The National Cycle Network in London

If the hot air generated by successive UK governments talking about cycling could somehow be harnessed, then we could stop importing gas. They keep on talking about increasing bike usage, and yet cycling rates in the UK have stagnated since the 1970s. This might have something to do with our road and street design!

According to the cyclists’ group CTC, the National Cycle Network “is a comprehensive network of safe and attractive routes to cycle.

Perhaps that should be changed to “a patchwork of theoretical routes which sometimes go near where you want to go.”

While I acknowledge that the CTC aren’t responsible for the NCN, and that the quality of NCN routes in central London may not be typical of the UK as a whole, here are three examples of the safe and attractive NCN Route 4 in my area:

NCN Route 4 at junction of Belvedere Road and Chicheley Street, London SE1, where there is a plastic chain blocking the cycle route.

London’s cycling revolution?

Heading North on Belvedere Road near the London Eye, the citizen who has fallen for the current government hype about cycling will come across the lovely arrangement above. Is this really meant to encourage people to start riding a bike?

NCN4, on Park Street near the Tate Modern gallery. The cycle lane is blocked by roadworks, with not even the usual "Cyclists Dismount" sign!

I assume Boris Johnson never comes this way.

On Park Street near the Tate Modern gallery, the cycle lane is blocked by roadworks, with not even the usual “Cyclists Dismount” sign! It shows the contempt with which people on bikes are held in London that there is no warning, diversion or provision for bike riders here – not that I could see, anyway.

NCN route 4, on Clink Street. The route has been narrowed, and is full of pedestrians.

NCN4 on Clink Street. Safe, convenient and attractive, or just treacherous, narrow and difficult?

This part of NCN4 passes through a “shared space” zone. These shared space areas seem to me to be unfair to everyone – especially people on foot or riding bikes. Nobody ever seems to know what’s going on in them.

Does the map of NCN4 below look convenient to you, or does the main road look more direct?

NCN route 4 along the South Bank in London. It's not very convenient!

NCN Route 4 winds and twists its way around the South Bank, while the roads smoothly glide by.



The NCN seems to be endorsed by the DfT, and it’s part of the UK street and road network, so it seems a relevant subject for this blog. I don’t mean to slag off the good people of Sustrans or CTC, but this sort of thing really isn’t going to convince anyone to switch to pedal power.


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3 responses to “The National Cycle Network in London

  1. Ruralista

    Let me file a “yeah, but” here.

    No-one is pretending that route is ideal. No-one is pretending that it’s anything but a compromise.

    But… until two years ago, Sustrans, via the NCN, were the only people nationally making the case for cycle-specific infrastructure. No-one is more pleased than me at the recent emergence of CEoGB, LCC’s ‘Go Dutch’ campaign, and so on. In the dark days of the 1990s and 2000s, with the exception of a few enlightened exceptions in London, Sustrans were the only people fighting for distinct cycle provision: back then, CTC was still in thrall to the Gospel According To John F***k***. Things have changed in London, thankfully, but not necessarily elsewhere… good luck finding the enthused group of local cycle campaigners in Armpit-on-Stour.

    Yes, the NCN needs to get better. There are some awesome bits right now, and there are some shocking bits. Let’s focus our energies on bringing the shocking bits up to the standard of the awesome bits, rather than damning the whole thing.

    • You’re right, and that’s the spirit this post was made in – point out where it needs improvement. I’m not trying to attack good work, but nor should we accept shoddy (or theoretical-except-for-the-signs) provision. A route which cannot actually be ridden along is far from ideal!

      Further to what you were saying, the Camden Cycling Campaign was pushing for Dutch-style infrastructure fifteen years ago (and JF pushing against it). This must all feel like groundhog day to David Arditti and other long-standing campaigners! It’s amazing that it took so long before a national campaign started.

      • Ruralista

        Absolutely. The Camden episode was specifically what I was thinking of as “a few enlightened exceptions in London”. At last we’re moving in the direction of it no longer being an exception.

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