Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I wonder if this is why there's no interest in cycling from government?

I was copied in on an email exchange today by someone who works at a large City of London employer with a few thousand employees. The email was to Transport for London asking why TfL has blocked the City from making Shoe Lane, currently a one-way street leading down to Farringdon Street, into a contraflow for cycling.

One point raised in the email was this:

"My firm and others including XYZ employ several thousand staff in offices along Shoe Lane, Little New Street and New Street Square.  A significant number of those travel to work by bike, and the firms provide indoor cycle parking facilities, which are substantially over-subscribed, and showers etc. "

I've highlighted the bit where the writer of the email talks about cycle parking facilities being substantially over-subscribed. If you look anywhere in the private sector in the City of London and around, the cycle facilities are bombarded. I know in my own team, that one-third of us now cycle to work most days. On sunnier days, that can climb slightly higher.

But when I talk to colleagues who work in senior civil service posts or in local government, none of them cycles. And none of their colleagues cycle. Not even the ones who cycle for pleasure seems to cycle to work.

And then I spotted this in the Hansards record of the recent debate about installing a cycle hire docking station near the House of Lords (hoorah, does this mean you'll be able to park a bike when visiting a Whitehall department one day soon? You can't at the moment, as far as I can tell):

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)

My Lords, clearly, looking at my weight, I do not use a bicycle in London, but significant numbers of Peers and staff do. Of course, most of them own their own. This scheme operates only within zone 1 in London. Seventy-seven bicycle spaces are available to Members of the House and the staff. Seventy-seven bicycle spaces are available to Members of the House and the staff. They are not currently used to capacity, but they are available and there is no shortage.

Visit any company in central London and you'll find a lack of sufficient cycle parking. Demand far outstrips supply. In the company where I work, there are over 900 London employees. Taking the ratio of my own team, one in three cycling to work, we'd easily use up 77 bike parking spaces. And yet Whitehall has not a single public bike stand. The Houses of Parliament have 77 but no-one uses them.

I know there's an increasing perception in the media that politics is out of touch with the non-political world. But is there really something so different about our politicians and our civil servants that makes them less prone to cycling bicycles? Whatever it is, it hardly helps the rest of us when we're trying to encourage better cycle facilities.


  1. One hopes that a politician can sort the wheat from the chaff. However, I suspect that if politicians always travel by bus they will have a very strong understanding of the views of bus passengers and a tendency to sympathise with them.

    I suspect, for example, that the MP and Councillors for the South Bank do not travel around their area by bicycle.

  2. Charlie, I suspect you're very right indeed about the MP and councillors for the south bank. They refused my and other people's invitations to try it one day, I notice.

  3. There is one simple reason why there are no cycle stands in Westminster: the police and security forces banned them. Under the Security Act 2001, I think, all these buildings have a special designation and you cannot park bikes there. I have an interesting set of correspondence with the police and MI5 and a FOI on the matter.

    As for Whitehall and cycle facilities, I fear you are misinformed. Every single large Whitehall department has large and secure cycle facilities (I have myself used DH, Treasury, FCO, Cabinet Office, DfE, BIS and DfT). All also have showers. Some have the cycle to work scheme, but not enough. Where I work (I am a senior civil servant) there is a large and active cycling community and there are many others around these parts.

    This government, and the past, fully support cycling. You can argue it doesn't do enough, but you can also argue back that this is something that local authorities have full delegated authority to do. You could then argue we don't fund them enough, but then one could argue local authorities are more interested in white elephant bridge and road schemes than simple, cheap and effective cycling interventions.

  4. Indeed, by their own admission the Corporation of London are short by about 27,000 bicycle parking spaces....

    As for the lack of cycle parking around Whitehall, it is, of course, a nonsense to say that someone might plant a bike bomb there and yet anyone can drive a truck (full of explosives?) down Whitehall itself any time they like.