Whether we're discussing how to make our roads safer or the environmental benefits of getting more people to commute by bike, cycling is a topic that many of us feel passionately about. Cycling is an integral and increasingly important part of London's transport network, but there is still a long way to go before it becomes as inclusive, safe and widely enjoyed here as it is in the likes of Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
At the Future Spaces Foundation, set up to understand how smart design can enable strong communities, we've undertaken research on bicycle and wider transport infrastructure in 12 major cities around the world to learn how the best transport systems allow citizens to move around in the most efficient, sustainable and healthy way. The full findings will be released later this year in our Vital Cities Scorecard, which scores each city from A to F across a range key factors that contribute to a city's vitality - for example, bike and foot networks, use of data and apps, and breathability.
When it comes to its bike and foot network, London receives a disappointing C+, while Copenhagen and New York each score a best-in-class A-. London scores particularly badly on cycle network density, above only Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai. Very few of the Londoners consulted during our research said they consider cycling a viable alternative to public transport or taxis, and the stats back that up: currently, only 23% of journeys in London are made by foot or bike.
We need to change the culture surrounding cycling in London if we want people of all ages and abilities to see it as a safe, efficient and practical way to get around every day. Here are three areas of London's current cycle landscape that are ripe for reform:
Our research shows that London has a much smaller length of cycle network at 141km than global cities like Hong Kong (218km) and New York (1,626km). Density is particularly thin outside of zones 1 and 2. Encouraging more people in these outer areas to use their bikes for local journeys - whether it's to go on the school run, make a quick trip to the shops or visit a friend - will only become possible when more investment is made to improve and extend local cycle routes. The Mini-Hollands programme is a good start, but ultimately we need to see more cycle lanes and better traffic segregation around the capital, not just in select boroughs. A recent YouGov poll shows that there is public support for this.
Bike-sharing coverage and cost
London's bike-sharing network is fairly dense within zone 1, but zone 2 is poorly covered, and there are few stations in the outer zones. Extending the Santander Cycle scheme to these outer zones, focusing on areas around tube and train stations, would encourage more cycling, including among multi-modal commuters, who could 'go the last mile' by bike.
Lowering the hire charge and making it easier to pay would also incentivise more to use the scheme. It is not currently possible to pay for a Santander bike with an Oyster card, meaning frequent travellers cannot just tap and go, and there is also a hire charge of £2. Given that is more than the price of a single bus ticket, and more expensive than the Tube for frequent Oyster card users, it's not surprising that many Londoners are more inclined to hop on the tube than use the scheme.
More needs to be done to make cycling a safer place for all road users. The forthcoming Cycle Superhighways will help by segregating cyclists, motorists and pedestrians, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done to ensure these groups can all coexist safely on the road. With regeneration projects constantly underway all across the city, one of the key questions that needs to be asked from the outset is: Can all modes of transport flow safely side by side on these roads? Would I feel safe riding a bike, driving a car or walking here? Is there anything that can be done to make this junction safer for everyone? Such considerations should be factored into design for all major new developments across the city so that they will become cycle-inclusive from the start.
We also need to encourage cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike to make sure they are adhering to road rules and regulations. Road safety guidelines are there for a reason, and we all have a responsibility to remember that red lights are red lights and stop signs mean stop. This is an important step in improving inclusivity and making sure our roads are a safe place for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
With the mayoral election looming, we're urging each candidate to put cycling at the heart of their manifesto. Hopefully these areas for reform will kick-start the debate and bring us a step closer towards making our roads a more accessible place for all.
For further information about the Future Spaces Foundation, please visit www.futurespacesfoundation.org.