How bluechip CEOs helped sway London’s protected cycleway debate

How did CyclingWorks persuade CEOs to become cycling campaigners?
By Carlton Reid ,

A tiny, one-issue campaign group helped to make the big business case for cycling in London, and the founder says the techniques he and his fellow volunteers used could be rolled out in other cities. 

CyclingWorks.London was founded in 2014 to coordinate corporate responses to the controversial proposals for London’s protected cycleways. More than 100 London businesses signed up to support the implementation of the superhighways – including RBS, Unilever, Deloitte, Orange, Land Securities, Allen & Overy and CEMEX – and the laser-focussed campaign group now has a list of 180 businesses, including many bluechip ones, that can be wheeled out to support cycling in the capital.

180 companies can't be wrong!

“We only accepted letters from CEOs,” said the group’s founder, Chris Kenyon. “We got them from giant businesses like Microsoft, Orange, Unilever, Financial Times and Coca-Cola. They all said the same thing: which is our employees have a right to get to work safely.”

Kenyon is well-connected – he leads sales and business development at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu – but how did CyclingWorks get these gold-dust letters from CEOs? This is revealed in a short video by American documentary maker Clarence Eckerson. (His StreetFilms website has more than 600 similar videos.)

The secret was a campaigning technique that has been used to great effect since at least the 17th Century: pamphleting. Volunteers from CyclingWorks – such as Nick Kocharhook, Jono and Chris Kenyon, Dr. Tabitha Tanqueray, Danny Williams and Mark Ames – handed out flyers to London’s existing cyclists.

“We went out every single morning with leaflets on the traffic lights,” said Kenyon. “We spoke to tens of thousands of cyclists in the morning and got them to then go approach their own businesses, and we found that was what worked best – it was employees talking to their own CEOs that was effective.

He added: “We also had a group of about 10 CEOs and managing directors who we were able to rely on for press interviews, and it really changed the tone of the discussion [at the time]. 

“City Hall and Transport for London were just amazed to see this constant stream of supportive letters coming in from large companies.

“And we know from having talked to them later that it was incredibly important at that time to making sure that the plans were not watered down either by the mayor or by [Transport for London].

Kenyon believes what CyclingWorks achieved in London – and is still achieving – could be used elsewhere, too. (The group doesn't just use pamphleting, of course, it's also a dab hand at the more modern email template technique.)

“The thing that's interesting about the CycleWorks formula design is that it can be replicated,” he said. “We’ve already used it on three other campaigns in the UK.”

Why push for such cycling infrastructure?

“It’s making a real difference,” said Kenyon. Of major interest to the bike industry, it’s creating new cyclists.

“We have ridership up 50 percent on the protected routes and, in fact, some of the key bridges when you go to work in the morning that would be almost 70 percent of the vehicles on the bridges will be Londoners on bikes. Now that we have the lanes it's remarkable you are able to relax and you just feel safe – it really transforms the journey to work for everybody. We’re starting to see a change in the type of Londoner who's on a bike – more tourists, more children, and we we see more pensioners now using the protected routes.”

But there’s now a problem. The protected cycleways are so popular during rush hours they soon fill to capacity. 

“The question now is whether we should double the capacity of some of the bridges.”