The City of London planning officer will admit in a meeting today that there is existing unmet demand for some TWENTY SEVEN THOUSAND cycle parking spaces within the City. That is not projected demand; not figures dreamt up to predict what demand for cycle parking might one day be; but demand as it stands NOW.
To me this says two things loud and clear:
One: There are an awful lot of cyclists on Inner London’s roads now and clearly a lot of people are cycling into the City to work. This is a good thing.
Two: The City (and, to be fair, Westminster Council too) are totally unprepared for the volume of cyclists apparent on our roads, and have been caught napping. This is a sad thing.
The planning paper notes that a number of major City businesses (particularly in the financial quarter) report that more than 10% of their workforce are already cycling to work, and the City sees no reason why this would not be the case with the majority of businesses. If the City has a workforce of some 374,000 people, 10% equals some 37,000 pedal-powered office workers.
At present, there are just 834 on-street cycle parking racks in the City, providing parking for 1,668 cycles, and approximately 100 cycle parking spaces in the City’s off-street public car parks.
The Bicycle PlantLock beautifies the traditional bike stand and adds a touch of greenery to the urban landscape (this one seen near Bobbin Bicycles in Islington. Available to purchase here.)
Having acknowledged that they have been caught unawares by the volume of cyclists present, and must do more to provide for them, the planning agenda goes on to be more encouraging:
“A 10% modal share is very significantly below the existing cycling modal share of some English cities (such as Cambridge with 25% cycle journeys to work) and of some overseas cities in countries such as the Netherlands that are not greatly dissimilar to England culturally or geographically (such as a 38% cycling modal share in Amsterdam). It would therefore seem appropriate to treat a 10% modal share as the absolute minimum that the City should be aiming to provide for.”(Someone should tell Mayor of London Boris Johnson about this and ask him to revise his rather wet aims for just 5% modal share by bike by 2026 – wakey wakey Mr Mayor!)
Cycle parking is more serious an issue than at first it seems: being able to secure your bike once you’ve reached your destination is a serious consideration for most cyclists, and with cycle theft at record levels in London, cycle security could in fact be a stronger deterrent to would-be cyclists than even the road environment and perceived safety in traffic, as London Cycling Campaign communications office Mike Cavenett explains:
"Bike theft is cited as the most common reason for people giving up cycling. In 2008 there were over 17,000 bikes reported stolen in London. It must be tackled more seriously by the police. The costs to Londoners and to the city are phenomenal."
Over-subscribed bicycle parking in the Borough of Hackney.
The City of London, just like the City of Westminster, proclaims to love uncluttered streets. As a consequence they don’t love street parking for bicycles. They’ve never been fans of Sheffield stands or worse still; bikes parked at random locked to any convenient railing. Indeed, it took a House of Lords decision to stop Westminster from chomping through locks and throwing away the bikes without telling the owner in a fit of ‘clean street’-loving, ‘railing-liberating’ bicycle removal. Strangely, they have a less than vigorous approach when it comes to revenue-spinning automobile parking and the various signage, parking metres and street clutter that come with it...
And so it is no surprise that the key strategy being proposed in today’s planning meeting to deal with the City of London’s famine of cycle parking is to provide off-street secure bicycle parking bays in council-run car parks. Indeed, they have already allocated £25,000 towards providing off-street cycle parking this year.
This is great; secure cycle parking is a fantastic thing, especially as cycle theft is such a blight on London. But it is no ‘cure all’ and cannot be the only strategy adopted.
Off-street cycle parking isn’t always immediately obvious to the passing cyclist (and signage is usually pretty poor), and it’s not of any use to visiting cyclists calling into buildings for brief meetings or just passing through.
In order for cycle provision to truly succeed there needs to be a tapestry of cycle parking available:
Large, secure off-street cycle parking, in a well-signed, well-lit and convenient place (there’s no point putting push bike parking on the top deck of a multi-story car park for instance!)
Clusters of Sheffield stands making up mini bicycle hubs – such as the 150 or so stands in groups of 20 around the perimeters of Berkeley Square in Westminster.
Smaller groups of stands at the end of most roads, or in every public space.
And individual cycle parking facilities along streets and outside individual business premesis, such as the innovative and easy to install Cyclehoop. Products like this can help give a formality to the perceived blight of ad-hoc bicycle parking as well as help to improve bike security. Furthermore it's designed and based here in London; supporting a newly-established business like Cyclehoop is the sort of thing that local Councils ought to be doing!
The Cyclehoop is fixed to existing street furniture such as lamp posts and sign posts. (http://www.cyclehoop.com/)
Two last points about cycle parking; having somewhere to store your bicycle is a matter of convenience (and as we’ve discussed here before being able to access your bicycle conveniently is a key to encouraging cycling) but it will never stop determined thieves. Consequently, cycle theft MUST be taken seriously by the Police. Indeed, the City of London has its' own exclusive Police force: we need to ensure that they are fully au fait with just how important reducing cycle theft is and they must be seen to be proactive in dealing with the issue. (I’d encourage them to start at Brick Lane market...)
And we need to get over this idea of a bicycle locked on the street being an aesthetic inconvenience – it’s just the product of lots of people using a smart means of transport. Of course if I left a ten by eight foot box of my stuff in the street that WOULD be selfish, but somehow bikes chained to railings are not okay whilst private cars parked in our gridlocked street are...?
You go figure it out, I’m off to oil my U-lock.
City of London Council: good on you, but you've got some catching up to do!