i b i k e l o n d o n

Goodbye ibikelondon blog, hello Strategic Cities

After six years of incredible cycling experiences, ibikelondon blog is coming to a close. I want to highlight where I have been, where I am going, and to say thank you for coming along for the ride.

I began writing about riding in London in 2009. I hardly expected then ibikelondon would become such a big part of my life.  My first post had just ten readers, and included a photo of me participating in a Skyride on a very rusty, very purple second-hand bike. Over 500 blog posts later and thankfully my wheels have improved - and so has London.

If you know me via Twitter you’ll have seen clues that change is coming.  Starting any new venture is daunting, but I’ve been preparing to make this move for a while.  I worked hard on building this, I’m excited to share it with you, and I hope you’ll be as excited using it as I have been creating it.  @markbikeslondon will shortly become @StrategicCities, and you’ll be able to find me at my new website; strategic-cities.com 

 With some of you on Blackfriars Bridge in 2011.

I’ll still be looking at how people travel, and how cities can become increasingly efficient and liveable, but my focus will be wider than just the bike.  I’ve come to realise bikes are the “canary in the coal mine” of liveable cities, and there are many issues – childhood freedom, planning, obesity, transport – which are all part of the same urban matrix we call home, and which deserve further scrutiny.

StrategicCities will also see me start a new career.  I’ll soon be delivering training for urban professionals and communications analysis for city leaders.  Why?  I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the media from the inside - as well as influence it from the out - and my experience has shown me that the way we convey messages is more and more important in delivering difficult projects. You only need to look at the vociferous – and frequently hysterical – anti-bike lane sentiment we’ve experienced in London.  Communicating well in a difficult environment is not a skill which comes naturally to most, but preparation goes a long way in helping to navigate that minefield.  My first web-based training seminar; “Achieving Change In A Hostile Media Environment” takes place in May and registration is open.  If you want to keep up to date about further events and training then you can sign up to the Strategic Citiesmailing list, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

ibikelondon has given me incredible opportunities. I’ve given evidence at Parliament, lectured at the National Conference for Urban Design at Oxford University and written for national newspapers about cycling and cities. I even appeared on Newsnight and Russian state radio.  Blogging takes (a lot of) time, effort and patience, but I’ve had fantastic experiences by bicycle along the way as well; from riding through backstreets in Shanghai, to chasing the Tour de France through Belgium in a helicopter.  More amazing things than I could ever have imagined when I wrote that first post back in 2009.

There have been tough times, too.  I’ve stood beside dangerous junctions as grieving relatives mark the site of a loved one’s death too many times.  Too often I’ve written about poorly designed, poorly driven lorries in London, and the fatal problems they present.  And too often I’ve written how someone has died on an appallingly designed stretch of road which authorities had been warned in advance would lead to fatalities.

Two terrible weeks in 2013 saw six London cyclists lose their lives in rapid succession on our roads.  Those missing riders marked a shadow for a long time afterwards, when the bus seemed more appealing than the bike, and more likely to deliver me to work alive.

The "Tour du Danger" around London's 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists.  Here the ride is seen outside TfL HQ on Blackfriars Rd - now the site of the north / south cycle superhighway.

London’s anger at those deaths, and others, helped to spur our cycling community on.  This helped to achieve genuine political commitment and action from Mayor Boris Johnson.  Protests on Blackfriars Bridge and around dangerous junctions lead to really meaningful change.  Hours of meetings with politicians and their advisors helped to guide policy and new street designs.  But it should never have taken so many deaths for this process to start.

Now we’re seeing the result of that commitment with hard-won bike tracks and re-designed junctions appearing across London, most contentiously along the Embankment.  Credit where credit is due; the North / South and East / West Cycle Superhighways is going to change the way we cycle in the city, and for good.

But resistance was ferocious, well-organised and – in the case of the taxi lobby and CanaryWharf Group – incredibly well-funded.  Those same opposing forces are still out there, making their backwards-thinking grievances an issue for the next Mayor of London. 

People who want a liveable London must remain focused (and angry), and Mayors must not be afraid to be bold.  Do not underestimate the change that committed citizens together with committed leaders can bring about.

