Is The Future Bright For London Cyclists?

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 29 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

Continued below.

Alastair Rae

It's not rocket science. We just need to swap a lot of driving and parking space for proper cycle lanes. And quiet ways are no use for commuters because they take circuitous routes and you end up sitting for ages at low priority crossing lights at every intersection with main road.


Grrr. No mention of the irresponsible cyclists to wear headphones (!!!). Or those who cycle on pavements (illegal and happens all the time). Or those who weave like madmen in and out the cars in a Tour de France race to the office. Or those who choose not to use cycle lanes but choose to mingle with cars instead (all the time). Or those who take young children on bikes on central london roads. Or those who cycle home drunk!! Well done to those cyclists who manage hand signals by the way. Progress!
Is this cycling really the way forward in a major city where no rules seem to apply to those on bikes. You won't get me on one. I am more concerened that another cyclist would knock me off than a car. I'm quite sure drivers don't set out to hurt cyclists! I really do hope cyclists stick to using the highways and cycle lanes after such significant investment and keep off the road where possible. It would make it safer for all.


And motorcyclists, as the article says are at a higher rate of injury and death and yet we are being squeezed into ever tighter space so expect that number to go up. More motorcyclists die on London's roads every year, more than cyclists,and yet not one thing is being done to protect us. Our lives don't matter.


Has anyone done a socio-economic analysis of London cyclists? I suspect a predominance of the more affluent. (My impression is that Dutch cyclists seem to have more ordinary bikes.)
We could also chuck in a review of the male:female ratios. And age. How many young mothers with children can cycle with them? And the disabled, most of older citizens . . . I'm sure the exercise is good for those who can cycle, but let's have some more thought about those who can't, and those trips when it isn't appropriate. How much are the cycle lanes slowing buses?
If anyone knows of any such analysis, I'd be delighted to know.

Greg Tingey

I notice Walthamstow's falsely-named "mini-holland" scheme is mentioned.
I cycle ( I have been doing so for 60 years, now) & said scheme does nothing at all for cyclists.
But it royally buggers-up the locals & even more the disabled & frail who rely on taxis.

Indeed, the whole "cycles good cars bad" meme totally ignores the many who cannot cycle & who rely on public transport.
This is a disgrace


People saying bicycles are more dangerous than cars? Sounds like it's time for http://bikesy.co.uk/features/e... !


"what stops many more people from joining the Lycra clad masses?"

I know - the constant snide use of what is an irrelevant and increasingly derogatory term to describe people who choose to use a bicycle for their everyday transport needs.

Get over your lycra obsession, for god's sake...


Isn't it time we had an article on, why do so many people still insist on driving private cars in central London?