Cycle lanes lunacy! More and more are being built across Britain, causing gridlock and pollution. But the maddest thing of all? They're often EMPTY
Among London’s black cabbies the received wisdom used to be that whether you wanted to travel to the east or west, ‘the Embankment is best’.
Not any more. Flag down a taxi and ask to travel along the Victorian thoroughfare that borders the Thames in Central London and passengers are met by the driver’s pitying stare — and a meter that just ticks on and on and on.
Where once it could hold four lanes of traffic, a quarter of the road has now been given over to a dedicated two-way cycle lane.
Traffic has been brought to a virtual standstill.
The cycle superhighway on Victoria Embankment, pictured here as Boris Johnson rides along, has 'compromised' one of London's key routes, writes Tom Rawstorne
Construction of the superhighway, pictured, caused traffic delays and pollution
And it’s far from being the only one of London’s key routes to be compromised in this way.
As part of a £913 million project by former mayor Boris Johnson, a network of so-called cycle superhighways has sprung up across the capital, segregating road space for the exclusive use of cycles.
Phased traffic lights that give bikes a head-start over cars have also been introduced.
The idea is to enable cyclists to travel safely, encouraging more people to ditch four wheels for two, and so cut pollution. Which are, of course, noble aims.
The trouble is that it is only now, with many of the changes finally being implemented, that other road users are starting to fully feel their impact — gridlocked streets bordered by cycle lanes that seem virtually empty outside the rush-hour.
Partly as a result, the capital is said to be the world’s most congested city, with the average driver spending 101 hours in traffic last year, according to transport experts INRIX.
Traffic delays are up, while average vehicle speeds in Central London have fallen to 7.4mph — slower than a horse-drawn carriage in the 18th century.
Cycle highways are becoming a common sight across London but are 'virtually empty' (file picture)
So concerned are members of London’s Assembly that they have launched an urgent investigation into the problem.
And it’s not only in the capital where local authorities have showered taxpayers’ cash on schemes to alter roads to favour cyclists.
From Cambridge to Cornwall, lanes are being marked off for bicycles, and residential streets are being turned into rat runs by desperate motorists looking for a way past the jams.
In Manchester, £42 million is being spent on a Cycle City scheme, which has seen a range of new cycle paths.
The largest links Manchester city centre with the affluent district of Didsbury, and to accommodate the lane — wide enough so a road-sweeper can keep it clean — the road has had been narrowed in many sections, causing lengthy delays to other traffic.
Lelant, a Cornish village near St Ives, has been plagued by traffic chaos ever since a road was made one-way to accommodate a generous cycle lane earlier this year.
During the summer, some vehicles took an hour-and-a-half to travel just two miles.
Cycle lanes imposed in Newbury, pictured, were controversial after road users said they would lead to confusion
In Gloucester, two 6ft-wide cycle lanes installed either side of a busy road have been branded ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
‘There is not enough room for two cars on that road,’ explained John Gough, a Gloucester driving instructor.
‘Cars will have to go into the cycle lane to prevent wing mirrors smashing.’
In Cambridge, residents are fighting council plans to tear out up to 100 cherry trees planted in the Thirties to make room for new cycle paths.
The city council wants to widen Milton Road, introducing dedicated cycle lanes and a bus lane.
Back in London, the former Chancellor Lord Lawson went so far in a debate in the House of Lords as to suggest that cycle lanes were doing more damage to the capital than ‘almost anything since the Blitz’.
Congestion is now said to cost the capital £5.4 billion a year, or £2,765 per household.
David Leam, infrastructure director at business group London First, explains: ‘In real world terms, it means that people’s journeys are taking longer and, of course, for goods and freight that means those businesses have to employ more vans and more people to guarantee deliveries.
‘Looking ahead, ten, 20 years, as things stand they are only going to get worse as we get more people living in London.’
The effect of cycle lanes is to reduce space on the road and make car journey's 'longer', according to business group London First (file picture)
And the longer journeys take, and the longer cars stand still, the more fumes are belched out.
It is now estimated that nearly 9,500 people die early each year in the city due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
The reasons behind increased congestion are complex. Despite a growing population, car traffic is falling in Central London.
But there has been a growth in other vehicle numbers.
Since 2012, the number of vans has risen by 8 per cent, largely thanks to online shopping deliveries.
There has also been an increase in private-hire vehicles — owing much to taxi app Uber — with numbers said to have almost doubled in a year.
The proliferation of roadworks — some related to the cross-London Crossrail project and others, to building cycle superhighways — has worsened problems in the capital.
But while construction projects will eventually end, cycle superhighways will permanently impact upon ‘road supply’.
Simply, there is less road space available for normal traffic.
The aim of the superhighways is to provide dedicated, direct routes for cyclists from outer London into and across the centre of the city.
To do this a number of major roads have had four-metre wide cycle lanes installed along their length.
These lanes often occupy an entire lane of traffic and are divided from the main carriageway by a raised mini-pavement, meaning vehicles cannot cross in and out of them.
To further guarantee the safety of cyclists, crossings and junctions have been re-modelled, often using traffic lights phased to give cyclists a ‘head-start’ over other traffic.
By making cycling safer, it is hoped that in the future more people will be encouraged to get on their bike, so reducing the number of motorists.
Understandably, though, road users have had enough of the levels of congestion this is all causing — particularly those who earn a living driving.
Richard Massett is chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents black cab drivers in the city.
‘We are not anti-cyclists by any means, but when you take away something like 25 per cent of the capacity, as they have in some places, nothing moves,’ he says.
When I speak to motorists stuck in a jam beside a new cycle lane to the south of London’s Blackfriars Bridge, one of their frustrations is that while the lanes may be busy with bikes during rush-hour, they can be almost empty at other times.
‘The new cycle lanes are just a joke — they really are,’ one white van driver tells me.
‘No one cycles for fun in London on a weekday. It means that after 9am, they are obsolete. They should open them up for traffic until the evening rush hour.’
Transport for London says segregated cycle lanes affect just 3 per cent of roads in central London (file picture)
Caroline Pidgeon, chair of London Assembly’s Transport Committee, accepts congestion is growing but insists that cycle superhighways mean more journeys overall can be made on London’s roads.
As for Transport For London, the local government body responsible for the cycle superhighways, it says segregated cycle lanes affect just 3 per cent of roads in central London.
It claims surveys show that there has been an average 60 per cent increase in cyclists using the new routes compared with before the superhighways were built.
But, as we know, the problems are not confined to London.
Figures released earlier this year by the Department for Transport show that traffic on Britain’s roads reached its highest ever level in 2015.
Some 317.8 billion miles were travelled across the country, up 2.2 per cent on 2014.
Against this background, motorists are struggling to understand how spending money to further reduce the capacity of the roads can possibly be the way to solve an immediate problem.
Which means that one thing is certain: with congestion set to get worse, not better, the war of the cycle lanes has only just begun.
Most watched News videos
- Bulls head butt each other then die instantly from brutal blow
- CCTV captures final tragic moments of Mirna Salihin's life
- Funny Vine by Samuel Grubbs shows guy being brutally slapped
- Brutal moment two buffalo hit each other head-on at village party
- Soldiers attacked by knife wielding man at Israeli checkpoint
- Prisoner appears to headbutt guard moments before execution
- Is this proof that ballot boxes have been stuffed in elections?
- George Clooney is left shocked after finding out about Brangelina
- Teenager screams in agony as she is beaten by merciless gang
- Dashcam shows dramatic outside lane crash on M6 motorway
- Sickening footage shows ISIS shoot and behead 'spy' in Syria
- Shocking footage from 'mass brawl involving up to 100 youths'