Tragically, 6 cyclists died in London within 13 days in November 2013. This must stop. It is paradoxical that London, the city where the modern bicycle was invented, has cycle infrastructure which is amongst the most dangerous in Europe. There is a desperate need for change. We must use the deaths as a focussing event, and completely overhaul London’s cycle infrastructure. This would bring enormous environmental and social benefits.

My vision: London as a bike city

Fundamentally, London is facing two important crises. One is from anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which car use is a major contributor (Cycling England, 2007; Vidal, 2013). The other is that despite investments, cyclists safety hasn’t improved (GLA, 2012; London Cycling Campaign (LCC), 2012). These should be addressed by building a continental-style cycle system across London.

My vision is for a London with far fewer cars, where far more people cycle, and do so in safety. Environmental grounds support turning this vision into a reality. Cycling can help cities reduce their GHG emissions. Europe-wide GHG emissions from transport are substantial and increasing (Blondel, et al., 2011). It would seem sensible to look at increasing bicycle patronage. Cycling uses the least non-renewable resources, produces the lowest emissions (almost zero, see figure 1) and is the most energy efficient of all transport modes (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). Importantly, it is the local air quality which is improved for residents (GLA, 2013).

image 1
Figure 1: The environmental impact of transport modes (ECMT, 2004, p.23)

Bicycles have a natural place in cities. They are ideal for replacing London’s frequent, short trips <5 km, when car engines are cold and inefficient (Cycling England, 2007; Gardener, 1998). This would reduce the external costs of transport, without reducing mobility (See figure 2).

image 2
Figure 2: Comparative table of urban journey speeds (ECMT, 2004, p.23)

There is a clear case for cities to increase cycling rates to meet emissions targets. The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report (2007) showed cities increasing their share of trips by bicycle from 1% to 10% reduced their GHG emissions by 8.4%. Moreover, getting vehicle commuters cycling could save 112t of CO2/pa per 1000 that switch; and save the The Exchequer ~ £70 per head from pollution abatement costs (Cycling England, 2007). Lastly, if the whole EU cycled at Danish levels, it would reduce oil imports by 9% and make a 26% contribution to Europe’s Kyoto protocol commitments (Blondel, et al., 2011). As we can see, there are strong environmental grounds for increasing London’s anaemic cycling rates.

Cycling in London isn’t safe (see figure 3). Whilst the Mayor’s rhetoric is as positive as always: ‘under our plans, it will be safer’ (GLA, 2013). Nationwide, this is the 8th successive year the number of killed or seriously injured (KSI) cyclists has increased (Department for Transport, 2013). Danny Dorling (2010) has branded it a ‘public health crises.’ In London, cyclist injuries were up 60% in 2012 (Transport for London, 2013). Fear remains a massive obstacle, and only 33% would describe cycling in London as safe (LCC, 2012; Sustrans, 2012). This needs to change.

Image 3
Killed or seriously injured casualties by mode of travel, London 2012 (Transport for London, 2013, p.4)

The Mayor is placing faith in Jacobsen’s (2003) theory of safety in numbers, where incidents diminish when more people cycle. Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen increased bicycle patronage and simultaneously decreased the number of incidents (Fietsberaad, 2010; Pucher, et al., 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). However, this was down to the type of intervention. The continental-style of separate bicycle facilities prevents large differences in speed, direction and mass at moderate and high speeds (Wegman & Aarts, 2008). It is obvious that London’s cycling interventions have failed. Londoners deserve a safe, continental-style cycle system.

Institutional mechanisms to create the bike city

Government involvement has a huge role to play in this vision. Government investment is needed to construct the cycle-system. Whilst regulation and economic instruments will maximise the benefits it brings.

To transform London into a bike city, the Mayor needs to tackle the following infrastructure head-on.

Firstly, the Mayor needs to build a dense network of cycle lanes, separated from cars (ECMT, 2004; Gardener, 1998; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). In light of the recent deaths (3 on 1 cycle superhighway alone) the Mayor is strongly advised re-evaluate this policy. He must retrofit the existing and construct all new superhighways to continental best-practice standards (LCC, 2012). London also needs a colour-coded system of directional signs for cyclists (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b).

