Route Plan Roll: The London cycling map that seeks to 'fill in an information gap'

'It's still very hard to understand: is that a place I want to be cycling or not?'

London cyclists
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"I'm not really looking to hold people's hands on the routes", Dermot Hanney, the designer of a map that seeks to collate and sort the confusing mess of London's cycle routes, explains.

Instead, he is "trying to fill in an information gap". He says: "There's people who want to cycle and they see stuff out there and they're like 'oh, that could be interesting', but they have no idea where it's going to and from."

Hanney is the creator of Route Plan Roll, a map that seeks to "encourage and support those who wish to make their next trip by bicycle in London". It sorts cycle routes in London into three tiers: green, where cycling is prioritised; orange, where cyclists have some priority; and red, where cyclists are forced to ride in heavy traffic and caution is advised.

An example of a green route is Cycle Superhighway 3, which runs along Embankment. An example of an orange route is Cycle Superhighway 7, which although a flagship bikeway, spends a lot of time in bus lanes. Finally, a red route is one like Kensington High Street, where there is little provision for bikes at all.

"At the end of the day what it was was that when you look at something like Google Maps and mapping like that, what immediately jumped out to me is the roads where the main traffic is, they show up immediately," Hanney says. 

"But they're often not the roads where you want to be cycling. From that, I was thinking, could we not develop a map with the same principle, but it would just show where the cycling routes that you want to be rather than the roads. That's kind of where it all came from."

Studies have shown that a lack of cycling infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor traffic is the biggest reason behind people not cycling. 

Cycling has boomed over the last two years during the pandemic, with London's Santander Cycles hitting record figures for hires last year. On some main roads, cyclists have overtaken motorists

However, there is still a long way to go, with cyclists regularly speaking out about a lack of infrastructure and dangerous drivers.

With his map, Hanney hopes to encourage people to step onto their bikes and cycle in London.

"The big thing for the map is trying to fill in an information gap," he explains. "t's trying to just fill that gap for them, so they can just make an educated decision themselves. If they want to make that type of trip, and if you can show it on the map, it's a bit clearer.

"I'm not really looking to hold people's hands on the routes. I think it's one of those where you look at it beforehand, you kind of mind map where you should be, and then hopefully, you can follow it on the road. Really, that's down to the quality signage, and the ease of understanding the routes."

Several factors go into his ranking system, which includes safety, but he prefers to call this "comfort".

"Safety is going to play into how comfortable you feel, related to that is really the amount of traffic to deal with, you know, how it looks during the day and in the evening. How direct is it, how easy is it to follow? Can you follow it easily, or are you getting lost every two minutes with all the turns? 

"All that sort of stuff, trying to just play into it. Because often, it's easier to find the maps where infrastructure is and cycle routes are, but it's still very hard to understand: is that a place I want to be cycling or not?"

Hanney is optimistic about improvements in London, saying that it is "getting better".

"I find you're getting longer stretches of good stuff now, which is really helpful," he argues. "The newer Cycle Superhighways are really good and I think what happens is generally you kind of look out for them, even if your routes are a little bit longer. If you can just stick to those for much of your route, you're quite happy to do that. I think with the low traffic neighbourhoods coming along, that's really helped. 

"The Quietways previously had been a bit rubbish, not very good, low quality, whatever term you want to call it. The low traffic neighbourhoods have really started bringing those up in quality. One of the things that we need to get behind is that not every road needs a cycle track. Cycle tracks are great for a certain location, but it doesn't necessarily fit with all needs. I think it's nice to finally get more of a neighbourhood view."

However, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently said that London's roads will become more dangerous for cyclists if road safety schemes are scrapped as a result of Transport for London's (TfL) funding crisis.

He is keen to draw inspiration from other countries, referencing the Netherlands's approach to building cycling infrastructure.

"One of the things that I find really interesting is that the Dutch have developed a whole heap of different aspects of what makes a quality cycleway," Hanney says. One of the aspects they do mention as a core part is attractiveness. I think that's often just completely glazed over. People just don't even think about it. 

"I think there's a number of different aspects to what attractiveness is. If someone just puts a bit of paint in the ground, even if it's generally in the vicinity where people want to cycle, it doesn't make it a nice place to be. Trying to elicit those areas where you would be willing to tell a friend, or bring a partner or a child or want to cycle as a group."

The response to his map has been "generally positive", Hanney says, but "it's just difficult to keep everyone happy".

Take a look at the map at Route Plan Roll.

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