Making Space for Cycling benefits more than just cyclists

Kristian GregoryThe debate on the provision, or lack of it, for Croydon’s cyclists continues. Here, KRISTIAN GREGORY, pictured left, outlines how good investment in safe cycling routes can benefit many more people than just those who cycle

This time last year, London’s Mayor announced eye-catching levels of funding for cycling.  The issue is creeping up the political agenda and the funding being made available is rising with it.

However, with the percentage of journeys in London being made by bicycle being around 2 per cent, or 1.49 per cent in Croydon 1.49%, making those who travel by bicycle something of a minority group.  Why should the tax-payer be putting up large sums of money to meet the needs of so few?

Who is this money for? After all, as one Shirley Labour candidate for the upcoming elections stated, not everybody can ride a bike.

Marzia tweetThis comment, made during an exchange over Twitter, caught me by surprise, as I hadn’t mentioned cycling so far in the conversation, which was about shopkeepers habitually overestimating the importance of people arriving by car to their business, in relation to Labour’s proposals to increase the length of time that drivers can park for free outside shops on main roads in Shirley (from half an hour to one hour).

Marzia Nicodemi-Ehikioya is no fool however, and had simply jumped the gun, guessing I was getting around to making the point that the space on main roads where cars park is exactly the same space in which protected space for cycling could be built. However, I’m told not everybody can ride a bike, so that space should instead remain as a few car parking spaces.

The implication seems to be that everyone can drive. To drive you have to be over the age of 17, ruling out everyone under that age. You have to be able to afford to own, insure, tax and maintain a car.  There are restrictions based on the state of your health. You have to have passed a driving test and be licensed.

Nearly one-third of households in Croydon do not have access to a motor vehicle. Not everybody can drive a car. Perhaps the implication was instead that those who can’t drive can at least be driven? I’m unconvinced being completely dependent on others for transport is an appealing thought to the majority, particularly for that one-third of households where no member owns a car.

Kristian Gregory: even Jeremy Clarkson might be won over by better provision of safe cycling routes

Kristian Gregory: even Jeremy Clarkson might be won over by better provision of safe cycling routes

It’s a much harder job to think of people who really can’t cycle. Croydon is the proud host to Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity which hosts regular cycling sessions at the Croydon Arena for people with a range of disabilities and health issues. Their website introduces themselves with the line, “Think you can’t cycle? Think again!” Whoever you are, they can get you cycling.

Hills aren’t the barrier they used to be either. Technology in the form of electric bikes has been developing fast, and prices are falling. You can pick up an electric bicycle in Croydon’s own “Cycling Made Easy” shop for less than £1,000. In Decathlon, Southwark, a brand new electric bike costs as little as £600. These prices are expected to continue to fall and we need to plan for a future in which electric bikes play a much larger part in urban transport.

Besides which, good cycling infrastructure is of use to more than just those who get about by bike. Scooters have been growing in popularity among children for getting to and from school for some years. Good cycle paths are suitable for mobility scooters, making them excellent resources for the elderly. They can be used by skateboarders, rollerskaters, rollerbladers or any other form of light, wheeled transport you can think of.

The reason we don’t have large amounts of people choosing these options right now is because they don’t feel safe sharing the same space as cars while travelling by these means. Of Londoners who do not cycle, 40 per cent say that the main reason for their not cycling is safety concerns. I suspect what Marzia really meant is that not everyone can cycle in Croydon. Cycling is for everyone, but we need to start choosing cycling infrastructure over extra carriageway and parking space if cycling is ever to be for everyone in Croydon.

Finally, 15 per cent of people have said in surveys that they simply have no interest in ever cycling. What’s in it for them? This could fill a whole new article in itself (and of course it has), but I’ll offer here only safer, quieter streets, cleaner air, and massive savings to the tax-payer on the NHS from the health benefits to a population that does plenty of cycling.


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19 Responses to Making Space for Cycling benefits more than just cyclists

  1. Thank you for saying that I am not a fool.
    I did not jump the gun. I stated a fact. Not everybody can ride a bike.
    I drive a car and am happy to ride a bike in my home town in Tuscany but not in Shirley, Croydon or London because of traffic pollution and impatient motorists.
    I would not ride a bike in rain, snow or on my way to a meeting, especially wearing a skirt. It is my choice.
    Many of our elderly Shirley residents can no longer drive a car or, indeed, ride a bike.
    I drive a few of them to Mayday and surgeries.
    I drive to do my shopping because I have no convenient transport near me. I shop for a family, not just for myself.
    I pay my road tax and I will keep my car as long as I can afford it.
    Keep campaigning for cycling, Kristian, but remember that people have a choice and £600 for a new electric bike is beyond the reach of many.

