In the last 5 years London has come a long way in becoming a more bike friendly city, but still has a long way to go. As a personal trainer in London I welcome the growth of cycling in the capital, but it needs to be accompanied by radical infrastructure changes which protect cyclists from motor vehicles.
Another issue is air pollution. The fewer gas-guzzling motor vehicles on the road, the better our air quality will be. The more low-emission public transport we have, and the more electric cars, combined with new infrastructure for cyclists, the cleaner will be the air we breathe. Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, is spearheading the campaign for cleaner air in London, and the London Mayor should listen.
Back in 2009, the first two ‘cycle Superhighways’ were announced: South Wimbledon to Bank, and Barking to Tower Hill. The problem was that they were just blue paint on the road to designate the cycle lane, with no physical segregation from other traffic, hardly a major infrastructure change.
Boris Johnson, London Mayor (and a keen cyclist himself) said, “I’m not kidding when I say that I’m militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I’m determined to bring about.”
However, the Green Party criticised the lack of funding for outer London cycling schemes, and cycle campaigners called for real infrastructure changes in central London, particularly at dangerous junctions like the Elephant & Castle gyratory, Bank junction, and Monument junction.
Segregated lanes are in the pipeline. The London Evening Standard commented on 19 November 2013 that “Cycling infrastructure has not kept pace with the increase in cyclist numbers. The cycle superhighways’ shortcomings are clear: unless segregated (as the latest section of CS2 is) they provide cyclists with no protection and , in creating the impression that they do, can even make things worse.”
The problem with un-segregated cycle lanes is that they offer the cyclist no physical protection from cars, vans, and lorries. Where there are cycle lanes, they often vanish abruptly, or become blocked by illegally parked vehicles. And sharing cycle lanes with buses is not ideal, particularly around bus-stops.
Major threat to cyclists: HGV’s
Last year the Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman called for a ban on HGV’s through central London during rush hour. Although this has not been implemented, safety measures have been put in place to reduce the risks they pose to cyclists: taking dangerous vehicles off the roads, insisting on better mirrors and in-cab monitoring systems.
Boris Bike Hire Scheme
In 2010 the Boris Bike was launched, heralding a major step forward in making London more cycle-friendly.
At the start of 2013 the prices for hiring a Boris Bike doubled across the board, although demand remains high. Usage rose by 35% in 2012, and continues to rise. More and more Boris Bike hubs are springing up around London, such as the recent one in Osiers Road, Wandsworth SW18.
Towards the end of 2013 Barclays announced it would withdrew its backing for the scheme, just months after the first Boris Bike death in July 2013. The relationship will end in 2015, and a new sponsor is being sought.
New Segregated Superhighways for Bikes
There are plans underway for an 18 mile new East-West superhighway from Hyde Park to Tower Hill (via Parliament Square), with a separate lane for bikes along Victoria Embankment. This will be the first real leap forward for cycle safety in the capital.
Objections have been raised by the Licenced Taxi Drivers Association, and the business group Canary Wharf, on the grounds that it will result in congestion and delays for motor vehicles.
However, Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s cycling commissioner for London, points out that every single person who cycles is one less person in a car, so congestion will be reduced as a result of making cycling safer and more attractive for Londoners.
There are also plans for a cycle superhighway on Clapham Road in Lambeth, between Stockwell Road and Stockwell Terrace; and another at Old Street/Vauxhall Cross near the forthcoming Northern Line extension to Battersea.
This Dutch-style road safety scheme (dubbed Mini-Holland) is designed to bring traffic calming measures and prioritize cyclists at problematic junctions.
Lee Bridge Road, a popular route for cyclists, and in particular Whipps Cross roundabout, is to be given the Mini-Holland treatment by Waltham Forest Council, but cycle campaigners say it’s not being implemented fast enough.
Dangerous Cycling and Dangerous Driving
In 2013 the police launched a crackdown on unsafe cycling, and fined 15,800 cyclists for a range of offences: the two most common were jumping red lights and cycling on the pavement. Other offences included riding the wrong way down one-way streets, ignoring ‘no left turn’ signs, cycling after dark without lights, cycling with a passenger, and cycling while taking/texting on a mobile phone.
Anne Kenrick (chair of the London Cycle Campaign) told the Evening Standard last week: “When I see a cyclist jump a red light…I despair. There are so many road-users, we have to respect each other… But we need infrastructure like dedicated cycle lanes so cyclists don’t take risks.”
However, there also needs to be a far greater clampdown on dangerous driving. Last November there were 6 cyclist deaths in just 2 weeks. There are still thousands of drivers in London without a licence, and driving un-taxed vehicles. In addition there are way too many drivers with a licence who are not fit to be on the road. Penalties for reckless and dangerous driving are still far too lenient, and enforcement is woefully inadequate after repeated slashing of traffic police budgets.
One of the biggest threats to cyclists is speeding motorists, and another is motorists too busy texting and talking on mobile phones. Where’s the crackdown on speeding and texting behind the wheel?
TfL plans to spend £145 million on cycling in London in 2015, which represents 2% of their total budget. I think this is too modest an investment if we’re to catch up with the more advanced world cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Munich, and Berlin.
About the author of this blog: Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and founder of Fitness Buddy, which includes Cycle Buddy among its 14 options.