This article looks into the small big and urban cycling.
I was recently listening to the audiobook version of The Small Big by Steve Martin, Dr. Noah Goldstein and Dr. Robert Cialdini. I like all the other books by Dr. Robert Cialdini so I thought I would check this one out.
Their research and examples in the book demonstrate that in the field of persuasion it is often the smallest change that makes the biggest difference to persuasive success. They call this a small big.
This made me think about whether this could be applied to other areas and things that I am interested in, such as creating a safe, inviting environment for people to cycle in in urban areas.
Last May, people in the UK were promised a “golden age” of cycling in the UK. Almost 9 months on, sure, there have been some good new segregated cycle lanes, but these do not constitute an integrated network.
Big ticket items such as segregated cycle lanes are reasonably hard to deliver and come complete with a lot of backlash from other road users.
Even the Park Lane bike lane, one of the better pieces of cycling infrastructure installed to get more people cycling is reportedly only temporary.
I am old enough to remember “Sky Cycle” which was being heavily promoted in 2011/12 as a revolutionary approach to cycling in London.
This went absolutely nowhere and served only to delay the implementation of real and meaningful solutions to make cycling safer London.
There are however at least 2 small big’s that I believe would improve the cycling experience in urban areas and cost relatively little to implement.
1. Car horns
The real question is, when is it legal to use your horn?
There is a really useful article which you can find here, which is produced by the Highway Code which lays out which uses of the car horn are permitted and which are not.
The use of the car horn is one of the more insidious acts carried out by drivers towards cyclists. I consider myself to be an extremely experienced cyclist and even for me it can spoil any ride that I am on. For inexperienced cyclists who are at the beginning of their cycling journey it could be something that puts them off entirely.
According to the Highway Code:
“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger, and not to indicate your annoyance.”
Just so we understand, if you are driving on a residential street with cars parked on both sides and there is a cyclist which you cannot overtake, it is illegal to use your horn to signal to them to pull over. It is only for emergencies.
The same goes for starting off at a set of traffic lights or a roundabout. Cyclists can not pull off as fast as a car can, and so yes, it is illegal to use your car horn signal your displeasure at the slower starting pace.
Car drivers who do not cycle would not know this, but when you are inside the car, the volume of the horn is reduced significantly. Using the horn in an aggressive manner to signal displeasure is not only illegal, for the cyclist in the open air it is very distressing as the noise is very loud and they also have the feeling that they may be about to be run over.
The first small big would be to get back to a situation where the horn is only used for emergencies and not directed towards cyclists. This is the law anyway, so it is not asking for much for this simply to be enforced.
2. Broken glass
I can’t speak for other cities as I have not travelled around for the past year, but London has a big problem with the amount of broken glass on the roads.
Car tyres are significantly thicker and more durable than bicycle tyres so driving through your average patch of broken glass will normally not result in a puncture.
But for the unlucky cyclist, there is a very significant chance that this will lead to an immediate puncture or a slow puncture, where the tyre deflates over the course of the journey.
Broken glass comes in two parts, broken bottles that are dropped by drunk people, who I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and say that they do this by mistake.
Another very dangerous form of broken glass is the detritus that is left in the road after a car accident, either from the wing mirrors or the casing that cover the front and rear lights on a car. This material is extremely sharp and hazardous to cyclists and I have received numerous punctures from this material.
This second form of sharp material is the easier of the two to solve. If there has been an accident, the guilty party’s insurance company should be liable for cleaning up the mess. Where material is on the road where a wing mirror has been clipped, councils should be vigilant to clean up this sharp material as fast as possible.
The broken glass that frequently covers the side of the road that is from alcohol bottles is a trickier problem to solve. I found out only today that the local authority that I live in has an App where you can log such incidents so that they can be cleaned up.
But prevention would obviously be preferable to this, so more bins and a public education campaign to reduce the amount of bottles should help to reduce this.
There is nothing more demoralising for a cyclist than the feeling you get from a flat tyre. Especially if you need to get somewhere in a hurry. For new cyclists this is potentially very off-putting and is why my second small big is a multifaceted campaign to reduce the amount of broken glass on the road.
