#38. TRAILS OF LIGHT. When Percy Shaw invented cats-eyes in 1934, no-one could have anticipated how prolific his design would be. Its usefulness became especially evident during the blackouts in World World Two, when at night British towns and cities tried to minimise light emissions to confuse the Luftwaffe, and cars were equipped with shuttered headlights to keep their beams low and less visible. During this time, it was not only cats-eyes which appeared on roads but white lines painted down their middles, to aid driver orientation. The world’s streets soon became safer thanks to these inventions wrought out of necessity.
Today, promoting and facilitating cycling in towns and cities is a necessity, for environmental, health and mental health reasons. In a labyrinthine metropolis such as London, the biggest impediments to cycling are the twin fears of safety and navigation – people worry that getting lost on a bike will make them more vulnerable, through stumbling onto intimidating main roads.
Parker’s London Cycle Map offers an ingenious solution to these problems. By waymarking the 2000 kilometre-long London Cycle Network – which is generally made up of quieter cycle routes – with road signs and markings corresponding to Parker’s Tube-style diagram, we could enable cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital, safely and simply, by following just a few coloured routes.
Thankfully we don’t have to worry about bombs raining down on London these days, but we could still make cycling at night on Parker’s routes easier. Street-side lampposts would usually be sufficient to highlight the painted trails of breadcrumbs on the road surfaces of those routes, but illuminated dots would be particularly helpful – especially in areas where there are no streetlights.
Something similar can be found when you exit Cambridge along Ditton Lane. As you progress, the environment becomes more rural – and in the dark, rural can mean ‘scary’. Thankfully, Cambridgeshire County Council has sensibly studded the cycle tracks beside the main road with little lights which keep cyclists safely oriented. The lights are solar-powered, so they charge during the day then lay out a glorious, gently-glowing trail at night-time. It looks like an airport runway, but more subtle: think LEDs rather than powerful uplights.
One day, I believe, the London Cycle Network will be studded throughout with solar-powered lights like these, corresponding to the routes on Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map. If drivers get cats-eyes and white lines, then cyclists deserve a little help too.