Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

I wish I could believe everything the Mayor and his team tell me. If there’s one thing that Boris Johnson is good at, it’s making promises.

TfL have recently produced this video about their vision for cycling in London. And it sounds wonderful. Oh, the things they say!

Doesn’t it all sound great?

The Mayor plans to transform provisions for cycling … Investing in cycling makes life better for everyone … We’re spending almost a billion pounds … In London, 4.3 million trips made every day could be made by bike … The streets of central London will be opened up to cyclists as never before … A network of cycle routes will cover central London like a grid … In outer London the vast majority of journeys by car are less than a mile and a half … The idea is to make [the “mini-Holland”] boroughs places as good for cycling as their Dutch equivalents would be … An 8-to-80 cycling culture throughout London … A city where people feel safer cycling, feel confident cycling, and choose to cycle because they really enjoy the experience … London will be a city with a world-class transport and cycling network … Cycling is hugely important…”

And such inspirational music too!

Unfortunately, I don’t believe them. It’s nothing but propaganda and hype, and the cracks are already visible.

Despite these fine words, the plans are already failing to live up to the promises made.

The biggest let-down is the proposed Central London Grid – it’s rubbish. It’s not even a grid!

If you read David Hembrow’s articles on the grid concept, you’ll see that what’s required is a dense network of cycle routes, enabling anyone to cycle from anywhere to anywhere else. That isn’t what we have here.

The grid that isn’t

What TfL have done here is design a network patchwork that affects motoring as little as possible. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the wording of the design brief.)

It includes Hyde Park (which closes at midnight) and Kensington Gardens (which closes at dusk!), and includes bits of canal towpath (which are narrow, and dark at night). This isn’t a grid, it’s a joke.

Don’t kid yourself – the reason Gilligan loves the “quietways” concept so much is not because they’re great for cycling, but because they don’t get in the way of all-important motor traffic.

It’s been tried before, and is proven to be a failed concept. How is this convoluted patchwork of back-streets any different from the half-hearted LCN?

TfL's joke of a Central London Cycling Grid

I’ve updated the Royal Parks to reflect their part-time status, and changed a canal route to grey to reflect the lack of social safety.

You’ll note that motor vehicles remain on the straightest, most convenient and most desirable routes, which TfL directly control. This so-called grid for cycling shows only convoluted back-street routes on borough roads, and you know that Westminster will do all they can to prevent any real change for the better on their roads.

And remember: this is their opening gambit! It’s not going to get better from here, only more and more watered down. If this is their dream plan, then the bold promises made in the video have already turned to ashes.

Why are TfL expecting the borough councils to handle all the cycle traffic on these back streets? What about Euston Road, a TfL-controlled 6 lane-wide motorway which cuts across the city from Paddington to Angel? Why is nothing being done there, or on any of the other multi-lane direct roads under TfL’s control?

You can send TfL your thoughts on their grid attempt until 14th of February using this email address:

London is very, very far away from Holland

I’d also like to touch upon the “Mini-Holland” proposals. I can’t claim to have read all of them in detail, but I have been through most of the shortlisted ones, and I can say this: Andrew Gilligan’s promises are already broken. 

This is because even the best of these “Mini-Holland” proposals will not in any way create conditions “as good for cycling as their Dutch counterparts” – every one of them falls short in some major way.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the proposals do include some positive changes which should be welcomed. But they’re all piecemeal solutions. Not one of them proposes doing “everything, everywhere” which is required to make these places “every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents.”

All of the proposals are at least a little bit disappointing in their failure to really understand what makes Dutch cycling conditions so safe and inviting.

All the proposals feature brand new ASLs as some sort of solution. Many of them misinterpret Dutch practice and apply it to unsuitable roads. Some of them focus largely on leisure routes. All of them bang on about soft measures such as bike maintenance classes or poster campaigns. The London borough councils really need to go on a Hembrow Study Tour, as they clearly only have the vaguest idea of what Dutch cycling infrastructure actually is.

Maybe I’ll write more about the Mini-Holland proposals once the final decision is made about which boroughs have won the mini pot of gold (as there’ll be less waffle to wade through once they’ve chosen the winners).

