What We Can Learn from London’s Ambitious Cycling Vision

By: Taz Loomans

London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has proposed an ambitious, $1.5 billion cycling overhaul for London. It includes everything from an almost entirely segregated “Crossrail for the bike”, a 15-mile-plus east-west route across town, to “Quietways” on back roads of neighborhoods, to addressing London’s most dangerous intersections for cyclists. This cycling master plan aims to make cycling an integral element of London’s transportation system and not just an afterthought, which is rectified by quick-fixes like badly-designed bike lanes on roads that are inherently dangerous for bikes. More important than the specifics of the cycling master plan, however, is the fact that Johnson’s vision shows a real commitment to cycling, striving to equal that of the Netherlands and Copenhagen.

Why Invest in Cycling?

You may be wondering, what’s all the fuss about cycling anyway? What if your city doesn’t really have that many cyclists. Should every city be paying attention to cycling? According to Johnson, helping cycling does not just help cyclists, it helps everyone. Encouraging cycling creates better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more public space and better air quality. It contributes to new vibrancy and lower crime rates on underutilized streets. And it means more space on rail and bus, more open parking spaces and fewer cars in front of yours on the highway.

Cycling is a solution multiplier in the world of urban transportation and is something that every forward-thinking major city around the world, from Paris to London to Edinburgh to Copenhagen, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in. These cities have figured out that the investing in bicycles can deliver benefits far greater than the relatively modest cost of improving bicycle infrastructure.

Putting Your Money where Your Mouth is

To achieve the things Johnson is proposing – the 15-mile segregated bikeway across town, semi-segregated bicycle paths, and the connectivity of bicycle paths to achieve the “Central London Grid” among other things – will all cost big bucks.

The ambitious cycling master plan will more than double London’s cycling budget to the tune of almost $6 million over the next three years, which is two-and-a-half times more than previously planned. In 2015, Johnson plans to spend $2.2 million on cycling, or roughly $27/person, which is way up from the $1.50/person that London is currently spending on cycling.

Currently, Transport for London has a Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which is in place from 2011 to 2015 that amounts to roughly $9.12 million. It supports about 100 packages of projects that promote smarter travel, walking and cycling. Initial assessments of this fund show a very high benefit to cost ratio. Some funding for the cycling master plan may come from this fund.

Another creative way to fund the cycling master plan would be to collaborate cross-departmentally on jointly funded programs. Since better bicycle infrastructure impacts public health and air quality, there could be an active travel fund started that is maintained by several departments.

How Many Cyclists are on the Road Anyway?

A recent mass census conducted by Transport for London shows that a whopping 24% of the vehicles on the road during rush hour are bicycles. This means that there are A LOT of cyclists on the road already, even in London’s current narrow, cramped and dangerous streets. This striking statistic shows that people are realizing the benefits of cycling and are willing to cycle, even in not-so-great conditions. And it begs the question – how many more people would cycle were the roads safer and better equipped for cycling?

Dr. Ashok Sinha, London Cycling Campaign’s chief executive, puts it in perspective, saying, “the latest cycling figures from Transport for London simply underline that, given the right circumstances, a large proportion of London’s population would opt to cycle to work. The ultimate goal must be to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe enough to cycle for everyday local journeys, not just commuters.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

One Response

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