According to census data, 760,000 people regularly commute to work by bike, while recent Transport for London statistics have shown that more people are cycling in London than ever before1. Mike Plaster takes a look at how our cycling infrastructures are providing for these record numbers, and considers how a look towards the world’s most successful cycling cities should provide inspiration.
Around the UK, cycling has boomed but this isn’t a passing trend. Designers, local authorities and other key decision-makers need to ensure that collectively they’re doing everything possible to cater for the ever-increasing numbers of people turning to pedal power. But we also need to be doing our utmost to promote the health, economic and environmental benefits of cycling.
A Nation Involved
Last month’s national Cycle to Work Day, organised by CycleScheme, saw more than 30,000 commuters ditch the car or public transport and take to the saddle, with almost 900 employers involved in promoting the event2 – so in terms of cycle infrastructure, what are we doing to ensure the UK keeps up with forward-thinking countries like Denmark?
In the UK, London is leading the way with innovative cyclescapes, thanks to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s flagship superhighways exclusively for bikes. It is hoped these roadways will reduce serious injuries and fatalities, and enjoy the same success as other developments like the award-winning shared space of Exhibition Road, which encourages vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to travel harmoniously as one.
Image Courtesy of tfl.gov.uk
However, the capital is still taking relatively small steps behind the rest of the world and the UK has a way to go if it’s to provide for parliament-endorsed targets that aim to ensure 10% of all journeys are made by bike by 2025, and 25% by 2050.
Niels Hoe, CEO of Hoe360 Consulting, has worked in cycling, green mobility and urban planning at home in Denmark and internationally for more than a decade. His work concentrates on how the world can improve 21st century cycling infrastructure and he’s been involved in many bicycle-related design development. Hoe says: “It’s widely thought that the Netherlands and Denmark are leading the way as cycling nations, but other countries, including the UK, are moving forward.”
But he argues: “It’s so important that we take cycling initiatives from the meeting rooms and onto the streets – and not worry so much about mistakes made.”
Around the World
The Hovenring in Eindhoven - Image Courtesy of Urban Commuter
In many cities in the Netherlands, up to 70% of journeys are made by bike4, and the Dutch have built an impressive network of cycle paths to align with this figure. Incorporated within the scheme are separate signs and lights, as well as lanes wide enough to allow for overtaking cyclists (a bone of contention with some Londoners, who feel wide cycle lanes will affect traffic flow and cause congestion). Groningen central train station is even home to underground parking spaces for 10,000 bikes. So it’s safe to say the bike is an integral part of everyday life for the Dutch.
Station Europapark in Gronigen - Image Courtesy of Urban Commuter
Surfing the Wave
Copenhagen still paves the way in its attempts to increase bicycle traffic with innovative ‘cyclescapes’. Along the Danish capital’s major arteries, the ‘green wave’ co-ordinates traffic lights for cyclists so that if they ride at a certain speed, their journey will be timed to hit all the green lights on the way into the city amid the morning commuter chaos. Meanwhile, the city is also kitted out with footrests and railings at junctions to make for a comfortable and upright resting position while waiting at lights5. There are 28 superhighway routes into the city centre currently in the making.
Strasbourg has long been one of France’s principal cycling cities, and there are 333 miles of cycling routes in the city. Strasbourg’s unique bike-share system allows cyclists to pick up a bike from a docking station and take out long-term rental6.
However, for each of the major UK cities that appear to lack decent cycling infrastructure and innovative cycling schemes, there are several that do have cyclists at the forefront of their plans. Bristol’s Dutch-influenced plans are set to include bus stop bypasses and Toby bollards for the protection of cyclists, while Edinburgh is set to become Scotland’s first 20mph city, sparking debate with its year-long trial two-way cycle track. And Manchester’s Oxford Road is currently in the process of overhaul, with plans to ease traffic congestion and increase cycling safety by removing vehicles from along parts of the route and imposing a 20mph speed limit7
But if we’re to make further advances among Britain’s cycling cities, Hoe is adamant we need to consider what is at the heart of the project. He explains: “If we’re to make cities great, the decision-makers must realise that planning for people is key, and stop focusing so much on traffic. A great city is designed with citizens in mind and provides them with room for interaction, and cycling infrastructure presents the perfect opportunity for this.”
Perception of Safety
Safety is key and needs to be an underlying factor in any design. Not only does cycle infrastructure have to be safe, its potential users need to believe it is safe, and feel safe while using it. In Cambridge, one cycle lane is situated between two lanes of traffic7 and even the most confident of cyclists may feel wary at being placed so precariously between lanes.
“Places could be perfectly safe from a design and planning point of view, but they could be perceived as unsafe by users,” explains Hoe. “This should all be researched within the planning stages because anyone who finds the design uncomfortable is unlikely to venture there with their bike. There’s a fine line.”
Following the deaths of eight cyclists this year in London8, Boris Johnson announced preventative measures to be put in place to protect our streets’ cyclists – and in a further proposal, he’s looking to ban lorries from taking dangerous left turns.
So what’s next in Britain’s Cycling Future?
Cycle infrastructure MUST be inclusive of all ages and abilities, consider safety and the perception of safety, and move away from this worry that from a planning perspective, we may not get it right first time.
“Cycling is good business,” explains Hoe. “And one big advantage is that infrastructure is relatively cheap in comparison to that developed for vehicles. Plus, with cycling often making for better journey times, it’s a highly attractive method of transport.”
So should we really be letting the nervousness around challenges and expenditure prevent us from developing our country’s traffic-logged cities? Absolutely not. Investment in cycle infrastructure is a wise move – a look towards the world’s most bike-friendly cities will show us that.
A mix of social approval, innovatively designed ‘cyclescapes’ and an overall perception of safety will ensure the successful future of cycling in Britain, and will in turn ease traffic congestion and cyclist fatalities, boost local commerce and vastly improve the growing concern that is public health.
Featured image courtesy of www.highwaysindustry.com