Can the UK embrace a cycling culture?

By Phil Benton 

London Cycling Scheme

The UK is not a cycling country. Well not yet, at least.

In 2012, just two per cent of all journeys were made by bike according to government statistics. In August of this year, David Cameron unveiled ambitious plans to start ‘a cycling revolution’ with the government providing a cash investment of £94 million to help promote cycling in several English cities and national parks. The money is designed to help improve existing cycle routes, fund new ones and ultimately make it easier and safer to cycle.

It seems the investment isn’t working yet after the recent tragedy of six cycling deaths in two weeks here in London and three cycling-related deaths in Bristol in the same period.

What’s fundamentally worrying is the animosity between motorists and cyclists, they just don’t get along. The reason for their daily disagreement is that cars and cycles were never designed to commute alongside each other; they are just making the best of a bad situation.

Redefining London 

I regularly cycle in London myself and try and use cycle paths where I can, but there are simply not enough of them. London is a fantastic city with a glorious history, illustrious present and exciting future but let’s face facts – it’s old. The same problems apply to London’s 150 year old underground system as they do for its roads – they weren’t designed to transport the vast number of people they do each and every day.

Infrastructure change takes time and huge sums of money. The four new cycling superhighways built in London, stretching to about 40 miles in total, cost £35 million. London’s bike hire scheme – also known as ‘Boris Bikes’, much to Barclays’ bewilderment and Ken Livingstone’s despair –  costs around £26 million per year. Thanks to the success of the trial, there are plans to extend the scheme and superhighways but that’ll be years in the making.

Cultural Shift

The one thing that can change quickly though is the cycling culture. It’s easy to hate cyclists, sure, there are hundreds or possibly thousands of cyclists breaking basic highway rules every day. Cyclists are definitely no angels, but neither are car motorists, buses, HGVs or even pedestrians. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

The police are starting to act though with the launch of ‘Operation Safeway’ earlier this week. Sadly this is not a mission to reinstate the forgotten supermarket back on our high street as you might also have wrongly assumed. It’s actually about ensuring road traffic laws are abided by and issuing fixed penalty notices to anybody putting their own and others safety at risk. It’s not necessarily the solution but at least it will hurt the pockets of cyclists who continually jump red lights, which is a serious pet hate of mine.

Cycling is a primarily a good thing though and perhaps they should be given a bit more leeway. When a driver sees a cyclist, they should be thankful that it’s not another car on the road. In 2003, Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion charge eliminating almost 60,000 cars in the process and is a key factor behind London’s roads being able to function at all. Cyclists are reducing the number of cars daily as well as helping to relieve TFL’s jam-packed network bustling with an ever rising number of impatient passengers.

It’s also good for our health too. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence we are in the midst of a ‘silent epidemic’ of inactivity which is costing lives. Just 11 minutes per day on average is spent cycling or walking in the UK, lagging well behind our European neighbours Denmark and the Netherlands. Amsterdam is a cycling city. Why can’t London be too? We don’t even have the distraction of Mary Jane to stop us.

In London, the cyclists have already arrived and here to stay. The quicker you deal with it the better. Don’t just think bike, think cyclist.

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