But for now, I’ll leave you with Enfield’s vision of good-quality Dutch cycling infra, which is so awful that it probably warrants a blog post all of its own:

Laughably awful visualisation by Enfield council, showing narrow bike lanes in the dooring-zone, and bus stops on the wrong side of cycle paths.

If this travesty is Dutch, then I’m a Dutchman’s uncle.


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30 responses to “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

  1. I agree with the importance of a coherent grid of direct routes.

    I don’t think we should ask for cycle tracks on Euston Road. Let that hellish road be part of the Motoring Grid and let’s concentrate to make the parallel Tavistock Place a) Dutch-standard, b) faster than Euston Rd (by having fewer traffic lights) and c) seamlessly connected to other Cycling Grid routes.

    This is the Dutch way: Unravelling modes, or separation by route:

    • platinum

      What if you want to access businesses and properties along Euston Road by bicycle?

      The Dutch unravel modes by moving the motor traffic elsewhere, giving them a longer more convoluted route, with short direct routes for those who need to use their own energy.

      As a general principle, through motor traffic should be discouraged from using everything that isn’t a ring road, in order to reduce rat running and make the quieter back roads safer and more accessible by bike and on foot without having to segregate. Therefore, almost by definition, a busy ring road is exactly where you most want a segregated lane to be. That doesn’t mean that that segregated lane has to be the actual main through route for bikes though, but it still needs to be available for those that need it.

      • Hi Andrea,

        I think Platinum is right – Euston Road contains far too many destinations to remain ‘out of bounds’ for utility cycling. We need direct routes along main roads and quieter routes too.

        Really, all the back streets should be quiet routes, though I can’t imagine Westminster ever agreeing to implement that. I have no idea what Ed Argar was doing on that video, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing if ever I saw one.

        Unravelling routes is great, but I don’t see how it can be achieved here, as even the best alternative east-west routes are fiddly and long (as shown here).

        I’m afraid all I see here is business as usual, trying to implement cycling only when it doesn’t affect motor traffic. I wonder how nice it will be cycling along the Superhighway in the eerily dark and quiet streets behind the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail depot at night?

        • I agree with much of the article and the premise that we need to stop prioritising motor traffic. But I’m curious as to what you expect to happen to motor traffic if we took lanes out for bike lanes? Where would traffic go? Or would it “evaporate”? Also lets not over-sensationalise: the streets around mount pleasant aren’t any more eery and quiet than other streets. If anything its quite pleasant to cycle around there, similarly cycling round the city when no one is about is nice. I’m not saying I wouldn’t prefer the route to go up Farringdon / Kings Cross Rd but Phoenix Place etc really isnt that bad.

          The difference between the grid and LCN if there is any will primarily be in quality of provision i hope.

          • Kevin Love

            Where traffic would go is exactly the same place it went in the car-free downtowns of Dutch and other cities. It goes onto walking, cycling and public transit.

            • Chris Juden

              Some goes that way, most goes on the urban motorways, expressways and ringways that most Dutch/German/Danish cities and towns are equipped with. In the process the traffic does indeed seem to travel further, because all of those nations tot up MORE driving miles per head of population than Britain, in spite of cycling more.

              I nevertheless think that it’s worth building new roads and sending traffic around the houses, if it makes the gaps between the houses more pleasant to live in.

            • And in some ways, we have to not care about where that traffic goes. If we’re prioritising walking and cycling, then that is what we must do wholeheartedly. If Euston Road can’t be cycled along safely then we must put in cycle tracks. If we don’t do this because we’re worried about motor vehicles, then we’re just prioritising motor vehicles, aren’t we?

              Worrying about cars all the time is that kind of logic that leads to fenced-in four-stage pedestrian crossings.

          • See my reply to Kevin about where the motor vehicles would go.

            Regarding the streets around Mount Pleasant, they are intimidatingly quiet at night. Sure, you and I might feel okay there, but would you be happy for your mum to wander around there alone at 2am? I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.

            A friend of mine was mugged while cycling on a quiet street at night (by two men who were also on bikes) and from then on took the main roads everywhere instead. She’s a big fan of cycling though – I suspect that given the option of deserted back street or busy main road, most people would just take the bus instead.