What you need to know
This article looked into the small big and urban cycling.
There is a lot that can be learned from the book The Small Big and it comes highly recommended from me.
My two proposals for small big’s to improve cycling in urban areas were tacking the illegal use of car horns in non-emergencies and a multifaceted campaign to reduce the amount of broken glass that is found by the side of the road.
These are two things that should be happening anyway, but aren’t, so I would struggle to see who could oppose such ideas.
It would be interesting to learn what others make of my suggestions.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to encourage more cycling in urban areas?
This article looks into what needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities.
If coronavirus has proved one thing to be true, it is that great shifts are possible in short periods of time, if there is sufficient impetus to make the changes.
This crisis has reminded me of a quotation by Lenin that I will post below:
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
It has been great to see mayors and regional leaders supporting cycling as a route back to normality. There is no way that we can return to packed rush hour tube carriages and busses any time soon. But people will still need to move around cities for work and for leisure.
This made me think about the actions that are required to reimagine cities as cycling cities.
To get there, it is not necessary to invent solutions from scratch. Rather best practices can be borrowed from cycling hotspots. I will post the chart below from Pucher and Buehler’s seminal 2008 article Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.
As we can see, The Netherlands, followed by Denmark have by far the highest rates of cycling. Unfortunately, the data is not as up to date as it could be, and some of the laggards have likely moved on a bit, but there is still much that can be learned from them.
The following 5 items will go a long way to reimagine any city as a cycling city:
1. Provide separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections
2. Traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods where full segregation is not possible
3. Rights of way in favour of cyclists wherever possible
4. Ample bike parking
5. Making driving expensive and inconvenient
Going down the list, it is important that cyclists feel safe, so that everyone from young children to elderly adults feel confident enough to buy and use their bike. This is achieved by having as many routes as possible where cyclists are fully segregated from vehicular traffic. This means no to token gestures such as bike logos and blue paint on the roadside. Real infrastructure is required to achieve real results.
Where this is not possible such as on quiet residential streets, vehicular traffic should be slowed down, ideally to no faster than 20mph and rigorously enforced.
You get more of things you subsidise and less of things you punish. Ideally rights of way should always be in favour of cyclists. Why this notion has been allowed to develop where city centres have been turned over to private cars, with pedestrians and cyclists treated unfairly and forced to wait for long periods of time at crossings.
Secure bike parking is a necessity. Good quality parking infrastructure for cyclists is not hard to create. Cyclists should not be chaining bikes to railings and other non-suitable items but are so often forced to because of the lack of U locks in city centres and covered bike hangars in inner city areas where they live. If possible CCTV is a great deterrent to prevent theft and to reduce the worry about theft by potential cyclists.
I have touched on this in some of the above points, but to create the cycling city, you have to imagine a city with fewer cars. Cars travel at greater speeds, requiring frequent overtaking of cyclists, they require far greater amounts of parking space and unless they are fully electric they create urban air pollution, which is damaging to all and especially damaging to some. Space in urban areas is at a premium, if it is dedicated to one use, such as driving, it can be used for cycling, but this is not ideal. The cycling city is a city where people cycle because it is the easiest and cheapest mode of transport, but where cars are heavily restricted, to prevent a freerider phenomenon, where driving looks attractive because of the lack of congestion caused by policies to encourage cycling.
What you need to know
This article looked into what cities need to do to reimagine themselves as cycling cities.
The solutions already exist, and they can be borrowed from cities that experience high levels of cycling that they have maintained for many decades.
This is an opportunity to reimagine cities, not just in a crisis aversion mode, but for shaping a positive future long term.
Maybe people like the lack of air pollution, the quiet streets and the lack of congestion. If people like these things and they want to keep them, then they should be able to.
The route towards more cycling cities is possible, but it needs policies that promote cycling and discourage driving in equal measure.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities?
This article investigates street architecture on Kentish Town Road and suggests that more needs to be done to reclaim space from parked cars, especially now there is a nationwide policy of social distancing.
The picture above is taken from outside my house on Kentish Town Road in the London Borough of Camden earlier today.
