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Transport / Mass transit

London's new cycle superhighway could be stymied by a giant new sewer

Hey guys, remember that plan for two amazing new segregated cycle routes across London? The ones that’ll allow you to cycle across town without needing to compete for space with cars buses and HGVs? The ones we all said were gonna be brilliant? Those ones? Well:

“Sections of Boris Johnson’s flagship cycling project – the £48m east-to-west cycle superhighway – will have to be removed within a year of its 2016 completion to make way for construction work on London’s supersewer, the [Evening Standard] can reveal.

“Key central stretches of the two-way segregated superhighway on the Victoria Embankment and Blackfriars Bridge will have to be taken out for up to three years.”

…oh.

This, if the Standard’s unnamed source is correct, sucks. Assuming the build timetable runs to plan (and when does that ever happen?), cyclists will have just a few months to enjoy their new segregated cycle route before Thames Water comes along and starts tearing it up again to build something else. And not something cool, like a tram or giant slide or a ladder to nowhere or anything: something horrible.

Spot the difference. The proposed route of the new Thames Tideway Tunnel, or “supersewer”…

Nonetheless, there are reasons to think that, if it does come down to a battle between cycle highway and supersewer, it’s the tunnel of fun that’s going to win out. For one thing, the Thames Tideway Tunnel actually has planning permission, which is more than the cycle lane does.

For another, though, London currently (this is a good bit) flushes at least 39m tonnes of raw sewage into the Thames every year. Much of this travels through the sewer that once upon a time ran above ground as the River Fleet, before being ejected into the river under Blackfriars Bridge. On a hot day, CityMetric can attest, you can smell it. (Think about that, before you go swimming in the Thames.)

So the city does need to do something about its ageing Victorian sewer system – though whether the correct “something” is this particular plan is a matter of fierce debate.

…and part of the route of the new East-West Cycle Super Highway. 

At any rate, it does look horribly like the new cycle route plan might have been hobbled before it even begins. The new route is intended to have the capacity to carry 3,000 cyclists every hour. Close it, and there not really anywhere else these guys could go, meaning that they’re likely to find themselves fighting with cars and buses and HGVs all over again.

Other opposition is mounting, too. Motoring groups have come out against the plan, which is entirely predictable because it involves taking space from drivers and giving it to cyclists. But there’s been criticism from the Corporation of London, too. That organisation – which effectively governs the City, London’s financial district – has taken a more nuanced line. It claims to support the idea in principle, but suggests the whole thing needs to be planned more carefully to prevent it from snarling up traffic; it also described the six-week consultation period as “insulting”.

At the time, some in the cycling community interpreted this opposition – especially the faintly silly claim that cyclists were being given priority “to the disadvantage of other users” – as a sign the Corporation’s real concern was the interest of the motorist. Maybe it is. But the sewer thing suggests that it might have had a point about the ridiculously short consultation period, after all.

Images courtesy of Thames Water and Transport for London. 
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.