It's David vs Goliath! Why I'm thrilled to be nominated for a London Cycling Award (and need your vote)

Last week I was nominated for a London Cycling Award in the "Best Bike Blog" category - and I wanted to share with you how thrilled I am about this!

The awards - administrated and issued by the London Cycling Campaign - are handed out each year to those making an outstanding contribution to our capital's cycling scene.  From "cycling champions" to "best bike project" they are a rare moment of celebration in the campaigning calendar, and I'm delighted to have been nominated.

I've been editing ibikelondon blog continuously since 2009 and in that time have published nearly 500 articles covering everything from the dry (bicycle parking on the East London Line), the comical (how to survive a Skyride), to rallying cries about more serious issues that affect us all; particularly dangerous junctions, poor road design and HGVs.

I'm proud to have contributed to London's Go Dutch and Space4Cycling campaigns, to have helped formulate the thinking behind The Times' Cities Fit For Cycling campaign and to have contributed to the parliamentary Get Britain Cycling report. 

And the writing you see online - all of which is done in my own time and at no commercial profit to me - is just the tip of the iceberg, as I attend campaigning meetings and off-line events to gather stories, meet contacts and help with talks and rides.  I'm a founding member of the Movement for Liveable London, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, have lectured on cycling and cities at Oxford and Westminster University and have even been lucky enough to report on cycling in cities as far away as Barcelona, Nice, Copenhagen and Taipei.  
Oh, and I even got invited on to Newsnight, too!

In short, ibikelondon is a real labour of love for me, something that I really enjoy doing but which has grown bigger than I could possibly have imagined when I started out 5 years ago.  Subsequently it is really touching to be nominated for a London Cycling Awards and for my efforts to be recognised in this way, I'm very pleased.

The Award winners will be chosen from the short list of nominees by a system of public voting over the following week.  Readers can choose their favourites by following this link between now and Tuesday 8th July.  It is a real David vs Goliath situation, with ibikelondon in the same category as commercial website Road.CC and professional blogs London Cyclist and Total Women's Cycling but to be in such august company is in itself an honour.  

If you feel inclined to vote, I appreciate it.  Thank you!

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Friday Throwback: WWI's cycling soldiers in pictures

Politicians from across Europe gathered in Ypres, Belgium this week at the Menin Gate, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.  As speeches were made and wreathes laid, here at ibikelondon we've been looking back through the online archives of Flickr at images of the cycling soldiers who took part in the conflict.

Today's "Friday Throwback" forms part of a series looking at the best images hosted in The Commons by cultural instritutions and seats of learning from around the world.  The above photo of allied soldiers moving forwards through a recently captured village shows how bicycles were used to move small units of soldiers.  A dog watches from the muddy sidelines in this image from the National Library of Scotland.

Bicycles were also commonly used to relay messages from command to outposts on both sides of battle lines.  German soldier Adolf Hitler was a bicycle message during World War I, long before he dragged the world in to a second terrible war.  London had its own battalion of cyclists, as detailled on Roads Were Not Built for Cars blog, whilst recruitment posters exhorted British young men "Why Not Cycle For the King?"

The below image from the United States Library of Congress shows French cycling solders, with their guns slung over their shoulders, in the village of Chauconin-Neufmontiers in 1914.  A single woman appears in the photo smiling on the left, perhaps proud to see these soldiers off, or happy after they've returned from their first tour at the outbreak of the conflict.

In this final image, again from the National Library of Scotland, cycling orderlies come under enemy fire on the front line.  Whilst the two cyclists have upturned their bikes and appear to be using the frames to offer some protection from the enormous shell blast, a third man in the centre of the image is using a chisel - seemingly unconcerned - in the centre of the road.  For me, this strange and violent photo powerfully captures a dramatic second of the four years of experiences of men using bicycles through the world's first global conflict. 

As we mark 100 years since the start of WWI its humbling to consider the role of the simple bicycle in this, the first "mechanical war".

