For reasons too complicated to explain I have recently moved from Hackney to Hampstead. Traumas this has induced include guilt over committing a crime against borough fidelity and the need to master a new route for cycling to work. The latter has been the more demanding.
I am in a love/hate relationship with Lime bikes, which have taken some getting used to – I spent what seemed like hours trying to understand the pricing structure. I also learned from experience that, despite being a very active Londoner, there are pockets of the city that are completely alien to me, meaning I took some wrong turns before finding the best way to Shoreditch.
But by the end of my first week, I’d figured it all out and, coincidentally, attended a presentation by Sadiq Khan’s cycling and walking commissioner, Will Norman. Articulate and industrious, Will is a leader among the many thousands who have campaigned, protested, developed, implemented and funded the radical cycling transformation that London has undergone.
My first cycle commute in 2001 was a relatively short, but I felt I was taking my life into my hands. What a contrast with my new, much longer daily trip, 80 per cent of which is in protected lanes. An impressive number of new cycling routes have been introduced since Will started his job in 2016. Congratulations to all involved for getting us this far.
But some issues still trouble Will and his colleagues, notably convincing more women and ethnic minority Londoners to take up cycling which is, without doubt, the easiest and most cost-effective way of keeping fit and the quickest for getting round the city. No prizes for guessing that, for women, safety is key. And so is convenience, which includes being able to park easily and in a safe space.
There is a massive issue around ‘what do I do with my bike?’ when not using it. Motorists in London did not have this problem. Back when the car was given precedence in transport planning, ample car parks were provided and soon multiplied into thousands, able to accommodate vehicles of all sizes and provide extra-large spaces for disabled drivers and parents and children.
The same principle should be applied for cyclists. Currently, finding a cycle rack at all is a voyage of discovery. And not only are they few and far between, if you ride anything with a footprint wider than a road bike you are in trouble.
Some bikes simply don’t fit the spaces available. Last year, I interviewed Mary Caulfield, who cycles with her support dog. Mary needs more space than others around the bike to manoeuvre when she gets on and off it. In my case, I sometimes ride a Pashley bike, which is heavy, wide and safe on the road but a pain to park. I am forever disentangling it from other bikes competing for the limited space.
Much has been made of new buildings with state-of-the-art cycle facilities for the businesses that occupy them. That’s a great move forward, but what about people who are just visiting? Number 22 Bishopsgate and the Bloomberg building, both in the City, have laughably small numbers of racks outside for anyone coming just for a meeting or to eat in the restaurants. By contrast, I visited the Edge head office in Amsterdam last year and there were spaces outside for hundreds of bikes. It’s worth noting that some buildings with new cycle storage have had to alter their ramps as the tracks are not wide enough to accommodate wider tyres. It is clear that one size does not fit all.
Soho is another matter entirely. It’s almost impossible to find somewhere to park there that is not down a side alley. Most women don’t want to navigate out-of-the-way places, whether in daylight or in the dark. I am not suggesting we suddenly launch a programme to build loads of multi-storey bike parks, but if the principle of convenience was accepted for car-drivers why not for cyclists too?
Most women’s “to-do” lists are exhausting enough as it is. They are less likely to take up cycling if finding a place to park a bike is added to them. Make it easier and more of them might take to two wheels.
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