Postcard from London

Just one day after the mayor of London unfolded his cycling vision earlier this month, I had to be in London for a meeting which had nothing to do with cycling. My visit would only be short, and with some other people, so I did not think I had the time or the opportunity to do anything related to cycling (like last year). But we did walk in the city and I did have a camera in hand… and so I couldn’t help but record some of the cycling and some of the city environment I saw. That means I do have a video-postcard from London for you after all.

London street with cyclist. This man is not in hi-viz, like so many others, but he is a fit younger male.

But first back to those plans. Reviews have been written about them extensively. Some with a bit of sound criticism and even looking at the plans from a Dutch perspective has been done. All that by people who are far better qualified than I am, so I won’t repeat any of it. I can only add, that from what I saw and experienced, there is indeed an urgent need for change.

New Bond street, central London. Why do so many pedestrians get so little space and so few cars so much?

The video shows my observations of London traffic, gathered while walking around in the centre. It’s not an in-depth investigation or report, just a snap shot, but it does make one thing clear. If the mayor is serious about ‘going Dutch’ and creating ‘up to three Mini Netherlands’ (allow me to correct the mayor’s mistaken name for our country!) then a lot has to change. Currently the conditions in the streets of London are very different from the conditions in the Netherlands. In fact, so very different that I never felt the urge to use one of the many shared bikes available. But despite these hostile conditions, a lot of people do cycle. I believe that if the conditions were better, many more would cycle and safety would improve. Not only for people on bicycles, but for anyone who is not in a motor vehicle.

Cycle signage in central London.

One 15 mile route is not enough to improve an entire city. But if it is a good route, that draws a lot of people on bicycles, it could function as an incentive for further developments. The ‘up to three Mini-Netherlands’ could also help to show what is possible. So let’s hope the plans are executed soon, and well!

Video with some of my traffic observations in London

Comparing street design

The Hague, NL, Grote Marktstraat is a main shopping street and very pedestrian and cycle friendly. Motor traffic is not permitted here.
London, Oxford Street. Also a main shopping street, about the same width, but not very friendly to the largest group of shoppers: pedestrians.

10 thoughts on “Postcard from London

  1. The modal share for bicycling has fallen so low in London that it will be exponentially more difficult to install high quality bicycle infrastructure compared to cities that have not allowed their bicycling to fall to these near extinct levels. Its almost as if the streets have reverted to a wild state and now they are going to try and attempt to tame them. Domesticating wild animals takes several generations, and humans are animals that need time to change their habits for mode of transportation.

    1. Here’s an example in San Francisco where a large crowd of community members booed any mention of plans for reallocating space from motor vehicles to pedestrians and bicycles:

      New York City has gone through this resistance to change in the last few years since aggressively putting in bike lanes starting in 2007, and Los Angeles is just starting to get strong pushback after removing less than 15 miles of motor vehicle lanes for the installation of bike lanes out of a total of 1,400 miles of arterial streets (at least 7,000 miles of parking and travel lanes).

      It doesn’t seem to matter what the argument that is presented for the change is. One of mine was that if bicycling has a 1% modal share in Los Angeles, then doesn’t this deserve 1% of the motor vehicle lanes? Another of mine was that there are only two streets on which you can access one of the subway stations. One of those streets is eight lanes wide where the Universal Studios is and has the subway running directly underneath the street. This didn’t make any different to the groups opposed to the idea. They want the space for motor vehicles which go whizzing by the subway station to get to many of the same destinations that the subway goes to.

  2. I had reason to drive in central London recently, and although I’m a keen cyclist there’s no way I would risk my life cycling there. Give me Amsterdam anyday! The Netherlands does it right, we in the UK don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

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