Last week I attended a public lecture at the LSE by former Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Ritt Bjerregaard. She was speaking on how sustainabability and cities must go hand and hand into the future, and as former Mayor of one of the great cycling cities of the world I was keen to hear what advice she had for London to increase it's cycling levels. She gave the usual cycle advocacy advice; provide cycle parking, build good quality cycle lanes etc etc... However one of her points was really striking and a revelation to me: in order for a cycling city to grow, it must - she said - encourage what she called 'Cargo Bike Culture'. She explained that in Copenhagen they found that once people settled down and had a family they would put the bicycle away and buy a car to transport their families around; an ultimately unsustainable behavioural pattern. It was imperative, she explained, that families be allowed to embrace cycling and be given the infrastructure necessary to be able to safely transport their families around. Ultimately, through engineering and good design, the roads and bike lanes can become somewhere that families feel safe enough to transport their children. The kids, in turn, feel right at home on a bike and grow up to be the next generation of cycling citizens, as oppose to car-dependant-kids. The family 4x4 stays at home ("Save it for the drive to your weekend house" said Ritt!) and cycle levels grow. Less vehicular traffic means safer conditions for cyclists which therefore means more cyclists and so forth and so on...
In Copenhagen they even provide special parking spaces for these families and their cargo bikes. The 'Cargo Bike Car' takes up one car parking space and splits to provide four secure cycle lockers for the bikes. (via Copenhagenize.com)
I've seen a number of families on two wheels around London over the past year. There is a lady who I pass most days on the way to work who rides a Christiana cargo bike with her two children onboard, and I've also seen more child seats on the back of bikes appearing. I applaud these individuals, and my heart lifts every time I see them. Heck, there's even a little bit of Cargo Bike Culture going on in Chipping Sodbury, the rural Gloucestershire town I grew up in, according to the most excellent cycle blog Biking Brits.
Photo courtesy of Biking Brits.
The most-excellent bike shop Velorution does a great job of making buying family-friendly bikes an easy task for all. But those who do are a distinct minority. Indeed, even the cycle infrastructure we have isn't geared up to them (can you image trying to get a Christiana or a Bullitt through those annoying motorbike barriers they have on Canals and segregrated cycle routes?) And if I search in my heart I have to admit I'm not sure how confident I would feel taking small children onto the roads in their current condition, and I am sure most cyclists would think the same. This, in itself, should tell us all we need to know about where we are going wrong with our present cycle advocacy policies.
I've asked before 'What's stopping women from cycling?', and that post prompted some great comment and debate, but perhaps more directly we should be asking ourselves honestly what is stopping families, and their children, from cycling and more importantly what is being done about it?