On Your Bike, London

How can we get more Londoners on their bikes? | By Junsheng Xu

On Your Bike, London
Photo by Ellen Kerbey / Unsplash

By 2050, 80% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas. With 70% of greenhouse gases being generated by cities, how we move around them sustainably is a key issue of our time.

Cycling plays a vital role in decarbonising urban transport. London already has a number of initiatives, such as Cycle SuperHighways, that encourage more people to take to its roads on two wheels. But is it doing enough?

I personally love cycling, both for commuting and leisure. I’ve steeled my nerves to ride on busy streets which I didn't dare do in my early days as an international student in London. I’ve grown accustomed to cycling-specific gear and I treat my road bike like a close friend.

On 12 November 2022, Cycling UK joined other voices in a day of global action for COP27, to tell governments that cycling offers huge potential to cut emissions, and that active travel must be urgently embraced as part of the solution to the climate crisis.

The pandemic encouraged more people than ever before to cycle and avoid crowded public transport in London, and now the cost of living crisis is adding further incentives for people to get on their bikes to save money.

But what more needs to be done to make London a more cycling-friendly city? Here is my manifesto for the changes required…

Photo by Michaelpuche / Shutterstock

More cycle lanes

New cycle lanes were added to some main roads in the capital following the Coronavirus outbreak to encourage safer active travel. Mark, a student at UCL and cyclist, says: “Despite this, the number of cycle lanes in London is still not enough. Many parts of the city don't have them yet, and it’s still common for cyclists and drivers to get into dangerous conflicts on the road.”

Here’s the good news: since April 2022, TfL and London’s boroughs have delivered 10.6km of new or upgraded cycle routes, and there are a further 16.4km under construction. In total, TfL aims to deliver at least 39km of new or upgraded cycle routes over the next 18 months, with the support of boroughs.

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Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at charity Cycling UK says: “Car dependency locks in congestion. By building more cycle lanes, London is rebalancing its roads, offering a safe, healthy and space-efficient alternative.”

However, it is not uncommon to see cycle lane traffic jams between 8-9am and 5-6pm, so TfL and local government should continue investing in building more. The safer cyclists feel on their bikes, the more  people will be attracted to give cycling a go – saving money and becoming fitter in the process.

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More bike-friendly workplaces

Georgia, who commutes into the City of London, says: “My home is not far from the workplace, but my employer cannot provide a secure parking place for bicycles, so I have had to give up cycling and take the underground to work.”

Her experience is not an uncommon one in the capital, with many companies and organisations behind the curve when it comes to helping staff to choose cycling as their means of getting to work.

Becoming a bike-friendly workplace is a surefire way of getting more employees on their bikes. So, what is needed? Secure bike parking is an absolute minimum. Then there is the need for workplace showers and lockers for your pannier or backpack. Good employers will also join the Cycle to Work scheme, under which their employees can buy a bike tax-free (up to a maximum of £1,000) and spread the cost of it over several years.

Encouraging employees to ride to work could also unlock a number of advantages for employers, from healthier employees to a reduction in the amount of space needed for car parking and a decreae to the carbon footprint of your workplace. If your employer isn’t cycle-friendly enough, get together with colleagues to them lobby for change.

Photo by Gorloff-KV / Shutterstock

Be more security conscious

Many London Cycling Campaign members say they feel worried by the risk of bike theft in London, and the more someone spends on a shiny new set of wheels, the more attractive it is to thieves.

According to statistics from 2018, 21,745 bikes were stolen in London the year prior and one bike was stolen every six minutes in the UK, so it would be a good idea to get insurance. Annual policies can range from £25 up to £300. The latter figure may sound a lot, but some top-end bikes cost up to £3,000, so it makes sense to protect yourself.

The Metropolitan Police offers advice to cyclists about protecting their bikes from theft, including getting them registered and security marked and investing in good-quality locks. The harder we all make it for thieves to steal our bikes, the less concerned we will be when parking them up in public places.

Cycling is one of the simplest lifestyle choices that individuals can make to reduce their carbon footprint, and it offers huge benefits for health, the economy and neighbourhoods, too. We need much more cycling if we are to combat climate change, so let’s make it easier and safer to get on our bikes in London!

Junsheng Xu is a journalism student at the London College of Communication, UAL.