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Camden's West End is changing. For better or worse, if you want safe space4cycling you have to get involved

New plans by Camden Council to transform Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street have got everyone talking.  Their "West End Project" has been devised to accommodate thousands of extra pedestrians who will pour in to the area after Crossrail opens in 2018, but there are very valid concerns about the effect this will have on cyclists on these key north / south routes.
 Is this the Tottenham Court Road of the future?
On Thursday I signed an open letter - along with a number of other campaigners - praising the principles of the West End Project and agreeing to engage with the proposals as productively as possible.  When plans that can effect cyclist's safety are under scrutiny it is understandable that emotions can run high, but in this instance I do believe a positive attitude with an informed, constructive and cooperative approach will procure a much better result for us.

There are plenty of cycle design horror stories in London where boisterously pointing out their inherent daftness is, frankly, the only scrutiny they deserve (Elephant and Castle, Bow roundabout, Vauxhall Cross, anyone?)  In the past I've been the first to call on people to stamp their feet, badger their politicians and take to the streets in protest.  

But in this instance I truly believe that Camden's heart is in the right place, even if I don't agree with all of their proposal.  Their stated objectives for the scheme are to "make streets safe, attractive and easy to cross, to create new public space for the whole community to enjoy, to improve the experience for pedestrians and cyclists, to reduce congestion, pollution and casualties and to provide a public realm to cope with more pedestrians for Crossrail".  

Gower Street at present: three lanes of fast moving traffic with no safe space for cycling.  Horrible for pedestrians too.  A traffic sewer.

You don't have to look far from Camden's borders to see just how far ahead of other boroughs the ambition of the Council is, and that's something to be applauded, not scorned.  Putting this kind of proposal on the table risks raising the fury of the taxi trade and the freight transport lobby, not to mention the irk of local residents and Councillor's vote-wielding electorate.  Standing on the sidelines throwing our toys out of the pram will not get the result we want; the Council will either withdraw from discussion completely or simply comply with those they perceive to be reasonable whilst we rant and rave from the unreasonable margins.  It is the job of cycle campaigners over the next few months to ensure our voices are more reasonable and more compelling than those who will respond (like the cab trade) who'd like to see all the benefits of this scheme undone.

The West End Project has been conceived in good faith; removing the Tottenham Court Road / Gower Street one-way system has been in Camden's transport strategy and under discussion with local stakeholders since 2007.  Their proposal is not perfect for cyclists, but is considered by the Council to be the best of some 30 different scenarios they have drawn up and chewed over.  If only all streets in London were created with such care!

My interpretation of the plans has very much been whilst wearing two hats; as a Londoner who often uses the space on foot for shopping and entertainment, arriving by train; and as a cyclist who often cycles through the area and sometimes stops and shops there whilst using a bicycle, too.

As a pedestrian and public transport user the current proposal to make Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street two-way are good.  Speeds on both streets are currently very high (certainly considerably higher than the area's new 20mph zone limit) due to the straightness and width of the road.  You have to go to two different streets to catch a bus, depending on which direction you're going in.  The pavements - most especially around the Dominion Theatre and TCR station - are narrow, cluttered and unable to cope at peak times.  Gower Street - despite the host of historic buildings and cultural institutions that line it - is nothing better than a traffic sewer.  

The plan to return to two-way will deliver slower speeds, easier bus interchange with TCR station, more pavement space, the ability to cross narrower streets more informally, not to mention significant new public space including a very large plaza at the foot of the Centre Point Tower, a "pocket park" half way up Tottenham Court Road itself and a completely new park on Alfred Place turning what is presently acres of half empty asphalt in to the first new public park to be built in the West End in over a century.  All good stuff.  But despite traffic levels falling across the district for a number of years, bus numbers remain steadfastly high, and there will still be a very significant number of noisy, dirty buses transiting the area in the future.

