London Cycle Infrastructure Through Time


Cycling in London was first taken seriously in the 2010s. I decided to create a series of time-lapse videos looking at how cycle infrastructure has grown in the capital since 2009.  This is the first article of two.

Lambeth-Southwark-Rotherhithe

This area has benefitted hugely from TfL investment over the last 10 years, with multiple routes being established: CS7, CS5, Q5, C6, C10 (formerly Q1), C17, C14, C35 and most recently, C4. Alongside this, numerous dangerous junctions have been made safer for cyclists such as Elephant and Castle, Westminster Bridge South, Rotherhithe and Kennington Park. To top this off, LTN’s (Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods) have grown significantly in number, making many of the areas between main roads virtually car-free.

Because of all these interventions (and with even more set to be made in the next few years), this part of London is quickly becoming one of the best places to cycle in the capital.

South-East London

South East London hasn’t built much cycle infrastructure over the past decade. Routes just south of the Thames have been strong for a while, alongside routes following the Ravensbourne River. However the extensive area in-between has remained dangerous and hostile to cyclists.

From 2016 things slowly began to change, with short stretches of segregated cycle track appearing in Eltham, Bexleyheath and Plumstead. However, it has been the Covid crisis that has brought more schemes forward, and at a faster pace. Cycleway 4 is moving rapidly towards Woolwich and LB Greenwich has planned, and began implementing, numerous pop-up cycleways and LTNs. The twenties should therefore be a lot safer than the 2010s.

South London

South London has always had many parks for people to cycle in. On top of this, many LTNs were built during the 80s and 90s. However these only provided small islands of safety, with the main roads connecting them remaining dangerous and polluted.

CS7 and CS8 appeared in 2010 and 2011 respectively, but these didn’t do much to improve safety, merely providing wider painted routes. For the following nine years things didn’t change much bar a few minor interventions, such as making Stockwell junction safer in 2016. 

However, behind the scenes consultations were taking place and routes were being designed. These began appearing in 2020, with the first parts of new segregated cycleways being built along Rosendale Road, Lyndhurst Way and Nine Elms Road. Alongside this, Streetspace funding allowed CS7 and CS8 to be upgraded and multiple LTNs installed. 

The future is looking even better, with the new Streatham Hill Cycleway set to be complete for 2022.

Camden-Islington-Hackney

LB Camden was one of the first boroughs in London to build segregated cycle infrastructure, with the partially segregated route between Bloomsbury and Camden being completed in the late 1970s. 

Since then, they have created LTNs, such as Primrose Hill in the 1980s and Saint Pancras in the early 2000s. In addition to this, they built the popular Torrington Place Cycleway in 2002 (central London’s first fully protected cycleway).

From 2014 onwards Camden seriously began pushing forward with their programme of creating safer streets for cyclists:

  • In 2014, they began building a north-south route (Kentish Town-Kings Cross) that would eventually be incorporated into Cycleway 6 (completed in 2019),
  • In 2016, they doubled the capacity of the Torrington Place Cycleway, creating a wide one-way track on each side of the road, replacing the narrow two-way track.
  • In 2018,  segregated cycle tracks were built along Farringdon Road (part of Cycleway 6),
  • In 2020, segregated cycle tracks were built along Gower Street as part of the borough’s West End Project.
  • Segregated cycle tracks are currently being completed along Gray’s Inn Road.

Islington and Hackney have been a little slower in delivering cycle infrastructure. Like Camden, they both installed LTNs in the 1980s and later both delivered short stretches of segregated cycle infrastructure, but none of these were longer than a couple of hundred meters in length so can’t really be described as cycleways.

However, more recently both boroughs have stepped up their game and have started to hold consultations for new cycleways. The Covid crisis sped up the delivery of these, but also inspired the creation of new routes too.

Overall, since summer 2020 this part of London has become a wonderful place to cycle in and looking at the proposed routes, as well as those under construction, things are only going to get better. It seems what is needed most now is an east-west route connecting Dalston and Chalk Farm.