I would say it is typical of a high street in a metropolitan area, especially in London.
After taking a tape measure to the pavement section, this measured up at 390 cm.
Whilst the car parking space measured up at 198 cm.
This is actually pretty good as Inclusive Mobility (2002) advises that ideally the width of the footway should be 200 cm to facilitate two people in wheelchairs to pass each other comfortably. So we can anticipate that there is likely to be pavements in London well under the 390 cm on Kentish Town Road.
Interestingly, according to the British Parking Association, there is a minimum width of 180 cm for on-street parallel parking, so the space here is slightly larger than the minimum.
Where I am going with this, is that with a pavement width of 390 cm, unless there is a segregation system where people walking in different directions pick a side, and stick to the edge, it is challenging to keep 2 metres apart, to meet the governments social distancing requirements.
This could be simplified a lot by reclaiming space dedicated to car parking and using this to create ultra-wide pavement spaces for pedestrians.
There is no need for anything fancy, a simple line of cones and a sign informing of the changes would do.
This predicament reminded me of the excellent illustration by Karl Jilg from the Swedish Road Administration.
Without thinking, over time so much space has been designated to the motor car, that pedestrians have become confined to small patches of land. Hemmed into only the spaces that are left, after copious amounts of space have been designated to moving and stationary cars.
With a highly infectious virus in our midst, now is the perfect time to challenge these norms and reclaim space on Britain’s high streets for pedestrians.
I also believe more space should be segregated to a make space for cyclists, so that people can get to where they need to without the need for public transport. With or without a virus, this makes a great deal of sense. With social distancing measures that will potentially be in place for some time, it is essential.
The UK has been slow to make these kinds of emergency changes. Countries and regions all over the world have been rushing to enact emergency measures to reclaim space to enable socially distanced mobility. Laura Laker has a great article where she summarises all of these changes.
In New Zealand, the Government is helping councils expand footpaths and roll out temporary cycleways to help people keep 2 metres apart until after the lockdown is lifted. This is what real leadership looks like.
Laura has another article on the proposed changes in Hackney. These look good to stop the problem of speeding on roads that are operating at reduced capacity, but do not offer anything for socially distanced mobility for pedestrians or cyclists.
What you need to know
This article investigated reclaiming space on Britain’s high streets for pedestrians to have more space to enjoy socially distanced mobility. In an emergency, car parking spaces on high streets are a luxury we cannot afford.
I also believe space needs to be reclaimed for cyclists. This would significantly reduce pressure on public transport systems.
I appreciate concerns that right now, the priority is on not encouraging the public to travel at all. But I think we need to look beyond that, to a time when travel is allowed, but social distancing is still in force.
A great way to solve the conundrum of busy public transport systems would be to massively encourage the uptake of cycling by potentially novice cyclists. One way to do this is to make it dramatically safer. This can be encouraged in the short term by reclaiming space from car lanes and ensuring that everyone can get from A to B in London on a route that is completely segregated from cars. This would make a big difference.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to enable socially distanced mobility?
This article looks into cargo bikes and asks if they are the future?
This article comes off the back of a very interesting day I had with Michael Barratt at the Constructors Cycle Experience event on Thursday. This proved to be very eye opening. Two of the main things I learned were about the need to adapt cycle specific junctions to cope with the extra turning circle that cargo bikes require. The other was about the very real opportunities that cargo bikes provide for urban transportation and last mile logistics.
The quote below demonstrates exactly what last mile logistics is:
“Last mile delivery is defined as the movement of goods from a transportation hub to the final delivery destination. The final delivery destination is typically a personal residence. The focus of last mile logistics is to deliver items to the end user as fast as possible.”
The video below from DHL shows just how powerful an instrument cargo bikes can be when integrated into the logistics system of a large multinational.
The stats behind DHL’s use of bikes for last mile logistics are impressive. One bike replaces two vehicles, with bikes capable of carrying up to 125Kg. Interestingly, the bikes can make twice as many stops per hour as the vehicle. This shows why DHL is opting for this solution, it makes sense from an economic perspective as well as having environmental and CSR benefits.