            Taking the route that way also means more turns for cycling, left and right and right and left, etc. It turns a straight, easy, fast route into a fiddly slow one where you have to keep slowing to turn. The VCers aren’t going to want that and I don’t blame them. Cycling should also be fast and efficient.

      • Chris Juden

        Platinum hits a nail on the head with: “The Dutch unravel modes by moving the motor traffic elsewhere”. But where are London’s ‘elsewhere roads’?

        Amsterdam’s “elsewhere” begins with a motorway ring at a radius of three short miles from Dam square, and extends in a web of motorways and expressways which ensure that nowhere in the city is further than that from such a road. These new roads relieve Amsterdam’s general-purpose road network from the burden of cross-city traffic, which doesn’t use those roads except for the first and/or last part of any journey. So the traffic capacity of old arterial routes can be reduced with roadspace reallocated to cycle paths etc.

        And before someone suggests that on account of all that cycling, the Dutch have less traffic, they really don’t. The total annual distance driven per person in the Netherlands is 8,200 km compared to 7,800 km in UK (2011 data from OECD). So I guess that for every Dutchman making a shorter journey by bike there must still be a few of them driving those longer more convoluted routes.

        London, unfortunately, is not only bigger than Amsterdam but more than three times the size of any other city in Europe. The only comparably extensive built-up area I can think of, that’s generally acknowledged to be more cycle-friendly than London, is the Ruhr conurbation. And as one might expect in Germany, birthplace of the motorway, the Ruhr is so comprehensively criss-crossed by such roads that sometimes they close one and have parties on it instead!

        London’s opportunity to build a comprehensive network of ‘elsewhere roads’ was lost in 1973 with the cancellation of the Ringways scheme. The Ringways were controversial, a great many homes would have been demolished, some green spaces lost, but I can’t help thinking that London as a whole might have been a much more pleasant place, given a separate network of roads to divert most of the traffic onto. But that’s never going to happen now, so I’m afraid we’re probably stuck with make-do-and-mend, hole-in-the-corner cycling solutions – at least until the oil runs out or something.

        • That is the big problem in London, of course – where do we unravel the traffic to? As you say, the M25 is a long way away!

          Which is why I say we have to decide what our priorities are and work to that. If we’re really prioritising cycling over motor traffic, then Euston Road needs cycle paths, and the drivers will just have to sit there and queue. Anything else is prioritising motor traffic, and we all know how that turned out, don’t we!

  2. How is this convoluted patchwork of back-streets any different from the half-hearted LCN?

    I can tell you. Key: red – lcn / black – bike grid / blue – mixed

    • Thanks for that link. It’s interesting to see both LCN and Grid together, they look about as bad as each other!

    • We need a road map on how to get to the Promised Land. We cannot just wish everything to be implemented tomorrow.

      This is what I see as practical:

      1. Implement the Grid to a high standard, by
      a. no compromises on directness of routes
      b. filtered permeability
      c. displacement of motor traffic (including taxis) to major roads
      =>this will yield
      a. modal shift from buses to bicycles
      b. substantial evaporation of motor traffic

      2. Export the above to the Quiet Ways

      3. Reallocate space on the trunk roads to build cycle tracks (i.e. CSHs)

      Boris has tried to do it the opposite way and it has failed because high quality implementation of CSHs is difficult.

      At the end we will get what Oni envisions: safe cycling on trunk roads AND a pervasive grid on quiet roads .

      • Chris Juden

        But not even the Dutch have managed to evaporate motor traffic overall. They’ve pumped it out of town to the ring road, which admittedly causes some evaporation at source, but what remains goes further. And it’s an awful long way out of London to the M25!

      • I’d reverse those points. The main roads are the important routes, routes that people already know, and with desirable destinations on.

        The back streets are a confusing labyrinth to most people, and by definition they will almost never be direct. How can one cycle fast and efficiently if you’re having to turn left and right every few hundred metres?

        Focussing on the back streets keeps cycling off the radar and second-class.

