The Thin Blue Line

For those of you that are outside London or have been dormant for the past few days. The Mayor launched the first 2 Barclays Cycle Superhighways on Monday the 19th of July. Many people have been saying that they are just a blue line painted on the road.  Is it just that? Or is there more to the blue paint that has been laid on around 24km of London road.

As well as installing distinctive and highly visible blue cycle lanes along both pilot routes, at a minimum of 1.5m wide, works completed to make it safer and easier to commute by bike along these routes include:

  • Trialing 37 cycle safety (‘Trixi’) mirrors at junctions along both pilot routes. These mirrors give drivers of large vehicles better visibility of cyclists when preparing to turn left
  • Introducing 84 new Advanced Stop Lines at least 5m deep at junctions along both routes, providing a space for cyclists to wait at lights ahead of the queue of traffic
  • Installing new segregated cycle lanes at the Stockwell Gyratory on the Merton to the City route, and upgrading existing segregated lanes at the Elephant and Castle bypass and on Southwark Bridge, Cable Street and the A13
  • Re-aligning traffic and bus lanes to create more space for cyclists on busy stretches of the Superhighways, for example on the southbound section of the A24 at the junction of Kennington Road and Brixton Road.

These upgrades to the road and surrounding area are not easily visible if you weren’t on the route before the work had been done. But clearly the blue paint is, it stands out from every other cycling route and with the people stuck in tin cars being consistently passed by cyclists, it is a great advertisement tool.

No doubt the two super highways are a fantastic addition for London’s cyclists. Some people where expecting something more like the facilities found in some countries in Europe, as they say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ So lets hope this is the start of better things to come for London,

Cyclecraft

I was reading through a copy of Bradley Wiggins’ In Pursuit of Glory in Waterstones Torquay, when I overheard a gentleman asking a sales assistant if there was a book on how to cycle safely on the road. Of course they came over to where i was standing, the sales assistant had a quick look and could see nothing. They then walked over to the driving section and the assistant said that all they had was a copy of the highway code but it’s section on cycling isn’t great. He proceeded to state ‘I’ve been working in bookstores for 15 years and I’ve not once come across a book which teaches you how to cycle’

I put the book down and walked towards the computing section to have a quick scan over a few books there. The gentleman was walking in my direction and I decided to approach him and see if I can point him in the right direction. I stated that i was a cyclist and I had overheard that he was looking for a cycling book and that I might be able to point him in the right direction. He said that the book was for his son, who wanted to start cycling to school but having been out with him, he was scared that his road sense was poor and he was often on the wrong side of the road. Just as I thought, he needs a copy of Cyclecraft but waterstones hasn’t got it. I let him know the title and author and that it was available on amazon.

I gave this man this information, without even having read this book. I gave him some advice from comments i had read from other cyclists i know that have it. It certainly does sound like what he was looking for but when i thought about it, i really should read this book before i give people advise about getting it.

A few days later I was in Watersones Exeter when I was again browsing the cycling section and Cyclecraft was there, strange then how the other branch had never heard of it. I picked it up, had a quick flick through and I had to buy it. I consider my self to be a good cyclist, with good road sense and I have taken onboard plenty of advise from other cyclists about cycling safely. It turns out that a lot of their knowledge could have come from this book, it certainly is a cracker and there is plenty of stuff to learn from it.

Cyclecraft provides a guide to safe cycling both for adults and children. It contains practical advice on how to ride a bike confidently and safely in modern traffic conditions; The following areas are covered, including: how to get started; choosing a bike; basic skills; sharing the road with other traffic; advanced techniques for cycling safety on busier roads and faster traffic; advice on carrying children and goods and riding with others.

It works with bikeability in teaching you what you need to know and in what stages. It’s great for a whole spectrum of learning, beginners to advanced users. A must buy for any cyclist that plans on using the road safely.

More information on the Barclays Cycle Superhighway

With a little over 4 days till the launch, at the time of writing, of the first 2 Barclays Cycle Superhighway’s some information and updates are appearing on the TFL website.

