i b i k e l o n d o n

Utrecht welcomes the Tour de France but what's the legacy for a city that already cycles?

It's a year since the world's greatest cycle race kicked off in Britain and 'Tour fever' swept the country.  From the hills of the north York moors, to the streets of London, millions turned out hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite Tour de France rider flash past.

Thousands of spectators packed the tiny Essex village of Finchingfield to watch Le Tour pass by in 2014.  With roads closed for miles around, most arrived by bicycle (including me!)

Everything has to have a "legacy" these days (thank you, London 2012) and the Grand Depart in Britain was no exception. Echoing last year's route, members of the public can now emulate their cycling heroes and ride Britain's hills alongside pro riders in the Tour de Yorkshire, encouraging more people to take to their bikes.  There was even a Knighthood for Grand Depart organiser Gary Verity.

This Saturday the Tour de France is heading north once more, this time starting in the Dutch city of Utrecht.  Home to canals, festivals and Miffy the bunny, it's a compact and charming university city stuffed with cycle tracks and people on bikes.  So, in a city that already has a mainstream cycling culture, will the Grand Depart be all of that big deal for the Dutch?

'Cyclists' riding in Utrecht, where the Tour de France will begin this weekend.

I've heard cycle campaigners on both sides of the equation disparaging sports cycling in mass cycling countries.  On one hand, the argument goes that sports cycling is all well and good but it is not the "right kind" of journey by bike that cities so desire.  On the other, some dedicated roadies discredit cycling provision in case it detracts from their right to ride as quickly as they can.  I can see merits in both arguments, but on the ground in successful cycling cities the reality is very different.

Sports cycling is alive and well in the Netherlands (as multi-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Marianne Vos and 2014 Tour de France stage winner Lars Boom attest) and there is no shortage of people pulling on their lycra on a Saturday morning to head out for a long spin in to the country.

The Dutch use bikes like we use cars and buses; it is an everyday and ordinary activity.  So it seems perfectly natural that their language makes a distinction between 'being a person who uses a bike' and 'being a cyclist'. A fietser is someone who uses a fiets (a bicycle) whereas someone with all the kit and the fancy sports bike is called wielrenner, literally a 'wheel runner'.  When the Dutch say cyclists don't wear helmets or special gear they mean it sincerely as 'fietser' is only ever a description of someone using a Dutch bike going about their day in a very ordinary way.  This is not to say sports cyclists don't exist in the Netherlands and people aren't out there in all their kit putting in the miles.

As this video by Mark from the always excellent BicycleDutch blog demonstrates, the cycle tracks of the Netherlands are home to plenty of wielrenner.  The reason you don't see them so much in bike blogs and photographs about the country is that they are somewhat obscured by the everyday and ordinary fietser all around them, much as Britain's sports cyclists are overwhelmed by the everyday and ordinary car journeys going on around them.

I can't help but feel that if we had the same linguistic distinction here in the UK, perhaps Transport for London wouldn't have dipped in to the cycling safety budget to the tune of £6million in order to host the Tour last year, instead of spending that money on making roads safer for bike riders of every hue.  (Rumours abound that TfL bosses, keen to spend the cycle budget on anything other than actual changes on the road, are keen to lure the Grand Depart to London again soon)  If we had the same linguistic distinction between cyclists and cyclists as the Dutch do, perhaps there might be a clearer understanding of what is needed to bring about those everyday and ordinary journeys by bike? 

Utrecht is a beautiful energetic cycling city and I have no doubt it will give Le Tour a fantastic send off this weekend, heralding a summer of brilliant cycle racing.  It would be interesting to see - once the professional wielrenner have wheeled out of town - how Utrecht carries on being an everyday and ordinary successful cycling city; it could be a 'legacy lesson' for us all.

London is changing, and it's all down to you. But what next for cycle campaigners?

I've been away from the blog for a few months travelling, moving house and standing back to watch as London begins to change in a way that was unthinkable just five years ago. As construction in the city centre begins of high quality cycle routes for the first time, it is worth taking a moment to assess how we got to this point, and to ask "what happens next"?

The North / South Cycle Superhighway is finally under construction.