        • S.C.,

          “The main roads are the important routes …”

          Please, please read this:

        • City to Canary Wharf – Why would one go on Commercial Rd, when there is a direct quiet road, i.e. Cable Street?

          Clerkenwell Boulevard, Torrington Place, etc. these are direct, fast routes that will be pleasant to ride once motor traffic is shifted to the ugly canyons such as Euston Road, High Holborn, etc.

          And if you need to go to the British Library, you just follow the Grid and then turn at Judd St; no need to ride on the Euston Rd.

          The problem with the present grid is that Westminster and Kensington are not prepared to design direct routes; e.g. the shambles in St James.

          • I know what you’re saying, and I’d certainly use Cable Street over Commercial Road any day! But at the eastern end it just stops, it doesn’t take you all the way to Canary Wharf. So the CS route turns into a fiddly meander through a park and over a narrow bridge and other rubbish.

            If one needed to get to Canary Wharf quickly then Commercial Road would be a better bet! But that’s one of the problems, people on bikes are always being made to choose between fast/convenient/deadly or slow/meandering/safer.

            And what if this journey started at Brick Lane? One would have to ride half a mile south to even get to Cable Street! In reality, both Cable Street and Commercial Road should be safe for cycling.

            I’ll accept that Cable Street is a good alternative to The Highway, which runs just 200m to the south. Cable Street and The Highway are unusual in London though, in that they run parallel for the same length, and the horrible “main” road (The Highway) doesn’t have anything along it to make it worth visiting.

            Those streets in central London that you mention – High Holborn and Euston Road – do contain shops, banks and other places (such as the Cittie of Yorke pub!) that people actually want to visit, so making them the exclusive domain of motor vehicles surely can’t work.

            Regarding the British Library example, what if you wanted to go there from Marylebone? That seems like a reasonable thing for a visitor to London to want to do! And the obvious route would be straight along the A501 Marylebone Road / Euston Road for 1.7 miles.

            Yet without any infra there, the visitor must instead ride along a complex route of back streets for 2.3 miles, making a dozen turns along the way! That surely can’t be an efficient way of travelling.

            I’m not meaning to be didactic about this – if there is a good direct alternative route then sure, go ahead and funnel the bikes along there – but I think it’s rare in central London that there is such a place. I don’t think any road in central London should become the exclusive preserve of motor vehicles and hardened road warriors.

            • Straightness is not the same of directness. The key variable is traffic lights.
              Take the stretch between Portland Place and Gray’s Inn Road:
              On the Grid you have four traffic lights; on Euston road more than twice as many; the latter is much slower.
              I used to live 200m from the Marylebone Road, and I would never use it, not because I was scared, but because the alternatives are much more pleasant, and I rather be pedalling than waiting at a light.
              And for the Cittie of Yorke, you can follow the Grid to 100m of the pub and then if you don’t want to share the road just push on the pavement.

              Now I agree that the present grid needs a lot of improvement, because important roads like St. James Street, Fleet St., etc. need to be on it, and of course Kensington is a complete shambles. But my scenario of the Motoring Grid will lead to much safer, faster and more pleasant cycling in London.

              • “The biggest let-down is the proposed Central London Grid – it’s rubbish.”

                You ask how this convoluted patchwork of back-streets is any different from the half-hearted LCN? I have come to realise that a much better question would be: how is it different from the LCC’s proposed grid?

                Uncoded version available here:


              • Apologies to those of your readers who have not seen the uncoded version of the LCC network, but I have had to delete it in order to make room for another map.

                This new map shows those same LCC-proposed routes (in red) plus the TfL-proposed routes (in purple) which I have been able to incorporate into my proposed design. (CSH routes are in blue.)


                In addition, if you have read my latest blog, you will know that there are many miles of strategically important main roads which have been omitted from the TfL grid. Why? Because cycle campaigners do not accept the prudence of introducing these routes to a minimum level of functioning? They know better than the authors of Cycling: the way ahead? Maybe they do. But what a shame it is that they are not able to quote any published work which supports their view.

                The group thinks this, and this seems to be about the extent of their evidence.

                Still, there is a very lively debate taking place about this issue over on Cyclescape. Won’t you join in?

