Opinion: Cycling is our future
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
The transport ideas that capture the imagination tend to be big, new or flashy.
Most media reporting on the future of London’s transport focus on things like self-driving cars, electric vehicles or new railway lines that would cost billions of pounds. However, I believe that none of these technologies has the positive potential of the humble bicycle.
Cycling has numerous benefits and not only for cyclists. Apart from walking, it is the cheapest form of transport there is. It produces virtually no pollution. You can store a dozen bikes in the space required for a single parking space. In a city as cramped as London, that matters.
Most strikingly, it is a literal lifesaver. David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor of Risk at Cambridge University, has estimated that, even accounting for the risk of accidents and inhaling pollution, for an average healthy person, an hour’s cycling will raise your life expectancy by an hour.
Despite this, only 2 per cent of journeys in London are made by bike and these are concentrated in central London.
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It also appears that women, ethnic minorities and over-45s are all underrepresented among London’s cyclists.
We need to do more to convince all Londoners that cycling is an option for them.
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As we have seen, the reality is that cycling keeps us safe from the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. However, looking at cyclists riding in the same space as cars it doesn’t feel like that. So Transport for London (TfL) and councils need to do more to provide safe spaces for cyclists based on something more than paint on the road.
Lightweight, cheap physical infrastructure like “wands” can give cyclists their own space without requiring resurfacing, kerb separations or other expensive forms of infrastructure change.
London’s squeezed housing supply means many people now live in properties that don’t provide anywhere to securely store a bike. Councils can alleviate this problem by converting parking spaces into bike hangars. However, too many authorities have been too slow to introduce them. In Haringey, the waiting list for a space in a bike hanger is currently longer than for a parking permit, which is completely the wrong way round.
Finally, a point I feel quite acutely as I live at the top of one of north London’s highest hills, is that steep climbs can be a bit much for people who only want to cycle casually. Electric bikes can help and services like Lime that allow these bikes to be picked up and rented for short journeys now operate in much of London. However, once again, boroughs like Haringey are laggards. That should change.
These kinds of steps are not dramatic nor expensive, but with enough of them it is entirely possible for us to make cycling in London more common and more inclusive.
There is plenty of scope to do better. In Amsterdam, 38pc of journeys are made by bike. We should not accept anything less for London.