Enfield

LB Enfield has quite a few impressive stretches of cycle infrastructure that pre-date it’s Mini-Holland funding. The most noteworthy of these is the continuous north-south route between Brimsdown and Tottenham Hale along Mollison Avenue, Meridian Way and Watermead Way. The problem with this route however is that it doesn’t go near any shops and primarily goes through the industrial parts of the borough, resulting in low usage.

However from 2017 Enfield created two further north-south routes. These two new routes (C1 and C20) are far better than the older infrastructure at connecting the main town centres with peoples’ homes and work.

In 2020, C1 extended further north towards Waltham Cross, becoming one of London’s longest continuous cycleways. Moreover, LB Enfield and LB Haringey are currently working towards connecting C1 and CS1, which would create a continuous cycle route from the City to just south of Waltham Cross.

The one thing that this area still lacks is a decent east-west route. Last year Enfield completed C21, a quietway-esque route from Winchmore Hill, through Edmonton to Meridian Water. This however only partially solves the problem. What would be best going forward is a route connecting Cockfosters to Chingford in the north of the borough and another from Arnos Grove to Meridian Water in the south.

West Central

This area doesn’t have the best reputation for cycle infrastructure. Three consecutive mayors have attempted to build east-west cycle routes through it, but RB Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) have always stood in their way. Things became so desperate at one point that a segregated cycle path along the Westway was even considered.

After many attempts to convince the Royal Borough to accept an east-west cycleway on one of their roads, TfL gave up and accepted that Cycleway 9 and Cycleway 34 would end at RBKCs border, leaving a void between West London and the West End. For C9, it wasn’t just in RBKC where it struggled to materialise. Many businesses and residents along Chiswick High Road also rejected the idea of a cycleway, delaying its delivery by a few years.

With a large stretch of C34 opening last year, as well as the first stretch of C9, it seems that the future is looking a lot better for West Central. However until RBKC agrees to a safe route across their borough, this will remain a hostile place to cycle in.

Croydon

Although they only completed 75% of their divisive ring road, when one thinks of Croydon, images of flyovers, underpasses and 1960s skyscrapers come to mind. It can certainly be said that cycling has not been the top priority of the borough’s town planners over the last half century.

This doesn’t mean however that nothing has been built for cyclists. In recent decades, a few decent shared-space routes appeared, such as LCN75 connecting Croydon to Hackbridge and Addiscombe Railway Park, which opened in 2007. Most progress has been seen in the last four years, with the opening of a segregated contraflow along Poplar Walk (that will one day become part of Quietway 5) and a cycle path to help people get around the busy Park Lane Underpass. To add to this, Croydon fully embraced pop-up cycleways in the wake of the pandemic, creating routes along London Road, Dingwall Road and Croydon High Street.

Hopefully the next decade will see Croydon reinvent itself, making their town centre as friendly for cyclists as it is for drivers.

Ealing

Ealing has been successfully implementing LTNs since the 1960s. Cyclists are also welcome in their parks. Most main roads however remain dangerous and hostile for cyclists.

Small improvements started appearing in 2015 when the borough began building some short stretches of protected cycle track, the most significant being an impressive track between Ealing Common and Ealing town centre, which opened in 2017.

Things then started to speed up a lot during the first lockdown, with a number of pop-up cycleways and LTNs being installed. These developments have unfortunately come with some controversy, with Ealing having one of the biggest anti-LTN movements in London. So far this movement has successfully pushed the council to remove one of the pop-up LTNs: West Ealing South. This move sadly suggests that other pop-up LTNs and cycle lanes are now at risk of being removed in future.

Hopefully, despite these loud calls to remove every pop-up LTN, Ealing Council will remain strong and keep them in place.

Conclusion

These first eight videos really show what a decade of pro-cycling policy can create. They sadly also show what happens when boroughs don’t do enough.

What brings hope to each one of these however, is how much has been delivered in 2020 (permanent and pop-up). The pandemic has pushed councils to think differently about how people get around, with the bike increasingly being seen as a sustainable and healthy alternative to driving. However to make real change, councils and the TfL have to create a safer environment for cyclists. This means more LTNs, decent off-road routes, and of course, more protected cycle lanes.

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