Thursday, 30 August 2012

London's Olympic Legacy: why is Utility Cycling being ignored?

With the Olympic Games already over, and the Paralympic Games coming to a close on 9 September, everyone is talking about London's Olympic 'Legacy'. What absolutely baffles me is that so many people seem to be ignoring the place that Utility Cycling (also known as 'transport cycling') should logically have in this 'Legacy'.

Yes, I know that cycling to work/meet friends/etc. isn't exactly a 'sport'. But isn't Olympic Sport about more than just competition?

It's about getting the physical benefits of regular exercise. It's about getting the mental benefits of regular exercise. It's about combatting obesity which is the single fastest growing health risk in this country. It's about getting out of your car/tube/train/office/home and getting into some open space and getting some fresh air. It's about putting some real effort into doing something yourself (sometimes even where it's raining).

Cycling as a method of transport encompasses all of these things. Moreover, you don't need to pay anything for the privilege. With so many commentators correctly identifying the problems associated with successfully funding an Olympic Sporting Legacy during a recession, it seems idiotic for these same commentators not to see a parallel promotion of Utility Cycling as something worth writing about.

Moreover, given that Team GB's greatest successes at both the Olympics and Paralympics have been on bicycles it seems even more ridiculous for Utility Cycling not be given the press coverage it deserves in relation to London's Olympic Legacy. In The Times today (30/8/12) there was a double page spread on GB's Paralympic Cyclists, but Utility Cycling was not mentioned once in a 'Legacy' opinion piece written by LOCOG's official lawyer. And, let's not forget, The Times is the same newspaper which has launched the 'Cities fit for cycling campaign'. Who knows what The Telegraph think our Olympic Legacy should consist of...

Scottish cycling group Pedal On Parliament have successfully used the Olympics as a political springboard from which to gain cross-party council support for a 'Sir Chris Hoy-Way' cycle path on Leith Walk, Edinburgh, which will now go ahead.  By contrast, London, the city which hosted the 2012 Games, has zero Olympic Legacy cycle infrastructure projects on the horizon.

In a relatively flat city like London it is just completely unacceptable that our road system is seen by the majority of the population to be so inhospitable and dangerous that many people, 'inspired' by our glorious Olympics, are deciding to drive to Richmond Park in order to get on a road bike there, to drive to the gym in order to go on a stationary bike there, and to drive to a velodrome in order to do some track racing there.

We came 3rd in the Olympic medal table. We are widely tipped to come 2nd/3rd in the Paralympic medal table. Our competitive cyclists are the best in the world. We're clearly not that bad at encouraging top athletes to get involved in sport, especially on two wheels.

However, our levels of Utility Cycling over the whole population are some of the lowest in Europe.

Therefore, raising the percentage of journeys made everyday in London on a bicycle from 2% to 20% over the next few years would be a real Olympic Legacy. It would be a real Change. It would be a real Challenge.

It is an ambitious goal that will require money, time, and effort to achieve. It will also entail difficult decisions with regard to restricting motorist space (including car parking) on London's roads and creating cyclist-only routes in London's parks. But our Olympic successes required money, time, and effort. And they required difficult decisions like dropping Sir Chris Hoy from the individual sprint race in favour of Jason Kenny. And they paid off.

Moreover, raising Utility Cycling rates would be a long-term Legacy which the Government and London could reap the economic benefits of for years and years to come, and - just as they have done with Olympic medal results - jingoistically flaunt in the faces of other large Western nations like America, France, and Germany.

With this in mind I'd like to see a much greater focus from our press on the place of Utility Cycling in the government's Legacy plans. I'd like to see more difficult decisions by the government (both local and national) going in favour of cyclists. Lastly, as well as RideLondon promoting competitive cycling in the capital, I'd like to see an 'Olympic' Cycle Superhighway promoting Utility Cycling.

Despite plenty of parking and TfL repeatedly telling us to, no one cycled to the Olympic Park because cycle routes in East London are mostly crap and dangerous. We therefore learnt something. Olympic Legacy: radically improve cycle routes in East London. Simple.

