Why is the London Cycling Network (the LCN) a Mistake

Jeremy F. Parker
14 Nov 1997

1. There Already is a Route Network

The idea of an LCN forgets that there is an LCN already. The entire London street network is the London Cycling Network, supplemented by various other stuff, such as canal towpaths. The idea that we need a duplicate street network, just for bicycles, is ludicrous.

2. Kicking us off the Streets

Virtually all of the LCN will use existing streets. Designating such streets as part of a network does nothing by itself for cyclists. Worse, designating some streets as part of the network implies that other streets are not part of the network, which in turn implies such things as that they need not be maintained properly, or not given safety improvements, or even that bikes should not be on those streets at all - witness a document by John Lee, chairman of the Borough Cycling Officer's Group on the London Cycling Network. His document, "A Strategy for the Implementation of the London Cycle Network", distributed at the 1997 LCC AGM, talks about the "correct" way to cycle from one place to another. The "correct" route will be decided by the BCOG, not by the cyclist, so it seems from the paper.

3. Places not Routes

The street network is not, of course, perfect for cyclists, but what is needed to improve it is spot improvements, not changes to long stretches. Any measure of progress which emphases lengths of route added, rather than number of locations improved, is proof that the wrong strategy is being followed.

If money is spent on changing long lengths of route, most if which is perfectly good right now, there will be less money to make the spot improvements where they are really needed. Where we really need the improvements, there will be only enough money left for substandard or no improvements

4. The Lanes we Get

The idea of "bike routes" has resulted in the idea that we must "do something" to long stretches of street. This combines with the ideas of the militant motorist that bikes should be got off the motorists' streets, and the idea of novice cyclists that the big, in fact the only, danger to cyclists is cars coming from behind, and the idea of bureaucrats and counsellors that the object of the LCN is to alter the maximum length of street at minimum cost.

The result is bike lanes, bicycle bantustans, ghettos in the gutter, separate, but never equal, designed by idiots for idiots.

Bike lanes do nothing to improve cyclist safety. In fact in London they will probably decrease safety.

5. Its Message to the Public

Widespread facilities will tell the general public that those in authority believe that it is unsafe for cyclists to use normal streets. This will tend to discourage cycling. Which is the better statement to the public about cycling: a cyclist on a street, not needing a bike lane, or a bike lane being unused by bikes and cursed by cyclists?

6. Cost benefit Study

The cost benefit study for the London Cycle network is so unrealistic as to border on fraud. If that justification is the best that can be given, then one wonders whether there can be any real justification for the network. The LCN study assumes that the only switches to bike will be from cars. Nobody will switch to bike from bus, tube, or train. The LCN study assumes that the emptier streets from this switch will not fill up again with more cars (see Mogridge, "Travel in Towns", Macmillan, 1990, for a refutation of this)

The LCN study misuses York accident statistics to claim that facilities similar to York's will produce large reductions in accidents in London. In point of fact the reductions in accidents in York seem to be just about the same in places where there were no bike facilities as where there were facilities, and seem to have been due to a general reduction in car traffic from anti car facilities, not from increased safety from pro bike facilities.

7. Design Standards

The facilities actually being built seem to be noticeably poorer than British standards recommend. I am told that this is because "some compromises have to be made in London". Whether the London standards, "London Network Design Guide", are in fact compromised is difficult to tell. The standards are secret, supposedly because they are still in draft. One wonders why the standards to build the network are not yet complete when the network is one third built. The secrecy seems to imply that the BCOG are not proud of their standards, and the continuing delay in their issuance seems to imply some difficulty in reconciling what ought to be done with what actually has been done.

8. Monitoring

Although the London Network can be pretty dire, not everything is bad. It is important that we know what works and what doesn't:

To do this we need to monitor what is being built. In that way facts will replace the outraged fury of endangered and inconvenienced cyclists.

At the moment there seems to be very little of any kind of monitoring. This implies that the bureaucrats have no interest in learning from their mistakes, that the mistakes will continue, and that the bureaucrats do not have the interests of cyclists at their heart.

9. What Instead?

There is lots that can be done, and should be done, which will be the subject of another paper. However, thousands of people ride bikes happily and safely in London right now. Immediate change is not urgent. We need to curb the urge of planners to take their magic markers and leave as big a monument to themselves as they can on the face of London. When you are in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.