The video below from DW News highlights how cargo bikes, particularly with the advent of electrification are also suitable for small businesses operating in urban environments.
It shows how transitioning from a van to a cargo E-bike is great for the wellbeing of the person cycling. The person can also save €180 in fuel costs by making this switch. There are still some drawbacks though, at €3,700 a cargo bike is more in the price range of a car than a bike. This may dissuade people from having a cargo bike for summer use as it may be an either-or purchasing decision. It is also important to point out that it is still a relatively niche market, but it will hopefully grow into a significant market in the future.
What you need to know
This article looked into cargo bikes.
We looked at what last mile logistics is.
We looked into examples from small operators and large multinationals which demonstrate the power of cargo bikes.
Cargo bikes are a viable option for last mile logistics. Even with a switch to electric delivery vehicles, you still encounter problems with traffic, parking and congestion charges. Bikes encounter none of these problems. Hopefully we see a greater variety of businesses choosing to make cargo bikes a core part of their operations.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to encourage greater use of cargo bikes?
This week’s article focusses on solutions that can be deployed to overcome the barriers to cycling.
1. Fix the urban environment
Fixing the urban environment has to be the number 1 priority for any local authority interested in increasing their rates of cycling. This includes providing fully segregated cycle routes on all arterial and other busy roads in urban areas. The research by Pooley, et al revealed that for most non-avid cyclists, they will only do so when their routes are completely segregated from traffic.
2. Traffic calming measures
Their needs to be effective restrictions on traffic speeds, parking and access on all residential roads and routes not covered by segregated bike paths. This provides cyclists with a safe and convenient environment in which to travel. Ideas include 20 mph speed limits, traffic calming infrastructure measures and resident only access by car in some areas.
3. Legal changes
The system of legal liability should be reformed to protect the most vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. One option would be to adopt strict liability, so that pedestrians or cyclists injured by a motor vehicle would not have to prove fault in seeking compensation. This legal form places an obligation on drivers to obtain insurance that will pay vulnerable victims independently of fault. This is adopted in many countries with high rates of cycling and incentivises drivers to act carefully.
4. Planning and development changes
There needs to be changes in the spatial structure through planning legislation. This would make accessing common services by bike easy. This would restrict out-of-town developments and mandate the provision of secure bicycle parking facilities and the provision of cycle storage facilities in new homes.
5. Socioeconomic changes
The research by Pooley, et al revealed how socioeconomic factors often acted as barriers to cycling. These need to be resolved to increase cycling rates. These include the greater use of flexi time, more family friendly welfare policies and policies to encourage children to go to the most local school. These changes would make it easier for people to use the most sustainable form of transport to get to school and to work.
6. Image change
It is necessary to change the image of cycling and walking. There is a need for campaigns to promote walking and cycling as normal and something that is for everyone. This would also follow on naturally from all of the above policies, which would see more people cycling and so help to normalise this as a transport mode and not an activity.
What you need to know
This article looked into how the barriers to cycling can be overcome. It was based on the analysis of the book Promoting Walking and Cycling by Pooley et al.
What should be clear from both of these articles is that there are a number of barriers that are holding down rates of cycling in the UK, but that there are specific solutions that could address this.
It is clear that hard infrastructural changes need to be made to segregate cyclists from vehicles as much as possible, alongside traffic calming measures where this is not possible.
Then legal changes could make drivers more aware that they will face consequences for injuring a cyclist and so drive more cautiously.
Planning and development changes are required and development changes are needed to create an urban form more conducive to cycling.
Socioeconomic changes are needed to make cycling possible for some families and a marketing campaign is needed to change the image of cycling.
Overall, all of these changes would go a long way to increasing rates of cycling in the UK.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to increase rates of cycling?
This article looks into barriers to cycling. It is based on analysis drawn from the excellent book Promoting Walking and Cycling by Pooley, et al. You can find an image of the cover below.
Based on their time spend researching the barriers to cycling and how they can be overcome, they identify 5 main themes that act as barriers to greater levels of cycling in the UK.
