The case for Londoners cycling more and driving less is pretty much unanswerable. Yet for all the media and financial support cycling has received in recent years, it continues to form a tiny part of the city’s transport picture. While great and sometimes triumphalist attention is focussed on the number of bicycles that cross Blackfriars Bridge in the morning peak, Transport for London figures continue to show that cycling, though increasing, still accounts for just 2% of trips and journey stages across the capital as a whole. What are the best ways to make the biggest difference?
Any suggestion that installing segregated lanes might not be the most effective policy or best use of public money risks unleashing the wrath of cycling activism’s most fervent fundamentalists. That, of course, is all the more reason for making one. However, the conclusions of a recent report by London Travelwatch, the capital’s statutory transport users’ watchdog, have not been drawn out of an urge to annoy. On the contrary, they are as scientific as they are salutary.
Its twelve recommendations for encouraging greater use of bicycles are led by measures to restrain and discourage car use rather than by the engineering of cycle-specific infrastructure, important though it considers that to be. A “wider and more sophisticated system of roads pricing” heads its list, followed by reducing car parking facilities where good alternative transport is available, encouraging car-free housing developments, closing roads to through traffic, and various traffic calming initiatives.
Lanes, advanced stop lines and highway management changes also feature, though TravelWatch deputy chair John Stewart says that European cities with high levels of cycling show us that only controlling and restricting car use “will really change travel behaviour and result in much more cycling”.
This view draws on research by Professor Ruth Oldenziel of Eindhoven University, which found that the growth of cycling cultures in Dutch and other cities has often been haphazard, unplanned and incremental rather than the direct outcome of specific pro-cycling policy principles. She regards the curbing of motorists to have been the most effective element enabling the flourishing of cycling in Amsterdam, which is often cited as a model by cycling campaigners.
The TravelWatch report sets out (in Appendix D) how “cycle specific infrastructure” can be problematic for cyclists (and other road users) as well as beneficial, and warns that although cycle lanes can reduce the perception of danger to cyclists, which is important, “it may not always be the case that these measures actually reduce the number of casualties or the severity of injuries”. Research by the Road Safety Observatory is cited.
The report also confirms, drawing on TfL’s London Travel Demand Survey, that the London cycling demographic is overwhelmingly male and affluent and largely white: men outnumber women by almost three to one; the largest numbers of cycle trips are made by people earning between £50,000 and £75,000 a year; and Londoners identifying as white British form the largest ethnic category, although the combined total of black and Asian cyclists is substantial (Appendix B).
There are also large variations in cycling levels across Greater London, with residents of Inner London boroughs generally cycling more than those of Outer London .
Read the whole of London TravelWatch’s Cycling in London report via here. Photograph of cyclist in Golders Green by Max Curwen-Bingley.