A London Cycling Campaign (LCC) report says that women are afraid to cycle in London because of the abuse they face. It was launched with and responded to by the Deputy Mayor for Policing, who detailed actions the Mayor himself would take to address the problem.
This is a new departure. Nine years ago the LCC was promoting research saying that women are afraid to cycle in London because of being close-passed by vehicles and “feeling unsafe”.
That research, combined with claims that the way to encourage more people to cycle was to build a network of cycle tracks, led to substantial amounts of money being spent on introducing kerbs, removing pedestrian refuges and widening roads to accommodate those special lanes.
The more responsible Transport for London officers of the time pointed out that these schemes involved a 25 per cent reduction in motor vehicle capacity within the central area and would probably result in equally significant extra congestion as a consequence. When congestion duly occurred, excuses included a rise in the number of Uber vehicles and Amazon deliveries to workplaces. Politicians argued it could all be sorted out by re-phasing traffic lights.
Such scrutiny as there was, via official channels, typically only invited evidence from those involved with supposedly increasing cycling by building tracks or lanes. The capital’s official transport-users’ advocate, London TravelWatch, ceased to be asked. Few criteria for success seem to have been set, such as a realistic percentage increase in people cycling. And little increase was seen.
Reports from TfL hypothesised that people who already cycled were re-routing themselves onto the new infrastructure and cycling further. Although it is clear that there has been some rise in the number of people cycling since the pandemic, that growth appears to be mostly in leisure cycling at weekends, and no studies explore what proportion of cyclists are providing food delivery services.
Meanwhile, bus speeds have slowed, with many bus priority measures, such as bus lanes, replaced by cycle lanes. At the same time, blind and mobility-impaired people have become less independent. Many “feel unsafe” when getting off buses at stops to which bypasses for cyclists have been added or when having to cross cycle lanes to board.
In addition, walking has become a less efficient mode since the removal of pedestrian refuges – the most familiar examples are best known as traffic islands – and the widening of roads. Other measures, have reduced opportunities for informal road-crossing at desire lines. For regular cyclists, such as myself, cycle journeys in London have become less direct and therefore longer because Google directs you to cycle tracks.
Some people have benefited from the increase in cycle tracks in London – after all, road space has been set aside for their exclusive use. The evidence suggests they are overwhelmingly white, middle-class and male, a demographic profile little altered in recent years.
Hence, Sadiq Khan funding projects that seek to increase diversity in London’s cycling population – though, again, with no success criteria – and now committing to various actions to help women as a result of the new LCC report.
We can only hope that those actions do not have the negative impact on a wide range of Londoners as did the actions arising from the previous LCC research – and that, nine years from now, the LCC itself is not looking for more new reasons why women don’t cycle.
Rita Krishna was a Hackney councillor from 2002 to 2014 and in that capacity chaired the borough’s road safety scrutiny review. She continues to take an interest in streets and streets policy. Follow her on X/Twitter. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Photo from On London July 2019.