It seems completely moronic that local and national authorities cannot see the very real political capital involved in making these kinds of difficult decisions to promote Utility Cycling, especially at a time when Olympic cycling successes are inspiring voters to cycle while a national recession is simultaneously forcing them to forgo more expensive methods of transport. Boris can see the political potential. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been so popular lately. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been tipped to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

After all, we're already world-class at competitive cycling on a professional level. This hardly needs more investment or exposure.

We should be using the Olympic 'Legacy' as an opportunity to improve cycling levels on the part of the whole population, making us a greener, cleaner, fitter, and more prosperous country to live in.

You, the reader, can make a positive impact yourself by contacting your politicians over this issue through the following steps:

1. Writing to your local MPs and Councillors (
2. Writing to your MP through this contact detail too, some of them can be very reticent (
3. Writing to TfL at
4.. Writing to Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg (

(comments welcomed)

Friday, 24 August 2012

The importance of emailing your local councillors with 'Write To Them'

Perhaps the most important reason for starting a blog like this would be to try, even if it is only in a very little way, to do something concrete to make cycling in London safer and better. So here goes. This post advises (a little) action:

A few weeks ago while trawling the extremely worthwhile 'Cyclist in the City' blog (@citycyclists), I came across this link:

I dutifully followed the link, typed in my postcode, and wrote to my councillors, my London Assembly Members, and my Member of Parliament, sending all three quite a similar email asking for better cycle infrastructure in my area and better Boris Bike provision. What surprised me was that within about two weeks all of them had personally replied to me (or at least got their PA to send me something if they were over 60 and clearly did't understand emails); and even if they weren't quite in agreement with my suggestions, they had at least read them and were happy to engage in a back-and-forth email 'conversation' with me over the issues in question.

A politician like Julian Huppert (LibDem MP for Cambridge) needs to be reassured by the electorate (i.e. you) that his pioneering concern for cycle safety is extremely popular with the electorate, and will only become more so as cycling rates across Britain continue to increase.

Clearly they were all, at some level at least, interested in my opinions, even if all I represented to them was a name and address at the bottom of an email. So I tried to put myself in the politicians' shoes and work out why they were taking the time to email me back.

For a start, since all local leaders are democratically elected I, at the very least, represent one vote. And that's probably worth keeping. But there's more to it than that. If I've gone to the trouble of emailing my local politicians I could well be a floating voter (since in the next elections I might just vote for whoever I percieve as having the best cycling policy rather than saying "I'm a Tory" etc.). And, of course, in our 'first-past-the-post' system, floating voters are the the ones that really count.

Furthermore, if I've gone to the (even though it is comparatively minor) trouble to send an email, I'm probably more politically active than the average resident. In fact, I may well talk about local politics with politically-apathetic friends in the run up to a local election and perhaps influence them to vote for whoever sent me the nicest email the year before.

So there's actually quite a few good reasons for local leaders to listen to their residents when they contact them using a service like:

Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, making cycling safer and more popular in London are both incremental inter-linked processes; we should realistically be aiming for a Cycling Evolution instead of a Cycling Revolution. In this context, anything you can do which incrementally increases support for cycling groups at a government level is a good-thing-to-do.

Especially since so much of town planning is a compromise, there's a real opportunity here for achieving solid incremental improvements (in a way in which there isn't for an issue like the Iraq War, where Britain was simply either going to go to war, or not go to war). For instance, say a local leader is considering a difficult decision about extending a cycle path on a road or in a park near you. There are clearly arguments either way. If he/she gets 5 emails the week before asking for better cycling infrastructure that might just tip it. And it is these kind of incremental improvements that cyclist should be aiming for as well as bigger changes (e.g. the redesign of Blackfriars Bridge that LCC have rightly proposed).

What Blackfriars Bridge could look like. More info from LCC.

Furthermore, now is the perfect time to persuade local leaders to devote more money/road space to cyclists. Not only do more cyclists cycle in summer anyway. Not only have there been consecutive year-on-year increases in cycling rates in London for the last decade. But most importantly we've just seen the major cycling success of British athletes in the Tour de France and at the Olympics, and everyone is asking about an Olympic 'Legacy' and how the government could fulfil this ("how about cycle lanes?"). To top it all off, we've got the Paralympics and then Bradley Wiggins racing in the Tour de Britain in September which will ensure that cycling is kept firmly in the public's imagination over the next few weeks. In short, cycling at the moment is as close to political gold-dust as it has ever been. If local leaders are ever going to listen and be persuaded, they'll be persuaded now.