My last article here was about the serious attempt by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Authority to have Mayor Boris Johnson's Cycle Superhighway plans stopped. In a classic filibuster they threatened to submit the entire scheme to Judicial Review in the High Court, which would have added months and innumerable expense to getting the routes built. In the end the LTDA slinked quietly away, and the Board of Transport for London gave construction the green light. (Though not until Board members, some with shocking conflicts of interest, had gone over the proposals in minuscule detail for some 90 minutes.)

Cycle campaigners - myself included - have been saying for many years that the pace of change in London has not been fast enough when considered against the annual death toll of people on bikes and the growth in numbers riding. And yet, in many ways the pace of change has now accelerated faster than anyone could have imagined even just a few years ago.

The upgraded Cycle Superhighway 2 in Whitechapel, which is opening in sections and where floating bus stops are working well. (Picture via Twitter with thanks)

In 2010 I demanded to know if the London Cycling Campaign and the Cyclists Touring Club were even prepared to push for decent cycling infrastructure or not. There was no consensus among cycle campaigners as to how best go about creating conditions for mass cycling, and even less agreement as to whether segregated cycle paths were even desirable. The integration / segregation conundrum sparked heated debates, both online and off. Respected cycling journalist and author Carlton Reid disparaged from the comments section of my blog;
"We ain't gonna get the sort of cycle infrastructure we'd all love. Ever.
In such a car-centric society as the UK it would be next to impossible to take meaningful space away from cars."
But here we are some 5 years later, and construction of high quality, segregated cycling infrastructure is already underway in London.  The plans are by no means perfect, but they will be revolutionary. When TfL's previous Cycle Superhighways were built - effectively little more than just blue paint - cycling levels on those routes leapt.  Imagine what the effect is going to be with safe new routes, separated from traffic and useable by all abilities?  We didn't just get the kind of cycle routes that people said were impossible, they're going to be game changers too.

Aldgate Gyratory is being largely rebuilt, due for completion in September 2016.  Segregated cycle tracks in Oval will arrive by next spring.  Construction is underway on the North / South Cycle Superhighways from Elephant and Castle to King's Cross, also due for completion by next spring.  The most contentious cycle route of them all, the East / West Cycle Superhighway along the Embankment, is currently causing a little light traffic chaos along the river and will be operational by May 2016, not withstanding gaps in the Royal Parks who continue to dig in their heels, and in so doing reveal their prejudices.

Welcome to the future! This segregated road space on terrifying Vauxhall Bridge will soon become a two-way cycle track. (via @AsEasyAsRiding with thanks)

Cycle campaigner's integration / segregation argument has largely gone away, with most (cough, Hackney, cough) now acknowledging that where traffic volumes and speeds are sufficiently high then separating cyclists is desirable.  As consensus emerged, much was made of the need for any new cycling infrastructure to be as fast and direct as the experience of riding in the road, and rightly so.  The internet brought us easily accessible examples of best practise from overseas, whilst popular protests in London rallied around dangerous junctions and the need for design rather than behaviour to provide safety.  This spawned the London Cycling Campaign's fabulous "Love London, Go Dutch" campaign and #space4cycling which, in turn, led to the Mayoral promise to build better routes.

Charting this progress is in itself an interesting exercise.  I am struck by just how far we have come; my talk at the 2012 National Conference on Urban Design detailed how design and conditions on the ground emerged as the campaigning issue of our time.  This consensus has in turn led to new routes being built on the ground.  Here's the audio and slides from that talk, if you fancy a lunchtime history lesson.

Design Led Cycle Safety; how the cycling community came to value urban design from ibikelondon on Vimeo.
My 2010 talk on Design-led Cycle Safety charts how campaigning has changed in London.

