City's cyclists should have their say (and Mayor Boris should listen)

Mayor of London Boris Johnson held a meeting last Friday with representatives of some of the UK’s biggest cycling manufacturers and retailers. Aiming to brainstorm ways to encourage more cycling in London - with a specific focus on fixing the issues of safety and security – sadly, the Mayor is misguided if he thinks he is inviting the right people to City Hall...

Whilst high level cycling industry big-wigs undoubtedly have a passion for bikes and all that goes with them, it’s questionable how focussed they are on the real issues at hand. Representatives of big corporations are ultimately, no matter how well intentioned, going to be driven by their bottom line and profit margins.

Increasing bike security? As cyclists we all know the answer to this is better and more frequent cycle parking, given the same kind of street patrols and CCTV as vehicle parking, and the Metropolitan Police making at least a token start at taking cycle theft seriously. The industry, I suspect, will recommend we buy bigger, and stronger locks – maybe even two, or three per bike (which is now becoming the standard in London)

Getting more people on bikes? As regular readers here will know, I firmly believe that we need to take the ‘other’ out of cycling and rehabilitate it as an everyday and ordinary activity in people’s lives again. If you want mass cycling rates, the masses need to be able to associate with cycling. I’d probably start with the inequality in cycling rates between men and women and be asking why aren’t more women cycling? On this point I am inclined to agree with BikeBiz Editor Carlton Reid: “Not all cycling women want to be Audrey Hepburn with a basket-on-the-front, pearlised-pink Dutch bike. But there’s no escaping that this sector is the one that produces the best photographs for promoting cycling to a mainstream audience. Forget helmets, Lycra and speed; non-cyclists find all that a big turn-off”.  Promoting the public face of cycling as mainstream?  That's not something the bicycle industry has been doing, as I’ve previously discussed.

And, as we've otherwise discussed here, if the Mayor really wants to see cycling levels explode across London, he could do a lot worse by not scrapping the only Police department entirely dedicated to reigning in errant HGVs - the cause of the majority of fatal incidents in London.  Perhaps he could focus on a truly original cycle safety action plan instead of the current limp offering City Hall is presently putting forward.  I've said it before and I'll say it again; aiming for cycling to be just 5% modal share of all traffic by 2026 is less like a velorution and more like a wet Wednesay matinee of Les Miserables.

2010 does stand to be a record year for cycling in London. Transport for London, under the stewardship of Mayor Johnson, will launch 6000 new bikes onto our streets with the launch of the Zone 1 bike hire scheme. The first two of 12 ‘cycle superhighways’ (essentially existing cycle lanes re-painted and re-branded to raise their awareness) will open to the general public. The cycling budget for the next five years is a fairly hefty £110 million pounds. The potential for a political backlash from the Mayor’s outer-London car-dependant voting block is massive if these schemes are seen to fail. As such, you’d think he’d be inviting representatives from the cities of Copenhagen, Groningen or Amsterdam to his cycling summit, rather than a self-publicising ex-promoter of a pedal car race from Dorset.  (No, dear readers, I kid you not.)

I’m sure the people from our various bike manufacturers are lovely people, and that they believe their hearts are in the right place, but I don't believe they have the day-in day-out first hand experience of cycling in our capital city that the city’s cyclists do. Bike shops traditionally do not make much money on the bikes they sell – the profit margin lies in the sporting cyclist’s favourite mantra; “Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize.” London’s cyclists know, however, that no amount of whiz-bang gadgets or sweat-whicking clothing are going to get more people on two wheels – only strong clear infrastructure and safe roads for all will do that. Perhaps with their help the city can avoid installing nightmarish cycle lanes such as this, or remember to include cyclists in all of their transport projects in the future, unlike here.

It’s great that the Mayor and his people are seeking out industry opinion, but if they want to know how to really make 2010 London’s cycling year they could start with talking to our city’s cycling groups, dare I say it, it’s cycling bloggers, and - shock-horror-gasp! – even the city’s cyclists themselves.


WestfieldWanderer said...

Well said, sir.
We all live in hopes that these words and others like it don't fall on deaf ears.

Anne said...

I'm a little stunned, actually, that the Mayor doesn't think that bicycling advocates--you, for instance--are worth having at the table for these kinds of discussions.

It seems obvious to me that industry representative are almost irrelevant to the discussion. I don't believe they can really do anything proactive to increase ridership, though of course they can offer the bikes that new cyclists want and feel comfortable with.

But nobody's walking into a bike shop and saying "Hey, I'm going to start cycle commuting in London because I saw this cool advert for a cool looking bike." Nobody.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks Westfield Wonderer, thanks Anne - my sentiments exactly - it seems ridiculous that City Hall wouldn't be inviting actual cyclists to offer their shared experiences.

Anne; I agree totally that it is the consumer that sets the trend and not vice versa - it's up to the retailler to keep up.

Another rap on the nuckles for our so-called cycling Mayor... (with whom I am growing increasingly unimpressed)

Christa said...

Nice article, Mark.

Fashionable group rides seem to help promote cycling. The Tweed Ride concept is genius, and look at how it has spread around the world.

I'm sure it brings non-cyclists to try cycling, and maybe it even inspires them to adopt a cycling lifestyle.

