London mayoral election-where does cycling fit in?

On May 5th Londoners will vote to decide their next mayor. Polls suggest that the most important issue for voters is housing, but the issue that is arguably of most direct relevance to Londoner’s day to day lives is transport.

Whilst the candidates will be in broad agreement that London needs more affordable housing, even if they differ on how to achieve it, how to ease the strain on the capital’s creaking transport infrastructure is a much more divisive topic. No more so than when it comes to the role played by cycling. When asked which is the more fractious debate, the EU or cycling, current mayor Boris Johnson replied:  “Oh God, cycling. Unquestionably.”

Before considering the views of the various candidates to succeed Boris, it’s worth reflecting that the polarisation of the debate around cycling tends to work against those campaigning for better provision. We need to shift the debate away from cyclists v non-cyclists and make the case that investment in cycling benefits London as a whole by easing pressure on other modes of transport and freeing up space on the roads. It will also play a part in improving the air pollution that claims the lives of nearly 10,000 Londoners each year.

Get informed

London Cycling Campaign has an excellent summary of where the main candidates stand on the issue.

All are in agreement that some good work has been done over the past mayoral term, and that more can be done to build upon this, in particular with the creation of more segregated bike lanes. Although the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith has also suggested he could remove cycle lanes if they weren’t proven to be effective.

All back the expansion of 20mph zones, with the Green Party’s Sian Berry going furthest by proposing a 20mph limit “across London”.

A rush hour ban on HGV’s in central London is proposed by the Greens, and also by Goldsmith as long as it doesn’t create “additional risks” at other times. Caroline Pidgeon for the Liberal Democrats promises to trial this same idea.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan has pledged to increase investment in cycling, as have Pidgeon and Berry, whilst Goldsmith has committed only to protecting current budgets.

Leading by example

Judging on past performance, Caroline Pidgeon has the most impressive pro-cycling credentials having been an outspoken advocate for cycling as a London Assembly Member, and the 2015 winner of LCC’s cycling champion of the year.

Sian Berry has in her own words “worked on green transport for over a decade and backed many LCC campaigns”.

Ask an Olympic champion

In his capacity as policy advisor to British cycling, Chris Boardman has been taking a keen interest in the mayoral contest. He provides a summary of his views in this interview with the Londonist, and you can view his interviews with Pidgeon and Khan on the British Cycling YouTube channel.

For more information on the election you can go to the London Elects website.

Full list of candidates

•    BERRY, Sian Rebecca – Green Party
•    FURNESS, David – British National Party
•    GALLOWAY, George – Respect (George Galloway)
•    GOLDING, Paul – Britain First – Putting British people first
•    GOLDSMITH, Zac – The Conservative Party Candidate
•    HARRIS, Lee Eli – Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol
•    KHAN, Sadiq Aman – Labour Party
•    LOVE, Ankit – One Love Party
•    PIDGEON, Caroline Valerie – London Liberal Democrats
•    WALKER, Sophie – Women’s Equality Party
•    WHITTLE, Peter Robin – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
•    ZYLINSKI, Prince – Independent

See you at the polling station.

Transforming cities through cycling

Radical changes to the way we move around big cities can be brought about quickly and inexpensively.

New York’s not-so-mean streets

This is the somewhat startling message of a new book, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, by Janette Sadik-Khan who served as New York’s transport commissioner from 2007-2013. During that time she oversaw historic changes to the City’s streets, closing Broadway to cars in Times Square, building nearly 400 miles of bike lanes, introducing a bike hire scheme and creating more than 60 plazas citywide.

 

New York – the most cycle friendly large city in the US

This will come as quite a surprise to anyone who last visited NYC before this revolution took place. When I last cycled there in 2006 it was intimidating to say the least, unsurprisingly given that for most of the previous century the city had been built around the car. The lesson seems to be that if these changes can be achieved in New York, they can be achieved just about anywhere.

So how did Sadik-Khan make it happen? The key lies in rethinking how streets are designed, and, crucially, who they are designed for. Urban transport is, she argues, amid a “Copernican revolution” in which streets are remodelled around human beings, whether walking, cycling or on buses, rather than sitting alone inside a metal box.

New Yorkers took time to come round

The changes made in New York were not universally popular. In fact they faced vociferous opposition from myriad local groups, but polls conducted at the end of Michael Bloomberg’s term as mayor in 2013 show a strong majority of New Yorker’s approved of the transport measures. What’s more, Department of Transport statistics show that there has been an 82% decrease in the risk of serious injury to cyclists over the past decade.

Rethinking the streets helped residents to rediscover that New York City had been ideally suited to walking and cycling all along. The city’s dense design means many trips are short. 10% of car journeys are under half a mile, and 56% are under three miles – distances that can easily be covered on foot or on a bike.

Sadik-Khan also emphasises that transport policy should be measured by more than just how fast traffic is going.  “Our streets have been in this kind of suspended animation. They’re seen as there for all time. The result is that you’ve got dangerous, congested, economically under-performing streets. That strikes at the heart of the liveability and competitiveness of a city.”

And it didn’t cost the earth…

The really revolutionary idea contained in Streetfight is that these improvements don’t require massive budgets, nor decades to implement, nor even a visionary leader. You can make streets safer, more livable, more economically productive by simply adapting the existing space. She urges city planners to be bold, and to try things by making changes which can be quickly put in place and easily reversed if they don’t work out.

For lots more information on this inspiring work see Janette Sadik-Khan’s website, or watch the TED talk below.

