London’s bike revolution

A few weeks ago there were workmen digging up the pavement just down the road from the office. Two weeks ago I walked past and saw the finished article – a two lane, bright blue cycle route leading cyclists across a main road and off towards Lambeth. It’s one of London’s new bike ‘‘ that are now criss-crossing the city, with more planned.

In four days time, the scheme will launch. Based on Paris’ system, it will see 6,000 bikes placed in 400 different locations around London. If you sign up to the scheme, which costs £1 for 24 hour access, £5 for a week or £45 for a year, you can pick up a bike and go. It’s then free for the first half hour. As people take advantage of the bikes to travel short distances, Transport for London expects to see 40,000 more bike journeys across the city every day.

It’s all part of Boris Johnson’s vision for a cycling revolution in London, one he has led from the front as a keen cyclist himself. The more cyclists there are, the safer it will be for everyone, as traffic re-adjusts and road priorities begin to shift – the ‘‘ that campaigners have been seeking for years.

It’s a cultural change that has taken a while to come to London. If you’ve travelled much in Europe, you’ll know how far ahead many places are in encouraging cycling. There are cycle routes with bridges and tunnels to cross busy intersections, separate traffic signals for cyclists, covered bike racks at stations, and slower speed limits in the centre of town. This is largely due to investment. The German city of Freiburg, considered to be one of the most sustainable transport systems on the continent, spent between £4 and £10 per resident per year on cycling for ten years. The cycling budgets of British towns pale in comparison – an average of 74p per resident per year, with some falling far lower. Portsmouth spent just 20p, Bolton 15p*. Little wonder people don’t cycle.

Some places in Britain are great for cycling mind you, as the vast fields of bikes outside Cambridge station will tell you. If Johnson’s cycling revolution captures the imagination in London however, we might begin to see other towns and cities catch the bug. And since cycling is still the most efficient form of transport ever invented, that would be good news for our CO2 emissions and our energy use, as well as our traffic congestion and our health.

*figures from Lyn Sloman’s book Car Sick.

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