Bradley Wiggins destroying the Olympic Time Trial race, and, in the process, generating massive amounts of political good will, on the part of the general public, for Utility Cycling.

Do these local leaders have any influence? Yes. Unlike other political issues such as the Iraq War or Fiscsal Easing, Cycling Infastructure is an issue which can only be implemented with a national, mayoral, and local impetus. (Okay, I know the national impetus side of things could be greatly improved by that's a separate issue I've discussed here). After emailing the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea suggesting the installation cycle lanes on Holland Park Avenue for commuters coming in through Sheperd's Bush from West London, I got this reply from

'We are awaiting plans from TfL regarding their next Cycle Superhighway which will run down Kensington High Street.  That, and pressure from the Mayor, may well have an effect on our cycle lane policy but I’m afraid that at present our Councillors do not support segregated lanes in the carriageway.'

Even though there is clearly a distinct mayoral pressure here, it is not enough unless there is also local support. At the end of the day, local support is essential to achieving good cycle infrastructure because local authorities have such a big say in deciding what gets built in their area and how road space is divided up.

A politician like Kate Hoey (Labour MP for Vauxhall) needs to be told by the electorate (i.e. you) that completely neglecting the very real needs of her constituents for safer cycle infrastructure in South London is deeply unpopular and will lead to her losing her seat in the next election, especially with cycle champion Simon Hughes MP reigning in neighbouring Southwark.

Therefore, because they could well listen, and because now is the best time to persuade them, and because persuading them would make a real tangible difference to the cycling conditions on the streets you live in (since BoJo unfortunately can't run London as a cycling dictator), get onto, get involved, and get persuading your local Councillors so that they do 'support segregated lanes in the carriageway'. I believe it's always best to express yourself in your own words, since then politicians are much more inclined to believe there is real grass-roots support for better cycling infrastructure (which there clearly is).

In your message I'd recommend - if I may be so impertinent - at the very least asking your local leaders to (1) improve local cycle infrastructure in line with best international practice (esp. Holland - we're talking protected cycle lanes, more cycle park spaces etc.), and as I've already argued here, (2) either get Boris Bike Docking Stations in your area, or if they are there already, get the existing Docking Stations expanded, and lastly, (3) improve the current Boris Bike tariff by making the first 60 minutes free to registered users.

There are over 11,000 people currently following @londoncyclist on twitter. That's a lot of people interested in cycling in London. If anywhere near 11,000 emails found themselves in our local leaders inboxes tomorrow morning then we would certainly see more real local improvements to our cycle infrastructure, and by happy consequence, to overall cycling levels too. So, to my mind, its worth doing.

(comments welcomed)

P.S. If you want to do even more to make an active difference you can also write/email (as I have done) the following people:

- (although Boris may not personally read this...)
- Your local MP through this slightly different contact detail:
- Your local council using the 'contact' section on their website.
- The Parks administration to get them to improve the current cycle infastructure in Hyde Park, Regents Park, Green Park, St James Park etc. (Email:
- TfL using the contact section of their website or email
- BCH Scheme using the contact section of their website or email
- Signing the LCC petition to 'Love London Go Dutch':
- Signing up to your local borough cycling group. Easy to find: just put '[Borough name] cycling' into Google.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Why all London cyclists should actively support a rapid and extensive expansion of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme (Boris Bikes)

I've noticed on London cycling blogs that some regular cyclists can be slightly sniffy about Boris Bike users.

They, in my opinion, are failing to realise that Boris Bike users are the London cyclist's best friend.

As I've already written about in detail, all London cyclists have a very strong vested interest in seeing overall cyclist numbers increase. The only way this will happen is if new people get cycling. These kind of people do not read cycling blogs; they are probably unaware of the relative joys of Copenhagen; and they may not even understand what the phrase 'segregated cycle lane' means.

Boris Bikers waiting at traffic lights
These 'Boris Bikers' represent a far more diverse cross-section of Londoners than the two regular (athletic, male, geared-up) cyclists pictured at back of the photo. It is this kind of broad range of Londoners that will have to start cycling regularly before we can see figures as high as 10-20% of journeys made by bike in the capital. Moreover, the 'Boris Bikers' pictured here are intelligently unafraid of cycling in the middle of the traffic lane, helping to slow motorists, prevent dangerous overtakes, and make the road safer for everyone, including pedestrians.

