Transport for London (TfL) has given final approval to an ambitious network of protected cycle routes across the capital, a move proponents hope could revolutionise transport in the capital and provide an example to the rest of the UK.
The proposals were approved after an often-tense debate on Wednesday, during which a number of members of the 17-member TfL board expressed fears they could cause motor traffic gridlock.
The London mayor, Boris Johnson, who heads the board and has personally pushed for the new routes to be built, dismissed the objections, saying trial runs for the lanes or further consultation was pointless.
The board approved a series of upgrades, expansions and new routes to the network of so-called cycle superhighways. By far the most ambitious, and controversial, elements are two planned routes cutting across the capital, which would segregate cyclists from motor traffic in the style used in countries such as the Netherlands.
One of the routes will run about three miles from north to south. Most of the objections centred around the longer route from Acton in west London to Tower Hill in the east.
Objectors on the board, in particular Peter Anderson from the Canary Wharf property group,argued that the segregated lanes would take too much space from motor traffic and would lead to chaos.
But Johnson’s view prevailed and work on the schemes will began imminently, with both new routes scheduled to open by spring 2016, just before Johnson leaves office.
Tfl held a nine-week consultation involving 21,500 people or organisations, which found 84% in favour of the new routes.
The plans faced stiff opposition from powerful business interest groups, notably Canary Wharf Group, Westminster council and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which represents about a third of London’s 25,000 black-cab drivers.
Opponents say they support the lanes in principle but want to change the east-west route to divert it away from Parliament Square, the busy traffic gyratory next to the houses of parliament.
The LTDA is applying for a judicial review of the consultation process, which opponents fear could delay the work and which has prompted a furious reaction among some cyclists.
“You can’t believe the amount of emails and tweets I’ve been getting,” Steve McNamara, general secretary of the LTDA, said before the meeting. “Some of it is quite outrageous. I’ve been threatened with violence. But I’m 6ft 2in, I weigh 15 stone, and I grew up in Hackney. They don’t scare me.”
McNamara said the LTDA wanted to see the route built, just not as planned.
“We’re genuinely, absolutely, 100% all for segregated cycle lanes. I think it’s the only way forward. London is falling behind. But it’s all being done the wrong way.”
Parts of the east-west route would cause “major chaos”, McNamara warned.
Cycling groups argue that any further delay would keep riders at risk for longer, particularly from lorries, which form less than 5% of overall traffic in London but are involved in about half of all cyclist deaths.
On Monday, a cyclist died in Homerton, east London, when he was crushed by a tipper lorry.
They also argue that the new lanes, which will give cyclists protection at junctions and their own traffic light sequences, will make cycling much more inclusive.
TfL data released on Monday showed that the number of London cyclists rose 10% last year, but riders remain disproportionately young and male, the group viewed as most willing to mix with speeding traffic.
Johnson’s cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, predicted before the vote that it would be “a momentous day”.
He added: “I think it will go through, and for the first time London will be spending really serious money on cycling, and producing a facility which has met with universal praise from cyclists.
“What I’m hoping is that when this opens people will see that the traffic doesn’t melt down, and the world doesn’t come to an end, and it will open the way to more in the future.”
This article was written by Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 4th February 2015 12.55 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010