Cycle Superhighways in the UK

Cycle Superhighways in the UK

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Cycling infrastructure in the UK is slowly being developed as increased funding is put towards its improvement. Cycle Superhighways are the safest and most ambitious of these developments and are effectively cycle tracks segregated from traffic so that cyclists are protected. They are prevalent across Europe, and have been particularly successful in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, which have extensive, busy networks of segregated cycle lanes.

The road infrastructure in the UK is notoriously dangerous for cyclists, with 109 people killed in 2013[i] alone and over 3,000 injured. Segregated or ‘protected’ cycle lanes have been successful in New York, where they have subsequently seen less congestion and shorter journey times, and significantly, a reduction in the injuries of both cyclists and pedestrians in the city. The local economy has seen benefits as well, with the host streets reporting an increase in retail sales.[ii]

Cycle Superhighways in London initially consisted of painted blue cycle lanes running alongside the traffic, but they were condemned for the lack of protection that they gave to cyclists and their disjointed nature. Transport for London were criticised for simply painting blue lines on the road.

More ambitious tracks have since been built and designed, and plans for two major cycle routes through Central London have been put forward as an update to the earlier cycle lanes. The proposed North-South and East-West cycle routes are largely segregated; proponents have labelled the plans the ‘Crossrail’ for bikes. The routes will be two-way, and will be able to carry 3,000 people an hour [iii]. There has been significant opposition to the proposals however, and they have been altered and delayed by objections from companies. The cycle lanes will cover the existing lanes used by motor vehicles, and will reduce the overall capacity for cars on the road, with one section using one of the four designated traffic lanes. Businesses have voiced opposition on the basis that deliveries may be affected, and there have been concerns over longer journey times for motor vehicles.

There will be other additions to the existing cycle routes across London, which are in parts unintuitive and lacking cohesion. There are various types of cycle lanes, including ‘Quietways’ in low traffic areas for those who want to avoid heavy traffic, and the creation of ‘Mini-Hollands’ in several London Suburbs. The boroughs have been selected to become cycle-friendly, influenced by the success of the Dutch system. The Mini-Hollands will include an overhaul of the central areas, including the installation of various Cycle Superhighway routes.

The construction of a 23km segregated Cycle Superhighway linking Leeds and Bradford is also due to commence soon. The planned cycleway in Leeds (which hosted the Tour de France’s Grand-Depart earlier this year), aims to inspire people to get on their bikes by providing a safe option for those who wish to commute or to start cycling. While safety is the priority of Cycle Superhighways, encouraging people to take up cycling is a welcome benefit. The plans also include a 20mph speed limit imposed alongside the route. A similar cycleway is also being considered in Cambridge, which has the highest level of commuting cyclists in the UK, at 29% [iv]. The Superhighway will link Cambridge and Royston, with the aim of reducing the heavy congestion in the city.


[i] ROSPA – Cycling Accidents – August 2014

[ii]Streets Blog – Protected Bicycle Lanes in NYC

[iii] Guardian – We can’t let lobbyists destroy London’s segregated cycle lane plans

[iv] OFNS – 2011 Census Analysis – Cycling to Work Transport for London – North-South Cycle Superhighway – benefits and impacts to road users

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