Missing links on London’s safe cycle network

Written by: Aydin Crouch

Over the last few months I have run a series of Tweets focusing on the missing links on London’s safe cycle network. With none of them being more than a mile in length, filling in these gaps would bring a little more coherence to an otherwise fragmented cycle network.

Now I could write a whole piece on why London’s cycle network is so fragmented, but it really boils down to three reasons: a failure to stick to any coherent plan (with mayors creating their own often brilliant, but distinct initiatives); a lack of money leading to incomplete or never built routes; and the fact that TfL only controls 5% of London’s roads, meaning TfL proposed routes must also be approved by councils. Of course most councils support cycle infrastructure, but as we’ve recently seen with RB Kensington and Chelsea, some don’t!

So with our fragmented network, I went out to see where minor intervention (and therefore minor investment) could connect up two otherwise brilliant sections of cycleway, making journeys across the capital safer. Now this is not to say that I am against other measures. I fully believe that TfL and councils should create more LTNs and install more modal filters. I also believe that TfL should continue with their Safer Junctions programme, fund new Mini-Hollands and of course create more cycleway trunk routes, especially in parts of London poorly served. However, it is essential at the same time that we fix what we already have. Especially since the cost to benefit ratio is so high. 

I have reviewed eight examples of these missing links and was pleased to hear that in most cases there have been local campaigns pushing for them to be fixed for years, and that with two, there are plans to implement them in 2021.

Case Study 1: CS5 to CS7 – Oval (0.2 miles)

CS7 is the oldest Cycle Superhighway in London (alongside CS3), and until this year’s recent Streetspace upgrade it was largely unsegregated from road traffic. An exception to this is at Oval, where a short stretch was upgraded in 2015. In the same year, the first section of CS5 was built between Pimlico and Oval Cricket Ground. It was originally planned to go all the way to Lewisham, but TfL haven’t spoken much about extending it since. Therefore, for the foreseeable future at least, CS5 will end just shy of CS7: 0.2 miles away to be exact. 

Lambeth Cyclists informed me that the council have no plans to fix this as resources are going to other projects in the borough such as Kennington Road and Rosendale Road. They also said that cyclists can use the adjacent Oval Low Traffic Neighbourhood if they wanted a safer route to reach CS7. This will definitely suffice in the short term, and compared to many of the following case studies, this missing link already has a clear number of viable alternatives. However, as TfL are already funding the adjacent CS7 upgrades, it would make sense to include a link between CS7 and CS5 as part of those plans.

Case Study 2: Tolworth (0.2 miles)

This missing link doesn’t actually exist yet, but will do in a few months when Cycleway 29 reaches the northern end of Tolworth Broadway. About 0.5m to the south, high quality (1930s) cycle lanes line both sides of the A240, heading south towards Ewell, forming part of LCN32. What seems bizarre is that C29 has no plans to connect to these high quality cycle tracks. Now I say there is a missing gap, but there arguably isn’t, as infrastructure does exist, it is just poorly signposted and in need of some improvements.

Reviewing the current experience heading north, crossing Tolworth Roundabout isn’t terrible, with toucan crossings taking cyclists onto a recently renovated shared-use bridge over the A3. However after this, cyclists are supposed to use a strange cycle lane that straddles the middle Tolworth Broadway. The cycle lane sits on a kerb, but there is virtually no signage or indication that this is a safe place to cycle. It merely looks like an overly wide central reservation. This goes as far as another toucan crossing which is where C29 will start. 

To fix this really wouldn’t cost much. Essentially what is needed is signage directing C29 users onto (an improved) ‘central reservation’ cycle track, indicating that the following route takes one to the south of Tolworth Roundabout. Ideally C29 signage should go all the way to the Kingston-Epsom & Ewell border, encouraging cyclists south of the A3 that there is a safe way to get to places such as Surbiton and Kingston.

The Kingston Cycling Campaign said that due to TfL cuts, the council has no plans to improve this connection, and even if they did, there are other more pressing schemes that they would prioritise. In the meantime, TfL have plans to increase the vehicular capacity of Tolworth Roundabout. Despite this including some minor improvements to the cycle lanes south of the roundabout, there are no plans to improve the cycle lanes to the north, where it’s needed most.

