i b i k e l o n d o n

Cyclists are out of control! (And why that's okay)

This compelling animation by Lucas Brailsford (whereislucas.com) looks at the high level of "non conformist behaviour" among cyclists in the Netherlands.  It's not the sort of narrative you'll usually hear from cycling campaigners - it is hard to be persuasive with Governments and decision-makers if you're also prepared to admit that the people you're championing regularly jump red lights, ride home drunk or generally behave 'badly'.

There's a concept in the Dutch legal system of tolerating lightly illegal behaviour, or changing the framework so that it is no longer illegal.  Dutch policy famously allows euthanasia, has legalised prostitution and the use of marijuana, and was the first country in the world to introduce gay marriage.  The pragmatic approach seems to be "tolerate things, rather than prohibit them, force them underground and loose control."

When a cyclist barreling down the pavement in the dark nearly knocks you over this pragmatic approach to tolerance might seem frustrating.  Likewise if a prostitute sets up (knocking) shop next door.  There's no doubt that on an individual level these things could be highly frustrating, or even dangerous, but collectively society just doesn't see it as such a big deal.

Criminal tearaways, no doubt about it...

But this concept of 'turning a blind eye' is not as foreign as we might think.  Watching Lucas' video from an emerging cycling culture is a real eye-opener because the non conformist behaviour of some cyclists seems a bit wild.  But if a similar video was made here, about our prevalent transport users, you'd find the same.  Non conformist behaviour among motorists includes speeding, parking illegally, driving drunk, riding without insurance and knocking down other road users.  You don't believe that as many people in cars flout the law as regularly as cyclists ride drunk in Amsterdam?  Just try driving around your local town without once exceeding the speed limit and see how your fellow road users like it..

There's no doubt in my mind that good behaviour helps to encourage a literally civil society.  But in terms of fixing things, society only tries to resolve the problems it identifies as being a problem.  The cyclists of Amsterdam might seem to us to be a bit out of control, but when it comes to non-conformist behaviour I know which sort I'd prefer any day...

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One road at a time, London is making cycling progress - and it will change everything!

London has been changing over the summer.  Whilst the city was on holiday, Transport for London's contractors have been out in force building bike infrastructure on a remarkable scale.  Boris Johnson confirmed he would go ahead with his new Cycle Superhighway plans in January of this year, and now we're seeing the first results on the road.

Big construction projects inevitably cause short-term congestion whilst underway, but it is worth remembering the astonishing level of support for the new Cycle Superhighways and the long-term gain they'll bring.  The nine-week public consultation on the plans saw an overwhelming 21,500 responses from individuals and business organisations, with 84% in overall support of the plans. A YouGov opinion poll taken during the consultation found 73% of Londoners supported the Cycle Superhighways, even if it meant taking a lane of traffic away.  Over 160 major employers, including Deloitte, Coca Cola, Unilever and others came out in support of the East / West Cycle Superhighway which is currently being built on the Embankment.  

A quick ride up the finished section of the East / West Cycle Superhighway along the Embankment, courtesy of @CycleGaz

There has been opposition, of course, namely from the old guard of the taxi lobby (hello, LTDA, you scoundrels!) so much of which has been thinly-veiled anti-cycling sentiment.  Construction of the Crossrail train project has seen entire streets closed off in central London for years (as opposed to just months), but no one seems to be complaining about that...

Vauxhall Bridge (2 way track) via @AsEasyAsRiding and segregation wands on the Whitechapel Rd (apologies to whoever I saved this photo from, I can't remember who it was!)

The changes afoot are not just along the route of the East / West Cycle Superhighway.  At Oval, CS5 is being upgraded to provide full segregation, including around the terrifying Vauxhall Gyratory and over Vauxhall Bridge. In East London the killer CS2 is also getting an upgrade, with full or semi-segregation being introduced on a route that was previously literally just dirty blue paint and a lot of wishful thinking.

 Newly Hollandised Waltham Forest village!  Just look at all that anti-driving economic activity going on(!)

Cycle tracks alone can't change a city in to a bike riding paradise.  You also need balanced residential zones where local streets are set free from the tyranny of rat running and speeding traffic.  The Waltham Forest Mini Holland is just such a project and is now beginning to take shape - but only because of the diligent work of local residents in the face of vociferous NIMBYs who wish to retain their right to drive 150metres to the local shops...  There's a street party on Orford Rd today (Monday) from 3PM to celebrate the completion of the first stage of the project, if you're in the area.

As the London Cycling Campaign rightly point out, there are growing pains which need to be resolved in some places, and that's to be expected with innovation and change.  Meanwhile, progress presses ahead with construction of the North / South Cycle Superhighway in central London chalked up to start in autumn (check here for details)

But with summer almost over and the city's streets transformed whilst everyone has been away, the pace of change seems unstoppable.  The old "blue paint and optimism" superhighways - despite their very obvious limitations - still saw a leap in rider numbers of a minimum of 25%.  When these new safe and separated routes open to the public we'll see a torrent, a deluge, a flood of new riders using them, and it's going to change London completely!

