Are we looking at a #bloodycyclist revolution in London?
When car driver Emma Way last week tweeted ‘’definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists’’ , she could never have guessed the effect of her comments. Cyclists quickly vented their anger at her on Twitter via the hasthtag #bloodycyclists, spurring on a more interesting and needed general debate about cycling safety.
In the last decade, London has seen a massive cycle movement unfold increasing 173% since 2001, more recently helped by Mayor Boris Johnson’s personal passion for cycling and his roll out of the Barclays ‘Boris Bikes’ hire bike scheme. This coupled with the establishment of the ‘ride to work’ scheme by employers, which let’s employees pay back the cost of their bike taxfree over a 12 month period and the growth of several urban cycling community groups, means the London cycling movement has gone from being a fringe green movement to a mainstream one in a relatively short space of time.
But issues facing cyclists in London are manyfold; the most pressing is unquestionably safety. In an already crowded city, cyclists compete daily with larger, noisier and more dangerous vehicles at all times and many city dwellers who would otherwise gladly hop on their bike to commute to work, are far too intimidated to do so. Until recently, the general sentiment was that the Greater London Authority was ignoring these concerns, in favour of more interesting infrastructure challenges.
In March this year something remarkable happened, the Mayor’s new cycle commissioner Andrew Gilligan promptly announced new cycling plans, that are set to be the most ambitious seen in London to date. The plans scoped out nearly £1 billion worth of investments, including a segregated cross rail style cycling superhighway, a London underground style cycling route network following tube lines and more quiet routes, in addition to addressing many of the safety concerns highlighted by campaigners such as HGV movements etc.
But there is issues with these plans; the main one being that Transport for London (TFL) only own 5% of London’s roads, the rest are owned by individual councils and it will therefore be upto the GLA to approve plans within boroughs, an unquestionably lengthily and bureaucratic process.
On Tuesday 4th June, Andrew Gilligan will headline the HUB Eco Series event ‘Will we finally see a cycling revolution in London’, examining the cycling plans he announced. Pistonheads editor and keen cyclist Dan Trent and cycle blogger Julian Sayarer will both comment on his plans, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
Are you a #bloodcyclist concerned about cycling in London? If so you know where you should be on Tuesday 4th June. Book tickets via http://londoncyclingrevolution.eventbrite.co.uk/.
Last month, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced what could be very ambitious changes to London’s cycle infrastructure, pledging nearly £1 billion worth of funding to the scheme.
His plans which includes a Crossrail style cycle route that would run at least 15 miles from West London to East London; a ‘tube network’ for the bike in which cycle lanes would run parallel to tube lines, quiet back streets and dangerous junctions would be improved.
Ambitious as they are, the new plans have been criticized on various points. One issue that has been highlighted in the press is the controversy surrounding painting a proposed cycle lane blue on the Victoria Embankment, which some feel will upset the areas ‘heritage’ feel. Another is that, as Transport for London (TFL) only owns 5% of the London roads, the viability of most of the plans will come down to whether the relevant Boroughs approve them or not.
As a cyclist myself, I congratulate Boris on scaling up his transport ambitions and recognising the benefits of making London a cycle friendly city; if just some of his plans go through, they will be a great victory for cycling in London. The plans however face many obstacles…
I feel that the main stumbling block that is holding people back from hopping on their bikes in the same numbers as our European peers, is the issue of safety on our streets. The threat you face when jumping on your bike for a London commute is immense; it is a chaotic city to fare in whether you’re a cyclist or a motorist, with dangerous conditions caused by poorly constructed, out of date infrastructure and numerous dangerous junctions. Both motorists and cyclists take daily risks, frustrated by each others behaviour. ‘Backwards’ town planning bears the main responsibility for this; it will be really positive to see some forward thinking road planning take place.
Pressure on our roads
Another major issue is the lack of respect that all commuters show for the rules of vehicle ‘cohabitation’ on our busy streets. I agree that it is a major problem that cyclists are forever jumping red lights, but cars, vans and busses do the same thing. Badly sequenced traffic lights, a shortage of road space and the sheer pressure of the number of different vehicles on our roads creates a very tense commuting environment. Creating more and wider segregated cycling paths, separated out from the rest of the traffic by paving or other divisions, is key to tackling this issue. I am absolutely convinced that cycling in the capital would noticeably increase in line with more segregated cycling paths; people would feel safer.
Unequal playing field
A third essential consideration, which which Boris Johnson has not even mentioned, is that in the battle of vehicle hierarchy on London’s roads, cyclists are invariably the lowest common denominator; the opposite to the situation in Amsterdam and Copenhagen where cyclists rights are actually considered higher than those of motorists. In London, if a motorist drives in, parks in or in any other way obstructs a cycle lane causing cyclists to have to take evasive action, the car driver would hardly ever be penalised for their behaviour; the majority of London cycle lanes are near on invisible to most other traffic, they might as well not be there. If a car goes anywhere near a bus lane however, heavy fines generally ensue. Surely the same rules should apply everywhere?
