Friday, 20 May 2011

Blackfriars. How do we make people realise this is about improving things for drivers and pedestrians, not just for cycling?

Pictured left: Blackfriars Bridge northbound this morning at 8.30 on the way to work.

Cycling over the bridge was great: No one tried to squeeze past me in their motor vehicle giving me only a few centimetres of space. I didn't have to try and cycle faster than an HGV speeding down the bridge to get into the correct lane to turn towards my office.

Some cyclists in Waltham Forest put it very well on their site yesterday: The reason hundreds of people got together this morning to cycle across the bridge isn't just about cycling.

It's about the fact the walking and cycling are shoved to the bottom of the pile by our Mayor's transport authority which favours more and more motor vehicles trying to cram their way through London. And that, as a result, people don't feel they have the option of not using their cars.

Which is why even Transport for London acknowledges that 58% of people say they would like to cycle more but don't at the moment. And it's also why people are feel they have no option but to drive around London at snail pace: 50% of journeys in outer London made by car are under two miles, more than easily cyclable. If people felt they had a choice.

There's some fascinating data over in Southwark. They asked all the school children in 85 schools to stick up their hands and vote for their preferred way of getting to school. Only 3% of Southwark's school children get to school by bicycle. 19% said that cycling would be their first choice if they felt it was an option. 15% get driven to school, by the way.

Earlier this week a 13 year old boy was mowed down on his bicycle. A couple of months ago, it was the Station Commander of RAF Northolt killed by a van as he cycled from the airbase. It's not all about young urban males in lycra any more.

After this morning's ride to work, I feel something's started moving. But I don't feel particularly jubilant. I don't want to wind up people in their cars particularly. Or wind up people waiting for the bus. But the question I'm asking myself is how to make people realise this isn't just for the benefit of me or for the benefit of people who already cycle. I'm questioning whether (and how) we can help people realise that it's possible to have less congestion for motor drivers and make it easier for them to drive when they want to (and I speak as a motor driver) and make our streets easier to cycle and walk in at the same time, so that people feel they have a choice between whether to drive or whether to cycle. Because most people don't feel they have that choice at the moment.


  1. Great work everyone! I'm conducting a survey of current and potential cyclists in London, especially since the introduction of the Barlcays Cycle Hire Scheme (Boris Bikes). Complete the survey and enter to win 50 pounds! Access it here: Thanks!

  2. Just thinking aloud (always dangerous on the web!), but is it really appropriate to expend a load of energy trying to get "other people" to realise this is in their best interests as well? Shouldn't we just focus on what we, as cyclists, need to make the roads safer and better places for us?

    It's not as if we're aiming for purely subjective improvements. We do actually have material aims - fewer, preferably no, cyclists being killed or maimed. Whether other travellers (public transport users, car drivers, motorbike couriers, white van drivers, cabbies, etc) realise what we're after will make their travelling experiences better too is, perhaps, neither here nor there ...

  3. You've hit the nail on the head with that last paragraph. I really think that's the crux of the problem with the way that cyclists and cycling as an activity, are perceived. Right now, with concessions seemingly being made for motorists above other road users, travelling by car is still too convenient (and comfortable) an option for many people to even consider cycling. Cyclists are seen as an irritating and annoying presence on the road, because at the moment, car is king, and anything that prevents car journeys from being as rapid and smooth as possible naturally become the source of people's ire. But what if there was a concerted effort to make streets genuinely cycle-friendly, with adjustments to road space made for the benefit of cyclists? Cycling would probably become a genuine option, to the benefit of London's air (one of the worst cities in Europe for air quality if I remember correctly) and Londoners' health. It's also worth considering that with less cars on the road, we might even be able to consider reclaiming sections of urban space, currently allocated to road users, for the benefit of local communities.

  4. I forgot to add - I feel your concern about this morning's protest. As much as I enjoyed it, it's clear that it's working to the detriment of some people's view of the cycling community. But at the moment, with TfL and the mayor presiding over a decision that is so ill-judged to be reckless, scenes like this morning seem to be the only option. I think the focus should be on getting in TfL and the Mayor's "face", as it were, first on the 20mph issue. Perhaps afterwards it would be worth looking into campaigns that promote cycling in the kind of light that doesn't irritate other road users.

  5. Corin, the "other people" could be people we can welcome into the world of the bicycle user. There are loads of people who drive cars or whatever, who would certainly consider cycling instead, if they thought it would be safe - but they don't.

    And if you don't carry the majority, including non-cyclists, along with you, you make it politically impossible for our supporters in national or local government to promote practical improvements, and you make it politically easy for our enemies like Hammond and Coleman to score cheap points and keep us in our place ie the gutter.

  6. It was great to see all you people. I've definitely recognized some faces from the CEoGB meeting. I think actions like this are needed, just like they were needed in Copenhagen in 70s and 80s and NL (Stop Kindermord). Such actions, while they may antagonise some people who usually are already pretty hostile towards anything but car, but at the same time will, in my opinion, draw the general public attention to the problem. Because let's be honest - most people don't even know the problem exists, they don't know LCC, CTC or CEoGB exist - this is true even for some people who use bicycles as transport. I believe there is much support maybe not for cycling itself but for the change bicycle culture brings, and again it was great to see so many different "kinds" of cyclists on that bridge - every passer-by could find someone they could relate to. It's high time to start redefining what cycling means and who a cyclist is.
    On a more sour note - the plans that LCC proposed were far from visionary. Why is it that the campaigns want to reinvent the wheel and not follow the tried and tested template. Since they are resurfacing the whole bridge anyway why not put a raised cycle lane of proper width both ways, turning refuges and so one. Aim for Copenhagen at least if not Amsterdam.

  7. Great protest in the end, it made BBC London News as it was happening. Everything positive about it so far.