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.


  1. what is wrong with bringing Boris bikes to southeast London? Why do we come last? Is it possibly because politicians and decision makers all live in North London? they come down here to visit a few schools and projects but don't really care. At least increasing Boris bike points around Greenwich and Bermondsey would be a beneficial advance. Excellent article, as always.

  2. Not directly related, but all people interested in cycling and the road network should fill in this TFL consultation. It ends today!!

    They ask for opinions on how roads should be seen, and how competing demands should be prioritised. It's very important that we all fill this out!!

  3. I agree that extending the hire scheme is excellent news – and I am sure that it will reach South-east London in time, disappointing as it must be that the expansion is in other directions first.

    I have my doubts about the Mayor’s approach to cycling in London, not because I disbelieve in the sincerity of his support for bicycles as a transport mode, but because his political philosophy favours “freedom of choice” in a putatively open market free from interference by the state – the fact that motoring has enjoyed state interference to promote it almost from its very inception appears to escape the notice of the libertarian right of which Boris is a principal flag-bearer. However, normalising cycling by shifting the emphasis away from skinny lycra-clad people on skinny bikes towards more “ordinary” people in ordinary clothes on ordinary bikes should improve cycling’s image.

    But it isn’t enough. Unless radical steps are taken to neutralise the small but very real danger of riding a bike on London roads, and its very definite unpleasantness, a Darwinian process of natural selection will ensure that the roads remain mainly populated by those cyclists who are fit enough, brave enough, aggressive enough to tolerate the conditions, managing their environment through a more or less pure implementation of the survival strategy known as vehicular cycling. “Dick” Tracey may be a throwback who is clearly not representing the interests of his wider constituency, but a cycling model built on the vehicularist principle which is how government perceives it, with its support of John Franklin and his works, and is how Boris sees it with is notorious remarks about “wits about you” is bound to throw up a higher incidence of behaviours disconcerting to pedestrians than we would want.

    I doubt that many London cyclists have truly embraced the notion of the bicycle as transport. Unlike many continental cities, across most of London bicycles are seen only during morning and evening peaks, as commuter transport. Many cyclists see that commute as a form of fitness training – more than the simple matter of staying healthy – and given the statistic that apparently about 85% of adult cyclists are also drivers, I would guess that at weekends many of those commuter cyclists swap their Ridgeback for a Golf GTI, or their Pinarello for a Porsche, and I’ll bet that inconsiderate cycling behaviour then transfers to aggressive and inconsiderate driving instead. Testing that hypothesis might be an interesting research project for someone.

    1. re commuter transport/fitness training.

      This is related to the number of us (and I am one) who commute in 'cycling clothes' and change when we get to work. Mixing with traffic means that it is difficult to maintain a relaxed, sweat free, pace - you need to cycle in a "CycleCraft" style with a 'sprint speed of 20mph'. Try merging with the traffic on Hyde Park Corner, Shepherds Bush Green or Elephant slowly. It infuses the whole culture of cycling making it less relaxed and more aggressive.

  4. I was trawling the web last night, and came across a video explaining bike lanes in the Big Apple. The most striking thing in my opinion is that most of their 'infrastructure' comprises what the Europeans would call 'soft measures'. My guess is that were we to revisit New York in even just ten years' time, their network would include much more in the way of 'hard measures'.

    Making available more hire bikes throughout the Zone 2 area is, I suggest, something which most advocates of mass cycling would welcome. But as Paul M says above, "It isn't enough." So what else then?

    One of the things which is of particular interest to me concerns mobility: "Mobility encompasses not only the activity of travel, but also, more importantly, the possibility for the traveller to decide when and where to travel, by being aware, and making use of, an information set for optimising the journey" (Promotion of Cycling, 2010). That is, mobility is not just about getting from A to B, but "more importantly", knowing how to get from A to B.

    1. Regarding your point about knowing how to get from A to B, this is what Cyclists in the City themselves said on 20 October 2010 in a comment posted on the i b i k e l o n d o n website:

      "I think the problem is that 'committed cyclists' are people who are happy to cycle on the road and pretend to be motor traffic. And that's why LCC is snookered. Because the latent demand for cycling is from people who aren't committed cyclists and people who don't want to pretend to cycle like a motorbike.

      "One of the non LCCers who works for me wanted to cycle to Camden last night. A route he'd never taken. He's a fit, 30year old who likes his pints and his football. And he came in to ask me the best route to get there. "I don't like cycling in the traffic" he said. He actually admitted it scares him. This isn't some wimpy guy. He's pretty tough minded and tough physically.

      "LCC doesn't represent him. And it doesn't represent the dozen other cyclists in my team here because they all think this stuff about cycling in the traffic is rubbish.

      "I really think our problem is that we're represented by campaign groups who aren't really seeing that the people who want to cycle more dont' think like them...."

      According to Cycle Lifestyle, some critics have suggested that, because cycle-commuters ride the same journey every day, they don’t need a network of signed routes to show them where to go. Thus, the same "committed cyclists" who are happy to cycle on the road and pretend to be motor traffic are the same ones who would deny to everyone else the means to travel between A and B using safer, quieter routes.

      Another thing to point out is that Mustafa Arif said on the i b i k e l o n d o n blog:

      "Umm... LCC campaigned for years on the London Cycle Network, then the London Cycle Network+. They didn't work out so well. I hope you will understand that when there are so many things one could campaign on that if you keep failing at one aspect it might be a good idea to try something else for a while."

      Or else try a different approach? The evidence presented by the European experts to the GLA Transport Committee emphasised the need to think holistically.

  5. As far as I was aware, strict liability in Denmark only applies when a car driver hits either a cyclist or a pedestrian. It is only for civil, not criminal, law. In other words, unless blame can be proven otherwaise, vulnerable road users will be able to claim from the driver's insurance. It doesn't apply to bikes hitting pedestrians firstly because cyclists dont have to have insurance and secondly because a lot of bike/pedestrian accidents will be caused by pedestrians walking off pavements into the path of cyclists when they don't hear a car engine.
    It's also important to point out that this law isn't a significant factor in the safety of cyclists in Denmark or Holland - infrastructure is. The law simply helps those injured to be able to claim damages more easily. Have you ever thought while driving a car..."I'd better slow down to the speed limit otherwise I might have an accident which is proven to be my fault so my insurance will go up"? The effect towards safety is minimal.