Once that consensus emerged, London's cycle campaigners became increasingly resilient. Lots of new faces got involved, the LCC's policy was hammered in to shape by brilliant contributors like Dr Rachel Aldred whilst activists became advisers, working as much behind the scenes as in front.  Brilliantly conceived activations were put together specifically with media impact in mind, and activist's work became targeted and with achievable aims.  The pop-up business campaign CyclingWorks.London was instrumental in helping the new Cycle Superhighways plans scrape through TfL Board approval, in the face of exceptionally powerful opposition from the likes of Canary Wharf and their corporate lobbyists.  Without the names of the 170 company CEOs pledging their support for the plans, I am not sure we would have made it.  In a recent speech the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, highlighted just how tight the fight has been:
"It was at times nightmarishly difficult to manage this, and we saw some absolutely ferocious resistance, kicking and screaming, and we saw a lot more passive resistance, heel digging and foot dragging from whom Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman called Old Men in Limos; you've heard of the MAMILs, those were the OMILs. A lot of objections, which would nearly always start with the words 'Of course I support cycling..."
Gilligan went on to highlight how, with the helps of the likes of CyclingWorks, the OMILS were "comprehensively outfought in the PR and public support battle."
"You'll have to read our memoirs, if anyone wants to publish them, to find out how difficult it all was and how close it all came to not happening."
"I think we've made enormous progress - unprecedented progress - over the last couple of years, but I believe we're still in the foothills of making London a cycle friendly city and the task for Londoners is to make sure the progress we've made continues after May [2016, the next Mayoral election]."
I think this is an honest assessment and shows how hard campaigners have worked to date.  Gilligan has been a highly effective banger together of heads, but will he wish to continue as Cycling Commissioner when Boris Johnson steps down as Mayor next year? Furthermore, will the movers and shakers at Transport for London want to go back to playing just with buses and trains once the political drive for cycling moves on?

Work is underway on the Embankment for the East / West Cycle Superhighway (via @jonokenyon with thanks)

Despite the amount of work involved to date, campaigners cannot yet rest easy. In the short term we'll need to ensure the new segregated routes are fit for use and finished to a high quality. They'll also have to continue powerfully putting the case to the rest of London that the disruption they're currently experiencing will be worth it.  Transport for London will need to ensure their spanking new cycle routes are maintained, cleaned and enforced - a cycle track with a truck parked in it is no good to anyone. 

In the longer term efforts must now begin to focus on the Mayoral election in 2016.  Without political will for cycling in City Hall in the future it will be too easy for TfL to draw back from their cycling responsibilities.  'Love London, Go Dutch' and #space4cycling were aspirational campaigns which captured the wider public's imagination about how London could be.  As the results of those campaigns begin to take solid form, it's important to find a way to convince London that more of the same would be a good thing.

Brand spanking new cycle tracks in south London - look how smooth they are! (Pic via @AsEasyAsRiding with thanks)

Away from the cycle tracks, lethal lorries remain a chronic issue for vulnerable road users in our city, and much more can still be done on this issue to get the shocking and seemingly inevitable annual death toll down.  There is only so much campaigners can do, whereas Boris Johnson has the power to effect lasting change in the last 10 months of his Mayoralty.  To keep the pressure up on Transport for London he should appoint a cycling representative to their Board, an easy and much overdue move.  He should also push ahead with urgent reforms of lorry safety.  In doing so, he'd help to secure his long term cycling legacy and make it harder for future Mayors to unpick his good work.

For now, everyone who has attended a protest, written to the Mayor, tweeted, signed petitions and helped keep the momentum going should take a moment to reflect on how far London has come - both in terms of consensus and successes - and enjoy watching the new cycle routes being built.  But there's going to be more work to do to elevate London from "the foothills" of being a cycling city.  We need to get ready for what's next.

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As the LTDA goes to war with cyclists, we ask just who runs London? Is this a Cycle Superhighway stitch up?!

Unless you've been living under a rock it won't have escaped your attention that Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday his intention to proceed with ambitious plans to build a "Crossrail for Bikes"; two new segregated Cycle Superhighways across central London, running from north to south and east to west. But those plans are seriously threatened due to the self-serving actions of two business groups, who could jeapordise the democratic balance of Transport for London's Board in the process.

Johnson's announcement follows one of Transport for London's largest ever consultations on a project, with a staggering 21,500 responses. So many people wanted to respond, they extended the length of the consultation to allow everyone time to air their views. But the results are conclusive; even when you discount responses automatically generated by the London Cycling Campaign's website, some 73% support the more contentious east / west route running along the Embankment. 

This reflects a recent YouGov poll of Londoners of all backgrounds, the majority (64%) of which supported the cycleway plans even if it involved taking a lane away from traffic. It's also worth remembering of course that the consultation is not a referendum on the proposals; the scheme is the brain-child of our directly elected Conservative Mayor, who is mandated by the population of London to deliver his manifesto promises, of which the Cycle Superhighways were one. So far, so democratic, right?