Firstly TFL recently announced the schedule for the guided rides that will be taking place on launch day and then every Tuesday and Wednesday for 4 weeks. They aim to get you into central London (city) by 9am. They will be starting from key locations on route, with the earliest start being 7.30am. More information can be found here.

One thing I have recently noticed on the TFL Barclays Cycle Superhighway website, and this may be down to me missing it before, is the addition of a ‘Safety tips’ webpage. Some key information is displayed on here and I do hope that people read this as it should be applied to all cycling and not just cycling on the superhighway.

Take a safe start position at lights

Wait in front of other vehicles when you’re at traffic lights – the blue painted box with a white cycle symbol shows you where.

Large vehicles at lights

Get well in front of large vehicles such as lorries and buses and do not wait on their left. Make eye contact with the driver so they know you’re there.

If you can’t get in front safely, wait behind the vehicle.

Never undertake a large vehicle at a junction

Avoid cycling on the left or near the front of large vehicles especially near or at a junction where the vehicle may turn left – the driver can’t see you. Take a cycle training lesson to learn how to be safe around large vehicles.

Consider your road positioning

Keep a door width’s space between you and parked cars in case the doors are suddenly opened. You will know when you are on narrow roads when you see cycle logos on the road, but no blue cycle lanes. If the road is too narrow for a vehicle to pass you then it may be safest to ride in the middle of the road and assert your position as a road user.

Make yourself visible

By law, after dark you must have white lights at the front and red lights at the back of your bicycle.

Wear something bright or reflective so you can be seen more easily.

Follow the rules of the road

Bicycles are legally defined as vehicles – you’re entitled to ride on the road and must follow the same rules as all other road users.

Don’t ride through red traffic lights and don’t cycle on the pavement unless it is signed as a shared path. Remember that pedestrians always have priority on shared paths.

Barclays Cycle Superhighway – Meet and Ride

Some of my videos have shown some good and bad aspects of the Barclays Cycle Superhighway, some have been critical and got thousands of views and been posted by some big bloggers. Including Dave Hill, David Hembrow, Bikeradar, Road.cc, LCC, CTC and a few more.

My videos and blog where noticed by several people at TFL, that’s how I got to test ride the Barclays Cycle Hire bicycle, and I was asked if i would like to ride part of the Barclays Cycle Superhighway route with Nigel Hardy, the project manager for the cycle superhighways. Obviously a great opportunity and one which I was happy to take them up on.

We started outside Southwark tube station, where the crossings have countdowns and the whole area seems cycle friendly, speed limits on side roads reduced to 20mph and lots of cycle lanes and parking. A great place to start i think.

Our first stop was just down the road, Nigel gave us a general talk about the background and the idea behind the superhighway. He talked about the superhighway being a big task and the first cycle route in major a city in the UK which aimed to take cyclist from the outer reaches to the centre all along main roads. Some sections of the routes would already have cycling facilities, these may not have been up to scratch and they where reviewed. This includes the ASL, and most of them have been increased in size.

Conveniently placed but easily overlooked where the bike parking flower pots, which showed how you should be locking your bike. From my understanding, these stands where funded by the money that the councils bided for from TFL.

Why is the blue paint not constant? Because in some cases it is not feasible to put a cycle lane down, for instance where there is a bus stop, parking spaces or a crossing. In it’s place is a large Cycle Superhighway logo, one at where the cycle lane ends, and one at where it starts again. This is to let vehicle drivers know that they should expect cyclists there and it’s a way to show the cyclists that they are still on the right route. Whilst we all wish that the cycle superhighway could be something like the Dutch have, it wasn’t ever going to be possible straight away. And with around 80% of the route covered by blue cycle lanes, it’s going to be easy to follow and shouldn’t be disrupted too much by parked cars or traffic.

Why all the CS7/CS3 logos on the cycle lane at side roads? This is to make sure that any cars joining from a side road know that the blue lane is a cycle lane and that they should expect to see cyclists along this route. It also serves as a guide for cyclists, they know they are clearly joining a cycle superhighway.