I recommend you to the London Cycling Campaign and their Sign4Cycling Mayoral target, and to my fellow bike blogger Danny, at Cyclists In The City, who so often has been “a partner in crime” in campaigning escapades.

So it’s goodbye ibikelondon blog, and hello to exciting, new Strategic Cities.  Through the years what has often kept me going have been the wonderful interactions – both online and off – with people like you who have read my words here.  Thank you.  I hope you’ll come with me on my new adventure, and that there are many safe and wonderful bike rides ahead for us both.


Cyclists are out of control! (And why that's okay)

This compelling animation by Lucas Brailsford (whereislucas.com) looks at the high level of "non conformist behaviour" among cyclists in the Netherlands.  It's not the sort of narrative you'll usually hear from cycling campaigners - it is hard to be persuasive with Governments and decision-makers if you're also prepared to admit that the people you're championing regularly jump red lights, ride home drunk or generally behave 'badly'.

There's a concept in the Dutch legal system of tolerating lightly illegal behaviour, or changing the framework so that it is no longer illegal.  Dutch policy famously allows euthanasia, has legalised prostitution and the use of marijuana, and was the first country in the world to introduce gay marriage.  The pragmatic approach seems to be "tolerate things, rather than prohibit them, force them underground and loose control."

When a cyclist barreling down the pavement in the dark nearly knocks you over this pragmatic approach to tolerance might seem frustrating.  Likewise if a prostitute sets up (knocking) shop next door.  There's no doubt that on an individual level these things could be highly frustrating, or even dangerous, but collectively society just doesn't see it as such a big deal.

Criminal tearaways, no doubt about it...

But this concept of 'turning a blind eye' is not as foreign as we might think.  Watching Lucas' video from an emerging cycling culture is a real eye-opener because the non conformist behaviour of some cyclists seems a bit wild.  But if a similar video was made here, about our prevalent transport users, you'd find the same.  Non conformist behaviour among motorists includes speeding, parking illegally, driving drunk, riding without insurance and knocking down other road users.  You don't believe that as many people in cars flout the law as regularly as cyclists ride drunk in Amsterdam?  Just try driving around your local town without once exceeding the speed limit and see how your fellow road users like it..

There's no doubt in my mind that good behaviour helps to encourage a literally civil society.  But in terms of fixing things, society only tries to resolve the problems it identifies as being a problem.  The cyclists of Amsterdam might seem to us to be a bit out of control, but when it comes to non-conformist behaviour I know which sort I'd prefer any day...

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One road at a time, London is making cycling progress - and it will change everything!

London has been changing over the summer.  Whilst the city was on holiday, Transport for London's contractors have been out in force building bike infrastructure on a remarkable scale.  Boris Johnson confirmed he would go ahead with his new Cycle Superhighway plans in January of this year, and now we're seeing the first results on the road.

Big construction projects inevitably cause short-term congestion whilst underway, but it is worth remembering the astonishing level of support for the new Cycle Superhighways and the long-term gain they'll bring.  The nine-week public consultation on the plans saw an overwhelming 21,500 responses from individuals and business organisations, with 84% in overall support of the plans. A YouGov opinion poll taken during the consultation found 73% of Londoners supported the Cycle Superhighways, even if it meant taking a lane of traffic away.  Over 160 major employers, including Deloitte, Coca Cola, Unilever and others came out in support of the East / West Cycle Superhighway which is currently being built on the Embankment.  

A quick ride up the finished section of the East / West Cycle Superhighway along the Embankment, courtesy of @CycleGaz

There has been opposition, of course, namely from the old guard of the taxi lobby (hello, LTDA, you scoundrels!) so much of which has been thinly-veiled anti-cycling sentiment.  Construction of the Crossrail train project has seen entire streets closed off in central London for years (as opposed to just months), but no one seems to be complaining about that...

Vauxhall Bridge (2 way track) via @AsEasyAsRiding and segregation wands on the Whitechapel Rd (apologies to whoever I saved this photo from, I can't remember who it was!)

The changes afoot are not just along the route of the East / West Cycle Superhighway.  At Oval, CS5 is being upgraded to provide full segregation, including around the terrifying Vauxhall Gyratory and over Vauxhall Bridge. In East London the killer CS2 is also getting an upgrade, with full or semi-segregation being introduced on a route that was previously literally just dirty blue paint and a lot of wishful thinking.