Within minutes of the announcement on Tuesday, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association let it be known they were furious that the Cycle Superhighways were going ahead and planned to lodge a Judicial Review. Here's what Steve McNamara, the LTDA's Secretary, had to tell Vanessa Feltz on her BBC London radio show on Tuesday morning
"It’s an abomination!... ...The ideal route would have been to run it along the Southbank, in front of the old LWT [London Weekend Television] building all the way along there, it would have been lovely, it would have been out of the way, it would have been ideal... ... We’re against it, lots of businesses are against it.  We are considering a Judicial Review against the scheme in conjunction with Canary Wharf and others." 
McNamara went on to give his opinions as to exactly why the Cycle Superhighways - which represent a tiny percentage of London's roads - were a BAD THING, especially if they benefit CYCLISTS:
"...they all try and tell you this myth, that it is wealthy people driving around in cars that we need to combat, and that it is the poor man on the cycle.  And of course it’s not.  What we’ve got now is this metropolitan elite who can afford to live in the centre of the city, afford to cycle a few hundred yards or half a mile to work, they’re the people campaigning for this.  The vast majority of Londoners, working Londoners, business Londoners – the majority of your listeners who are coming in from the suburbs and trying to move around this city – are going to be severely disadvantaged by this scheme...
We’re the only people in London who can actually stand up for working Londoners, us and a few businesses who have come together.  As I say, Canary Wharf – a massive business that employs tens of thousands of people at the Wharf - they’re concerned about their people getting to work, we’re concerned about moving people around the city, lots of freight companies are very, very concerned about it, they’ve got to make deliveries.  London is a working city, it’s got to be able to work the 23 hours a day when them cyclists are not down on the Embankment – and they’re not.... ..it’s madness.  They must see it, and we’re hoping the Courts will see it."  [Click here for a full transcript of his interview]

I think it is fair to say that the LTDA has gone to war against cyclists.  In November 2013 - the same month six London cyclists died on our roads in just two weeks - they gave the Evening Standard cooked up footage which claimed to show the majority of London cyclists run red lights.  
Then, in March 2014 their Director wrote this frankly bizarre editorial in their member's newsletter, claiming that cycling is "bringing this city to its knees":

And now, in 2015, they're coming out all guns blazing against the Cycle Superhighway project, threatening legal action and mouthing off to anyone who will listen.  But there's more to it than that, unfortunately.  I'll deal with McNamara's ridiculous assertions firstly, but please do read on to the end because what happens next is even more ridiculous...

The idea that the LTDA is a paragon of working class, salt-of-the-earth virtue is preposterous: this is an organisation that gives discounts to its members for country hotel leisure breaks, golf clubs and designer glasses. (And cheap legal representation to those facing driving bans who accumulated too many points on their license)  Most of their members will be earning around £60,000 a year (that's twice the national average).  

Let's contrast that with the 13 people who were killed cycling in London last year: two teachers, two students, a ventilation engineer, a conference organiser, a pharmacist, a hospital porter, a bus depot worker, a solicitor, an IT worker, one person unknown and a security guard. Hardly what I'd call a "metropolitan elite".

And were those who were killed cycling "a few hundred yards or half a mile to work"?  Of course not.  The majority of all cycle journeys in London originate in the fringes of zone 2 and 3 and make their way to the centre and back again. Commuting patterns like my own journey to and from work which is 10 miles, versus the city-wide average of 15 miles (That's 15 miles regardless of which mode of transport you use).

Proposals for Victoria Embankment

Taxis ferry about businessmen on expense accounts and unwitting tourists for the majority of the time, and are out of reach for most ordinary working Londoners.  The last time I took a taxi from Heathrow to central London it cost nearly £100 (an awful journey during which the driver stopped his car to scream obscenities at a woman on a pedestrian crossing and deigned to share with me his abhorrently racist views for the duration of the trip).  The Piccadilly Line can do the same journey - opinion free - for about a fiver.

As for sticking the Cycle Superhighway south of the river (presumably because Black Cab drivers don't go there) frankly, why should they?  For a starter the whole point of the project is to get people by bicycle to centres of work quickly and safely.  London's bridges are already a danger spots for cyclists, but to put it in language the LTDA would understand: around half of all the vehicles on Blackfriars Bridge during the peak hour are bicycles (that's one bike every two seconds) Are you sure putting more bikes on the bridges to get south of the river is such a good idea?

