London is one of the grand cities of the world and in the midst of the cycling revolution. Led by the city’s transport organization — Transport for London, but supported by more fundamental changes in the city’s society, economy, and perceptions of lifestyle and mobility, cycling is “on a roll”!
- Cycling in London (is) now (the) highest since records began” (1).
- Cycle use is up 10% over the last year.
- Cycle infrastructure spend (10 year) is forecast to be approximately $1.5 billion.
In Paris, the cycling revolution has been led by the city’s Velolib scheme now including over 19,000 bicycles for hire across 1,200 locations. This is also supported by personal bike cycling and a wide range of cycle lanes and other infrastructure.
The list continues across a range of European cities from the world leading examples of Copenhagen, to the Dutch cities, German cities such as Munster where over a third of trips are made by bicycles, back to U.K. cities such as Cambridge where over a quarter of adults cycle five times per week. (2)
Cycling growth is often supported by public cycle hire schemes, which have become common over the last decade. Leading schemes also include Barcelona and New York City.
Annual U.K. cycle equipment sales are over $1.5 billion (3) and clearly, cycling is a big business in our cities. Many cities now see cycling — and more importantly lots of people cycling on their streets as an integral part of the image of a successful, liveable city that is part of the globalised intelligent network of forward thinking metropolises. Critically, these cities are good places to visit, invest in, and thus, have a better quality of life — whether this is progressive Scandinavia’s Copenhagen, Spain’s exciting Barcelona, dynamic New York City or trailblazing Portland, Ore.
But what does the cycling revolution mean for the core public transport network? Can an elephant dance with a dolphin?
Cyclists can be a “determined bunch” who revel in the freedom of the bicycle. However, often cycling is part of a mobility suite and the cyclist will also be a public transport user or even car driver.
The public transport network in most European cities provides the majority of city centre, if not overall, mobility. Has the cycling revolution encouraged policy makers to lose focus on the universal mobility, in theory, offered by public transport? Evidence in many cities suggests that cycle users are still typically young, male and from majority communities (4).
European cities are typically spatially constrained, particularly in city centers. Road expansion has been expensive and controversial. Existing road users — cars, surface public transport, taxis and goods vehicles, as well as cyclists and pedestrians, must spatially compromise. In the case of the latter two groups, this also includes compromises with adjacent land users, parking and deliveries.
Road space re-allocation and clarity on the priority uses of the available space must be explicit to make cyclists co-exist with good public transport. Many cities in Europe have been quite explicit about this and you can see the impacts on Paris’ grand boulevards and in Denmark. London’s recently approved Thames Cycle Superhighway points to this trend. (5) Random proposals suggest cycle tunnels and elevated roadways, but the debate logically comes back to streets. But, as a London resident, outside of the central area, results are still limited, haphazard and don’t create pervasive, secure and comprehensive cycle space.
In cities where surface public transport is a core element of mobility — in London the bus network carries 6.5 million daily trips — substantially more than the Underground — will increasing capacity for cyclists impact bus network performance — and thus, its attractiveness as a mode to users? The growth of the city and a focus on a robust bus network has led to demand growth and, like the cycling, bus demand is at an all-time high. In central London, the observer can readily now find examples where the bus is making its way cautiously in a sea of bikes. This calls into question ultimate bus network performance.
Bikes being taken, at restricted times, on (rail) public transport remains a common offer in European cities. This has led to the rise of the foldable bike — often referred to as "the Brompton" in the U.K. To link pre-rail and post-rail accessibility, these foldable bikes are often seen as ideal. New models of foldable bike enhancing portability, durability and affordability while meeting operator are an inevitable innovation.
A North American trend, not typically seen in Europe, is the exterior bus bike rack. Most operators view this option as a means of damaging the efficiency of the busy bus service while catering to the needs of selected cyclists.
This leads to the debate about cycle parking provision at (rail) public transport. Much has been written and an extensive range of posts, loops, racks, shelters exist. Inadequate cycle parking leads to a haphazard parking situation that may block access for others. Security against theft is critical to most cyclists. That said, in growing, cycle friendly cities through transport as well as on street parking allocation must be balanced. And, the need for expansive cycle parking at public transport hubs is becoming more apparent. How much cycle space can be provided needs review and ultimately is this free of charge even if it is taking space from other paid activity re retail or vehicular parking.
A range of challenges are briefly touched on in this article. City leaders are certainly championing the rise of the bicycle and thus, the need for cycling and public transport to co-exist and co-exist successfully in the liveable city of the future.
These issues are developing in the European context across the continent as best practice is delivered. As cycling grows it would be useful for the most liveable North American cities to look to audits of European practice to find the most viable examples of how the public transport system can work with intensive cycle use.
Can an elephant dance with a dolphin? Well possibly if they can respect and understand the needs and strengths of each other and accept neither may actually be as comfortable as each would ideally like.
Giles K Bailey is a director at Stratageeb Ltd., a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation.
1. TfL Press release from Feb. 2, 2015
2. Statistical Release 29 April 2014 — Local Area Walking and Cycling Statistics: England 2012/13 — Department for Transport
3. EUROPEAN BICYCLE MARKET — 2012 edition Industry & Market Profile, COLIBI — COLIPED, Brussels, Belgium
4. “What are the barriers to cycling amongst ethnic minority groups and people from deprived backgrounds?” — TfL Policy Analysis Research Summary, November 2011
5. “Have your say on a new segregated East-West Cycle Superhighway through central London” — www.tfl.gov.uk, February 2015