No More Cycling Revolutions - Bruce McVean


London’s cycling revolution was launched in 2010 with the aim that by 2026 5% of journeys would be made by bike. A distinctly unambitious target (5% is the current European average for cycling mode share) that may yet prove to be unrealistic, cycling continues to limp along at just 2% of journeys. If you took away the significant number of cyclists who primarily use their bike to commute then I suspect cycling levels would be so low as to be almost non-existent. London is a long way off being a cycling city.

Riding a bike must feel safe, convenient and pleasurable if it is to become a mainstream transport option. Creating the conditions in which the majority of people would contemplate cycling demands the building of segregated infrastructure where traffic speeds and/or volumes require it and reducing traffic speeds and volumes everywhere else. These are the essential building blocks, no amount of paint, promotional campaigns, exhortations to take the lane or requests for road users to be a bit nicer to each other can replace them.

So far so simple; the difficulty is that providing the infrastructure for cycling requires the reallocation of road space and sustained investment; which requires political will; which requires our politicians to believe that enough people will support or at least not fundamentally oppose measures to restrain private car use. Most of those people won’t be cyclists, and the challenge for the cycling community is to convince them of the numerous wider benefits of getting more people onto bikes, even if they’d never dream of getting on a bike themselves.

Everyday mass cycling is a means not an end, the ultimate goal is the creation of a resilient transport network that can respond to the challenges of climate change and peak oil while improving quality of life and reducing inequalities. We need a transport revolution, not a cycling revolution. It remains to be seen whether May’s elections will give London a Mayor who is up to the challenge, but we’re probably at least one election away from finding the right candidate, at least amongst the main parties.

If that is the case then all those with an interest in addressing the social, economic and environmental impacts of our current movement habits need to spend the next four years building the political will necessary to address London’s transport challenge. That will require campaigning groups to work together to develop a shared vision for a liveable city and engage as many people as possible in demanding real change.

Most people cycling today see riding a bike as part of their identity, and it’s almost impossible to cycle in London (or anywhere else in the UK) without being politicised by the often unpleasant and, at times, terrifying reality of riding a bike. The fantastic turn outs at recent protests show just how vocal (and visible) cyclists can be. This makes them the ideal champions for a fairer, healthier, greener and more pleasant future for London. Viva la revolucion!

Bruce McVean is a co-founder of Movement for Liveable London and Integrated Design Manager at Beyond Green.