To put things in a clearer light, and to completely discredit McNamara's idea that cycle journeys are somehow unnecessary and get in the way of "working London", let's look at some actual statistics.  

 Via As Easy As Riding A Bike, with thanks.

According to Transport for London's latest data, taxis make up 2% of all inner London road users.  Bicycles make up 4%.  Cycle rates in the same area have doubled over the past 10 years, whilst journeys by car have consistently declined.  Across greater London there are approximately 650,000 cycle journeys every day - they can't all be Bradley Wiggins wannabes making laps of Richmond Park.

The LTDA's stance is astonishing.  That they'd channel so much effort and resource in to giving such a knee-jerk and provocative reaction to a scheme that will cover a tiny percentage of London's roads (whilst their members lose massive market share to credit-card accepting mini-cab firms and book-by-app discount drivers Uber) is sad to watch. If I was an LTDA member I'd be telling them to pick their battles.  As a cyclist I'd laugh if this wasn't so serious.

Uber take a pop at the LTDA's pre-historic attitude 
via their Twitter account @Uber_LDN

A Judicial Review could see the Cycle Superhighway project delayed by up to 14 weeks, and it's TfL's fare-paying customers who will pick up the bill for fighting it (you know, ordinary working Londoners).  But the madness doesn't stop there.

The LTDA's McNamara said they "are considering a Judicial Review against the scheme in conjunction with Canary Wharf." You'll remember that the Canary Wharf Group were behind an anonymous briefing filled with untruths about the Cycle Superhighways which was distributed to politicians and business leaders late last year.  They've also paid for a lobbyist to tour the political party conferences to try and drum up opposition to the scheme.  Their strategic adviser, Howard Dawber, has appeared on television and radio claiming the project would be bad for their business and has attended numerous stake holder planning meetings.

And this is where things get ridiculous.

If a Judicial Review doesn't materialise, next Wednesday the Board of Transport for London will meet to decide whether to fund the Cycle Superhighway project or not.  This is not just a case of rubber-stamping the Mayor's plans.  As Cyclists In The City points out, they've picked over cycling plans in minute detail before.

But two members of the Board have a direct conflict of interest, and it would be a democratic failure were they to be allowed to participate in the funding decision...

Peter Anderson sits on the Board, and is also the Finance Director for.. ..Canary Wharf Group. 
Bob Oddy sits on the Board, and is also the Deputy General Secretary of... ..the LTDA!  

The LTDA's Bob Oddy, above, and Canary Wharf Group's Peter Anderson, below.

In the long term I would ask - considering there's more of us on the roads every day than there are of them - why taxi drivers are represented on TfL's Board when cyclists are not.  In the short term I'd ask this: what will the Mayor do to ensure that those whose employers have been actively lobbying against this scheme are totally excluded from the process which will decide its future?

London's cycling community has fought long and hard and waited for many years for this: just ONE safe segregated cycle route across our city.  This project cannot be scuppered by members of the Board who no longer have a right to be involved in it.  If Anderson and Oddy think they can turn up at the Board after all their companies have done they've got another thing coming.

Transport for London's Board meeting takes place at 10AM on Wednesday 4th Feb at City Hall, committee room 4.  It is open to the public and the Board papers are available online to review.


Boris gives green light to Cycle Superhighways to unlock central London for bikes

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, today confirmed he will go ahead with his proposed "Crossrail for Bikes" Cycle Superhighways across central London, following one of the largest public consultations in the history of Transport for London.

The East / West Cycle Superhighway will form Europe's longest substantially segregated urban cycleway, stretching from Tower Hill in the east to Acton in the west. Intersecting with a new North / South Cycle Superhighway from King's Cross to Elephant and Castle, the new routes will form the flagship facility in Johnson's £913million 10-year cycle investment plan.

Boris Johnson rides the route of his future Cycle Superhighway on the Embankment with Olympic champion cyclist and campaigner Chris Boardman. Photo via Press Association with thanks.

The Mayor said: “We have done one of the biggest consultation exercises in TfL’s history. We have listened, and now we will act. Overwhelmingly, Londoners wanted these routes, and wanted them delivered to the high standard we promised. I intend to keep that promise."

