04 April 2009

New cyclists spring out (if they can find their bikes)

According to Transport for London, cycling levels here have increased by 91 per cent since 2000. That's pretty much how it feels: at rush hour on Waterloo Bridge, cyclists well outnumber private car drivers. (Though, obviously, we can't compete in terms of noise or space occupied.)

TfL aim to quintuple cycle trips in London by 2025, compared to the 2000 levels. Ambitious, but not that ambitious: that fivefolding would mean five per cent of trips were being made by bike, which isn't great. (Cambridge is currently about 28 per cent. In some towns in the Netherlands and Germany, such as Groningen or Münster, the figure is 50 per cent or more.) And the good news is that it certainly feels to me, out on the roads, that the cycling levels continue to increase steadily.

Pleasingly, a lot of this extra new intake packing the ASLs are real cyclists. Young women to old men in everyday clothes and shoes; unpretentious A-to-B bikes; even baskets with a small dog. I like this.

So I hope a lot of people with bikes lying around unridden for ages, like the one at the top I spotted in Wandsworth, dust them off and get out to enjoy the fresh air.

Otherwise they might end up like the one on the right. I snapped it in the Netherlands, and it's presumably some sort of witty installation. And not the result of someone waiting for the lights to change on the Elephant and Castle bike bypass in damp weather.


  1. Since Boris has abandoned the wider congestion charge zone and I gather has slashed the budget for cycling initiatives, I wouldn't hold my breath for quintupling. Nearly all the gain has been down to the congestion charge, right?

  2. I wouldn't credit the congestion charge for the increase in cycling, actually; nor even the July bombings of 2007, though journos often like to make the connection.

    To me it's appeared a steady increase, year by year, which I suspect is generated by nothing more sensational than the thing itself. As more people cycle, more people feel comfortable trying it and sticking at it.

    In short, as I understand it, the money swiped from cycilng initiatives such as the London Cycling Network (which, er, I've never really paid much attentiont to anyway) will be thrown at the London Bike Hire Scheme. TfL are reasoning that this way of spending 50 million quid will be the most cost-effective way of getting new cyclists on the road.

    Having seen the informed enthusiasm of some of the TfL people involved in the scheme, I'm inclined to give that viewpoint some credit.

    Though I'm hardly helping the increase in cycling by sitting inside on a sunny Saturday afternoon sitting at my effing computer. I should be out on my bike. If only things were that simple.

  3. TfL: "a significant
    rise in the number of people cycling
    with a 91 per cent increase on
    London’s major roads since 2000"

    I would love some more detail. What is being measured seems to be commuter routes. Commuter cycling is certainly up, but not uniformly. In Waltham Forest one commuter route which involves sending cyclists into a threatening underpass shows stagnation, even a decline in cycling, not a dramatic increase.

    London still strikes me as being a car dependent city, where cars are put first, and where those who plan for cyclists are rarely themselves cyclists. To make London a cycling-friendly city would involve a holistic approach which is currently dismally lacking. And a Tory mayor and a recession don't exactly help.

  4. I agree with your follow-up, Rob - I certainly don't think it's anything to do with bombings, otherwise the IRA would have had us all on our bikes decades ago. It's the thing itself, the increasingly visibility of bikes everywhere and maybe an awareness, as people travel more, that that's how things are in civilised places like the Netherlands.

  5. @freewheeler: AFAIK, TfL's figures come from people standing by the side of Waterloo Bridge or wherever and simply counting bikes that pass in 30 minutes at rush hour, that sort of thing.

    If we do quintuple bike use by 2020 it'll be trumpeted as a fantastically pro-bike thing and a triumph for whoever's in charge at the time, blah blah, but that'd still only be a paltry 5 per cent of journeys done without igniting anything except the odd temper.

    The current thinking in TfL and GLA seems to be a top-down approach: that if you buy a few more extra cyclists with 50 million quid (London Bike Hire Scheme) then the raised numbers will make it easier for stuff to happen at a local level, such as Waltham Forest's councillors taking heed of emails from disgruntled cyclists.

    Actually I think there's something in that point of view. But it won't work by itself. What we all want (and, whatever certain drivers might think, it's in their interest too) is more cyclists on the road; achieving that involves all kinds of things, from bottom-up (hassling local councillors) to top-down (chucking money at big Londonwide schemes).

    We also need all sorts of culture-change stuff that just might or might not happen, such as cyclists not being portrayed as pavement-hogging red-busters in Talk Sport phone-ins, and daytime TV presenters not thinking bikes are solely a painful duty to save the planet, and posh hotels being unfazed when you turn up on bikes, muddy and toting panniers.

    Off my high horse and back on my high bike, I think...