 Newly Hollandised Waltham Forest village!  Just look at all that anti-driving economic activity going on(!)

Cycle tracks alone can't change a city in to a bike riding paradise.  You also need balanced residential zones where local streets are set free from the tyranny of rat running and speeding traffic.  The Waltham Forest Mini Holland is just such a project and is now beginning to take shape - but only because of the diligent work of local residents in the face of vociferous NIMBYs who wish to retain their right to drive 150metres to the local shops...  There's a street party on Orford Rd today (Monday) from 3PM to celebrate the completion of the first stage of the project, if you're in the area.

As the London Cycling Campaign rightly point out, there are growing pains which need to be resolved in some places, and that's to be expected with innovation and change.  Meanwhile, progress presses ahead with construction of the North / South Cycle Superhighway in central London chalked up to start in autumn (check here for details)

But with summer almost over and the city's streets transformed whilst everyone has been away, the pace of change seems unstoppable.  The old "blue paint and optimism" superhighways - despite their very obvious limitations - still saw a leap in rider numbers of a minimum of 25%.  When these new safe and separated routes open to the public we'll see a torrent, a deluge, a flood of new riders using them, and it's going to change London completely!

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Get ready for racing on Regent's Street as a new Tour of Britain route comes to London!

It's no secret, I love the Tour of Britain!  I like the smaller scale of it compared to the Grand Tours of Europe, the opportunity for emerging riders to taste success, and of course the route through green and pleasant Great British Countryside.

But I've always felt the final stage - right here in London - has always been a bit of a let down.  Yes, you get the finish line photo of racing in front of Buckingham Palace, but the rest of the day is spent riding up and down the Embankment and Upper Ground which makes for a dull stage that is not very exciting for spectators.

So I'm thrilled to see that this year's final stage has a new route in our beautiful capital - and it's all because of London's everyday cyclists!  Because of construction work on the Embankment to build the new East / West Cycle Superhighway the Tour can't ride there.  So in 2015 it is adopting a new route, which promises fast down-hills on Haymarket, tight corners around Trafalgar Square, and racing up and down magnificent Regent's Street which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful street in the world (ESPECIALLY when it is closed to traffic!)

The final stage comes to London this Sunday the 13th of September, heralding the end of a fantastic summer of cycle racing.  The start and finish line is just south of Piccadilly Circus, and the riders will make a three-pointed loop of Regent's Street, Whitehall and the Strand, passing some of London's most famous buildings and attractions along the way.  It is free to spectate and makes for a fun day out for all the family.  The riders are fast, but you might even catch a glimpse of favourites Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Alex Dowsett and Andre Greipel, or even local boy Tao Geoghegan Hart from Hackney racing for British Cycling's development team.

Seeing as the stage is hosted and paid for by Transport for London (did anyone check the balance of the cycling budget recently?) Londoners might as well get their money's worth and have a nice day out of it...

All the details of the London stage can be found on the Aviva Tour of Britain website here.  The beautiful picture of Piccadilly Circus featured in this post is by artist Will Barras and was specially commissioned by cycling website Rouleur, where it is available for purchase.

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"We all cycle" - the rise and rise of proud cycling cities

I'm spending the summer in the Netherlands, and have been learning so much about cycling in their cities.  What has become clear to me is that Dutch cities are increasingly competing for a share of the visitors who come here to learn about the Netherland's cycling and planning culture. Utrecht, host of this year's Grand Depart, is not alone in this - note how this incredible video touting their cycling achievements is presented in English rather than Dutch and really tries to "show off" the city as a beautiful place to visit (which it is, I hasten to add).

I think this is an interesting phenomenon for two reasons; firstly the internet is being recognised by cities as an effective tool for reaching and inspiring many people around the world, getting them excited and clearly demonstrating exportable concepts.  There's also a clear attempt here to attract high-spending tourists who are on learning-based trips.  In short, visiting cities to find out how they work has become a mini industry of its own!

What do you think? Have you spent time visiting cities in order to learn and find out what you can do in your own city? Do videos like this make you want to visit somewhere more? Could pro-cycling messages like this help to make the case for cycling in the city where you live?

For more information on cycling in Utrecht, visit utrecht.nl/we-all-cycle/

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