Vicious Cycle: Ringing the bell on the Boris Bikes
By Adam Bienkov
5 September 2010, 20:36
The most remarkable thing about Boris Johnson’s “cycling revolution” is that there doesn’t appear to have been one. Despite millions of pounds of investment, reams of publicity and a high-profile cycling mayor, the amount of journeys taken by bike is low and is expected to remain so.
Just two per cent of journeys are currently made by bike and at most Boris’s “revolution” is only predicted to increase that to five per cent by 2026.
Hopes of London becoming the next Amsterdam, where 38 per cent of journeys are made by bike seem fanciful and even Munich where 12 per cent are cycled looks like an impossible dream.
Boris’s new bike hire scheme is proving popular but it’s on a frustratingly small scale with fewer than a third of the number of bikes as the Paris Vélib’ scheme covering less than half of the area.
And while lots of Londoners are using the new bikes, multiple software faults and delays to open registration mean that many more have chosen to keep away for now.
The Mayor’s other big initiative the ‘cycling superhighways’ are costing vast amounts in Barclays-blue paint but it is not yet clear what impact if any they are having. And while Boris promised to encourage thousands of new cyclists onto the roads, his guided cycle ride scheme “Cycle Fridays” was cancelled recently after just five people took part in one week.
And yet all of these grumbles seem to fall away as I climb aboard a “BorisBike” and pedal across a city I have lived in for most of my life but seen only in isolated snatches as I emerge from one tube station or another.
Because despite all of the problems, the high set-up costs, and the small scale, the scheme is undoubtedly changing the way many people see London and the Mayor. For seemingly the first time and to widespread shock, Boris has finally done something to improve life in London. And the scheme has improved London in ways that even his biggest enthusiasts couldn’t have foreseen.
Journeys that Londoners would otherwise have taken at great expense and discomfort by tube can now be taken with great ease and pleasure by hire bike. And while London streets remains one of the least friendly and most stressful places to leave your own bike, the hire bikes can be left worry-free at the docking stations and forgotten.
Yet despite this, after an hour of cycling you will still probably see more people on a single bendy bus than you will have seen on all other Borisbikes put together. Because great as the bikes are, cycling will never be a form of mass transportation in London as long as the motorcar is allowed to rule supreme.
Other cities have realised this and in Paris roads along the Seine are closed to cars once a week whereas in London this only happens once a year. And while in other countries cyclists ride safely along segregated bike lanes, in London cyclists are protected only by a line of blue paint.
And while Boris is encouraging a few thousand extra cyclists into the centre of town, the vast majority of these have come not from cars but from other forms of public transport.
And at the same time he’s about to encourage plenty more cars back into the western extension of the congestion zone.
So while in many ways Boris’s bike hire scheme is a fantastic addition to London life, those looking for a “cycling revolution” will unfortunately have to continue to look elsewhere.