The Cycle Superhighways are Mayor Boris's grand plan to provide fast, efficient routes through London – a series of 12 numbered routes radiating from the centre.
The first ones were roundly (and rightly) panned, essentially consisting of blue-painted cycle lanes on existing busy roads. Accident blackspots were left untouched and HGVs were allowed to stray in at will. If anything, they did more harm than good.
But change is coming. The designs are now being revised to include Dutch-style 'segregated' tracks, where a physical barrier keeps bikes and cars apart. This promises to be a huge step forward. (There’s already a very small number of such routes in London, notably Royal College Street in Camden, and Torrington Place in Bloomsbury.)
The first of these is on Cycle Superhighway 2 along Stratford High Street, providing a mile of safe, car-free cycling. Improvements are planned for the rest of the notorious CS2, including the terrifying Bow Roundabout.
Blue cycle signs mark out the ‘London Cycle Network’, an older collection of back-streets and cut-throughs that help you get from A to B without being mown down. Extending deep into the suburbs from central London, they’re not purpose-built cycleways as such, just suggested routes on existing roads occasionally aided by cycle crossings and short paths.
They're rarely the fastest way to get anywhere, nor any guarantee of a safe route. Still, if you're not in a hurry, you'll often find them a useful aid in planning a route across the city.
They’re signed with simple blue signs, just like a normal road sign. Route numbers are sometimes included, but not as consistently as on the National Cycle Network. The network was never quite completed and maintenance is patchy, so don’t be surprised if the signs give out on occasion.
The idea of signposting less-trafficked roads as through-routes has been now revived as ‘Quietways’, part of the Mayor’s Cycling Vision. None have yet been created; it’s to be hoped that the blue signs will be accompanied with cycle priority measures and traffic calming at the very least.
The NCN isn’t a frequent sight in London. It does offer a useful route largely following the Thames, NCN 4, which starts in Greenwich and broadly follows the river into West London and beyond to Reading. There’s also NCN 1 in the east of the city, along the rivers Lee and Thames; and two rambling routes south, the Wandle Trail (NCN 20) and Waterlink Way (NCN 21). They can be pleasant Saturday afternoon rides, but these routes are unlikely to form part of your daily commute.