However, it is only these people than can give cycling the kind of majority support that will mean we can start seeing more of the kind of infrastructure which Love London Go Dutch are trying to implement, because these improvements to cycling infrastructure will necessarily require not just an allotment of significant amounts of government money on cycling (and away from other areas of transport) but also a very real political cost to those in power in the form of a relative decrease in motorist space/freedoms.

There is, quite simply, a direct correlation between the Mayor's room for manoeuvre with regard to utility cycling, and the amount of Londoners who regularly cycle. The more cyclists on the road, the more London authorities can do to improve cycling. That is the definition of a democracy (unfortunately).

So we know they're important, but how do we get these 'newbies' on their bikes? Well, the Boris Bikes are one extremely effective way. In fact, recent costumer research showed that 49 percent of Barclays Cycle Hire members say that the scheme has prompted them to start cycling London.

Boris Bikes provide a distinct and recognisable visual reminder to everyone in London that utility cycling is a perfectly viable method of transport.  Their users are also often less experienced than other cyclists meaning that newcomers feel less nervous having a go themselves. Motorists give Boris Bike users more space and are likely to adapt their driving accordingly in an area where there is a steady stream of Boris Bikes, thus making the area safer for all cyclists. Boris Bikes are quite literally bigger (in terms of width) than most other bikes on the road meaning motorists feel less inclined to share lane space with them so will sometimes give Boris Bike users an entire lane of road, and perhaps in the future might support the creation of segregated cycle lanes so that they (the motorists) no longer have to worry about the Boris Bikers swerving in front of them or hitting their wing mirrors when they try and filter through traffic at the lights.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on a Boris Bike providing an important piece of positive publicity for all London cyclists.

Furthermore, perhaps getting a day pass for a Boris Bike (£2) and have a short jaunt around London is actually much less daunting financially, and indeed socially, than buying a good road bike, high quality helmet, high-vis wear, and suddenly deciding to commute to the office one morning?

And once you've had a jaunt, maybe you get a pass for a week and try using the Boris Bikes to get home from work a few times when you're not particularly pressed for time. And then maybe you realise that getting around London on a bike is far cheaper, quicker, and easier than driving. Perhaps you even feel better after a short cycle around town and you like the health benefits of cycling regularly.

And then you might think, "man, these bikes weigh a ton, all these people are shooting past me on proper bikes". So you russell up the cash and get a proper bike which is even easier to travel about town on than your old Boris Bike, especially now you know a few good cycle routes into town and to/from work. Or, you might even think, "actually I like not having to worry about locking my bike up, I'm going to get a year membership and become a regular Boris-er; the weight factor just makes them better exercise".

And, in either case, hey presto, we've got another 'convert to the cause'. We've got another person (every vote counts) calling for better cycling lanes in their area, maybe writing to the local councillors. And suddenly a year after installing Boris Bike racks the council have decided to widen the cycle lanes leading to and from these racks in response to the increased cycle traffic on the roads.

Every cyclist can use these lanes. Indeed every cyclist in London benefits from the whole range of advantages brought by the Boris-er. Therefore every London cyclist should actively support the rapid and extensive expansion of the BCH scheme (and the altered tariff plan giving 60 minutes, instead of 30 minutes, free use to registered users - described in detail here - which will help promote longer journeys, more registered users, and a more socially diverse ridership).

Primarily because they can't go as fast as regular bikes, Boris Bikes don't always appeal to cyclists. This doesn't matter. The critical political advantage of the Boris Bike is that it appeals to non-cyclists (like One Direction), and can therefore produce dynamic political change.

Boris Bikers help 'normalise' cycling in London, showing even the most idiotic Daily Mail reading retard that anyone can use a bike to get from place to place in the UK, not just lycra louts and other fictional characters.

You could argue that the money spent expanding the scheme could be better spend on cycle infrastructure, e.g. a segregated lane so that your child can cycle to school. That is undoubtedly true.

