Friday, 14 September 2012

Boris bikes to extend south of the river. This is a very good thing. Not just for people on Boris bikes. "If you put cycling and walking at the centre of your transport plan, you improve the whole system for everyone, including drivers".

No idea who he is, but this chap took to a Boris bike and paced
along the Olympic road cycling route, seen here at
Hyde Park Corner. 
Last night Transport for London issued a press release announcing 5,000 new docking points for cycle hire bikes which will extend for the first time into southwest London, notably Lambeth, Wandsworth as well as Hammersmith and Kensington & Chelsea.

Earlier this week, Peter Hendy, TfL Transport Commissioner told the London Assembly that there were 47,000 cycle hire trips alone on July 26th this year. During the Olympic fortnight, over a million people got about using the Boris bikes. That's in addition to several hundred thousand other trips made by bike in London every day. To put that in context, the total number of all cycle trips into and out of central London in 2003 was only 63,000 per weekday. Hendy also mentioned that motor traffic was down 10% in central London during the Olympics. Conversely, according to DrawingRings blog, TfL sources have suggested cycle traffic across the central London bridges may have increased 22%.

London during the Olympics. Fewer motor
vehicles around, people take to two wheels
Slowly but surely, it seems to me, that with these sorts of numbers of people using bicycles to get about, cycling is becoming something much more "normal". You get hints that more and more people are 'coming out' as cyclists. And I use the term deliberately. If you saw Chris Boardman's appearance on BBC Breakfast last week, you'd have heard the BBC presenter Louise Minchin pipe up "I'm a cyclist too... I use it for transport to get from A to B". It sounded part apologetic, but also part proud.

My own view is that is a very good thing indeed. For one very simple reason. The more that people use bicycles, the more other people start to see people just like them using bicycles.

Why does that matter?

I think it matters because there is still a tendency in London to assume 'cyclist' equals 'other people'. And the more I sit in meetings with people from Transport for London and with local politicians, the more I realise that if cycling is perceived as something 'other' people do, it is not a vote winner.

Two London Conservative Assembly Members hinted at this exact point when I met them in summer 2011. What I wrote then was: "I get the feeling the Conservatives aren't anti-cycling. In fact, I suspect that they could - just possibly - become very pro-cycling. But I got a real feeling that they don't feel enough Londoners are saying clearly enough that they want to cycle. Yet."

Cycling in London is growing of its own accord. But my feeling is that by extending the cycle hire scheme, the Mayor is slowly changing London. My sense is that his 'strategy' may be to get momentum behind cycling in terms of people on pedals. Once you have sufficient numbers of people cycling, it becomes easier to get other people to support more investment in cycling.

And something happened this week to reinforce my impression of that strategy. The London Assembly held a fascinating debate on the future of cycling in London. It invited - among others - Steffen Rasmussen, Head of Traffic Design, City of Copenhagen and Roelof Wittink, Director of the Dutch Cycling Embassy to explain how they have built cycling into the fabric of their cities.

London cycle super highway. The bus is about to turn right (ie to the left
of the picture) across all of these people on bikes (heading straight ahead)
This is not how you design a junction to make it safe for cycling
It was an enormously interesting debate. Among other key themes, Rasmussen made it very clear that cycling has been made 'enormously competitive when it comes to short trips', at least compared to driving. In London, it is driving that has been made enormously competitive when it comes to short trips, not the other way round. The majority of car journeys in outer London are under two miles. They would be easy by biycle, if the facilities were there. He also made clear that "segregation of cycle & motor traffic is really important". By separating the flow of cycle and motor traffic, he says, ""We saw reductions of nearly 50 or 60% in casualty and road incidents after we redesigned junctions"

His key message, though, was this: "If you put needs of pedestrians & cyclists at centre of your transport plan, you improve whole system for everyone, including drivers".

This was a message that Richard Tracey, Conservative Assembly Member for Wandsworth didn't seem to want to hear. He spent much of his time asking the representatives from the Netherlands and Denmark whether bicycles should be licensed and deliberating and whether in fact Birmingham is bigger than Amsterdam. He also spent considerable time wheeling out his one single objection to people on bicycles - the conflict between people on bicycles and mothers with prams. This is something of a pet theme for Mr Tracey, one that I first wrote about in November.

Personally, I am delighted that the Mayor is going ahead and extending the Boris bike scheme. And I am particularly delighted that the Mayor is installing cycle hire docking stations in Wandsworth - Mr Tracey's patch.

I am less delighted that politicians like Mr Tracey can get away with claiming that there is conflict on the streets between people who cycle and people who are pedestrians. As Chris Boardman said in his interview on the BBC last week: "In Denmark...they changed the law. If there's an accident between a bike and a pedestrian, then the bike is at fault, unless it can be proved otherwise. If there's an accident between a car and a bike, then the car is at fault. It creates a duty of care all the way up the chain."

I think Boardman is absolutely right to focus on the idea of a "duty of care" on the roads. But I think Richard Tracey is wrong to victimise people who cycle. The "duty of care" belongs to all road users. Tracey seems to think the onus is entirely and exclusively on cyclists. He's wrong.