Subject to approval by the Board of TfL next week, construction on the routes will begin as soon as March, with the first route complete and ready for riders by spring 2016. (It's worth pointing out that Johnson's term as Mayor concludes in May 2016)

The nine-week public consultation on the plans saw an overwhelming 21,500 responses from individuals and business organisations, with 84% in overall support of the plans. A YouGov opinion poll taken during the consultation found 73% of Londoners supported the Cycle Superhighways, even if it meant taking a lane of traffic away.

Coordinated by pop-up campaigning group CyclingWorks.London, over 170 businesses and organisations pledged their support for the Cycle Superhighways and called on the Mayor to construct them without delay, including key employers along the route such as Unilever, Orange, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Deloitte. 

Businessman and cyclist Chris Kenyon from CyclingWorks.London said:
“Rarely if ever has a scheme by TfL gathered so many CEO-level signatures of support. Surely that is the big story. The backers represent every major industry sector and show that Londoners are in it together and believe that it's time for kerb protected lanes in the heart of the city.” 

The original route along the Embankment, which will still incorporate Parliament Square, subject to modifications.

The original plans from Transport for London have been revised in response to concerns by the City of London, the taxi lobby and the Canary Wharf Group that building cycle tracks would cause too great a delay.

The lanes for other traffic on the Victoria Embankment were to be cut from two to three between the pinch points of Blackfriars underpass and Temple Station. By squeezing the cycle tracks at these points, the three lanes of traffic will be able to remain. 

The Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, believes delays will be cut by 60% on the original plans. The worst affected journey - from Limehouse Link to Hyde Park Corner - will now only take an additional 6 minutes, rather than 16 minutes under the original plans. The traffic models do not account for people switching to other types of journey (ie cycling) as Rachel Aldred explains in her blog about why we should not fear the worst case scenario.

These new routes will fundamentally change London. Currently we stand with our back to the Thames and the Embankment. What is currently a traffic-choked, noisy and dirty rat-run for the city will become the spine of London's safest cycling infrastructure, where cyclists of all ages and abilities - from roadies, to children - will be able to undertake their journeys in safety. 

Transport for London's rendering of the north / south Cycle Superhighway from King's Cross to Elephant and Castle.

Cycle use has already doubled across London over the past ten years, but these ambitious plans will see cycling levels rocket.  Sir Peter Hendy CBE, transport commissioner for London, said: 

“Cycling is clearly now a major transport option in London, with over 170,000 bike journeys now made across central London every single day... These projects will help transform cycling in London – making it safer and an option that more and more people can enjoy."

We should be clear that the Cycle Superhighway plans are not perfect: the width of the tracks being reduced to approximately 3 metres through the Blackfriars Underpass and at other pinch points on the Embankment is very much of concern.  Once built they must be monitored, and potentially dangerous sections must re-assessed.  Furthermore, the route through the Royal Parks is still not clear and will be consulted on at a later date, as explained by Danny over at Cyclists in the City.  Could the Royal Parks put a spoke in the wheel of the whole scheme?

And there's no guarantee that the Canary Wharf Group will back down in their opposition to the Cycle Superhighway plans, despite the reduction in delays.  You'll remember they employed a professional lobbyist, distributed an anonymous briefing paper full of dodgy statistics, and badgered politicians at party conferences over the scheme. The Canary Wharf Group's Finance Director is one Mr Peter Anderson.  He's also Chair of Transport for London's Finance and Policy Committee and a member of their board - and therefore will have a say next week over whether the plans will go ahead or not.

The City and Canary Wharf Group have always been keen to demonstrate that opinion is divided on these schemes, whereas it has been my impression throughout that the majority of Londoners want these changes, they need these changes and they must be allowed to go ahead.  Those who oppose these changes would do well to remember we are talking about a tiny fraction of London's streets, even though it could have a transformative effect for cyclists.  Johnson has now made a big promise in the run up to the elections, it is important that he sticks to it. 

If all goes well - and not withstanding skullduggery and backroom dealing - London has achieved something incredible with this announcement.  It was only a few years ago, in November 2011, that Danny Williams from Cyclists In The City and I organised the Tour du Danger an initial protest around London's most dangerous junctions for cyclists.  Since then there have been countless campaigns, protest rides (not least at Blackfriars Bridge) and of course, cyclist's deaths.  Now we have a major UK politician staking their reputation on their cycling dream, prepared to put up the cash, and even ready to take roadspace away from other traffic to achieve their aims.  This is in no part is down to all of you who've badgered your politicians, signed petitions, come on protests and responded to consultations.  Give yourself a pat on the back, London.  Let's make a date in our diaries for a celebratory ride on our city's beautiful new cycling infrastructure, coming soon to a road near you!