As a cyclist, the plans for the area are not quite so fantastic.  Existing confident cyclists will certainly benefit from decreased speeds if the streets revert to two-way (both in terms of a limit and speeds restrained by the physical environment) and there are promises of more bike parking space which is currently scarce indeed in the West End.

Tottenham Court Road itself will be made bus and cycle only from 8AM to 7PM, Monday to Friday, travelling from north to south - certainly an improvement on the current wide-laned free-for-all that exists.  But there are no plans for any segregated cycling infrastructure here at all; the best we can hope for are a few Advanced Stop Lines and carriageways that are just wide enough to allow you to filter or play leap frog with the 90 or so buses which will travel through in each direction each hour.  Other traffic - including taxis - can still traverse TCR east / west and no passenger would be more than 60metres from a store entrance doing this, putting paid to the myth that the cab trade will be cut off, even if they won't have direct north / south access.

Proposals for Gower Street

Camden envisage that if you are just general traffic passing through (whether in a car or on a bike) you take a slight detour via Gower Street to go north or south.  That's okay - I have no problem with minor detours so long as the quality and comfort of that detour outweighs the most direct route.  On Gower Street, Camden propose "lightly segregated" lanes of a maximum 1.5 metres width in each direction.  The light segregation will be similar to the "armadillos" currently used on Royal College Street, which has much lower traffic volumes and wider bike lanes.  Can sporadic implementation of rubber bumps provide adequate segregation against the high volumes of motor traffic expected here? And with such high traffic levels - and throughput of cyclists - will 1.5m wide lanes give sufficient space for cycles to offer sufficient protection?  In recent years levels of all types of other private traffic have been falling in the area whereas cycling is growing - will these narrow lanes be sufficient enough to cope with future cycling growth?

Royal College Street (above) and a dense application of armadillos on a centre-of-carriageway cycle track in Barcelona, Spain (below).

I've seen armadillos used to good effect in Barcelona when placed at an angle and at closer intervals (indeed, this particular route was full of kids cycling to school and other "indicator species" for a successful cycling scheme) but doing this on Gower Street would also need more space.  Can enough space be found here for safe cycling of all levels? (Dr Rachel Aldred does a superb job on her blog analysing the impacts of the proposed scheme on inclusive cycling in the future, and comes up with interesting proposals)

So if the proposed cycle tracks on Gower Street aren't good enough, why not keep the one way system and put in a segregated cycle track alongside it?  Fellow bike blogger David Arditti, aka the Vole O'Speed - in a well researched and considered proposal on his blog here - comes to a similar conclusion, but I have reservations about this approach too.

One of the key purposes of the West End Project is to think about how the streets in the area will operate in the future, and what seems to be lacking from much of cycle campaigner's consideration is an awareness of just how significant an impact the opening of Crossrail will have in the area.  London's new high-frequency underground train route is breath-taking in scale: this single line will add 10% capacity to the entire London Underground network alone.  By 2018 (when the new line opens) Tottenham Court Road train station will be used by 200,000 passengers a day, rising to 306,000 a day by 2026 according to latest predictions.  Some 38,000 people an hour will use the station during week day peaks.

The problematic point on Tottenham Court Road lies just north of the station where a pinch between two buildings leaves just 9 metres of space to play with.  If you maintain the one-way system you will need to put any segregated cycling infrastructure on the "wrong" side of the carriageway in order to avoid buses pulling over in to your path continually, despite there being many side roads and this being a shopping precinct where cyclists may wish to make stops.

Tottenham Court Road at its narrowest point.

I've been a strident cheerleader for more segregated cycling infrastructure in London for many years, but at this 9 metre pinch point I just don't think an off-side cycle track with buses on one side and so many thousands of pedestrians coming out of the station on the other is going to work.  I can't help but feel that campaigning for that would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. We'd get the safe space for cycling we've all been calling for, but it would likely be full of some of the thousands and thousands of pedestrians Crossrail will bring to the area.  As a Londoner (and public transport user) I also can't bring myself to push for this solution when taken in to consideration against the disbenefits for pedestrians, including likely higher traffic speeds if the one way system is retained and having to catch buses in different directions from two different streets.