  3. Angus H

    I can’t believe how bad that Enfield pic is! Those mini-armadillos are about as wrong as they could possibly be.

    Simultaneously too small and too far apart to provide any sense of subjective separation from motor traffic, but big enough to tip you off your bike if you hit one, and far enough apart – on a lane that’s stupidly narrow to begin with – that people inevitably will.

    They’ve managed to take an existing design that I can use relatively safely but my kids can’t, and turn it in to something that’s less safe for me & still completely unusable for them.

    While riding in that narrow piss-poor excuse for a lane I’d feel severely under-protected. If I ride fast and take the lane, I now have to watch out for armadillos when moving over to let traffic past – and the same when pulling out of the cycle lane in to the main flow of traffic when a door opens on one of the parked cars.

    I’m fine with designs that prevent taking the lane or make it more difficult, if they also enable kids to cycle & generally make slower cycling a subjectively safe and pleasant experience. Five minutes more on my commute to give kids back some lost independence? 100% in favour. But this doesn’t do that, it fails in every way possible and could almost have been designed with the specific intent of giving light segregation a bad name.

    ** slow hand clap **

    • TomP

      It does look a bit like someone has seen the armadillos being using on Royal College Street in Camden and decided that the key to encouraging people to use their bikes is to put armadillos *everywhere*, regardless of the type of road, the traffic, the design of the project… as though they some magic powers.

  4. Oh Gawd, Enfield! That’s Dutch infra from the 80’s but with lethal lumps in the road that won’t be noticed by motor vehicles but will send an 8 year old flying into the path of something that will most likely kill him, helmet or not. Notice they absence of dedicated lights, they don’t show any actual provision just, as usual, the straight stuff, still in the doorzone.
    21st Century NL is very different, it’s not the provision it’s self, I observed in Utrecht every junction does something different, the only consistency is that bikes have been thought of in the design. Enough with the dayglow coloured roads as well!
    The thing to watch is what the Dutch do about their rising car users, they have a lot of people still reliant on cars and they have pollution levels that are too high, just like we do. They are fighting with the motor industry and the emotional pull of shiny big ego extensions and their power, the same as us. They are 30 years ahead, but they are still fighting the same evil.
    You might be staying in London, I’m leaving the UK for Utrecht with my kids. The transport system here in the UK undoes everything there is in place to protect my kids the minute they get on a bike to ride to school. I can’t live like this any more.

  5. Jitensha Oni

    Good to have you resume the blog.

    I don’t really see why London needs a specific grid on the backstreets. With the advent of apps like LiveRide from Cyclestreets, people can be guided down quiet, balanced or fast routes, none of which necessarily coincide with either the LCG or LCN. And such apps can only improve. Once the LCG is in place, what’s going to change it, if some bits never get used and others start to get used as rat-runs? So it seems to me that the LCG is not just a compromise with the needs of motor traffic, it is also a compromise of the types of route that different users might want to travel along.

    The London Cycling Grid (I’ll call it the MInor Grid) should actually be defined as the entire non-TfL road grid. This needs severe traffic calming and rat-run closure throughout (maybe a la Hackney, but also a la Netherlands). The *Major Grid* would comprise the main TfL arteries, and these should be the ones with protected cycle lanes or paths, as well as problematic junctions. I think you’re correct in your assertion that motor traffic is being prioritised, but that seems to be mainly on the Major Grid. The LCG, as far as I can see, has been/is/will be just a waste of everyone’s time, and won’t benefit anyone (except sign makers and painters). But without a commitment to a Major Grid, including past London’s historic places, which is the network that most people want to use, you may as well not bother.

    Tom Harrison’s “where will the traffic go” question is interesting. Where does it go when utilities and roads are being repaired/installed? Where did some of it go when the Congestion Charge was introduced? Switching modes is one possible answer. Make the temporary permanent. Implementing an analysis based on Braess’s Paradox may also take some congestion away. I apologise for it being behind a paywall, but this New Scientist article discusses the paradox:
    and it’s well worth finding a copy to read; a more technical treatment is at:

    It just needs somebody with the c̶o̶j̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ political will to set it going. Here we go again…

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