However, the keystone problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to take into account the fact that heavy political concessions are required to take a lane of traffic out of a main road so that you can replace it with a two-way segregated cycle lane. Ditto the removal of a street's worth of car parking spaces. By contrast, very few political concession are required to remove three parking spaces on a street (or perhaps slightly reduce the amount of space available on a pavement) in order to make space for a 25-bike Docking Station for BCH users.

I'm not saying London cyclists shouldn't campaign for better cycling infrastructure. This is, of course, crucial, necessary, and on-going. There are, of course, still some town planners out there who genuinely believe that cyclists mixing with traffic on busy roads is something to aimed at (!) and these people should have their eyes opened to best-practice in countries like Holland and Denmark. All this can hopefully by now be taken as standard by anyone interested in improving cycling rates in London.

What I am saying is that if the political climate is not yet sufficiently bike friendly to get a cycle lane installed, then campaigning for the inclusion of your residential area in the BCH scheme (and the altering of tariffs to encourage more cycling - e.g. first 60 minutes free instead of first 30 minutes) could, after a year or two, change the political climate sufficiently to get that cycle lane installed in the future.

Boris Bikes getting large amounts of love from a range of different people, none of whom resembles your 'typical cyclist'.

Furthermore, if we saw the BCH scheme expanded to 30,000 bikes over the next few years (not an unrealistic aim given that 12-14 million live in Greater London) we just might see a lane of the Euston Road being given over exclusively to cyclist traffic and much bigger concessions granted to cyclists in Central London (through which the majority of BCH users travel).

So, if the BCH scheme doesn't include your local area, why not write to your councillor and ask for it to be included (you could also add that it was socially unfair that only rich areas of Central London currently had the right of residential access to a scheme that all tax payers are funding); Islington, a very cycle friendly borough, has already realised the importance of getting better BCH coverage implemented; they're even clever enough to start an online petition.

If your local Docking Station is always empty/full, why not write to your councillors and MP (using the brilliant wesbites: and asking for it to be expanded.

If you have friends coming to visit in London, why not suggest they have a bike ride around Hyde Park, or even use Boris Bikes to travel about in town. Or, if you're making a journey for which you can't use your regular bike, consider using a Boris Bike instead. If you can do the journey in under 30 minutes, at £2, Boris Bikes are (almost) the cheapest form of transport in London (even without a yearly registration!). If you can do the journey in under 60 minutes, at £2 + £1, Boris Bikes are still cheaper than many other modes.

Sign any petitions you can to increase Boris Bike cover, such as:
Lastly, when you're on the streets, show a little bit of love to your blue-cousins, because like it or not, they might represent one of the best chances of getting the government to implement the Dutch-style of cycling infrastructure that all London cyclists desperately want.

(comments welcomed)

P.S - For on-street evidence of increasing numbers of cyclists causing a lane to be created to accomodate them (rather than vice-vera - both methods are good!) please see this.

P.P.S - After politically campaigning for the extension and intensification of the BCH scheme, the second best way to support its expansion is to actively promote usage as much as possible. This is because the higher the usage figures are, the easier it is to persuade local  and central government to extend the scheme since it can then be shown to be benefiting a larger proportion of voters and tourists.

60 Minutes Free for Boris Bike Registered Members - Idea for a New Tariff

I would like to propose changing the BCH tariff system so that registered members have the first 60 minutes free, rather than the first 30 minutes. What follows is an analysis about why this is a good idea:


  • Increase numbers cycling on Boris Bikes, especially over longer journeys.
  • Addresses social issues:
    • Current 30 minute cap means that less athletic members of the population find it harder to get the 23kg bikes around the city in 30 minutes and are being financially discriminated against by the existing tariff. A 60 minutes free period would encourage a much broader section of the population attempt journeys over 5km on the (comparatively slow) Boris Bikes.
    • Current 30 minute cap also favours users that either work in the City or live in a (usually very affluent) area of Central London, e.g. Marble Arch, from where it is much easier to make a 30 minute journey to another Central London destination than from, say, Sheperd's Bush. A 60 minute cap will encourage those with residential access to bikes in parts of London further from the centre (and usually less affluent) to get cycling as they face no financial penalty for making a longer journey. Current scheme criticised for not being 'inclusive' enough. This is the solution.
  • Increase revenue:
    • 60 minute cap creates a tariff incentive to casual users to register for the year, increasing BCH revenue.
    • Over 95% of journeys are made in under 30 minutes now anyway so the increase of the cap to 60 minutes will have a negligible negative impact on revenues in that area since tariff revenues for a 30-60 minutes journey are already so insignificant a part of BCH revenues.
    • Increasing use of bikes (both in terms of total journeys and average journey length) will mean that Barclays will be contractually obliged pay TfL more in sponsorship.
  • Decreases congestion at Docking Station rental point terminals:
    • More registered users means that more people will be getting bikes out directly with keys which will help reduce journey times for all users.
  • Realistic time-frame for implementation:
    • The BCH scheme is due to be expanded in 2013 so tariff change could easily be integrated into these already planned changes.
  • Health benefits:
    • Tariff will resulted in longer average journey distances meaning those using the Boris Bikes will be fitter than before with obesity, diabetes, etc. improvements.
  • New York cycle hire scheme has a dual tariff system giving a larger amount of time free to registered members so it is definitely possible.
  • A dual tariff for tube and bus journeys has been incredibly effective at getting Londoners to overwhelming switch to Oyster. Dual tariff for Boris Bikes could be equally effective at getting Londoners to register for the years rather than just being casual users (meaning they are likely to make far more casual journeys with the bikes since they've already paid membership for the year).
  • Better behaved cyclists:
    • Boris Bikers will no longer have a time pressure to get their bikes back in under 30 minutes, and since few will want to cycle for longer than 60 minutes, Boris Bikers will, on average, become less agressive cyclist (jumping red lights etc.).
  • Government can present change in tariff as part of Olympic 'Legacy' for utility cycling in London so the move would be very politically expedient.
    • Barclays could even decide to fund the change themselves causing no extra cost to the tax payer which would be a good publicity boost for the bank after the LIBOR scandal.
  • Never underestimate the economic power of 'free' as opposed to £1.
60 minutes free would persuade this young lady to become a registered (rather than casual) user.

  • More bikes in use at any one time leading to increased pressure on the system.
      • By only extending 60 minute free tariff to registered users this problem will be minimised. Tourists and casual users who are most likely to leave bikes in the park etc. (and therefore out of use) will still only have 30 minutes free in order to keep enough bikes in circulation.
      • Increase the size of the docking stations around London which already experience high usage. Increasing the size of an existing docking station is significantly cheaper and easier than building a new one and also helps ease problems with stations either having no bikes or no spaces at certain times of the day. Current average is 14 bikes per dock. This could easily be increased to an average of 20 bikes per dock.
  • Initial cost of implementation.
      • Persuade Barclays to pay because it will be good publicity for them.

If you too would like to use the Boris Bikes for 60 minutes for free as a registered user than why not drop TfL a line and let them know (then, they might just change the tariff in 2013!):


Click here for a BBC article about how cycle blogging lead directly to positive change with the creation of Boris Johnson's 'Cycling Vision for London'.

Catch-22 (for London cycling)

I recently have become extremely (and perhaps even comically) into cycling in London. So I’ve decided to start a blog where I can express my opinions to people other than my (by now already very bored) close friends.

I’d like to start by discussing something that I feel some cycling lobbies have slightly forgotten; that we live in a democracy, not a benevolent dictatorship.

This means that no matter how progressive our leaders are, they are unlikely to force through expensive, radical changes to road layout on an unwilling populace. Though hopefully every town planner in the UK now understands the commonplace truth that segregated cycle lanes are a million times safer than sharing road space, these lanes will simply not be implemented en masse unless there is perceived widespread majority political support for them.

Hyde Park family cycling
Hyde Park cycling brood. Cycle campaigners needs to be getting new people to cycle as well as making the Government improve conditions.

Jon Snow correctly said with regard to cycle infrastructure, "build it and they will come". However, any democratic government inevitable must function on the default position of ‘if they come, then we’ll build it’.

I was recently struck by the City of London’s response to a complaint that intermittent cycle paths on Hampstead Heath were a ‘right pain’. The Local Authority replied that the Heath was a ‘compromise’ and some groups would ‘ban cycling altogether’. Given this 'compromise' situation, surely the most effective way to improve cycling provision on Hampstead Heath would be to make the group saying ‘ban cycling altogether’ as small possible, and the group in favour of more cycle paths as large as possible?