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Get ready for racing on Regent's Street as a new Tour of Britain route comes to London!

It's no secret, I love the Tour of Britain!  I like the smaller scale of it compared to the Grand Tours of Europe, the opportunity for emerging riders to taste success, and of course the route through green and pleasant Great British Countryside.

But I've always felt the final stage - right here in London - has always been a bit of a let down.  Yes, you get the finish line photo of racing in front of Buckingham Palace, but the rest of the day is spent riding up and down the Embankment and Upper Ground which makes for a dull stage that is not very exciting for spectators.

So I'm thrilled to see that this year's final stage has a new route in our beautiful capital - and it's all because of London's everyday cyclists!  Because of construction work on the Embankment to build the new East / West Cycle Superhighway the Tour can't ride there.  So in 2015 it is adopting a new route, which promises fast down-hills on Haymarket, tight corners around Trafalgar Square, and racing up and down magnificent Regent's Street which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful street in the world (ESPECIALLY when it is closed to traffic!)

The final stage comes to London this Sunday the 13th of September, heralding the end of a fantastic summer of cycle racing.  The start and finish line is just south of Piccadilly Circus, and the riders will make a three-pointed loop of Regent's Street, Whitehall and the Strand, passing some of London's most famous buildings and attractions along the way.  It is free to spectate and makes for a fun day out for all the family.  The riders are fast, but you might even catch a glimpse of favourites Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Alex Dowsett and Andre Greipel, or even local boy Tao Geoghegan Hart from Hackney racing for British Cycling's development team.

Seeing as the stage is hosted and paid for by Transport for London (did anyone check the balance of the cycling budget recently?) Londoners might as well get their money's worth and have a nice day out of it...

All the details of the London stage can be found on the Aviva Tour of Britain website here.  The beautiful picture of Piccadilly Circus featured in this post is by artist Will Barras and was specially commissioned by cycling website Rouleur, where it is available for purchase.

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"We all cycle" - the rise and rise of proud cycling cities

I'm spending the summer in the Netherlands, and have been learning so much about cycling in their cities.  What has become clear to me is that Dutch cities are increasingly competing for a share of the visitors who come here to learn about the Netherland's cycling and planning culture. Utrecht, host of this year's Grand Depart, is not alone in this - note how this incredible video touting their cycling achievements is presented in English rather than Dutch and really tries to "show off" the city as a beautiful place to visit (which it is, I hasten to add).

I think this is an interesting phenomenon for two reasons; firstly the internet is being recognised by cities as an effective tool for reaching and inspiring many people around the world, getting them excited and clearly demonstrating exportable concepts.  There's also a clear attempt here to attract high-spending tourists who are on learning-based trips.  In short, visiting cities to find out how they work has become a mini industry of its own!

What do you think? Have you spent time visiting cities in order to learn and find out what you can do in your own city? Do videos like this make you want to visit somewhere more? Could pro-cycling messages like this help to make the case for cycling in the city where you live?

For more information on cycling in Utrecht, visit utrecht.nl/we-all-cycle/

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Bike bans in pedestrian zones make no sense, but not why you think

Last week I visited the Dutch city of Zwolle, the Netherlands City of Cycling in 2014.  It's a pretty, historic city surrounded by countryside and has a pedestrianised heart.  But what I saw there made me reconsider banning bicycles from pedestrian-only areas, but not for the reasons why you might think.

Many cities - both in the UK and elsewhere - have pedestrian zones where people using their feet to get around can relax in a safe environment where they don't need to be worried about being knocked down by speeding cyclists, or any other traffic for that matter.  Where there are lots of people, especially around shops, this has always made sense to me.

The West Country town I grew up in had a large pedestrians-only shopping area, where you were expected to lock your bicycle on the perimeter and walk in.  Even as a young man I remember being approached by security guards and given a telling off for pushing my bike through.

Things were different in Zwolle.  I'm not sure if bikes were technically permitted but I saw many in the pedestrian area.  A few were being slowly cycled to available bicycle parking, but the majority of them were being pushed.  I saw two friends; one woman on a bike and one man on foot, making a journey together through the city centre (photographed, below)  Would their journey have taken place if a strict bike plan was in place?

An older woman was using her bicycle as a shopping trolley, filling her basket with goods she brought as she pushed the bike from store to store.

I remember hearing Danish urbanist Jan Gehl recount a story about his mother who, when she became too frail to cycle, would still walk with her bicycle - it was her dignified access to mobility, without having to revert to using a walking frame.

Pedestrians are important, and in pedestrian areas should always come first.  As with much in life however the situation is not black and white; people have a complex approach to their own mobility.  I wouldn't want to see cyclists riding at speed through shopping areas, or obstructing access with mountains of parked bicycles, but I realise there's more to bicycles in pedestrian-only areas than initially meets the eye.

P.S  For more wild and reckless behaviour like using a bike in a pedestrianised area, see this film by the City of Zwolle which features their Bike Director getting a backie from various residents - something which landed London Mayor Boris Johnson in hot water this week and for which he was slammed by the CTC! (Film in Dutch only, sorry!)

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