Case Study 3: Leytonstone/Green Man Roundabout (0.3 miles)

Waltham Forest have spent the last few years turning their borough into a haven of active travel. However, in the south of the borough two protected cycle paths end just short of one another, leaving a dangerous gap in-between.

To the west, the Gainsborough Road cycleway provides a safe link to Leyton and the Olympic Park, with off road pathways through the latter connecting to CS2. To the north, a wide shared-use path runs along Whipps Cross Road, providing a safe link to C23 and the rest of Waltham Forest’s extensive cycleway network. At the southern end of the Whipps Cross Road shared-use path, a segregated cycle track crosses the A12 at Green Man Roundabout. This was built in the late 1990s and is good quality for its age. 

At present, any cyclists going between the Gainsborough Road cycleway and the roundabout must share road space with traffic that has just come off, or is getting ready to join, the 50mph M11 Link Road. Fixing this would not only protect cyclists from that traffic, but also connect up two loose ends of an otherwise brilliant borough-wide cycle network.

The good news with this particular link is that a Waltham Forest councillor @Labourstone informed me that it will be connected in 2021. Result!

Case Study 4: Tottenham Hale/Seven Sisters (1 mile)

Cyclists going through Tottenham Hale and Seven Sisters are forced to contend with the car dominated trunk routes: the A10, Watermead Way and Seven Sisters Road. Despite this, there is probably more cycle infrastructure in this part of Haringey than anywhere else. The problem is, nothing connects up.

To the west, C1 (formerly CS1) provides a far from perfect, but passable north-south route. This mostly backstreet cycleway will soon connect the City to just south of Waltham Cross (easily becoming London’s longest cycleway). Therefore, despite its imperfections, it provides an important corridor for cyclists in the area heading north or south. 

To the east, a mixture of permanent and pop-up cycleways have opened along Forest Road/Ferry Lane connecting Tottenham Hale to the rest of the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland Network. This route almost connects to a low-quality pavement cycle path along Broad Lane. The missing gap therefore is between C1 and the Forest Road/Ferry Lane cycleway, with the Broad Lane cycle path protecting cyclists for a short stretch in-between.

Haringey Cycling informed me that work did begin on a connection a while ago installing a contraflow along Tynemouth Road and a toucan crossing on the A10 side. However, signs were never put in place, plus the contraflows look as if they need an upgrade. It therefore seems strange that LB Haringey haven’t dedicated any of their Streetspace funding to finish this link.

There are many other potential links that could be made, using stretches of stand-alone existing infrastructure and backstreets. However, the most obvious link other than Tynemouth Road is one that is already planned. This would be part of TfL’s Camden to Tottenham Hale Cycleway. Despite being announced a few years ago, it is still in the planning stages, meaning that if we take C4 or C9 as a metric, we could be waiting a while. Therefore, in the meantime,  it would make sense to finish off the Tynemouth Road link whilst also creating a better connection between the Broad Lane and Ferry Lane cycle tracks. 

Case Study 5: Old Street (0.1 mile)

This is possibly the least pressing of all the missing links reviewed. There are two reasons for this. Firstly there is a safe way to get around this gap by using Banner and Leonard Streets. Secondly, there isn’t a great quality cycleway on either side. What there is however, are busy bike corridors: C1 (an imperfect but busy cycleway) to the east, and Old Street/Clerkenwell Road (a completely unprotected, but highly popular bike corridor) to the west. There are also plans for the latter to be turned into an active travel-friendly boulevard (see plans). 

However, what really makes this seem worthy is the fact that TfL are spending a fortune, as part of their Safer Junctions programme, reordering Old Street Roundabout, with ample cycle provision being put in place. This would remove most of the dangerous barrier that exists for cyclists heading west (which many do!) from C1 towards Clerkenwell Road. However, even with a safer Old Street Roundabout cyclists heading west from C1 first have to contend with a six-lane stretch of Old Street. The gap is only 0.1 miles long, but it really puts cyclists into a tricky situation. 

Being six lanes wide, it really wouldn’t be too much of a strain on traffic if a little space was taken for cycling, especially considering that no other road in the area is anywhere near as wide. Also, once Old Street Roundabout’s renovation is complete, it would seem bizarre not to connect two high quality pieces of cycle infrastructure (the C1 crossing & Old St Roundabout) together with safe cycling provision.  

