Route GuidesRoutes City GuidesCities Map Log in

The shape of bike lanes to come?

14 Jun 2014 space4cycling London infrastructure
Find a better bike route. Try our map & route-planner »

Become a supporter

London’s cycle routes could have a very different shape in future years – and a better one.

The draft London Cycle Design Standards, published yesterday, are Transport for London’s rules for designing bike lanes. And for the first time, Dutch-style ‘segregated’ lanes are recommended for busy roads.

The new standards, which follow extensive campaigning by London Cycling Campaign and other city cyclists, are the first time that ‘Space for Cycling’ has been adopted into official planning. They set out detailed requirements for new lanes, and are candid about the failure of previous attempts:

“Cycling is now mass transport and must be treated as such. Most current cycle provision is squeezed into spare space or on the margins of roads. It reflects a belief, conscious or otherwise, that hardly anyone cycles, that cycling is unimportant and that bikes must take no meaningful space from more important road users, such as motor vehicles and pedestrians.”

Although the document was written for London, the national Department for Transport is reported to be considering adopting it for the whole of England – so it could set out the shape of cycling to come.

Marks out of 100

Every proposed cycle route design will be given a score out of 100 according to a detailed checklist. The criteria are focused on ‘rideability’ – “the experience of cycling and the performance of links and junctions”.

Checklist items cover the risk of collisions, safety, directness, connections with other routes, comfort, and the attractiveness of the route. The scoring system, called a ‘Cycling Level of Service’ assessment, has been singled out by the London Cycling Campaign as “the most impressive requirement in the new standards”.

The solutions

At heart, the standards say that “cyclists need space separated from volume motor traffic”. They offer three ways of doing this:

The document is scathing about previous attempts, saying that “many of the standard tools currently used to manage cyclists do not work… the worst routes tend to be the result of small, piecemeal interventions made in an unconnected way”. And one rule will be music to many frustrated London cyclists’ ears:

“All designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads on a bicycle.”

What and where?

Broadly speaking, the standards recommend full segregation for the busiest roads, and less change for quiet roads.

Segregated cycle lanes are suggested for “arterial roads, some connector roads, and some high roads”. These will often be Dutch-style cycleways with kerbs, but might also be ‘stepped’ routes at an intermediate level between pavement and road, as seen in Copenhagen and recently Brighton. The standards suggest this when pedestrians need to cross the track, or in the most picturesque areas.

One further idea, borrowed from the US, is to have a cycle lane between car parking and the pavement – such that the parked cars form the barrier themselves. The document does recognise, however, the danger of motorists opening their doors into the cycle track.

“Light segregation”, where planters and wands are used, are in favour with some London boroughs – but TfL admits that not much is known about whether this works. The standards say this “can be suitable for trialling temporary measures to reallocate carriageway space”, but they emphasise that it isn’t a panacea. On roads with a 30mph limit, cars are likely to cause damage to the wands or planters if they hit them. They conclude that “Light segregation should not be used where general traffic is expected to straddle it.”

Another new concept in the UK, but widely used in the Netherlands, is the idea of a “cycle street” – where there’s no physical separation, but the street design emphasises that bikes are the majority. On such streets, say TfL, “cyclists should generally outnumber other vehicles by 2 to 1 during peak hours”. Here, the proposed standards are tentative and likely to prove disappointing to many campaigners, as they still recommend that bikes keep to the side of the street in most cases.

The document doesn’t abandon the on-road, non-separated lanes that form most cycle routes in London today. However, in a significant shift, it describes them as a “step towards securing more separated space”.

For London’s highway engineers, one particularly welcome part of the document is a set of cross-sections – “what you can do with a 9m-wide street”, “what you can do with a 10m-wide street”, and so on – which provide a simple-to-understand illustration of how to get space for cycling.


Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, gave the new standards an enthusiastic welcome.

”We greatly welcome the new London Cycle Design Standards. We will be examining the details carefully but if the new LCDS genuinely sets the bar high so that everyone in London, whatever their age or ability, has the opportunity to cycle safely and enjoyably for all their everyday journeys, then it could have a profound impact.
“However, a difficulty will be the fact that the proposed new standards are not legally binding, meaning that the Mayor will need use his authority to ensure uptake of these standards – assuming that detailed analysis does indeed give them a clean bill of health.”

On Twitter, London cyclist Paul James was less convinced:

“Some good stuff in the London Cycling Design Standards, but 8 pages on ASLs [Advanced Stop Lines] when they should be assigned to the cutting room floor.”

And @CyclingAnomaly tweeted:

“p173 - Central or offside lead-in lane—putting riders between 2 lanes of traffic is known failure, awful design.”

You can read the draft standards, and submit your response, on the TfL website.

Previous story: Send your yellow bike to Africa
Next story: London’s new Cycle Safety Action Plan