THE BLOG

London: The Future of Cycling?

25/09/2013 11:25 BST | Updated 24/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Today I was fined £50 for cycling through a red traffic light.

The pleasant young constable was almost apologetic as he flagged me down and filled out the penalty ticket.

"I don't like doing this" he said genuinely, "I'd much rather be out doing something else, but there's been a lot of accidents in this area recently and so we have to respond."

I was cycling along Theobalds Road through Holborn when I was fined. The traffic is generally slow-moving through this mid-town part of London and it's almost impossible to resist smugly rolling through the traffic lights as the grumpy taxi drivers fume in their traffic snarl.

In these times of austerity (also known as working as a freelance writer), a fine like this is an infuriating waste of money.

Cycle accidents on our roads are tragic, and it is right that thought and effort is put into addressing this. However fining cyclists seems a bit of a futile waste of time that will do little more than boost revenues for the city.

I didn't waste any energy on debating this point with the constable writing out the ticket - he was clearly just doing his job.

It's really no surprise that there has been an increase in road accidents involving cyclists. With the introduction of the Boris Bike hire system and the increasing costs of public transport, cycling is one of the best ways to get around London. However London is clearly not a city that was built for cyclists. The narrow, twisted roads of this old, ancient city can barely cope with cars and buses - there is certainly no spare space for cycle lanes.

As a result, London's cyclists are forced to immerse themselves in the frenetic day-to-day traffic and congestion. Dodging buses, squeezing between speeding delivery vans, avoiding pedestrians who seem oblivious to everything, and generally putting their lives on the line as they endeavour to get from point A to point B.

It's easy to say that things should be better, different, somehow more cyclist friendly, but the question of how do you actually do that is a bit more complex.

Here's my five point plan for the future of cycling in London.

1. Create more car free zones. Neighbourhoods such as Covent Garden, Soho, and Chinatown are virtually impossible to drive through anyway. Shopping precincts such as Oxford Street, Mayfair, or Brick Lane are awash with pedestrians. Allow exceptions for buses and black cabs. Deliveries restricted to off-peak times. This will be safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

2. Extend the Boris Bike hire scheme. This has transformed the way people get around central London - and it's popular with tourists. Getting more people cycling will increase the economic rationale for investing in cycling. Plus there's enormous health benefits that will have a wider economic benefit.

3. Equip all major roads with dedicated cycle lanes. A cycle lane that is shared with buses is not a cycle lane. As a cyclist, when you're battling traffic, you have to bring an aggressive mind-set and attitude to the way that you navigate the obstacles along your journey. Without that life-or-death pressure everyone is noticeably more relaxed.

4. Go higher. One option would be to create tunnels and create some safe cycle lanes beneath the traffic, but tunneling beneath London is an engineering and archaeological challenge. Why not go above ground? Think Manhattan's Sky Line park - something similar could help protect London's cyclists. There's already a number of high walks around the Barbican and Moorgate, this is a concept that could be extended.

5. Foster a cycling culture. Offer more bike rack for cyclists to securely park their bikes. Encourage outdoor cafes where cyclists could easily grab breakfast and coffee on the way to work. Incentivize workplaces to provide bike storage and changing facilities. Celebrate cycling.

London. The future of cycling.