If built, this would provide a safe link from C1 to Clerkenwell Road, which will hopefully soon be turned into an active travel boulevard. But even until then, it would at least take cyclists past the most dangerous section of that journey west which so many people make.

Case Study 6: Greenwich (0.5 miles)

A number of routes end (or will soon end) just shy of Greenwich town centre. Starting with Cycleway 4, at the end of 2020 a pop-up section of this route opened between Greenwich and Charlton. On the other side of the town centre, the long-awaited permanent part of C4 is being built, and will soon connect Tower Bridge to Greenwich. The long term plan for C4 is that it will one day go from Tower Bridge to Woolwich, thus crossing the town centre. However, considering that C4 is a 13 year old idea and with the first stretch only opening last year, it could be a while before anything is built, leaving the two parts unconnected. 

Then there is Q1 which ends abruptly at Greenwich station, forcing cyclists onto the busy main road if they are heading towards Greenwich town centre or the park, the latter providing a safe connection to Blackheath.

Ideally, in the short term, signs guiding C4 users from the permanent section (west) to the pop-up section (east) along the safe shared-use river path would improve safety for journeys crossing the town centre. On top of this, a link between Q1 and Greenwich Park would resolve the current precarious ending to an otherwise brilliant Quietway.

Case Study 7: Westminster/Lambeth (0.8 miles)

The most obvious gap in this area is Westminster Bridge, and before the recent announcement to fix it, I was going to solely dedicate this section to that. However, owing to the fact that it is now in the pipeline, I decided to look beyond this and see if there were any other missing links in the area, which there are!

The most obvious gap is between CS3 and the recently improved CS8. I understand that fixing this would be difficult, considering all the security infrastructure outside the Houses of Parliament, but it isn’t impossible. At the very least wands could be installed between Lambeth Bridge and Victoria Tower, a stretch of road where I have seen many near misses.

The other gap is between Westminster Bridge South Roundabout and C6. Despite amazing infrastructure on either side, the stretch of road in the middle is horrible to cycle along. With the gap being only 0.4 miles in length and the roads being all more than two lanes wide, this wouldn’t be too hard to implement. 

Case Study 8: CS2 to CS3 (0.5 miles)

Two of London’s most well established cycle routes, CS2 and CS3, provide key links from central London to the eastern boroughs. However, while CS2 ends at the eastern border of the City, CS3 carries on towards the West End, Westminster and Hyde Park. 

Currently separating these two cycleways are two one-way streets that form part of London’s Ring Road: Leman Street and Mansell Street. They are both designed with the vehicle in mind: Both are two to three lanes wide, and in Leman Street’s case, provide car parking on both sides of the road. Lastly, despite the speed limit for both being 20mph, their design harks back to an era of car focused streets and invites the motorist to put their foot down. So, for the user of CS2 wanting to go further west safely (using the brilliant CS3), neither of these roads suffice. 

As both roads are owned by TfL, this shouldn’t be the hardest link to create. What’s more, this could theoretically be done without even losing any car parking for the residents of Leman Street (the loss of car parking being one of the biggest obstacles for the implementation of protected cycle lanes), as a bidirectional cycleway could be created along Mansell Street. 

Now this link actually appeared on TfL’s Streetspace Map at the beginning of the pandemic, but as we now know, due to funding constraints, many of these routes might not see the light of day for a while. However, considering how short this is and how car parking wouldn’t even have to be lost, this really is a perfect example of a quick fix.

Conclusion

This review has looked at eight examples of small gaps on London’s safe cycle network. They are all short in length, but ultimately still dangerous for the cyclist. Considering how in most cases only limited materials, and therefore funding, would be needed, it really would be a mistake to forget about these gaps, only giving attention to new routes. I therefore call on TfL and councils to use the next tranche of Streetspace funding to link these up (3.6 miles in total), allowing us to move forward with a more coherent network behind us. 2020 was transformative for cycling and I believe the 2020s will be the first decade where cycling becomes a truly safe mode of transport in London. Yet before we can plan for the future, we must first fix what we already have. 

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