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In the latest of our London Society/OnLondon debates we looked at cycling policy in the capital. A lot of money has been spent on constructing cycle lanes and other infrastructure in the capital in recent years and many large claims are being made for their success. But are the goals of London’s cycling policies really being met? Could the money have been spent more effectively? Has the focus of the policies of Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan and TfL been on the right things? Has too much faith been put in street infrastructure changes at the expense of other measures to increase and broaden London’s cycling demographic? Have such questions ever been properly addressed? Cities where more people cycle tend to be cleaner, pleasanter and more highly-regarded by their inhabitants, so what can be done to increase the number of cyclists and the number of journeys done by bicycle in the capital?

The Twitter discussion before was, at times, vituperative, but as Roger Cline reports, the actual debate was good-natured and informative.

Dave Hill of chaired the discussion. A good city needs streets that are hospitable, inviting, safe and efficient. He argued that cycling policies based entirely on the infrastructure are flawed.

2018 showed the highest growth (5%) in cycle journeys since 2015. Cycle journeys increased faster in areas of cycle improvements, but this might be accounted for by existing cyclists switching their journeys to use the facilities rather than the introduction of new cyclists. Cyclists tend to be white, middle-aged and with higher than average income, using bicycles regularly. Given the benefits to cities of more journeys being undertaken by cycling and walking, what can be done to encourage greater take up of cycling by groups that are currently underrepresented?

The first speaker was Patricia Brown, Director of Central, a consultancy largely centred on the dynamics of cities and the process of achieving change. Patricia outlined the changes of the last 20 years; from 2001 to 2016 the population of London increased from 7.3 to 8.7 million. The Central London Partnership persuaded local businesses to lead and fund projects such as the removal of vehicles from the north side of Trafalgar Square. Businesses encouraged cycling by providing cycle storage, changing rooms and showers. Surveys were made of the most-used cycle and walking routes. The introduction of the Congestion Charge prompted a noticeable increase in cycle journeys, but it also cluttered pavements and public transport with bulky luggage previously carried in private cars. The Central London Partnership also provided local street maps on standards in the street, showing journey times to nearby places. It also provided electric charging points, automatic delivery trucks running on pavements, developed electric scooters. Traffic is not something we encounter, we are traffic. And the behaviour of (many) cyclists is a problem.

The London Movement (ie Highway) Code includes looking out for traffic from behind when crossing at a crossroads, not starting to cross (but OK to complete the crossing) when pelican lights are flashing. Knowledge of rights and responsibilities needs to be shared. Planning policies need to be inclusive, generous, artistic, empathetic, respecting people’s dignity and different needs. The future is the product of present action.

Jill Rutter worked at the Institute for Government and cycled regularly to work, and she stated that there are three types of cyclist, the first strong, fearless and not requiring special infrastructure, the second comfortable with special infrastructure although not regarding it essential and the third hesitant and fearful of other road users.

The first group of cyclists do use the infrastructure which may put off the other groups. The different speeds of the groups and difficulty of overtaking leads to bunching. The fixed total width of existing streets leads to competition for space between cyclists and cars and makes pedestrian crossings of motor vehicle and cycle path combinations much more complicated. [Rita Krishna made the point that with separate tracks along a road for cyclists, buses and other vehicles a pedestrian wishing to cross needs a longer time without traffic passing in order to cross]

Cycle infrastructure needs proper connectivity with the beginning and end of a cycle journey. It has to be planned centrally, not by separate boroughs. New cyclists may have been encouraged by the Ride London event in early August when streets were closed to other traffic. It would be useful to survey people at bus stops to ask why they are not using a bicycle to make the journey.

Streets built before the car era are cluttered by parked cars which are only driven for a small fraction of their existence, often leaving a single lane in which a motor vehicle cannot safely pass a cyclist.

Rita Krishna moved from being a Councillor five years ago to working with the London Cycling Campaign. One person in six is a cyclist and three quarters of these cycle at least once a week. Ken Livingstone was a strong Mayor and successfully introduced the Congestion Charge, but Boris Johnson abandoned the western extension of the Charge area (west of Park Lane) and TfL has given up a more general road user charge [Leon Daniels said that a more sophisticated road charging system was technically possible but was politically toxic, at least to right-wing governments.] In Rita’s opinion every street should be cyclable – living in London has become less enjoyable

Leon Daniels OBE had been managing director of surface transport at TfL. He stressed the need for a policy fair to all; he was aware people gave untrue answers to surveys to re-inforce their prejudices. A city should be self-healing, able to accommodate changes, such as autonomous vehicles; it should facilitate rather than prevent movements. Policies should cover the whole transport system and everybody’s needs, not just one mode such as cycling. Improvement of cycling alone means slower buses, more difficult deliveries and more dangerous walking. There should be peaceful co-existence, not a war. He said a road user hierarchy was important but did not say how users should be ordered. The problems were of behaviour and attitude which could only be solved by training to add confidence and skills (a point supported by a later questioner who remembered the cycle proficiency training in the school playground). Modern developments have led to more van deliveries from the likes of Amazon and the proliferation of (large) private hire vehicles.

A lively question and answer session followed, continuing after the close of the main meeting. The problem of being able to secure a bicycle to street furniture in the area around the Covent Garden meeting room was highlighted, now that lamppost bases were of a diameter wider than shackle locks and most pavement-edge railings had been removed and there were no cycle hoops in surrounding pavements.

Readers may also be interested in this report of the debate from Velocity Magazine.

Got a view of your own? Join the discussion in the comments section below.