 New Oxford Street today

New Oxford Street, to the east of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (the road that runs between the Dominion Theatre and the Centre Point Tower) is presently a terrifying melange of buses, bordered by the Holborn / Shaftesbury Avenue gyratory to the south.  Yet despite this it is the beginning of what I like to call the "Hipster spice route", the insanely popular cycling route from the West End to East London following New Oxford Street, Theobald's Road and Old Street where London's highest cycling rates have been recorded (51% of AM peak traffic) and it is not uncommon to see 50+ cyclists at every junction during rush hour.  But despite this, the West End Project's only concession to cycling on New Oxford Street are raised tables to keep speeds down.  See the desperately scant proposals here - it's almost like they ran out of steam.

London's "Hipster Spice Route" starts on New Oxford Street before joining Theobald's Road, above.

So what can we do?  As I stated at the start, stamping our feet on the sidelines will get us nowhere whilst other more effective lobbying groups erase whatever benefits may be on offer.

As I've outlined above, personally I don't think keeping the one way system and having segregated routes alongside it will work.  I'd go as far as to say that with such high pedestrian numbers we should effectively "give" Tottenham Court Road itself to them, and the buses and train station that will deliver and take them away.

Two way working on Gower Street will significantly improve what - as Londoners - we all deserve to enjoy as one of our most beautifully built streets, full of interesting institutions and seats of learning.  But the current space for cycling on offer is insufficient.  If light segregation is going to be used then it needs to be much more along the Barcelona model, and to do that we need to find more space.   Can enough space be squeezed from the existing carriageway to deliver this?  Perhaps.  Could even more space, better results for pedestrians and an improved public environment be delivered by making Gower Street pedestrians and cyclists only?  Undoubtedly.  But is this politically palatable, and will the taxi and freight transport lobby - not to mention local residents - stand for it?

The consultation for the West End Project closes on Friday the 18th of July.  My key responses will include asking for:
  • Extended operating hours of the "bus and cycle only" exclusion on Tottenham Court Road, including later at night and on Sunday.
  • More space for cycling for existing riders on TCR itself, including deep bike boxes at junctions, cycle-only advance lights, and more cycle parking at stages along the route if two-way running is introduced.
  • A return to the drawing board for New Oxford Street proposals, which desperately need to do more to keep existing riders safe, let alone those who will ride here in the future (including the young and elderly)
  • More safe space for cycling on Gower Street; either through wider and better separated cycle tracks, or via the complete exclusion of motor traffic on this route all together.
I would encourage you all to read up on the plans, to respond to the consultation, and to get involved.  People on bikes undoubtedly need to stand up and be counted if the scheme isn't going to be watered down by other responses, and we need to find common ground to push forward where we agree on what the next steps should be.  One thing is for certain, the West End's streets are going to change and it is up to us all to ensure there's a place for cycling on them.

What can you do?

The consultation to the West End Project is here whilst the plans are here.

Camden Cycling Campaign (the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign) are holding an engagement meeting with Camden's planner and local Councillors on the 30th June at the Indian YMCA at 7PM (Entry ticketed due to demand, register for yours here.)

Other blog posts on this subject worth your consideration:

Movement for Liveable London: An Open Letter to Camden's West End Project
Dr Rachel Aldred: Is there room for inclusive cycling?
Vole O Speed: To gyrate or not to gyrate?
Cyclists In The City: Londoners voted for space4cycling. Should people support these plans?
Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: Forum thoughts and facts
Cycle Scape: campaign space run by Camden Cyclists
London Cycling Campaign: Will West End deliver?

