London could do more for people on bikes, says architecture think-tank

Future Spaces Foundation urges next London Mayor to do more for cyclists.
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Future Spaces Foundation urges next London Mayor to do more for cyclists.

Future Spaces Foundation, a think-tank set up by Gherkin-architect Ken Shuttleworth, argues that measures to improve London’s cycling infrastructure are falling short of their aim, and London is trailing behind other cities across the world when it comes to making cycling a safer and more inclusive activity.

Ahead of the Mayoral election in May, the Foundation is calling for mayoral candidates to put cycling at the heart of their manifestos and open the debate about what improvements need to be made to encourage more people to get on bikes.

The research – based on insights from the Foundation’s Vital Cities Scorecard – reveals that whilst the cycle super highways – one of which is due to open at the end of April – are a step in the right direction, they will not go far enough to reduce pressure on the city’s transport network. Recommendations for improvement include a redistribution of the Santander Cycles bike-sharing scheme to include outer zones and a review of how people pay to use London’s cycle-sharing scheme.

The Foundation calls for mayoral candidates to join the debate and show how they would make cycling in London a more inclusive activity for all.

The Foundation believes London’s Cycle Superhighways infrastructure programme will not go far enough to change the city’s cycling culture or reduce pressure on the city’s transport network. The Foundation is therefore proposing reforms to London’s Santander Cycles bike-sharing scheme to encourage debate about cycling infrastructure in the run-up to the mayoral elections. The reforms include more financial incentives to use the scheme and a redistribution of the bike fleet to less populated areas outside of zones 1 and 2. They also support Transport for London’s recently announced goal to see 1.5 million daily bike trips by 2026 – double the current rate.

The recommendations, unveiled this week at property summit MIPIM, are based on data from the Foundation’s new Vital Cities Scorecard. The research looks at key factors that make cities thrive – for example breathability, bike and foot networks, use of data and apps – and scores 12 cities from A-F. London receives a disappointing C+ for its bike and foot network, against a best-in-class A- for Copenhagen and New York. The city scores particularly badly on cycle network density, above only Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai.

Through its research and recommendations, the Foundation aims to make cycling in London a more inclusive activity, as opposed to one disproportionately enjoyed by one specific demographic.

Taking lessons from cities such as Copenhagen, one of the Foundation’s primary recommendations is for the Santander Cycles scheme to be extended to the outer zones of London.

Although London’s bike-sharing network is fairly dense within zone 1, zone 2 is poorly covered, and there are few stations in the outer zones. London has the smallest length of cycle network compared to the other global cities it was grouped with in the study (Hong Kong and New York), and few commuters consulted during the research considered it a viable alternative to public transport or taxis.

An extended cycle-sharing scheme would focus on areas around tube and train stations, to allow for the bikes to be used at the start and end of journeys, making them a safer, more viable option to be used as part of a multi-modal commute. This would help London increase the proportion of trips conducted by either bike or foot, which is currently rated in the Foundation’s research as a C+, with less than one-quarter of trips (23%) taken in those ways.

The Foundation is also recommending a review of how people pay to use London’s cycle-sharing scheme. This is especially relevant in light of the advent of contactless payment.

Although the Santander Cycles scheme has a relatively large fleet compared to other cities (around 8,000 bikes), London still performs badly against other similar ‘global’ cities when it comes to encouraging use of the scheme. For example, it’s not possible to pay with an Oyster card, and each journey costs at least £2 – more than the price of a single bus ticket, and more expensive than the Tube for frequent Oyster card users.

Surprisingly, it is Beijing that ranks first in promoting bike-sharing schemes from the research, with lessons for London such as providing one hour’s free travel, or the inclusion of the bike-sharing scheme in the city’s strategy to encourage more commuters to take to the roads by bike.

Ken Shuttleworth, chair of the Future Spaces Foundation and founder of Make Architects said: “Through our research we want to open a debate about how we can make cycling safe and accessible enough that, as in other cities around the world, it is seen as an efficient and practical way of getting around the city every day for everyone. Initiatives such as the Cycle Superhighways and the ‘Mini-Hollands’ planned for local boroughs are well-intentioned, but these are not enough to encourage everybody in London to see cycling as a genuinely viable commuting option. London’s roads should be open to everyone who wants to cycle, and in this crucial election year, we are calling on the mayoral candidates to put cycling policy at the heart of their manifestos.

“By moving bike-sharing schemes to less populated areas and making them easier to pay for, we believe we can start to change the culture of cycling in London to make it more inclusive, supporting TfL’s proposals to make cycling a mode of transport that is open to all over the next decade.”

Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture and founder of Cycle to Cannes, said:

“As a commuting bike rider and member of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group, I am a keen supporter of integrating walking, cycling and public transport to deliver an active travel strategy for London. Active travel is healthier, cleaner and makes better use of our streets and public spaces. I congratulate the Future Spaces Foundation on highlighting these issues and I hope the next mayor will take note of its recommendations.”

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