number of cars

    From the video: ...in the busiest time of day, cyclists account for 70% of all the journeys going across [Blackfriars] Bridge

    What we see here is proof positive that a major city can be reconfigured to serve the needs of bicyclists first. Thank you for demonstrating this.

  • cjstephens

    But... but... they're all riding on the wrong side of the road!

  • Joe R.

    And at 5:05 I'm pretty sure the bike that woman is using has airless tires. There may be commercial air tires in a color like that but if so I'm not aware of any. Look at the color (or colour if you will since we're talking about the UK). It looks like the Vegas Hot Pink sold by Tannus tires:

    https://tannusamerica.com/collections/tannus-tires/products/tannus-slick-700x23c?variant=35045415107

    Hard to see whether or not there's a valve stem. The absence of one would confirm my suspicion.

    If those are airless tires, nice to see someone else using them. They're just what the doctor ordered for commuter cyclists, or even recreational cyclists.

  • AMH

    I'm going airless at the first opportunity. Any recommendations?

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, it looks like the company which made the airless tires I'm currently using went out of business. Marvel Compound Tires made some tires in high-rebound elastomer. This has less rolling resistance than the standard urethane compound. When these tires wear out I won't be able to replace them with the same thing unless another company bought Marvel's equipment.

    That basically leaves two options-Tannus Tires and Greentyre. Here are their websites:

    https://tannusamerica.com/

    http://www.greentyre.com/

    I never tried either one, so I can't make any recommendations in that department. It looks like both are actively researching overcoming the two negatives of airless tires, which are a harsher ride and more rolling resistance. In practice the latter isn't that bad with current tires, and the former is tolerable. In fact, here are some reviews:

    https://www.cyclingweekly.com/reviews/tyres/tannus-aither-1-1-25mm-solid-tyre

    https://road.cc/content/review/230211-tannus-aither-11

    Their figure of a speed loss of 1 to 1.5 mph relative to pneumatic tires matches my experience, although I think the high-rebound tires I'm using now are even better than that. The speed loss seems to be more on rough roads due to more bouncing up and down. On smooth roads I'm not sure if I can even detect a speed loss with my current airless tires.

    Note also the tires are available in different simulated psi. A harder tire will have less rolling resistance but also ride rougher. I've never tried it, but two alternate options could be:

    1) A lower psi tire in front to cushion the handlebars and the highest psi in back so more of your pedaling energy hits the road.

    2) A pneumatic tire in front and airless in back. This is an interesting compromise in that the pneumatic tire in front will offer cushioning where you need it the most, while the airless tire in back ensures you don't have to go through the difficulty of fixing a rear flat. Front flats are fairly easy to fix. Rear flats aren't. 99% of my flats were in the rear.

    When my present tires wear out I'll probably try the Tannus tires. i'm leaning towards the volcano red. Those would go nice with my black rims and titanium frame.

    Some of the mainstream tire companies, notably Bridgestone, might also get into airless tires. This is an evolving field, so it's not a bad idea to do a search now and then to see what's available.