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An Open Letter to Camden's West End Project (and why I support its principles)

Campaigners with their fingers firmly on the pulse will not have escaped recent announcements to transform a large area of London's West End by Camden Council.  The plans are bold and sweeping and - crucially - look at the area as a whole as opposed to taking a street-by-street approach.  

There is some concern, and justifiably so, about the provision for cycling in these plans.  Some of the plan's results will be beneficial for cyclists, some less so, and I will endeavour to highlight in detail on my blog over the coming weeks exactly where I think there are problems and where the focus for improvement should be.

However, I do believe that these are very carefully considered plans from Camden that deserve to be considered carefully by us in return.  I've been a vocal proponent of more separated cycling infrastructure in London from the start, but I know that shouting "Stick a cycle track down the middle!" loudly without considering the wider area is not always the right solution.

A key theme emerging around these proposals is that not all of the cycling community agree on what is good and what is not here, and the most important outcome of this is that we all talk about it and that there is more debate; firstly to alert Camden that their ideas may need improvement and secondly to try and form consensus before the consultation is over in July.

However, I very strongly believe that Camden should be applauded for their commitment to turning Tottenham Court Road and surroundings in to a more people-focused area and our approach should be cooperative, informed and constructive.  

Much more will be achieved with these plans if we take an open-minded approach as oppose to just standing on the sidelines shouting, which is why I have added my name to the following open letter along with Councillor Caroline Russell, (Local Transport Spokesperson, The Green Party), Bruce McVean (Founder, Movement for Liveable London), and John Dales (Director, Urban Movement)

To view this text in full, visit the Liveable London website.


"Attention! Le Tour de France!" Start planning your Monday off work now...

With less than 20 days to go till the 101st Tour de France races through town, Transport for London are stepping up their efforts to persuade people to plan their journeys ahead with a magnificent poster campaign.

Their "Attention! Le Tour de France!" posters were conceived by advertising agency M&C Saatchi (who pioneered the "Get Ahead of the Games" concept in the run up to the 2012 Olympics) and show cyclists wearing the colours of London's transport lines, with the famous Transport for London "roundel" for wheels.  The striking art works are appearing at train stations, bus stops and in print media in a bid to encourage people to think about planning their journeys in advance for Monday July 7th.

There will be significant road disruption around the Mall, Embankment, Canary Wharf, City Airport and the London Olympic Park on the 7th, with stations in the area busy with spectators too.  With rolling road closures from 10AM lasting in to the early evening, the particularly busy cycle routes along the Mall and Embankment are especially likely to be closed or restricted, so cyclists should also consider alternative routes.

I've loved seeing these colourful posters around and being reminded that our city is about to host one of the most exciting sporting events in the world, and I think they're likely to become poster design classics.  You can buy copies for yourself at the excellent London Transport Museum shop here and here.

Want our advice for a cracking Tour de France day in London? As well as being able to line the route for free, a series of free Fan Parks containing entertainment, refreshments, bike parking and very big screens will be showing all the action live in Green Park, Trafalgar Square and Canary Wharf.  See details here.  Times the race will pass certain points along the route can also be found here.

Start planning your Tour de France long weekend now!

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Friday Throwback: hitching a bike ride from your Dad, what better way to mark Father's Day?

It's nearly the weekend, and this Sunday kids all over the country will be saying "thank you, Dad" and celebrating Father's Day.  So for this week's Friday Throwback - our continuing series of historic photos of cycles and cyclists - we've chosen this great shot of a father and his two boys going for a ride in rural New South Wales, Australia.

The photo was taken over 100 years ago, in 1913 in the small town of Bunnaloo (population 126 people according to the last census)  Life was probably tough in the country back then, but these three all have smiles on their faces and look like they are having a good time.  And when you're hitching a ride from your Dad, who wouldn't be smiling?

This week's Friday Throwback image is from the State Library of New South Wales. Our ongoing series selects the best pictures of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr.  

How are you marking Father's Day?  Let us know via Twitter @markbikeslondon, or on our Facebook or leave a comment below!