Ultimately, if you park in a dangerous place, obstructing the safe passage of other vehicles, you should be penalised; if you jump a red light, you should be penalised regardless of your chosen mode of transport; if you senselessly run onto roads as a pedestrian, you must be penalised. Over time, heavy and consistent fines for rule breaking would without a doubt improve road safety and ease congestion, for everyone.
More accessible high streets
My final plea to the Mayor, is to pedestrianise more high streets in the city and increase 20mph driving zones. Pedestrianised urban shopping areas are common place on the Continent, however have yet to become prevalent in the UK, possibly due to our challenging urban infrastructures. But in this age of debate about the need to re-invent our high streets, perhaps creating a network of car free pedestrianised and cycle zones could be part of the solution to creating more dynamic and accessible shopping areas. There are already several examples of successful semi-pedestrianised areas in the city, one example is Exmouth Market in Farringdon; this vibrant pedestrianised street boasts cafes, restaurants and small independent shops, which during lunch times turns into a mini food market, enjoyed by people of all ages. There is plenty of scope for more such areas in this large city.
My final point is that motorists are not the enemy in this debate, I simply wish to stress the point that could see considerable economic benefits to making our streets more cycle friendly if we do things properly.
How far will Mr Johnson go
Boris Johnson says that we need to reduce congestion in London by getting more people out of their cars and onto their bikes. For this to happen, there needs to be a reason for people to do take that step; a mass investment in the cycling infrastructure would certainly help, but we also need to develop a system whereby it becomes uneconomical, impractical and inefficient to actually use a car. A very radical thought for many. It remains to be seen exactly how far Mr Johnson is willing to take his vision for Londoners.
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Bhopals Special Olympics – Image © Reuters
When London won the Olympic bid, it was claimed that these would be the ‘greenest Olympics ever’. While there have been some important green strides, some of which undoubtedly can be used to inform future major sporting events, it’s been disappointing that so many of the initial green pledges have since been dropped.
Reports out suggest that the organisers claim that it will be the greenest games ever is being put to shame by the fact that the 2008 Beijing games might have had a lower carbon footprint that the London games will have. It is that estimated 3.4 million tons of carbon will be released into our atmosphere as a result of London 2012, whereas, according to this report, Beijing released some 1.1 million tons.
This is interesting as on its own report, London 2012 has claimed its figure will only be 1.9 million. To put these numbers into perspective, the UK’s average yearly carbon emissions is 0.5 million tons. Thought it’s worth pointing out that the lifespan of the Olympics carbon footprint is roughly 7 years.
“Boris Bikes, no sorry Ken Bikes…” Image © Mark Ramsay
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Health experts have also warned that athletes might suffer from the high amount of air pollution in the capital, which raises another worry of health and safety. As the London games is set to be the most visited Olympics, that is a risk that should be taken seriously.
A British cyclist recently won the Tour de France; the first Brit ever to have achieved one the biggest honours in cycling. This could have been the kickstart for the cycling revolution that the UK so desperately needs, but instead the government and the Olympic organisers seem to be doing everything they can to discourage cycling.
The UK still has one of the worst cycling infrastructures in Europe. It will be even worse during the Olympics as several cycle paths have been sacrificed to make way for Olympic VIP lanes; should a cyclist make a way into such a lane, they could face a fine of £160. Add to that the sad fact that several of the Barclays Bike hire docking stations (Boris Bikes) will be taken out of operation as some of them are placed close to the VIP lanes.
It seems that the Olympics core spirit which is to encourage everyone to do more sports is being sacrificed for corporate interests.
Then there is the issue of the Olympic sponsors. How insulting it must be for those people who suffered (and might still be suffering) due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to see BP announced as ‘sustainability’ sponsors.
Let us be honest here, if you chose to have sponsors like BP, who have wrecked the lives for so many people, at least be transparent about it.
There is absolutely nothing sustainable about BP. Even their solar arm has now been closed and they’re not making any strides forward in clean energy technologies. Additionally, the biofuel which they champion to market their sustainability can be highly unsustainable depending on where it comes from.
It would be very interesting to know on what basis they and the Olympic organisers can justify having them as a ‘sustainability sponsor’.
It is equally insensitive to have Dow Chemicals as main sponsors; 2001 Dow bought Union Carbide Corporation, responsible for the Bophal disaster which people still suffer from today and they rightly feel very angry about this. Neither company then or now accepts any responsibility for the disaster.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that there is no doubt who the baddies are; the Olympic Organisers and the Olympic Committee, not the athletes.
