Cover photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash.
“It’s as easy as riding a bike” is a common phrase used to say that, well, something is easy. But just how easy is it to do it in London, one of the most congested cities in the world? Transport for London’s 2017 Analysis estimated that 730,000 journeys are made daily with bicycles in the capital.
The Mayor of London recently announced a commitment of an average of £169m per year over the next five years to improve London’s cycling conditions, contributing to its target of 70 per cent of Londoners living within 400m of the cycle network by 2041.
Cyclists and campaign groups, however, want more than that. Yes, appropriate infrastructure is needed, but that also requires a transition of established societal and institutional ways. A study done by the Portland State University showed that changing cycling infrastructure won’t change culture.
Having blue lanes segregated from cars and other motorised vehicles won’t do anything if people don’t know how to use them. Bruce Lynn, from the London Cycling Campaign, says the infrastructure is there but people won’t use it.
There are bigger issues TfL and the Mayor of London have to consider to make cycling a possibility for every Londoner. Today, there is a common idea of the typical cyclist in London: young white men, environmentally-friendly and mostly liberal. This is supported by various studies that argue people who don’t identify as any of the above, feel less inclined to try cycling.
Who is cycling today
Graphics by author
In TfL’s 2016 report, the fact that people are highly against changing their routines was assumed to be one of the main reasons they don’t try it. Their 2015 Attitudes towards cycling report also showed that safety concerns, fear of collisions, too much traffic, bad weather, lack of time, health reasons and lack of confidence and accessibility are some of the most common deterrents that put Londoners off using bikes.
Just last Saturday, around 4,000 riders took the streets of London for the #BikesUpKnivesDown demonstration led by the #BikeStormz movement to raise awareness to the rise of knife crime and murder rates in the city. They rode from London Bridge to Oxford Street in one of the biggest youth-led rides against knife crime, showing that the use of bikes has turned their lives around.
Current cycling network
Central London’s cycling paths mapped by Route Plan Roll.
The current cycling network is made up of quietways and cycle superhighways for the most part. TfL defines them as “cycle routes running from outer London into and across central London. They give you safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city and could be your best and quickest way to get to work.”
Existing ones go from the City to Tottenham, Stratford to Aldgate, Barking to Tower Gateway, Oval to Pimlico, Merton to the City, and Wandsworth to Westminster. The east-west and north-south ones are the newest additions with proposed ones to go from Tower Bridge to Greenwich, Kensington Olympia to Brentford, and Swiss Cottage to the West End.
Graphic by author
Safety concerns is probably what discourages people from riding the most. A study done recently by Cambridge academics found that changes in behaviour and policies is what is needed to keep the system moving, and tackle these concerns. A change in work hours, in the number of cycleways and docking stations, and in how people cycle together are factors that will contribute to that.
Another study done by Injury Prevention found that the more number of cyclists and pedestrians, the less likely motorists are to collide with them. This is partly because they are more visible, but also because the so called “safety in numbers” makes riders feel more comfortable.
14.6 per cent of casualties in Greater London while travelling were of cyclists in 2016, according to TfL. However, only eight, out of 4,424, were fatal, a decrease of 11 per cent from the year before. It certainly shows how, compared to the car, the transport mode responsible for 39.3 per cent of the casualties, cycling is less likely to get people injured. The study by Cambridge academics, however, also points out that an increase in cycling traffic also means an increased risk for cycle coalitions.
Not every rider has the same experience levels, specially in urban area conditions. ‘Bikeability’ is something most of the campaign groups advocate for, because they know that is where it starts. The London Cycling Campaign offers free ‘bikeability’ training to anyone interested and the have regular group sessions. Everyone, not only cyclists, should know how to share a public road.
How is London doing compared to the rest of the world?
Not good. It isn’t even on the top 20 of bike-friendly cities in the world. Infrastructure, safety and diversity (or lack of) are some of the reasons why the British capital is not considered in the 2017 Copenhagenize Design Company Index.
Tokyo, Munich, Helsinki and Oslo are new to the list because they have worked to fix issues that didn’t allow their cycling levels to grow. Closing the center to private cars, bike sharing systems, growth of network, parking facilities, and the creation of the Cycling Embassy (Tokio) and the Cycling Federation (Helsinki) are some of the things that are on place in this cities to improve the levels of cycling urbanism.
As much as it is common thinking that more and better infrastructure will make London a top bike-friendly city, if Londoners don’t learn (or don’t want to learn) about ‘bikeability’ and cycling urbanism, the city won’t see any major changes in the years to come. The Mayor of London is committed to increase the use of bicycles in the city as it has been demonstrated that not only will it help with air pollution, but will also provide better quality public spaces.