Opinion

Is The Future Bright For London Cyclists?

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 34 months ago
Is The Future Bright For London Cyclists?

Is cycling really that dangerous? And will planned improvements to the capital's cycling network really help?

To cycle or not to cycle, that is the question. Photo by t-a-i in the Londonist Flickr pool.

The Uber vs black cabs debate has dominated headlines recently and distracted us from a far deeper enmity at work on London's streets: the battle between cabbies and cyclists.

The cyclists seem to be winning at the moment after the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association lost their high court appeal against the flag ship east-west super highway at the beginning of February.

And TfL commissioner Mike Brown recently made an impassioned plea for Londoners to keep faith with plans to improve cycling in the city.

Speaking at the opening of New London Architecture's exhibition Streets Ahead: The Future of London's Roads Brown dismissed critics of major redevelopment saying: "I am a huge defender of our cycle super highways."

So he should be. Cycling to work is fast, cheap and convenient allowing many people to avoid the weary routine of rush hour tube journeys.

It's environmentally-friendly and makes room for a few snatched moments of fun before a busy day in the office.

Cycling is booming — but why isn't it even bigger?

Cycling in London is booming. This time last year TfL reported a 10% rise and as the NLA's exhibition points out during the morning peak cyclists make up 25% of road traffic.

But what stops many more people from joining the Lycra clad masses? There's one key factor: the fear of injury or death.

Rachel Aldred, senior lecturer in transport at the University of Westminster looked at how justified are these fears in her study, The Near Miss Project.

Citing a 2013 DFT road incidents report, she concluded: "Cyclists have a higher risk of death or serious injury, per mile, than users of motorised modes of transport except motorcycles," but also noted: "Although injury figures are high by European standards a regular UK commuting cyclist is extremely unlikely to experience death or serious injury."

Aldred blames common near-misses for the fact that "perceived risk is a major barrier to uptake", saying: "Our data suggest that the ‘very scary’ incident is a ‘normal’ weekly experience, and harassment a monthly experience."

Danger, then, comes from aggression and a lack of care on the part of drivers. Things are never going to change unless the culture of how motorised vehicles view and treat cyclists changes.

Peter Murray leads a recent London Cycle Tour for the NLA

But that's not the only obstacle. Architect Charlie Palmer thinks the culture of how cyclists are viewed on London's roads lies at the heart of the issue. He believes the current laws of the road don't match natural behaviour, leaving cyclists always in the wrong.

During a recent talk Palmer said cycling is feeling more unsafe in London, criticising flagship schemes such as Walthamstow's 'mini-Holland' development for focussing more on creating quiet, pleasant paths for leisurely cycling, rather than on convenient routes.

In our current system, cyclists are forced to fit around the needs of other road users, but the cycle super highways are only one pedal push along the way to improving things.

More can be done, including an overall strategy for managing all traffic in a mutually beneficial way, integrating the Santander Cycle Scheme closer to major transport hubs, and regular weekend road closures to give cyclists a time when they can enjoy exploring parts of London unimpeded.

Future for cycling

A large part of how the future for cyclists pans out will depend on who wins the mayoral election. Boris Johnson — a keen cyclist — has been zealous in his advocacy of two wheels in the city.

Frontrunners in the election, Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan have both spoken about cycling, and while Goldsmith appears to be far more ambivalent about the super highways than Boris, Khan has already put improving cycling in his six-point plan.

We're still far from an acceptable standard of safety, but with so much enthusiasm and investment London's cyclists can live in hope that the promised improvements will become a reality.

Just don't tell the cabbies.

Last Updated 24 February 2016

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