Though you could wish that the athletes would use their influence and profile to speak out about these issues and then go and compete for their respective countries.
There is no doubt that some green strides have been taken and these should be commended, but we are once again seeing that when the going gets tough (don’t forget large part of the Olympic village has been constructed during a recession), the first thing to be sacrificed is the environment. That is something we can’t afford in today’s climate.
Good Company by Frank Patterson
What makes 2000 plus cyclists of all levels venture out on to the roads and head out on the ambitious ride between London Fields in Hackney and Dunwich on the Suffolk coast? I’m sure a lot of cyclists asked themselves that same question at one point between Saturday night and Sunday morning which was when the ride took place.
I think to ask that question we need to evaluate the question, why do we cycle? What aspect of it makes us happy? I think one thing we can all agree on is that our agenda for cycling is totally different?
It was my second Dunwich Dynamo, did the first one last year and my experience of that was truly a roller-coaster… This year I decided to do it again, but this time around raising money for the charity Trees for Cities
TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER
As a London cyclist where we’re used to constantly being pushed around, where the majority of motorists complain about cyclists and believe they don’t belong in the city, it was for sure a different picture on Saturday evening as we left the city, a large field of cyclists who adhered to traffic rules and stopped at red lights and kept to the left wherever possible just as it should be. When you are as large as we were motorists know that they can’t bully you, some had even engaged and showed an interest in what we were doing.
JUST LIKE THE TOUR DE FRANCE
As we were rolling out of the city waiting to get past congestion and traffic lights so we could spread and really start pedalling, I couldn’t help making comparisons with the Tour de France which I’m a great fan of and really is the base and were the beginning of my passion for cycling started. I used to get up in the morning with my brother, sit glued to the TV screen and watch the beginning of the gruelling mountain stages, as the riders were rolling up the first mountain they were laughing and chatting – they all knew what a hard day of torture it would be. That was how it was like on Saturday as we were rolling out of London we were joking and catching up but deep inside we knew at one point we would be close to being broken both mentally and physically. When darkness had fallen and you really were in the middle of nowhere and there’s only one way… and that’s forward. When you start fearing, when will I hit the wall and what happens when I do? One unnerving sign is when your cycling partner stops talking to you and all you get back in reply when asking if they are OK is ”Yes”.
Going back to my point about the Tour de France, you really feel like a professional athlete when the local people stand on the streets or peer from their balconies and windows cheering and spurring you on. That gives you the extra 10% that could be crucial at that point even though the comment I heard ”Come on you guys you’re nearly there” can be slightly misleading and optimistic when there is still 40km to go. This year along the route several candles had been put in place along the route, I would like to believe that they had been put there just for us but what a tremendous amount of work that most have been.
THE CONNECTION WITH NATURE
As a kid I remember the majority of things we did as a family were on bikes, and that was only back in the eighties. I recognise that today’s modernised society is beneficial in many ways but I am seriously worried that we’re losing our connections with nature. I still believe as I always have that our beautiful now very fragile planet is best experienced on 2 wheels rather than 4 wheels, of course I know that there are certain trips that it’s necessary to make in a car.
As darkness slowly changed to dawn you cannot even begin to describe the sensations that you experience, but you just don’t have the energy to fully appreciate and absorb the moment. From when you hear the first chirps of the beautiful bird songs, to cycling past elderflower bushes from which there is still flowers to pick, and the blackberry bushes which I’m impatiently waiting to fruit, it all took me back to my childhood to when I used to go out picking with my parents. I can’t help but think that today’s generations of children are seriously missing out if their parents are not doing that with them. I also thought about the charity I’m supporting Trees for Cities, how happy it made me to see the lush greenery and the biodiversity it must be supporting and while my reasons were purely because of environmental concerns I realised it also brings a great deal of happiness, there’s no reason cities should be any different. When we live in a big city like London we can often forget how important tress are to us. In fact they’re vital to our livelihoods they give us Oxygen, they suck out pollution and they also help us deal with floods and heat.
It was the 20th Dunwich Dynamo, a big thanks should go out to the organisers Southwark Cyclists I find it astonishing that they can keep this completely cost-free. Thanks to all the pit stops along the way, to all the brilliant people out supporting the riders. And let us not forget to keep protecting our beautiful countryside so we can continue to cycle in these breathtaking surroundings. At the beginning of the blog I asked why someone would do the Dunwich Dynamo, I hope I have given you an answer, it’s why I did it!
I hope I have encouraged you to donate to my cause, if wish to do so you can here and it would be massively appreciated: www.justgiving.com/DynamicDunwichDynamoDuoTrees