Carlton Reid said...

TfL told me they will be having breakfast meetings with other groups.

I don't suppose the 'Crap Waltham Forest' blog will get an invite, but bike journos are meant to get invited to their own meeting later.

But this 'divide and rule' policy is not very bright. Instead of having multiple representatives from lots and lots of companies and bike shops, it would have been better to have a wide sampling of ALL voices, including genuine, everyday cyclists.

I'm the exec editor of the trade mag and had the invite list in advance. I could see that TfL was missing a trick. But they can't say 'they'll know better next time' because I told them in advance their 'divide and rule' policy was suspect.

We're all in this together. And we can share ideas.

TfL might get repeat kickings from Crap Waltham Forest, and your blog, but passionate bike blogs have expert knowledge and strong opinions. By keeping interested parties apart, TfL has missed a great opportunity.

Cait said...

Politicians tend to do this. They'll invite the manufacturers and (in classic US terms) the lobbyists with the money in order that they can massage their egos enough to tap them for a bit of sponsorship money later.

If they were to invite the LCC, then unfortunately real solutions costing tax payer money would be voiced and on the table. Then they'd have to publicly and visibly ignore those proposals, which had been aired in a London Assembly sponsored event. Oh dear. Better to ignore them altogether.

ibikelondon said...

@Cait I rather fear you are closer to the truth than any of us here dare admit - perish the thought someone actually puts forward a useful suggestion when there is money to be spent on consultations and the like...

@Carlton Reid - thanks for stopping by. I'm not out and out hostile towards Tfl or even the Mayor (certainly not as hostile as the Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest blogger, though sadly his writing is often all too true) - some of the work these departments do is great (though I reserve the right to be critical if it is not), but as you so rightly surmise it could be greater if they spoke to all interested parties, and indeed this would have subsequently been a much better forum for sharing ideas. Who knows, we might even have taught one another something? I absolutely believe that City Hall has missed a trick here - I am certain that genuine everyday cyclists had more to offer than a soap car racer (from Borunemouth!) ever did, and, if I'm honest, it does sting somewhat.

Unknown said...

Hi I am am the MD of a cycle parking company called Falco UK Ltd, it may seem that I am pushing my own agenda here (and I am) but it seems very obvious to me that a key peice of the jigsaw is the provision of good quality cycle parking shelters throughout the all the UK's cities - in the same way we have car parks in all the convenient areas. You could then cycle anywhere and know there would be a good quality covered place to safely store your bike, not just a few randomlyscattered sheffield cycle hoops.

Jeremy Green

ibikelondon said...

Hello Jeremy,

Thanks for stopping by. It's okay to push your own agenda - we all have one of those on here!

With regards cycling parking I couldn't agree more that we need more of it in our urban areas (see my posts on Why Cycle Storage Matters, and the terrible state of cycle parking at central London stations ) But the key to making it successful is having a broad diversity of parking - massive covered stands at our stations, clusters of sheffield stands at squares and intersections, and cycle hoops on our streets, outside our doors. There are two (pay per use) covered cycle parks in central London at present, both of which are miles away from where I need them, in effect rendering them useless to me. Sadly I think there is little political appetite to build more.

Interestingly, respondents to surveys in London, when asked why they don't ride, list fear of having their bike stolen as second only to fear of cycling on our roads....

As you say, it's all lots of parts of the same jigsaw.

Anonymous said...

I don't live in London anymore but the point I would like to make applies where ever we are. That is, doesn't the green party ever have anything positive to say? Have you ever congratulated us, we the people, on the progress we've made? Also, don't you realize that we can't all be cyclists? We need to concentrate on many alternatives not just a few well known and popular ones. What about supporting improving technologies?
For example, what have you done about the closure of Britain's only wind-turbine manufacturer? All of you in government need to get up of your comfortable sofas and come out of the playroom and into the 21st century with some up to date ideas. Time waits for no one, remember? And time is running out!
Beverly Heard

ibikelondon said...

Hello Beverly,

Thanks for stopping by - unfortunately I think your comments are misdirected. You see, this is not the website for the Green Party, but a blog about cycling in London. It doesn't feature Green Party policy, though it has interviewed one of it's London Assembly members (we thought it was pretty cool that the former Deputy Mayor of London was a cyclist, so featured her story here). As an independent blogger, I reserve the right to criticize all of our elected candidates. This particular piece singles out Boris Johnson because he is the Chair of Transport for London and so, regardless of which political party he belongs to, his actions have an effect on us cyclists. I suspect you arrived at this blog post via Jenny Jones' Twitter feed - she didn't write this article, I did, and we are not politically associated - she was merely pointing it out because she thinks it made sense. I'm flattered.

Thanks for stopping by, but before shooting across the bows of any political party, can you make sure you are in the right forum to do it first please?

Best regards,

i b i k e l o n d o n

ibikelondon said...

Well, would you believe it? News today from Carlton Reid that our suspicions (and specifically Cait's!) were right all along - shortly after this meeting at City Hall, Transport for London sent out an email and presentation to the attendees tapping them up for cash...

It seems that City Hall weren't interested in hearing from the city's cyclists at all....

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