Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #7. A network is more than the sum of its parts.

#7. A NETWORK IS MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS. Imagine you were put in charge of TfL’s cycling budget and asked to make 50 junctions safer for cycling in 2012 (which they have recently promised to do – well, for cycling and walking). Which junctions would you choose, for maximum impact?

Perhaps you’d pick the worst 50. Or the most popular 50. Or the 50 which are most suitable for cycling.

Whichever 50 you chose, there would still be many thousands of unsafe junctions you didn’t choose. And when non-cyclists were deliberating about whether or not to cycle they might reasonably wonder how they could avoid those junctions. If non-cyclists felt unconfident about avoiding those dangerous junctions, they wouldn’t cycle.

What if instead you chose to focus your efforts on creating a network of safe cycle routes connecting every single area of the capital with every other, in a vast grid? A comprehensive network would ensure that non-cyclists could ride to wherever they wanted to go in the capital without worrying about straying onto unsafe roads and junctions.

The key point is this: the sum of this network would be more than its safety-improved parts. If the same number of improvements were scattered around the capital at random, they would be far, far less useful.

Of course, you might need to improve a few more than 50 junctions to make this network feasible! But here’s the best bit: over the last 30 years, around 2000 kilometres of London Cycle Network have been created already. That is to say, there is already a good-quality network of cycle routes in London, on safer, quieter streets. It just needs a few tweaks to get it finished.

So now imagine again you’re in charge of TfL. Which 50 junctions will you improve? How about bringing the London Cycle Network even nearer to completion, by updating 50 more of its junctions?

Then, how about painting the streets of that network with trails of colour, to enable cyclists to ride throughout the whole capital by following just a few of the coloured routes on Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map?

Now there’s a good investment.



Matthia Doepke from

Matthia Doepke from Northwestern University says that a few isolated bits of quality cycle infrastructure don't really help much. "Once there is a connected network," he says, "the attractiveness of cycling goes up a lot."

As you say, the sum of a network is more than its safety-improved parts. Good point, well made.

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