Kennington and Oval Northbound, why does the cycle superhighway stop, and then move to the next lane further on? This is because a cycle lane can’t move across the lane of traffic. The danger of giving cyclists a line to follow across traffic is only going to cause conflict. And thus it was thought that stopping the blue cycling lane, and starting it again later on would allow cyclists to move across one lane of traffic easily. This will work at it’s best if the drivers are educated on what the large logo’s mean.

Some of the smaller things that have happened on the route to improve it for cycling are as follows;

  • Road surface relayed
  • Bus lanes widened
  • Bigger ASL’s
  • More bike stands
  • Speed tables introduced at key side streets to slow cars down
  • Some 2 lane roads turned into one lane.
  • Trixi mirros (around 40 to start with, possibly more if the trial works)
  • re-vamped segregated and off road cycle paths.

A lot more was covered by Nigel Hardy whilst we were out on the cycle super highway and it was a great pleasure to ride the route with him and see how parts of it have developed and exactly what planning went into it. Nigel himself said that these two routes are effectively test routes, where certain ideas and cycling structures are new to London and are being monitored for there effectiveness from both a cyclists and a road users point of view.

A sneak peak at Barclays Cycle Superhighway Information signs

Whilst I was out with Nigel Hardy, the project manager for the Barclays Cycle Superhighways, we came across an information sign that has been partially un-wrapped a few days early. This is just one type of sign that will be used, and quickly displays the rough time that an average cyclist could expect to get to a popular destination.

The signs will have several roles, providing information for cyclists is a primary role But also to show drivers that it doesn’t take that long to travel a certain distance. As all ‘distance’ markers, are actually in time. People that drive these sections will easily be able to relate the estimated time it takes by bike to the actual time it takes them by car. In the rush hour traffic it is likely to be quicker by bike.

Riding the Barclays Cycle Hire

TFL have given me the chance to test ride the Barclays Cycle Hire bicycles that are soon to be released in London at the end of July.

bicycleMy first feeling when i got on it was strange but that was down to me normally cycling a carbon fibre racing bike with narrow handle bars. The cycle hire bicycles take on a more dutch look and feel, with a more up right seating position and wide handle bars.

Obviously it’s not the fastest bike I have ridden, and is rather heavy due to its frame type.  The 3 gears provided are enough for London cycling and provide a comfortable cruising speed. The upright position puts you above general traffic and you have a great view of the road up ahead. Your body position is positive and due to the general slow speed and low effort, you’re cycling along with a smile on your face (at least I was).

bike

The bike has some LED lights on the front and back, which start flashing when the bike starts moving. After stopping they stay on for around 2 minutes. Reflectors are also provided on the front and rear, as well as pedals and wheel reflectors. Pretty much perfect for city night riding under street lamps.

The handle bars where comfortable to hold and the brakes had a good feel to them. The stopping power wasn’t amazing, but it would certainly stop you quick enough for the speeds that the bike can manage. The saddle was nice and wide and felt comfortable over the distance I managed in 40 minutes. It may not suit everyone but this design is best used for the application at hand. The saddle height is easily adjusted via a quick release and numbered lines on the left hand side mean that you can easily put the saddle back to a position comfortable for you when you pick up a new bike.

The tyres where nice and wide and provided good grip, I felt totally comfortable over even the worst of potholes, the only problem I did face was badly cobbled streets. It was uncomfortable but manageable, unlike any racer.

Several information signs are provided on the bike, displaying information such as which brake is which, how to dock the bike, how to report a fault and what not to do at junctions.

My only issue with the bike is the pedals, they are made of plastic and I didn’t have great grip in my trainers or my loafers. On a few occasions where I changed down a gear by mistake, my foot slipped of the pedal and gave me a bit of a shock. Definitely not something that I’m used to, but that may just be down to my personal cycling history rather than the pedals them self.

Whilst out cycling on it, I got plenty of people looking at the bike and a few people asking me questions about it. One other cyclist was even jealous that I was on it and she couldn’t wait for the launch date.

My overall view of this bike is very good. But that is only when looking at the goal of the bike. And that’s providing people with  a cheap, easy, and simple way to get around London. The idea is great, the bikes are great and I will no doubt be using them during my lunch brakes to get further away from the office without worrying about locking my bike up against some railings.