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Shanghai's cycling culture hangs in the balance; but it's not just because of the motor car.

I was fortunate enough to visit Shanghai recently.  It's an energetic and complex mega-city (24 million residents, and counting) where modernity is meeting the old ways of Chinese living.  I'd heard before how this former city of bicycles had become enthralled to the motor car, but I hadn't expected the very fabric of the city itself to contribute to the decline in cycle culture.

Cycling rates have decreased in Shanghai in recent years, and the same problem can be seen all over China.  In decades past China was called the "Kingdom of the Bicycle" where massive populations were moved around by massive amounts of bikes.  As recently as 1998 some 63% of all journeys in the city of Jinan were made by bicycle.  By 2011 that figure had fallen to 10%.  In Shanghai, cycling rates fell by 60% over the same period.  These sobering figures are from the World Bank, who are rarely breathless about this sort of thing.

I flew to Shanghai on a Chinese airline.  Every commercial on the entertainment package - without exception - was for a private car.  It was the same in the in-flight magazine.  Cars that gave you feelings of freedom, cars that helped you keep your family safe, cars that would help you reconnect with your kids after a busy day at the office, cars that would help you find (and keep) a girlfriend.  I was fully prepared to witness the reality of the idea that a rise in private car ownership had directly contributed to the decline in cycling rates.  What I discovered was something rather different.

On the streets of Shanghai, signs of an impressive-by-UK-standards cycling rate can still be seen everywhere.  There are manned bike parks outside shopping malls, deliveries of goods of every shape and size being made by bicycle, labourers plying for work from one construction site to another using bikes to get around.  Kids being collected by grandparents from school by bike, and even bottles of gas being delivered on bicycles through the tightly packed streets of the Shikumen Longtang residences; a style of back-to-back row housing famous in Shanghai.  But all the cyclists I saw were just a small percent compared to what you would have found just a few years ago.  Where have all the cyclists gone?

To say that Chinese cities are changing at breakneck speed almost seems like an understatement.  We all know the stories of entire towns and districts being built in the time it would take for us to raise a few houses.  Change builds quickly, and sweeps aside everything in its path.  Just twenty years ago Shanghai did not have a single metro line. Now it has 14, carrying roughly 6 million passengers per day.  Passengers are whisked to the airport at 430kph on a new maglev train.  The 632 metre high Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in Asia - the second tallest in the world - and popped up in just 5 years. The city has an active car ownership restraint programme, auctioning number plates to deliberately inflate their value, but this did not stop the number of cars owned in the city increasing by an additional million in just 5 years between 2005 and 2010 to 3.1 million.  In 2010, when asked if she'd like to go on a romantic bike ride, dating show contestant Ma Nuo caused an uproar responding, "I'd rather cry in the back of a BMW than smile on a bicycle." (Source: The Atlantic)

All across Shanghai densely packed Longtang housing is being cleared to make way for wider roads, shopping malls and high rise housing, each new tower fenced off from the next. In these new developments the subjective experience for pedestrians and cyclists is greatly diminished with bike lanes ripped out and new roads built without any sidewalk.  To be clear, much of the old housing is cramped, dark and with only very basic sanitation, with many people living together in conditions we would consider positively Victorian.  But on the streets there is a palpable sense of social cohesion with people sitting out the front of their homes, talking to neighbours, trading with passers by and only ever a short bicycle ride away from commerce, education or parks.  Door-to-door traders ply their wares, children play in the lanes, old people gather around tables for tea or to enjoy card games, and all in a predominantly car free environment.

Traditional Longtang housing is being demolished all across the city to be replaced with high rise residential towers.

