City University London recently held a debate on the policy, design and safety challenges posed by the growing number of cyclists in large cities.
As outlined in this week’s Cycling Weekly (Thursday November 24), there was a recurring theme that cyclists could do more to help themselves.
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At a small reception following the event, we spoke with four attendees about some of the subjects thrown up in the discussion.
We also asked them what they might do to help improve conditions for the urban cyclist.
Student, Masters in Regional and Urban planning at London School of Economics
What brought you to today’s debate?
I’ve lived in London for six weeks now and I’ve been really inspired by the cycling culture here. I’m interested in how it’s evolved and where it’s going. My city back home, Toronto, is really lacking in cycling facilities and culture.
Has London surprised you?
Yes, very much so, especially since London is such a busy and crowded city. I think there are big provisions for cyclists – though they still could be much better. But I’m really inspired that doesn’t stop people cycling. They’re dedicated to cycling despite not having beautiful Copenhagen style bike lanes. They’ll go out and do it with what is there already. I think that commitment shows the government a demand about what could do with changing.
How have you found cycling in London?
I’ve loved it. It makes an incredible difference to the way you experience the city. For my first two weeks here I took the tube, before I managed to get a bike off Gumtree. I really had no sense of where I was and didn’t really interact with people. On the tube everyone has their heads down. But when cycling, you’re really able to connect all the landmarks and see the different people who are also out cycling with you. You see how the city changes throughout the day. You get a real flavour of where you are. It helped me quickly get an idea of where all the streets and different neighbourhoods are. Other people I know who’ve also just arrived, they just know the tube stations.
By getting around by bike, you probably already know a lot more of the city than many native Londoners…
Maybe. By the end of this year I will.
Does cycling in London and what you’ve heard at this debate relate to your course in planning?
Definitely. I’m interested in getting into the field of transport policy and planning which is a huge side of building cities now. Bikes are a good way of getting towards healthier cities – both socially and environmentally.
What was the most interesting point raised today?
I think it’s really important to acknowledge the people who have a difficult time accessing cycling. I think that in order to really to increase ridership you really have to look to the groups that aren’t currently inspired; who are marginalised; low income groups; people who live in crowded flats with no place to park their bikes etc. We want to inspire these people to also cycle.
How can you personally play a part in that?
I’m volunteering with Sustrans right now, which I think is a really incredible organisation. They have huge opportunities volunteering. And just getting involved with one thing makes you realise all the amazing projects they are involved in. They are really socially minded in their approach in trying to get people feeling comfortable. They really regard things at the individual level, so people who aren’t in government or policy making can help other individuals. I think everyone should get involved with Sustrans!
Head of training and development, Cycle Training UK
As a panellist, you obviously had a chance to get your own point across in the debate. But what points from the other panellists interested you?
I thought it was interesting to see that the London Cycling Campaign have really shifted to promoting segregation of cyclists from other traffic. The thrust of what we Cycle Trainers] are looking at is how to share space. It was also interesting to hear TfL’s response to where they go next. It almost feels like they’ve run out of steam. They’ve had some brilliant ideas, but when she [Alex Goodship] was asked what’s the next thing for TfL, she said Biking Boroughs. But that’s not a new scheme, its something they’re already doing.
It’s perhaps got the lower profile of their schemes too. It’s not putting shiny bikes on the street or painting roads blue.
No. Maybe they need a step change. Looking at 20mph [speed limits] across London. Looking at their own roads and how they can tame drivers on them.
These are things you think will make the most significant improvements for cyclists?
Taming drivers, giving them some responsibility, slowing speed, getting rid of all the bad infrastructure that’s still killing cyclists. We don’t need to have any more King’s Cross deaths. There’s still a lot of work to do.
Is it really down to bad infrastructure? Is that not deflecting the attention from bad driving?
To be honest, I think a lot of the SMIDSY concept. To what extent is it bad driving or the design of the road that cyclists are forced to ride over to the left of the road into a blind spot? Well, I think it’s a combination of both. A lot can be done with the infrastructure as well as behaviour of drivers.
Improvements should be made where possible…
Why should anyone be going more than 20mph at King’s Cross? Why is there is no place at all for cyclists through the junction? Why do we still have these dinosaur gyratories through London? Taking out a few of them: they should go and do a lot.
We need an overhaul of policy, don’t we? By looking at each gyratory or each junction on a case by case basis -like with Blackfriars- it might help solve one problem, but it leaves hundreds more black spots up and down the country.