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In defence of fair-weather cyclists: how do you keep a city cycling, even in the worst of winter?

One of the most persistent criticisms I hear levelled against investing in cycling is that as soon as the weather becomes inclement people stop riding, therefore making it an unreliable way of moving people in cities.

Cyclists in a recent rush hour snow storm in Copenhagen, via the Copenhagenize / Viking Biking Tumbr.

Whilst the difference between summer and winter cycling levels in London have been decreasing year on year, the number of cyclists on the road over the winter months is markedly lower than in the long, light and warmer summer days.

If a journey by bicycle is tolerated for the sake of convenience, rather than comfort, it is true that poor weather can serve to increase the perception of it being sketchy.  I personally dread cycling around Old Street roundabout or through Holborn Circus in heavy rain with reduced visability.  No matter how good your waterproofs, you'll still be soaked through with the sweat of anxiety by the end of your terrifying trip.

Cyclists in the snow, Bethnal Green, London, 2010

Of course, it is not the actual rain, snow or darkness that I fear but the chance that my fellow road users are not paying sufficient attention to the conditions, and do not modify their behaviour appropriately.

In successful cycling countries this problem is solved by separating cyclists from motorised traffic one way or another; perhaps with cycle tracks on main roads, or with closures, restrictions and one-way routes on lesser roads with lighter traffic.  But this in turn can pose its own problems: in the worst of the winter weather, how do you keep cyclists - and the city - moving?

When you have a high percentage of your population making their journey by bikes - as in Copenhagen or across the Netherlands - making sure that cycle routes are clear becomes a very serious consideration.  In another fascinating new post, video blogger Mark of Bicycle Dutch fame recently recorded how his home city of 'S-Hertogenbosch kept people moving through a recent snow storm, and made journeys by bicycle possible in challenging conditions.  

He explains: "On a cycle way the ‘gritters’ brush the surface first, and then it is sprayed with a mixture of salt and water. That film of salt water does cover the entire surface and that means most of the snow melts instantly on the entire street surface even without [passing cyclist's] tyres to disperse the salt. The difference between routes that were cleared and gritted and those that were not (yet) was huge."

I know what you're already thinking: here in the UK we don't deal with adverse weather well.  That we struggle to clear our roads and pavements, let alone cycle paths.  That we can't even build all-weather year-round cycle routes. 

Mud, mud, glorious mud! It's not Middle Earth, but all the same you shall not pass... Via As Easy As Riding A Bike.

Indeed, As Easy As Riding A Bike blog recently highlighted a Sussex cycle route which could provide a safe and convenient bypass to the busy A2 is impassable to all but those equipped with mountain bikes and wellington boots for much of the year.  It's never been laid properly due to concerns about an "urbanising effect" on the countryside, which clearly doesn't consider the same effect car journeys have that could easily be replaced by trips on this path, were it a viable route instead.  Making this journey on the path in its current form on a dark night in wet and windy weather would be reserved for all but the hardiest of thrill-seekers.

The heavy snow fall of 2010 caught London unprepared.  My street, seen here, remained uncleared for over a week.

But as the Dutch example demonstrates, winter weather need not be an insurmountable obstacle for successful cycling.  People always tell me that "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes" but I'd argue that there's more to it than that... 

You can have all the fancy water proof kit in the world, but if you're having to fend off thundering lorries and itinerant taxi drivers in addition to trying to stay upright through wet and windy weather you're not going to be having a very nice time.  And you could have all the cycle infrastructure in the world (and I'm thinking in particularly of the separated lanes we should start to see being rolled out in London over the next few years) but if the authorities don't have a plan for keeping them clear of mud, snow and ice they'll be next to useless.  Keeping your city cycling, even in the worst of weather, shows the special care and consideration people on two wheels need.

Further reading:
Bicycle Dutch: how to make cycling in the snow possible
Copenhagenize: the ultimate bike lane snow clearance post!
As Easy As Riding a Bike: Natural Character
ibikelondon: Cycling through epic amounts of snow, retro Norway style