Where it is not possible to bypass junctions, these need modification. This should include spatial separation and colour–coding, traffic lights for cyclists and signal time reallocated in their favour (Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b; Sustrans, 2012). Again, in light of the recent deaths, the Mayor shouldn’t modify the dangerous gyratories which blight the capital, but instead set a timetable for their removal (LCC, 2012).

The network alone will not be sufficient. It needs complementing with safe cycling routes for residential shortcuts (Oja & Vuori, 2000). London has an extensive network of side streets for this (GLA, 2013). The Mayor should build more residential contraflow lanes, which permit cyclists to ride against traffic on one-way streets (Pucher, 1997; Pucher, et al., 2010).

Bicycle parking in London is unacceptable. The Mayor needs to provide more secure bicycle parking at all public buildings, and in busy public spaces (Fietsberaad, 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). Also, the Mayor needs to link cycling with public transport by providing more and better bicycle parking at terminals (ECMT, 2004; Gardener, 1998; Pucher, et al., 2010). This will facilitate bike-and-ride trips and increase bicycling (Martens, 2007). He also needs to regulate developers and landlords with high standards for bicycle parking, and time limits to meet these within (Fietsberaad, 2010; LCC, 2012; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). To claw back capacity from the car and provide it to cyclists, new parking racks should be built in car parks and on car lanes (Pucher, 1997).

This brings us to the car restriction policies. Instruments are needed to complement the cycle infrastructure, as rebound effects could arise if congestion is reduced (Blondel, et al., 2011). The Mayor should adopt a variety of traffic calming measures (Gardener, 1998; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). Reducing the speed limit to 20mph, firstly on residential roads and then on the main road network would be welcomed (ECMT, 2004; LCC, 2012; Sustrans, 2012). This would increase the safety of cycling (Dorling, 2010; GLA, 2013), and improve the speed of bicycling relative to driving (Pucher, et al., 2010). London led Europe with the congestion charge (Pucher, et al., 2010; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a). However, in transitioning towards becoming a bike city, it must be expanded and the price increased to cover the full external costs of driving (Blondel, et al., 2011; Oja & Vuori, 2000). Car parking should be removed, or its price increased (Fietsberaad, 2010; Gardener, 1998). Lastly, traffic laws need to be reformed, to always give right-of-way priority to cyclists (Pucher, 1997; Sustrans, 2012). Implementing these would go a long way towards restricting car use in favour of cycling.

Governance to build the bike city

The governance of turning London into a bike city is complicated. Local government has jurisdiction over where most ‘bikeable’ trips are made (Gardener, 1998). Local government is also the most efficient authority for designing and implementing bicycle policies (ECMT, 2004). The problem is, that whilst cost-effective, cycle intervention isn’t cheap (Aldred, 2012). Bicycle-proofing London’s junctions would cost £100m, yet boroughs only contribute £100,000/pa for cycle infrastructure (LCC, 2012). It is useful to see how the successful European cycling countries corrected for this. There, national governments generally provided the overarching policy framework, legislation and financial resources; whilst local governments also contribute financially, and oversee the planning and construction of interventions (ECMT, 2004; Martens, 2007; Pucher, 1997; Pucher & Buehler, 2008a; Pucher & Buehler, 2008b). I would therefore recommend a similar level of collaboration between Westminster and the GLA for turning London into a bike city.

Potential bottlenecks

The vision contained within this paper was ambitious, and its implementation is likely to be problematic. Chief among these is overcoming the ‘institutional block’ which is holding London back (LCC, 2012). Ideally, London’s cycle policy should have been continuous and integral, with the cycle network built after WWII, when space was available (ECMT, 2004; Fietsberrad, 2010). However, London has proven resilience, and I am confident this can be overcome. London also needs to target those groups who are less taken to cycling. This can be overcome with marketing campaigns and promotional festivals, educating children, and financial incentives (Oja & Vuori, 2000; Pucher, 1997; Sustrans, 2012). I anticipate bicycle thefts to increase substantially as the bike city takes shape. To combat this, I recommend adopting the Dutch system of persistently combating thefts through electronic identification and recovery of stolen bikes, and set targets for this (ECMT, 2004; Fietsberrad, 2010; LCC, 2012). Despite these, I believe that London is more than capable of transforming itself into a bike city.

Thank you for reading

By Barnaby Nash


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