Absolutely: we need a policy that every road should be cycleable. In America they have a concept of assessing the bikeability of the road. Bikeability here is now the name of the national standard of cycle training but I think we too should have a grade of the bikeability of a route and make sure it is a road that cyclists can ride safely on.
How do you feel about the London Cycling Campaign’s move towards segregating cyclists from other road traffic?
I think it’s OK when it works. As a main policy point, I think it misses the huge amount of work they can do in shared spaces. I’ve no problem with creating spaces for cyclists -and they’ve done it really well with things like the Hackney permeable cycling route. They used to say we’ll have a holistic approach and put in what works in different places. But to me it seems they’ve shifted and listened to quite a few segregationist voices in the LCC and are neglecting the possibility of integration when that can be done.
London’s an old city with an irregular layout and narrow streets. There’s not always space for segregation.
Exactly. So I like the idea of just having shared space corridors maybe connecting different squares in the centre of London where drivers are allowed but have to give good priority to cyclists, speeds are low and the engineering is such that it’s not that comfortable to drive. Drivers still need to move around but need discouraging.
After this debate, is there anything you’re going to come away and do differently?
I’m just carrying on doing more of the same: training as many cyclists, and now drivers, as I can. I think more driver training is good. TfL are now doing that with professional drivers. But I’d like to see all drivers training for cycling before getting their licence.
MSc course officer, Cass business school
What suggestions from the debate do you think would be helpful for progressing cycling in the city?
I think the main thing is about changing people’s perception. We need to change the perception [many] drivers have of cyclists as second class citizens and [encourage them to] give more space on the road and slow down for them.
That makes sense, but how can we change that perception?
I don’t think we can. It’s a dream I have. But an idea came up today that drivers should have cycling proficiency training before they get a driving licence. I think that would be really useful, so they know what it’s like.
What about something like the anti drink-driving campaigns which have been relatively successful with television advertising and hi-profile poster campaigns. Could that benefit cyclists?
Yeah, I think so. I know TfL have done a campaign and put pictures up on the underground. But it would be good to spread that across the whole of Britain. But I don’t think the funding will be there. I don’t think the government would fund it.
Do you think cycling in London will continue to boom?
Yes, I think it will. If enough people rally together then I think we could encourage more and more. It’s the only way to go really, given the increase in fuel prices.
And what can you yourself do to help that cause?
I have a bike blog for women like me so they can communicate with me and share experience on the road. It’s called: helpmychaincameoff. I have also been inspired from today to be more of an activist. I’m going to write to my local council and the borough about parts of my cycle route which I’m not happy about. Things like: not being able to see the traffic lights when I’m in the segregated section at the front of the traffic.
Student, environmental journalism, City University
What did you come away from the debate thinking?
London is very far behind where I come from, Copenhagen, and also a lot of the places I’ve visited in Europe. It’ll be a long time before London is a place where people would really want to ride a bike.
What are the best things about biking in Copenhagen?
When I came to London I had an idea that I wanted to ride a bike here. There’s one problem: you’re driving on the wrong side of the road! The solution to that problem would definitely be more cycling lanes, reserved for cycling, which there are a lot of in Copenhagen. That would encourage me to ride more.
So you’re saying, that because you’re from abroad and used to riding on the right hand side of the road, that’s a deterrent to cycling in the UK?
I’m used to riding on the other side of the road and when there’s no cycling lanes here, there lots of lorries, buses traffic passing fast in ways I’m not used to.
London’s a very cosmopolitan city. Do you think this is a common problem?
I guess for the first couple of months it is. I might think of hiring one of these Boris bikes and riding along one of the cycling highways and trying it out.
Did growing up in Copenhagen make cycling a very natural activity for you?
For me it’s always been about riding a bike there. Since I was 10, 12 years old, I’d ride to school. When I came to London to start my studies two months ago I thought you weren’t able to ride a bike here. The last time I was here and I didn’t see any bikes. I didn’t see any normal people like myself just riding round London on their bikes. So I just assumed everyone would just drive or take the tube.
Are you encouraged to come back seven years later and people are riding bikes?
Definitely, definitely, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s really encouraging.
Is there anything you could do to help develop cycling in the city?
I’m more encouraged now to hire a Barclays bike just to ride around. I travel by tube at the minute. My journey here takes about 35 minutes but by bike I think it would take 20 minutes. That must be worth a try.