1. Problems associated with urban infrastructure
Cycling like any activity requires space for it to flourish. For too long and in too many places it was simply assumed that cyclists could use the exact same infrastructure that was built for cars with no alterations and modifications. Where this is the case it is hard for cycling to break through as a mainstream form of transportation as it is perceived to be highly dangerous by large segments of the population. The authors single out junctions in particular as one of the road areas most in need of modification to accommodate cyclists. But which is often not completed.
2. Issues of safety and risk
This follows on from the lack of designated space for cyclists to use. It is simply the case that to many fast, busy roads come across as being inappropriate for cycling. It also encompasses people who may feel at risk cycling alone at night and those who worry about a potential theft of a bike at their home, work or other parking location.
3. Constraints imposed by families and lifestyles
Another major barrier that arose was the difficulty of getting multi-person, multi-age households to make all or some of their journeys by bike. These include problems of storing and maintaining a fleet of road worthy bikes for all of the family. Including all of the equipment necessary to cycle safety in all 4 seasons
4. The impact of weather and topography
Another barrier that arose frequently was that of concerns over wet weather and hills. Wet weather means that modifications to the bicycle such as mudguards and cycling specific wet weather gear is needed. Whereas hills present an obstacle in that they are physically exhausting to climb if they are very large and they also may not be able to be climbed on bikes with few gears, meaning that a more sophisticated bicycle with more gears is required. The authors did make clear that the impact of topography and hills registered as a barrier far more infrequently than some of the barriers that have already been mentioned.
5. The influence of culture and image
Cycling is not yet a major mode of transportation in the UK, although there are positive moves in this direction. Its marginal status means that a vibrant culture of cycling for transport has not developed in many areas in the UK. I will quote from the authors below:
“With cycling we have entered a self-reinforcing and downward spiral, in which barriers to cycling ensure it remains unusual, and its unusual status deters and/ or sabotages efforts to make it more normal and mainstream.”
It is sad that for many people in many places in the UK, cycling does not even register as a form of transportation to be used on a daily basis. There is an argument to be made that this could be a rational decision, made on thee basis of the lack of infrastructure available.
What you need to know
This article looked into barriers to cycling. It is based on analysis drawn from the excellent book Promoting Walking and Cycling by Pooley, et al. What should be clear is that there are a range of barriers preventing cycling from being taken up as a form of transportation by people in the UK. These range from purely technical to sociological phenomena. It therefore stands to reason that in integrated approach is required that seeks to come at the problem from many angles is required.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think the main barriers to cycling are?
This article looks into 3 reasons why Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world for cyclists.
Amsterdam is a European and world cultural capital. It is famous for being a party hotspot and for being exceedingly liberal where other world cities choose not to be. It is also a phenomenal city for cyclists. Let’s now turn to why this is the case.
The cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam is first rate. Where most cities in the world are crying out for an integrated network of separated bike lanes. Amsterdam has these in abundance. This network is worth far more than the sum of its parts. You can get from almost any location to any other location by bike in an extremely safe and segregated manner.
Where separated bike lanes are not available, you can make use of quiet backstreets and parks which are well integrated into the system of bike lanes.
This network of safe segregated bike lanes is such that you see many people aged 8-80 and quite possibly beyond that range cycling across the city. You see almost no wearing of helmets or Hi-Vis jackets whatsoever, such is peoples feeling of safety and confidence. It is not uncommon to see pregnant ladies and parents and grandparents cycling with children in child seats. This is an extremely safe system to cycle on.
Overall, it cannot be overstated just how high quality the cycling infrastructure is in Amsterdam.
The sad truth is that cities around the world have largely oriented themselves around the private car and have made cycling an afterthought. In Amsterdam this is not the case. Time and again the city authorities go to unbelievable levels of effort to make cycling easier and safer.
Whereas in a lot of areas cyclists are seen as a problem to be managed, in Amsterdam they are seen as a solution to be encouraged. We will now look into a few examples of these extraordinary efforts.
The cycling and walking tunnel under Amsterdam Central Station is my personal favourite. It looks really nice and makes a great cut through for the two most sustainable forms of urban transit.
