How Would Boris' Railway Cycle Paths Work?

Andy Thornley
By Andy Thornley Last edited 79 months ago
How Would Boris' Railway Cycle Paths Work?

a cyclist in traffic

With the zip-wire season seemingly now over, our Mayor, Boris Johnson, has been back at the day job – coming up with ideas on how to improve the city. His latest brain-child, as told to the Times newspaper in an interview, is “to hook up mainline stations in London along the side of the raised railway tracks, with a new cycle path”.

Admittedly, this is still “back of the envelope stuff” but it is worth scrutinising further to gauge if there is any merit in the concept.

On the face of it, it sounds like a brilliant idea. It’s a scheme that could take cyclists – who are some of London’s most vulnerable road users – and allow them free-reign on dedicated thoroughfares. No more dodging deathly HGVs, no red lights to run through, and it enables the capital’s traffic flow to proceed that little bit quicker – a notion that seems currently incompatible with the design of safe roads.

Certainly, running a cycle path along the C2C route between Barking and the City would mean that cyclists could avoid deadly sections of road such as the Bow Road flyover where two people lost their lives last year. Other suggested routes could be the line running from Hackney into Liverpool Street and Finsbury Park into central London.

Because of the sheer density of the sprawl in this great city, however, many of the final approaches to mainline stations are through tunnels, which limits the number of lines that can be converted.

One of the routes Boris suggested was from Clapham Junction to Waterloo. It’s a route that we cycle daily and one that we’d potentially use, should this plan come to fruition. We recently took the train between these two stations to observe the track and imagined how it would look. Unfortunately, it seemed that almost all of the space, specifically at the tight bridge sections around Vauxhall, was being used by tracks – after all, Clapham Junction is Europe’s busiest railway station. To include a cycle path would require either losing a line (something Network Rail would not be so keen on surrendering), or by reconfiguring the lines to free up enough space – again, not a realistic or practical solution.

So, as ‘Yazz’ once said... the only way is up – and building elevated sections above the railway could be the solution. This is likely to prove costly however and in these austere times we currently find ourselves in, can we actually see that happening? Probably not. Most cyclists, if there was any sort of meaningful engagement, would perhaps ask for the money to be spent making current routes safer rather than an eye-catching vanity project like this. One thing is for sure, splashing some blue paint on to the road and hoping for the best is not an approach that has worked terribly well so far.

In the media, this time of year is known as silly season – when Parliament are off on their jollies and editors are desperate to fill their vacant column inches and almost any story can make it in to print. Until there are more concrete details of how Boris will achieve his plans, many people will treat this story as such.

What routes do you think would, or wouldn't, be suitable? Add your comments below.

Image by Capo from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 21 August 2012