As these neighbourhoods are cleared and replaced with high rise residential towers (at great profit for the people to who the formerly unowned land has been assigned), the residents who move in to the new units gain light, air, electricity and private bathrooms.  But down on the ground they loose a richly patterned street life that was sustained by the shape of the city and the types of building in it, which in turn supported high cycling rates.   Instead, people travel the greater distances presented by their new homes on the burgeoning transit system, or in cars.  As more people travel in this way, so there are fewer cyclists, and space for cyclists, and so conditions deteriorate further and the decline continues.

New developments create poor amenity for both walkers and cyclists.

The idea that massive increases in private car ownership rates have led to the demise of the bicycle in China is too readily accepted by Western commentators.  We know, from the experience of successful cycling countries such as the Netherlands where there are both high cycle and car ownership rates, that the two can live together simultaneously.  The decline of the bicycle in China is more complex than at first it seems.  The World Bank says; "Conditions for both pedestrians and cyclists have been deteriorating across Chinese cities in the last few years. This is due to a combination of factors, including the lack of policies prioritising these users, cities sacrificing space for non-motorised traffic to be used for motorised traffic, the spatial growth of cities resulting in longer trips, and specific difficulties related to the big arterial roads of a typical Chinese city."

"You don't know what you've got till it's gone"

In short, as Shanghai strives to update itself, it risks destroying its cycling culture.  Not because some people can now afford a car or two, but because the form of the city itself is changing the way people travel.  In high towers residents are no longer able to make short trips to neighbours by bike, whilst below ground the metro waits to speed Shanghainese further and faster.  At street level the conditions for cycling are no longer pleasant or efficient enough to convince as many people to ride a bike as once was the case.  It's a cliche to quote Joni Mitchell singing "You don't know what you've got till it's gone", but for all its modern style and progress, in the case of Shanghai I'm inclined to agree.

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Friday Throwback: Ezquerra in the mountains

Continuing our occasional series of photographs from cycling history, this week we're going back in time to the 1934 Tour de France, when Spanish rider Fédérico Ezquerra powered his way to the top of the Galibier mountain in this classic photograph from the Dutch National Archives.

The pace cars, bike frame and technology may have all moved on, but the cyclist's physique and look of grim determination would not look out of place in the great race today.  Two years after this photo was taken, Ezquerra won stage 11 of the 1936 Tour de France in Cannes - the only stage victory of his long career.

Ezquerra died in 1986 aged 76, but you can still ride in his shadow today.  The exact spot where this photograph was taken is captured on Google Streetview and still looks like a fantastic ride, 80 years later....

The Friday Throwback is our ongoing series of posts looking at images of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr. You can catch every post from ibikelondon by connecting with us online; join the conversation with us on Twitter @markbikeslondon, or give us a "Like!" on our Facebook page. 

Saddle up for the Smithfield Nocturne this Saturday!

London is lucky enough to host a number of exemplary cycling events every year, and a firm favourite is taking place this Saturday!

The London Nocturne at Smithfield Market returns for its 8th year of cycle racing at all levels; from elite road racing teams battling it out for glory, to high jinks on Penny Farthings, and folding bike races.  For the first time this year there will even be a Boris Bike Race taking in laps of the historic meat market, though whether the Mayor himself will take part on his namesake bicycle remains to be seen...

The races run late in to the night, and the atmosphere builds as darkness falls.  There's always a great crowd, the surrounding Smithfield pubs stay open late and put on entertainment, and a series of bike-related stalls offer everything from t-shirts to team kit for sale.

I think the charm of the Nocturne is grabbing a hot dog and a beer with mates and banging the boards as your favourite riders rush past, but if you prefer a few more creature comforts then grand stand and hospitality tickets are on sale too.  Wherever you stand, you're guaranteed a close up experience of the thrill of professional road racing, whilst the Penny Farthing races are a real spectacle.  In the pro races, Tyler Farrar will be riding for Team Garmin-Sharp, Chris Sutton for Sky, Ed Clancy for Rapha Condor JLT, and World Track Champion Katie Archibald will lead the way in the women's field.