Next is the giant multi-storey bike park adjacent to Amsterdam Central Station. I have never really understood how people manage to find their bikes in there after they park them, but it is a remarkable piece of infrastructure nonetheless.
Lastly, the effort that goes into junctions and roundabouts is absolutely outstanding. Having a network of segregated paths is great, but how that system fits together is also vitally important. With cycling infrastructure you are only as strong as your weakest point. At junctions there are buttons and traffic lights specifically designed for cyclists. You feel incredibly safe cycling at junctions in Amsterdam.
The culture of cycling in Amsterdam makes it a truly special place for cyclists.
Cycling infrastructure can only do so much. In many places drivers take it upon themselves to intimidate cyclists in the most egregious manner. In Amsterdam this does not happen. Because almost all car drivers will also be cyclists, there is an entente cordiale between cyclists and drivers the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else. This means that where drivers and cyclists come close to one another such as on back streets, that cars are incredibly civil. It also means that drivers are far more likely to check their wing mirrors before opening a car door, as they would not wish for it to happen to them. You only get behaviour like this once you fully embed a cycling culture within a city.
Further advantages of having a cycling culture within a city is the factor of safety in numbers.
Safety in numbers helps a lot on journeys across the city, but it is also useful when parking. In a lot of places it would be incredibly unusual to just lock your wheels, but in Amsterdam this is commonplace. With so many bikes parked in so many places, the chance of your bike becoming a victim of theft is small.
In other cities where there are only a small number of highly professional bike commuters it is necessary to lock your bike against a fixed object.
Overall, Amsterdam has a phenomenal cycling culture and is a special place for cyclists.
What you need to know
This article looked into 3 reasons why Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world for cyclists.
The infrastructure in Amsterdam is extensive of high quality and extremely safe to use.
The effort the city authorities go to to roll out the red carpet for cyclists is stunning when compared to cities around the world.
The culture of cycling in Amsterdam is deeply ingrained into the psyche of the city. This makes it special.
Overall, cycling in Amsterdam is not like cycling in any other city in the world.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think is the best city in the world for cycling in?
This article is a collection of pictures and videos of London, like you have never seen it before. It contains footage of people cycling safely through London, in what would otherwise be a hostile environment for cyclists.
This was my first year attending RideLondon. It is a fantastic event and if you haven’t been I highly recommend going.
Cycling along The Mall with no cars was excellent.
Cycling under Admiralty Arch was wonderful, as you can see there are many children on the ride.
Chancery Lane is one of my favourite streets in London. Listen to all the noises you can hear with no cars.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one of my favourite parks in London, it was great to see it so car free and quiet.
A scene in Blackfriars, shot during a cafe stop.
What you need to know
RideLondon is a fantastic event, which does a lot to promote cycling within London. A few things impressed me. The number of children and families was higher than I expected. The number of clearly novice cyclists was also higher than I expected as was the number of attendees.
What I was most struck by was how quite it was. In central London, it makes you realise that cars and buses make an extremely large amount of noise, which makes life in cities unpleasant. Cycling on the other hand is an extremely quiet mode of transport.
I have for a long time been convinced that the private car has no place in city centers. How you go about removing it is a tricky question.
A first step could be to ban all but electric vehicles from the city center. That deals with an air pollution problem, but not a street architecture, cycling safety or congestion problem.
You could also play around with the congestion charge, with surge pricing during commutes or road pricing. These could work, but those with money and a willingness to pay would still be able to enter the city center.
Would would be a more equitable solution would be to remove the car from city centers entirely. It would be a solution that would work for people, the planet and help businesses become more profitable. Urban areas without cars are wonderful places. In order to create an urban renaissance and to make sure that scenes like the ones in RideLondon happen more frequently, London needs to stand up to the private car.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this kind of content, let me know and I can make more articles like this.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
Dorling, D. (2010, November). Roads, Casualties and Public Health: the Open Sewers of the 21st Century. PACTS’ 21st Westminster Lecture and ETSC’s 12th European Transport Safety Lecture. Lecture conducted from One Birdcage Walk, London, England.