Thursday, 10 February 2011

2011: More bicycles than cars will cross central London's bridges every morning peak

Cycling towards Blackfriars Bridge. We're nearly 30% of the
rush-hour traffic but have to put up with squeezing
between the motor vehicles. Is that right any longer?
I'm lucky enough to have early sight of the 2010 'screenline data' from Transport for London for all London bridges.

What this shows is the number of vehicles crossing London's bridges, counted manually, over various different dates.

And what a fascinating read. I'm going to focus on the bridges in the TfL Zone 1 for now. Zone 1, for those of you outside London, means the following briges (from west to east):

Vauxhall; Lambeth; Westminster; Waterloo; Blackfriars; Southwark, London; Tower Bridges. These bridges start on the south side in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. And they deliver people into either the City of Westminster of the City of London.

Back in 2006, there were 34,993 vehicle movements northbound over these London bridges between 7am and 10am. That included 13,931 private motor cars and 6,712 bicycles. In other words, bicycles made up 19% of peak hour "traffic" heading into Westminster and the City of London.

By 2008, that had shifted against private cars and towards bicycles. So in 2008, there were 34,214 vehicle movements. Of those, 9,504 were in private motor cars and 8,361 on bicycles. Bicycles made up 24.4% of the traffic heading north over London's zone one bridges.

Leap forward to 2010 and the numbers are startling. There were 34,869 vehicles heading over these bridges into the Cities of London and Westminster during the morning peak. Of that total, 9,657 were bicycles, or 27.7%. And private cars made up 9,842 of the total vehicles, or 28.2%. So, the overall volume of 'vehicles' crossing the bridges has remained broadly flat since 2006 but car use has fallen from nearly 14,000 to under 10,000 movements while bicycle use has grown from under 7,000 to nearly 10,000 in that time.

Now, my reckoning is that most of those cars are carrying only one person in the morning, namely the driver. In fact, on average, according to the Department for Transport, the 'average occupancy' of a commuter motor car between 7-10am is 1.16.

So, let's assume that those 9,842 cars are therefore transporting 11,416 people. That's against 9,657 people being transported by bicycle (note, in Holland, Denmark or Germany, a proportion of those bicycles would be carrying children or other passengers as that's kind of normal there, considered a bit freaky here by the majority of people. Which is daft of them).

Funny, that our bridges are still designed almost exclusively around the private motor car, when you think of it, isn't it? 

Perhaps it's time that the people who use bicycles shouted a bit more loudly at our politicians about redesignating some of our road space towards the bicycle. After all, by the end of 2011, if the current trajectory continues, there are going to be way more of us crossing into Westminster and the City of London by bicycle than there are in private motor cars.

If you need convincing that cycling gets a raw deal on London's bridges, take a look at this video of Vauxhall Bridge heading south and just imagine how you'd like to be riding along in the utterly useless cycle lane when that coach overtakes you (with thanks to christhebull and gaz545)


  1. Well, all those bridges are wide enough for some kind of cycle path except Tower Bridge (which still has plenty of bikes). Unfortunately, we have extremely unsatisfactory gutter lanes, especially here on Vauxhall Bridge. Presumably TfL got mixed up between metres and feet, and thought 60 cm was the recommended cycle lane width and not 2 metres.

  2. As far as re-designating some of our road space goes, I think the bridges are ok. It's the huge roundabouts that seriously need some attention. This is good news though.
    Git yr bike on London.

  3. Southwark Bridge does have dedicated cycle lanes in both directions, separated from the motorised traffic by an additional kerb. OK, at the moment the northbound one is under scaffolding for what I assume is other bridge repairs, but it's there.

    I'd rather have a painted lane than a kerbed off one to be honest as it already leads to significant bicycle congestion in both directions at peak times. (and it really doesn't help that pedestrians hop out into the lanes without warning when the pavement gets busy too)

  4. The Southwark Bridge kerbs weren't put there to protect bicycles - if they had been,would they not have continued further at either end of the bridge?

    No, they were put there, and made that size, to physically prevent motor vehicles, specifically heavy vehicles like coaches, driving (or parking) closer to the edges of the bridge, because it is considered to be weaker near the edges than in the centre.

    Was it the LCN budget which paid for the work though?

  5. This article would have made sense the first time I read it if these figures weren't quoted the wrong way around:

    "Of those, 8,361 were in private motor cars and 9,504 on bicycles. "

    24.43% of 34,214 vehicle movements is 8,361. The leap to 2010 isn't startling if cycling has changed from, 9,504 to 9,657.

  6. Goodlegs, you're dead right! Sorry. I've swapped those numbers back again. Just keyed them in the wrong way round

  7. Tower bridge is a nightmare for bikes. It's sooooo thin, people often cruise to the side whilst gawping out of the window, and the road has some very nasty camber in the (cycling) gutter when heading north.

    Given that one of the pavements has been pretty much permanently closed for the last year due to the painting work, and that pedestrians have been doing perfectly fine with just one of the two pavements available, perhaps one of the pavements could be converted into a cycle lane =)

  8. Good article - there's something wrong in your numbers though: 6,712 bicycles out of 34,993 journeys isn't 12%, it's more like 19%.

  9. Duncan - you're right. I copied the wrong percentage off my sheet. But all stats now treble checked. The volumes are all correct and the percentages should reflect those correctly as wellnow

  10. Thats an incredible number of people on bikes. I knew London was busy for bikes compared to ere'oop'north but that really puts it into perspective for me.

  11. Paul M: I didn't know that about the weakness of Southwark Bridge. Interesting stuff and I really hope the kerbs aren't a trend that is continued on other bridges.

    Still, amazing figures on the % of journeys over the bridges by bicycle being so high.

  12. What annoys me is the bike lanes on Waterloo Bridge that (legally) fill up with parked cars just as it is getting dark. For some reason (signals ?) the roundabout at the southern end isn't as scary as it might be.

  13. Slowly there are more and more cyclists... The calls for change are getting louder all the time. The mayor/GLA/local engineers etc. have all read the same papers and stats as us. Many of them WANT to build some good facilities. Ones that don't cause cyclist congestion as they will be wide enough to pass. They are scared of the "motorist backlash" at the polls.

    Everyone, keep Pushing , keep posting and most of all keep riding.

  14. Double the movements with next to no expenditure on infrastructure - might be a planners dream. They should re-model London Bridge its vast and has plenty of scope for re-distributing the width. Currently the southern end has a short feeder lane to the ASL which is always blocked by the bus stops, leaving you with a 100m weave to get to the front.

  15. Given the place where I live and work, I will not consider any news about bikes and bridges good news until they relate to construction of some reliable way of crossing the Thames between Tower Bridge and Woolwich Ferry.

  16. Hello there,

    I'm Juliana, and I'm an editor with TransportXtra, Local Transport Today and RUDI (Resource for Urban Design Information).

    I'm interested in finding out more about opinions on segregation versus integration on highways and in shared space.