Bike traffic in London

According to 2013 figures from Transport for London (TfL), virtually one in four of London’s road journeys during the morning rush-hour commute is undertaken by a cyclist. This statistic quantifies and supports the key assertion of advocates of cycle transport within the metropolis – that cycling has become a mass mode of transport for Londoners, and thus deserves appropriate attention from policy makers to address that reality.

21st-century sustainable transport

With London’s Mayor Boris Johnson a high-profile champion of the benefits of cycling, the future for the capital’s cyclists now looks set to improve – though with bikes now accounting for 60% of Amsterdam’s city-centre traffic, London’s present provision is still well short of the gold standard.

Acknowledging past failings, Andrew Gilligan, London Cycling Commissioner, commented: “Cycling is clearly a mass mode of transport in central London and until now it hasn’t been treated as such. Nearly all provision for cycling is based on the presumption that hardly anyone cycles, that you can make do with shoving cyclists to the side of the road, and that just clearly is wrong.”

Meanwhile, underlining the scope for increasing the city’s volume of cycle transport, Dr Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, said: ‘… given the right circumstances, a large proportion of London’s population would opt to cycle to work. The ultimate goal must be to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe enough to cycle for everyday local journeys, not just commuters.’ Clearly grateful at least some strategic thinkers already recognise this potential, he added: ‘The good news is that Boris Johnson gets this and understands that investing in cycling saves money in the long run.’

Pro-cycling lobby

City cycling appears to be one issue where many corporate concerns take a genuinely non-political stance and thus seem much more prepared to ‘go public’ with their views. Those committing to the mass-cycling cause by joining British Cycling’s Choose Cycling network include household names such as GSK, National Grid, British Land, Halfords, Sky, Orange, Santander and The AA. Writing jointly to all electioneering party leaders in mid March 2015, the Choose Cycling network described their focus as ‘logical, sustainable, every-day transport solutions’, and reminded politicians ‘there are clear benefits for our staff, our customers and our businesses in putting cycling at the heart of transport policy.’

Identifying a broad range of advantages, the letter continued: ‘People who cycle regularly have fewer days off sick, are more motivated and suffer from fewer of the serious conditions caused by a lack of physical activity. More cycling can help retail businesses on our high streets thrive.’ Citing the New York City experience, where streets hosting cycle lanes have enjoyed a retail-sales boost of 150%, the network unequivocally spelled out the message that ‘cycling to work is good for business and productivity,’ and called for new initiatives ‘to design cycling back into our road network.’

Urban cycleways

Introducing final plans in January 2015 for a brace of traffic-isolated London cycle routes – the jewel in the crown of a £913-million city scheme to promote urban cycling – Boris Johnson declared: ‘We have listened, and now we will act. Overwhelmingly, Londoners wanted these routes, and wanted them delivered to the high standard we promised. I intend to keep that promise.’

Oriented north-south and east-west respectively, London’s proposed cycleways will be the longest in Europe, and their announcement has received overwhelming support. During the plan’s consultation phase, 84 per cent of 21,500 responses were in favour, and opinion polls showed the project also enjoyed the backing of 64 per cent of all citizens. Further all-party endorsement came from the London Assembly, and businesses along the identified routes similarly registered their approval.

Expressing his personal hopes for multiple positive outcomes, Boris Johnson said: ‘I now look forward to the transformation that these planned routes will bring – not just for people who cycle now, but for the thousands of new cyclists they will attract. Getting more people on their bikes will reduce pressure on the road, bus and rail networks, cut pollution, and improve life for everyone, whether or not they cycle themselves.’

Boris Bikes

The take-up of cycle transport in London has doubled in a decade, and the London Cycle Hire Scheme has played a significant role in that expansion with 49 per cent of users surveyed saying ‘the scheme has prompted them to start cycling in London.’ Popularly known as ‘Boris Bikes’, the public cycle-hire facility launched in midsummer 2010 was sponsored by Barclays until April 2015, at which point current-sponsors Santander took over the helm.

Bikes can be hired by impromptu users and scheme members alike via debit/credit card payments at any docking-station terminal. There are more than 700 of these docking stations spread out across the city at 500-metre intervals or less, where riders over 14 can access or return one of 11,500 Boris bikes at any time, and on any day of the year.