Study finds that London's older Cycle Superhighways are 'no safer than ordinary roads' for cyclists

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The need for segregated cycle paths is boosted by a new study showing the oldest Cycle Superhighways in London are no safer than ordinary roads.

Experts analysed 33,000 crashes over seven years up to 2014 and found the first Cycle Superhighways in the capital didn’t offer any significant protection.

“They were just blue paint on the road and, no matter what colour it is, paint doesn’t have any effect on safety,” says Simon Munk, infrastructure campaigner at the London Cycling Campaign. “The newer Superhighways built from 2015 onwards are much better because they separate cyclists from the traffic.”

Of the pre-2015 routes, only the eight miles of Cycle Superhighway 3, between Barking in the east and Tower Gateway, was found by the independent analysts to be less dangerous. “That was the only one with a fair amount of separation,” Munk points out.

>>> ‘Record’ £770million to be spent on cycling in London

The older routes also made little provision to protect cyclists at junctions. “That’s where the majority of collisions happen,” says Munk.

The new study shows that while the number of collisions increased during the seven years up to 2014, so did the number of cyclists. This meant that the chance of being in a collision stayed the same.

Crucially, the academics discovered that the collision risk on ordinary roads was no worse than on the blue painted superhighways. Nevertheless, they reckon that more Londoners started cycling on the painted routes under the misapprehension that they were safer.



“The London Cycle Superhighways are frequently criticised as ‘nothing but blue paint’,” say the study’s authors about the older routes, “In fact, a certain proportion of them are even not covered by the blue surfacing. Only about two thirds of the lanes are designed exclusively for cyclists.”

The vast majority of cycle lanes across the UK are merely painted. “It is obvious that the current safety measures and designs implemented on the [original] Cycle Superhighways cannot provide high level of protection for cyclists,” they note in their report. Interestingly, the study has been funded largely by Chinese national science foundations.

In late 2014 the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and his cycling czar, Andrew Gilligan, began a programme of separating cyclists from motor traffic and Munk expects figures from the newer routes to show improved safety.

Current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced earlier this week that £770million will be spent on cycling in the capital over the next five years, including extensions and improvements to the Cycle Superhighway network.

Safety effects of the London cycle superhighways on cycle collisions by Haojie Li, Daniel J. Graham & Pan Liu in Accident Analysis and Prevention 99 (2017)

Max Glaskin is an award-winning freelance journalist who tweets about cycling and science as @CyclingScience1 and is the author of Cycling Science (now out in paperback).