This means cyclist lobbies putting time and effort into getting new people onto bikes. Perhaps even getting motorists themselves onto bikes, instead of declaring war on them…

There are many different ways of doing this. Disheartening as it is to say it, TfL’s continual increase of public transport prices has probably been one of the effective.

But there are various paths which cycle lobbies could pursue themselves:

They could start by whole-heartedly supporting the expansion of the BCH scheme, whose popular and visible Boris Bikes cannot help but decrease the size of the ‘ban cycling altogether’ group and make cycling a more visible issue in every voter's, and politician's, mind.

Giving extra publicity to popularist news-stories such as Arnie getting on a Boris Bike also helps ("heck, if Schwarzenegger is cycling around London, maybe I should too? It can't be that dangerous/polluted/stressful if Arnie is doing it, can it?"). So does making sure the London Cycling Wikipedia page is regularly updated (no one wants to start doing something which 2% of Londoners did way back in 2010; people want to become part of what is on the increase, not what is staying stagnant).

Getting one of our recent cycle ‘heroes’ from the Olympics to publicly support increased cycle infrastructure in London would be better still; the recent AV referendum showed us how influential celebrities can be atswinging public opinion. (However, I must admit this might be harder than I imagine it to be).

In short, cycle lobbies should - in addition to their current policies - actively support anything which brings cycling in London into the eyes, ears and minds of people who are not currently cyclists in London; anything which makes cycling in London look like a majority issue, rather than a minority one. With this in mind, there is even something constructive to be taken from Boris Johnson’s recent elevated cycle highways idea:

Even if it never gets built, there is at least an article published about it in the Daily Mail (which has a mass readership), and anyone reading this piece is subconsciously accepting the given assumption in the article that cycle lanes in London remain an issue that needs to be dealt with.

Yes, more people would certainly be using this route on a bike if that cycle lane was protected. The cyclists in the picture would also be statistically safer. But they're not going to die simply because the lane isn't segregated (especially if they are aware of the truck behind them and take active steps to avoid it). And neither are helmets, hi-viz, or even proper footwear necessary for safe cycling around our Capital. We need to be encouraging these 'casual' cyclists, while unremittingly pressing local authorities to have that cycle lane improved.

We should accept that there is a horrible Catch-22 to cycling in London: mass amounts of people are unlikely to start travelling by bicycle until we have much better infrastructure, but the political will to build this infrastructure is unlikely to present itself unless many more people start cycling.

So with regard to fatalities and injuries cycling lobbies need to, in a sense, ‘look both ways’. They need to tell the government that it isn’t good enough and dangerous junctions need to be improved (as they are doing with admirable vigour).

But simultaneously they need to tell the general public that cycling in London - if you are responsible, cycle well, and avoid noted dangerous junctions - is without doubt comparatively (to other modes of transport) safe enough for anyone to get involved in.

‘Scaremongering’ about London’s roads will simply reduce cycling numbers, and therefore the political will to improve roads, making them even more dangerous than they already are, indirectly contributing to more cycling fatalities.


To be clear, I am not saying that any of the activities which cycle lobbies currently engage in are pointless or ineffective. On the contrary the work they do is extremely important and necessary.

I am suggesting that in addition to all the work they already do, cycle lobbies should also be much more actively seeking to promote cycling as a method of transport in London in any way they can, even if that might mean reassuring Joe Blogs that cycling in London can be an easy business if you approach it right, while telling the government that it isn’t half easy enough and radical changes must be made.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but until we have something approaching the 50% rate of commuter trips by bike which Copenhagen boasts, we are unlikely to have anything approaching their cycle network. 

I’m playing devil’s advocate in this article; the two can clearly grow in tandem with each other and in no way am I excusing the woeful lack of government action in improving conditions for utility cycling. However, it is simply a political fact that the more people we can get on two wheels, the faster cycle provision is going to improve in our capital.

There is no reason, if we make clear to new cyclists the importance of cycling responsibly in a city like London, not to pursue both these goals (more people on bikes + more infrastructure) at the same time.

(comments welcomed)