How Not to Encourage Cycling

A house move and lack of internet connection are not conducive to blogging. So, its rather late but I thought I’d write a quick blog about Boris’s cycle hire scheme. Dave Hill had the details earlier in August. It is a subject that I am somewhat conflicted on. As I commented in the post itself, it seems rather churlish to have a go at a scheme which might increase cycling generally as this can only be a good thing. My problem isn’t really with the scheme itself but in why Boris has determined it to be a such a priority.


Its a problem that commercial enterprises have all the time. Ideas, by their nature, are cheap and almost limitless in quantity. The resources, knowledge and ability to put them into practice are not. The question you’re asking therefore is not:

Will this idea produce some specified benefit?

but rather

Will this idea make the best use of the limited resources (whether that’s money or something else) that we have?

If you ask the right question then how would cycle hire fare? There are a number of reasons why people are uncomfortable cycling and helpfully Transport for London have summarised them in their Cycling in London report. I’ll save you the job of reading it – you won’t find lack of a cycle hire scheme in there. It highlights clearly that the number one barrier to people cycling are safety concerns followed by a lack of parking and changing facilities, not the expense or availability of the bike itself. The hard data is backed up by what most people know anecdotally. There are bikes gathering dust in sheds and lofts across the UK. Not having access to a bike isn’t the main reason for not cycling.

None of this would matter quite so much if the scheme wasn’t so expensive. Boris has trumpeted loudly that he has increased spending on cycling, and indeed he has. What’s hidden in that is that the cycle hire scheme is taking so much money (£80 million in Phase 1) that cash is draining from elsewhere. So spending on on LCN+, which directly impacts on cyclist safety, has been cut-back. And there’s no attempt to address other areas that might encourage cycle commuting. If you’re company doesn’t have cycle storage and showering facilities, you’ll still be out of luck.

It entirely possible that, at the margins, cycle hire might have an effect, but the fundamental barriers will still be there. Given the evidence on how successful it would be is so weak why would Boris be so keen on it. Well, tellingly on the front page of the LCN+ website, he refers to the need to implement

unpopular traffic schemes

to progress the network. Well, unpopular with who? That’s right the type of car driver who doesn’t really believe cyclists have any place on the road. There might just be a nice intersection between those people and Boris’s core support at the last mayoral election. And that’s the real beauty of the cycle hire scheme. It gives everyone the impression that Boris is keen on cycling without him actually take any difficult decision that might improve the lot of cyclists but might inconvenience the odd motorist.

Back to questions. If Boris isn’t asking the right question then what is he asking. If you’ve ever watched Jeopardy! then you’ll know every answer has a question. Here’s my guess:

Q: What can I do to look as if I am encouraging cycling, without doing anything meaningful or alienating the likes of the SUV-owning class in Kensington and Chelsea that I’ve already buttered up with a £70 million handout by scrapping WEZ?

A: Implement an expensive but ineffectual cycle-hire scheme

Oh yes.

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4 Responses to How Not to Encourage Cycling

  1. Anonymous says:

    I ride a motorcycle, have done for 35 years. The growth of cyclists on London's roads would be merit worthy if a very large percentage of them didn't consider themselves to be 'Pedestri-cyclists' able to jump red traffic lights, use the pavement (Pedestrian Crossings) as acceptable short cuts. I pay Road Tax, Insurance for using my vehicle on the road, what will the cyclist do when the people who pay for the surface they 'own' are not allowed on the roads and they have to contribute for the upkeep of the highways?Please don't talk to me about 'saving the planet', 'less wear and tear' on the infrastructure – what have cyclist ever contributed to the development, construction, and upkeep of the roads in this country – without the combustion engine none of the roads you cyclist appear to own would have been built.No contribution – no comment!

  2. DavidM says:

    Mmm, very sure of your views clearly but not confident enough of them to tell anybody who you are. The tax argument is completley bogus I'm afraid. We all pay for things we don't use as tax. Why some motorists (and I have a car as well) think they can opt out I'm not sure. I have no kids – does that mean I should be able to reclaim the 80% of my council tax that is spent on education? And where would that leave us – possibly with with an uneducated country that can only leave uninformed comments on blogs and that would never do.As for cyclist jumping red lights etc., I don't disagree. In other forums I have written that there is no excuse for that and it needs to stop. I would be quite happy to see cyclists get on the spot fines for this behaviour and, if they have a driving licence as well, points applied to that as well. However that needs to be fair and the flip side of that is that bikers need to be out of advanced stop areas which have become unusable on much of my route into work.

  3. Anonymous says:

    "Uninformed comments on blogs, and that would never do" – don't patronise, face the facts that a huge percentage of cyclists in London have as much road sense as a small child, and are as a huge danger to other road users because of it. It cost hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of pounds for motorists and motorcyclists to become considered proficient enough to venture out on the roads on their own – what tests are in place for cyclists?You call for a 'fair' system – the one in place now, where all the costs of creating a facility not shared amongst all it users (don't call schools into the argument – I dare say you attended on or two at some stage in your life? To open that can of worms is dangerous, hosptals, courts, civic services are for the benefit of all too, but not all users pay for them either!) is obviously not fair enough for you then?As for who I am – Paul, but I seek not to force the rest of London to suffer my opinions in a weekly, daily or what ever blog!

  4. DavidM says:

    "a huge percentage of cyclists in London have as much road sense as a small child"I'm not sure who you think you're arguing with but if you read my comment above you'll see I actually agree with you that cyclists behaviour needs to improve."To open that can of worms is dangerous, hosptals, courts, civic services are for the benefit of all too, but not all users pay for them either!)"Well I am confused now. This is precisely the point and why you're attempt to open that can of worms by saying only motorist have the right to use the roads because only they pay is bogus. And by the way the argument doesn't work anyway – most cycling infrastructure is actually paid for our of general taxation. The new Cycle Hire scheme is one such example and we all, cyclists included, pay for that."As for who I am – Paul, but I seek not to force the rest of London to suffer my opinions in a weekly, daily or what ever blog!"I'm sorry – what have you just done in the two comments above but let us have a windows into your opinion.

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