Getting to the Nocturne is easy too: Barbican Underground and Liverpool Street national rail stations are both nearby, and this year organisers have plotted a series of routes to get you to the Nocturne on the best way possible: by bike (though bring a few locks, cycle parking is sometimes in high demand here, see below!)

Races kick off on Saturday with the folding bike preliminaries at 4PM, with the Scwalbe Elite Criterium crossing the finish line around 10PM. Full race listings can be found on the Smithfield Nocturne website.

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Hold your breath, it's a ride around London like you've never seen before!

Cutting edge and cookey promotional videos are ten a penny these days, all hoping to have that certain quality which makes them go viral.  So when I nonchalantly clicked on a link via Twitter saying how TOTES ZOMG the following video was, I didn't have high hopes.  How wrong I was.

What happens when you take a handful of trial riders and freerunners and set them loose on a Boris Bike in central London?  This, that's what:

There's a lovely cameo from bike fix supremos London Bike Kitchen at the start, and aspects and angles of Regent Street, Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square that will boggle your mind.  (Who even thought it would be possible to bunny hop a bike up and down on top of the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column?!)  This being London - and full of Londoners - no one bats an eyelid as someone rides a Boris Bike along the hand rail of a bridge across the Thames.

All this urban street jumping japery has a purpose, of course, and that is to promote something.  In this case it is for a new social media website called FightMe which, so far as this old fool could tell, was a repository for Nathan Barley types doing daft things with iPhones likely to come back and haunt them at later stages in their career.  But never mind all that, just enjoy the energy and skill of these incredible riders and their adventures in our city!

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A question of speed: why you're better off by bike

This poster from 1915 extols the virtues of the London Underground, pointing out how fast their trains are compared to the traffic crawling along at street level up above.  Nearly a hundred years have passed, and things have changed.  Horse and carts (and barrel organs with monkeys onboard!) have become a very rare site on our streets, and the buses, taxis and motor cars of London now crawl along even more slowly...

The London Congestion Charge, introduced in 2003 by previous Mayor Ken Livingstone, allowed vehicles to begin moving more quickly again by reducing the quantity on the road, though not by enough to avoid This Is Local London publishing the immortal headline "London cars move no faster than chickens"!  

In the first year of its operation, Transport for London estimate over 60,000 journeys by car "evaporated"; moved to public transport, car sharing, and more trips by walking and cycling, against a background of growth in the city, as detailed in Tom Barry's excellent Street Talk on the state of London transport.

A decline in the volume of traffic kilometers travelled in London against a background of a growing city continues even today, as evidenced in the most recent Travel in London report from TfL.  Whether it is inside the inner London congestion charging zone or elsewhere, the distances journeyed are decreasing.  Traffic speeds during peak hours in inner London continue to hover around 15km/h (about 9.5 miles per hour, or a very gentle bike ride).

Fellow blogger Mark from As Easy As Riding a Bike has all the data that's fit to print on the fluctuations in vehicle speeds and volumes in an excellent blog post here.  

And even the motor-headed cast of the BBC's Top Gear have shown that when it comes to a race across town, the bicycle wins.

If less traffic in London means there is more space (and certainly there seems to be enough new space to justify ridiculous carriageway narrowing schemes in the City and in Westminster), then that space could be put to good use getting more people around more quickly.

The "Speed" poster from 1915 is not just a charmingly aesthetic relic from a city of another age.  It shows there have always been smarter and faster ways of getting about than by filling the city with traffic.  I'm as interested in the economics and efficiencies of cities as I am in cycling and cycle infrastructure, and it seems clear to me that not only is there latent demand for more safe space for cycling, but that it makes very good sense to introduce it: not just for the cyclist, but for the sake of the city itself.

Even if you spent billions burying half the roads in London there will never be enough space to allow many motor vehicles to be driven here at any useful speed.  But creating a city that allows people on bikes to move around quickly and safely is an easy goal to win.  As London Underground's poster shows, time is of the essence.