 

Beat the bike thieves

Ever experienced that sinking feeling as you approach the empty rack where you left your bike chained up? It’s every cyclist’s nightmare. And with some estimates putting the number of bike thefts in London at 70,000 per year, it’s worth taking some simple steps to dramatically reduce your chances of being part of that statistic.

Location, Location, Location

The ideal place to park your bike is inside, but when this isn’t possible choose your location carefully. A busy, well lit public place with lots of footfall is best. Avoid locations that suggest the bike will be there all day (like train stations) in favour of locations that suggest you might return any minute (like outside a shop or cafe).

Wherever possible use specific cycle parking stands or racks. Don’t lock your bike to a signpost where the sign can easily be removed and the bicycle simply lifted over the top of the post.

If you need to lock your bike on the street at either end of a regular journey try not to leave your bike in the same place every day, as determined bike thieves might spot it and return with the tools of their trade at a later date.

How to lock your bike

It’s futile to chain up just one removable part

Thieves don’t always target entire bikes, as there’s money to be made from bits of bikes too, so make sure that all of your bike, not just parts of it, are secure. Lock both wheels and the frame to a solid object. Using two different types of locks – one cable, one D-lock – is best, as thieves will most often come prepared for one type or the other, but not both.

Anything on your bike that can easily be removed including lights and cycle computers should be taken away by you, to prevent it from being taken away by someone else. Removing the saddle keeps it safe as well as making the remaining bike less attractive to thieves.

Equipment

Good locks are not particularly cheap, but they are cheaper than replacing your bike, so get the best you can afford. Your main lock should ideally be Silver or Gold rated. Choose a D-lock which fits snugly when in use. The more space left between the lock and the object it is locked to the easier it will be to break.

Quick release levers on seatposts and wheels offer zero protection, and allen key bolts offer not much more, which is why anything attached to your bike in this way should be locked to a solid object when parking it. Pinhead locks or similar offer an extra layer of security.

Make life tougher for the thieves

The police use the BikeRegister database to identify and recover stolen bikes. Registering your bike will increase the chances of being reunited with it should the worst happen, and displaying the fact that your bike is registered by way of a sticker on the frame will make it a less desirable target in the first place.

When buying a second hand bike (hopefully not because you just had one nicked) one final thing that you can do to discourage thieves is to take steps to make sure that you don’t buy a stolen bike.

There have been cases of bike theft in the press recently that have gained considerable coverage due to the unusual method applied by the thieves. Cutting through the bike rack and taping it together again so that it looked undamaged, they then returned later to steal the bike of the unsuspecting person who parked it there. As this demonstrates, thieves will go to great lengths to relieve you of your trusty steed. By following these simple tips you can make life harder for them, and so have a much better chance of avoiding that sinking feeling.

Sorry: I didn’t see you…

It may not seem a likely sight – a group of seasoned truckers taking to the road on bikes with an instructor – but it’s a growing phenomenon. In 2003, the EU passed the DCPC (Driver Certificate of Professional Competence) Directive. This requires all professional urban LGV and PCV drivers to complete training designed to promote the safe sharing of roads with vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists. Mel Holley from routeOne magazine attended one such course and he sent this report.

While the lycra-clad, law-breaking power cyclist is one particular stereotype – especially in London – in reality, a variety of people cycle, and relatively few have the devil-may-care aggressive attitude that the image suggests. Indeed, fear of accidents is a key worry for many cyclists, especially the less confident.

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In the same way as only by sitting in the cab of a coach or bus can a cyclist fully appreciate the driver’s vision and why we position our vehicles where we do such as when turning left, changing places with cyclists is an equal eye-opener for PCV drivers, even those who are lapsed in the saddle.

Meanwhile, for those who complain about the cost of the Driver CPC (DCPC) renewal, there is good news in that most councils have secured government funding to run these so that all you pay is the £8.75 upload fee.

Run by Cycle Confident, using their local trainer Alec Horner of Minimise Your Risk, the Safer Urban Driving course aims to highlight ways you can improve your driving and understand the behaviour of cyclists.

With a mix of PCV and LGV drivers, the morning started with outlines of the issues that drivers and cyclists face, supported by recent videos covering high-profile situations in the capital. Unsurprisingly, this provoked some lively discussion and was anything but dull.

Then, with assistance from cycle training professionals, we moved on to the practical session – optional for those who felt unable to take part. Snazzy new cycles were provided and coaching took place in an off-road cycle lane, including checking that participants could do basic tasks such as indicate, look over their shoulder and perform an emergency stop.

Key points include understanding how modern cycle training has changed. For example, cyclists are now trained to ride in a more assertive position on the road – to be seen more easily (particularly at junctions).

Then we set off in a hi-viz crocodile onto Brighton’s busy roads, with three short demonstration rides, exposing us to various situations.

We quickly learnt a number of important lessons (aside from the impatience of some motorists) including that cycle lanes are not always in helpful places.

In one case, a narrow lane put riders directly in danger of having a car door opened on them, which would knock them off (into the traffic lane), or force them to swerve, again into the traffic lane.

This didn’t happen, but the danger was clear and it became easier to understand why cyclists don’t always use cycle lanes, or position themselves where we would expect. The benefit of advanced stop lines at a complex junction were also demonstrated.

Experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a modern-day cyclist, especially for those who had not been in the saddle for a while, was incredibly powerful.  Understanding what a cyclist might do next, and why, proved a useful education.

For information on Driver CPC courses run by Cycle Confident, click here.