Back the Bike
London is experiencing a cycling boom. What hasit done? And why should you copy it? Simon Munk from the London Cycling Campaign has the answers.
“Lack of physical activity is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK,” said Lucy Saunders, Public Health Specialist, Transport for London. “In urban areas, the easiest way to build a bit of activity into your daily routine is through active travel.”
It is vital that every council embraces cycling and walking. We face a public health crisis from inactivity. The recommended moderate physical activity for an adult is 150 minutes weekly, but one-third of Londoners do 30 minutes or less. The most effective way to get those numbers up is, according to public health experts, not to encourage gym use or fad diets, but to enable people to walk and cycle more and drive less.
Cycling helps mitigate big issues we face beyond health. Pollution kills approximately 10,000 Londoners a year early. And our cities have growing populations, and growing congestion. Plus there’s climate change. But acting to embrace cycling can mean hurdling big barriers.
Funding is the biggest. The Get Britain Cycling campaign Parliamentary report [published April 2013] called for a minimum cycling spend of £10 per person [countries like Holland, where cycling is common, spend double that]. But the Government’s Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Strategy sets aside just £1.38 outside London. So councils need to get creative.
That’s because the business case for cycle spend is compelling. The Department for Transport [DfT: Value for Money Assessment for Cycling Grants August 2014] found cycle schemes generate higher cost-benefit ratios than any other form of transport, averaging 5.5:1 returns to initial costs, mainly in health benefits.
London, where spending is over £10 per head currently, also demonstrates that if you build high-quality schemes, people use them. Within months of Cycle Superhighway CS5 opening earlier this year, cycling had nearly doubled in the area. The East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways, only just opened at the time of writing, are already seeing cycling traffic jams on the tracks.
These are high-qaulity tracks that separate those cycling from motor vehicle traffic, and traffic lights where turning hook risks are eliminated. Such separation is vital to enable a broader range of people cycling – most people say they want to cycle more, but won’t because of road danger.
What else is needed? A ‘mesh’ or ‘grid’ of routes so people can ride directly from front door to destination, feeling safe. This can be a mix of main road tracks and quiet side streets [often with through traffic filtered out using gates/bollards] – in urban London, the aim is to get routes in every 400m. Start to deliver this network and you’ll see cycling numbers rise dramatically. And a far more diverse range of people cycling that the usual MAMILs [Middle Aged Men in Lycra].
Lots of people visibly cycling will also help answer opponents to schemes. – which you will get. Bikelash happens for just about every big scheme in London. But high-quality schemes not only deliver lots more people cycling, there’s also a growing body of evidence they don’t cause cause traffic chaos for those that have to use their cars.
Other common fears are for local businesses – but the evidence is that cycling and walking schemes are generally positive for businesses, and local businesses over-estimate the proportion of their customers that arrive by car [and so need parking]. Another common misconception is how many car journeys are essential – there will be a huge number of short, light-load journeys your residents currently do by car that could be cycled, and the Dutch carry loads, get around with kids, and cycle into old age regularly.
“It was essential we had a clear and concise rationale for pursuing Cycle Enfield, namely the transformation of our town centres, promoting more active travel, and safe and secure cycle lanes,” said Cllr Daniel Anderson, Cabinet Member for Environment, London Borough of Enfield. “By constantly re-emphasising these key principles, with a clear evidence base, we have been able to confidently address opposition.”
So what are you going to say to those who say it can’t be done? That the future as our population grows is more cars, more roads, more congestion, more pollution, more inactivity? Or that the Dutch took 15 years to go from a car-dominated culture to a cycling-positive one – and as a result they’re healthier, happier and more mobile than us> Your call, councillors.
The London Cycling Campaign’s team works with local authorities on cycling audits – including network density and porosity analysis, parking, strategy and scheme recommendation, etc
Simon Munk is infrastructure campaigner for the London Cycling Campaign
TfL: London Cycling Design Standards [LCDS]