Why Leicester could be the next Copenhagen... if it wants to be

Before the summer break I was invited to the city of Leicester to take part in their Ride Leicester bicycle festival.   There were film screenings, workshops, presentations and a Sky Ride.  We took to the streets for a fun, friendly film-themed Critical Mass which will from now on forever be remembered as the wettest bike ride in the Western World...

Photofinale_Red Carpet Ride_MG_8841Photofinale_Red Carpet Ride_MG_8892

No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes, right? (Me, right)  Spiders don't seem to mind the rain... (photos via Photofinale)

Cycle chic, soggy style.

I was highly impressed with the city.  The people were welcoming and friendly, the city is diverse and vibrant, and it felt like a place on the cusp of big things.  There's bags of potential, some great architecture and the city council have done a great job of pedestrianising almost all of the town centre.  There are benches for people to wile away the time, beautiful paving, artists and street musicians and even fully segregated contra-flow cycle lanes.  Jan Gehl would approve.  London could do well to sit up and take notice.

People on foot and people on bikes allowed!

Living streets

Out in the countryside Leicester Forest Cycle Club ploughed me with home made cake and invited me to photograph their Time Trial.  I received a really warm welcome and there was none of the tribal divisiveness we sometimes encounter here in the Big Smoke between different types of cyclists.  As Gary Fisher once said, "Any one who rides a bicycle is a friend of mine".


As part of the festival I gave a key address on the theme of inviting cycling titled "Leicester isn't London, and London isn't Copenhagen", outlining what the three cities can learn from each other and showing that Leicester - and indeed any UK city - has the potential to be just like Copenhagen, if only the will to change is there.  Trying to record in a rush a presentation given in an arts centre bar isn't the easiest of jobs so you might want to stand by your volume button, especially when the coffee machine kicks in!

As well as writing the ibikelondon blog, I speak to local councils, companies and organisations on cycling, cycling infrastructure, marketing cycling and showing how anyone can build a bike in to their daily life - if you're interested in hosting a similar event please do get in touch with me via my About Me page.

Thanks to Eric, Andy and the Ride Leicester team for inviting me to your city; I hope to make a return trip and see how you are progressing with growing your cycling culture!

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ndru said...

Nice one Mark!
What a weird feeling when you show London as an example of a city that does good things for cycling... :) Perhaps us Londoners are being to critical? Maybe - since I started cycling to SOHO I see massive crowds of cyclists on my way. Could be that that cycling is gathering momentum and fast!

ibikelondon said...

Thanks @Ndru it's important to get out of Zone 2 sometimes and remember that what is happening in London is certainly a damn site better than many other UK cities. The point is, of course, that doesn't mean what is happening in London is good enough. One only needs to look over the water to break-neck speed at which New York is embracing it's cycle revolution to realise that much much more needs to be done.

ndru said...

It would be interesting to see a study on how measures adopted in NY and Paris influenced the traffic share.

Philip Loy said...

Hi Mark
I like how you've developed the presentation for Leicester, some great points/ graphics in there.
My worry is though, is that there's a tendency to make these presentations to the initiated, and worse to try and establish a position amongst differing viewpoints within the cycling community.
I truly hope you get to present to politicians, and in fact anyone who's views count, who don't really know much about cycling, except perhaps that it's a vaguely worthwhile thing.
And in fact, this is just the kind of thing that LCC need for their Going Dutch initiative. I will make that point elsewhere.
Remind me if/ when you might be down under. I'm currently here but it would be great to see you here too! Though I'm heading back to the UK soon, but likely be out here again.
[Oh, and Traffic in Towns - Prof Buchanan was quite clear on the negative consequences of promoting the car - the monster we love so dearly he called it.]

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for your kind words Philip, I wondered if you'd pick up on the Buchanan Report reference. I guess the point there is that - as I touched on in my talk - the two reccomendations that were taken up with great gusto from the report were the wrong two!

I also agree with you that there is a risk that as with so many of these cycling-orientated events there is an element of "preaching to the converted", although as I also briefly touched on we can sometimes be our own worse enemies with our different advocacy agendas ("We need more bike lanes / bike training / commuters / sports cycling") when in truth what we of course need is all of these things. I tried to highlight this by showing what all 3 cities are doing the same, and what the city with the highest cycling rate is doing differently.

With regards to Oz, sadly I have no plans to be out there any time soon. Email me and let me know where you are based during your work there and I'll think up some must visit places to go or even some people it might be worth hooking up with if you have any spare time.

I love "the monster we love so dearly" quote! An interview with Prof B looking back on lessons learnt by Traffic in Towns would be a very interesting thing indeed!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps next time you could visit the long established bike projects that have contributed so much to Leicester over the last few years and not just the current council favourites?

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous Thanks for such a constructive comment(!) If you watch the presentation you'll see I'm not afraid to criticize the Council.

Furthermore there is, of course, only so much one can fit in to a 24 hour tour of a city. A mass bicycle ride, a film screening, a tour of the newly pedestrianised city centre, an interview with the local press, watching the Leciester Forest Time Trials and of course actually giving the talk seemed like a pretty full itinerary to me.

Of course, if these long established bike projects should like to invite me themselves, and guarantee an audience, and arrange for my accommodation and travel I'd be thrilled to return what I generally found to be a very welcoming and positive city....

Anonymous said...

When I look at the pictures I fin it asonishing that people fight pedestrianising streets. Why would people want a noisy smelly town centre full of shunting cars?

Yes, yes, I know we do love to transport ourselves in cars, but if this is so wonderful why do we spend so much money going on holiday to places where cars are banned?

Keep uo the good work. BTW Do you know any cycling contacts in Hull? I may have to cycle through there next year and if Google Earth is anything to go by I'll need a guide.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks @WORKBIKE for the positive feedback, it's much appreciated. And I agree re pedestrian streets - they're just fantastic (especially ones like this where cycling is allowed)

Regarding Hull I'm afraid I don't have any contacts up that way (bit far out of Zone 2 for my liking!), have you tried contacting the local cycling group?

Chris said...

Figuring out how to integrate bikes into city life is so important - for me, everything clicked when I got myself a folding bike. I can ride if I want, but I have the flexibility to take other forms of transportation as well, all without having to lock up the bike and leave it behind.