    • Anne Giles says:

      Good for you, Marzia.

    • Oh dear, Marzia, don’t you know there’s no such thing as “Road Tax” – that was abolished in 1937 by some politician you may have heard of, Winston Churchill.

      • Thank you for correcting my mistake, AZT.
        I have recently paid £175.00 for my vehicle tax, first introduced in 1921 and soon to be abolished.
        Churchill? I found his “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples” quite interesting but I am not fond of his paintings.

        • Nick Davies says:

          Vehicle tax isn’t soon to be abolished. Vehicle tax discs are soon to be abolished but you’ll still have to pay the tax!

          • Sure, you stated a fact in that “not everyone can ride a bike” but you also made a clear implication that all the people currently not riding are doing so because they can’t. That’s not true: in fact, surveys show that two-thirds of Londoners (Synovate/TfL) would like to ride more, but they don’t because of fear of motor traffic.

            You’re in a position to address this. As a Labour politician, I’d have thought you’d want to do something about transport inequality, and give your votes the opportunity to have a real choice about transport. Did you know it’s the poorest members of society who are substantially increased risk of being killed or seriously injured in motor traffic accidents. And it’s they who suffer the worst community severance caused by multi-lane arterial streets filled with motor cars carving through residential areas.

            You should try challenging some of those tired preconceptions about cycling you clearly harbour, like that old people can’t cycle and that the car should be the default mode of transport for Londoners.

    • It’s really sad that the selfish & impatient actions of others (which don’t, in my experience, get anyone to their destination any quicker) conspire to deny you and so many others such a simple pleasure. The reason the cycling scene in London is dominated by young(ish) healthy(ish) men on Tour-de-France(ish) bikes is that the whole unsatisfactory situation is rather more tolerable if you can sustain 20mph & sprint to 25 or 30, and can “keep your wits about you”. I know a chap in a well-heeled bit of Southwark who’s still cycling the back streets there at the grand old age of 87, the driving culture there just seems a little bit more civilised than around Croydon.

      While in an ideal world we all have choices, it’s a fact of city life that the choices we make affect others – and the denser the population gets, the greater that holds true. (Part of the problem in Croydon is that those holding the reins of power at present live in less densely populated areas where this effect is not so strong). Filling the roads up with aggressive traffic, without providing cycle lanes or traffic-free back routes, denies all but the brave and able the choice to cycle. People who choose to drive their kids a short distance to school are the worst offenders here. Something like half of kids in Croydon would like to cycle to school, but only 1% are allowed to. They’re being denied healthy, independent, obesity-fighting and confidence-building mobility by others’ selfishness and general indifference.

      As Kristian alluded to, making conditions civilised for cyclists makes conditions civilised for ultralight vehicles in general. Mobility scooters, electric scooters, powered wheelchairs, electric bikes – all of which share common characteristics of being nearly silent, pollution-free, allow their user to travel at up to about 15mph while still being able to talk to & interact with people they pass (this last point an often understated benefit of ultralights – with no noisy engine, and no need to park, it’s much easier to stop and talk to friends & neighbours) – but all of which lack any kind of impact protection, so are unsuitable to share road space with 30mph traffic.

    • “I drive a car and am happy to ride a bike in my home town in Tuscany but not in Shirley, Croydon or London because of traffic pollution and impatient motorists.”

      I don’t expect you to, it’s quite horrible. However, if you are elected as councillor for Shirley, you will be in a position to change that fact. You could “bring a little Tuscany to Croydon” by instructing the council to roll out protected space for cycling across Shirley. Wouldn’t that be a little more inspiring to people than “vote for me, I will amend the waiting restrictions on car parking”?

  2. catswiskas says:

    If I was an elderly mobility scooter driver, I would be very nervous at the thought of sharing a traffic lane with cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, rollerskaters and children on scooters. I am not anti-cyclist but, down in Brighton, where cyclists etc. are given more road space, they tend to abuse it by driving at dangerously fast speeds, without giving due consideration to those who can’t move as fast to get out of their way.

    • The arrangement of mobility scooters & bikes sharing the same bit of tarmac, separate from that used by pedestrians, works extremely well in the Netherlands. That’s partly because the average Dutch cyclist is much more relaxed than the adrenaline-charged road warriors that UK, and particularly London, road conditions tend to breed. The whole point of campaigns like #Space4Cycling is to try and create a much more relaxed, dare I say Tuscan, cycling culture, of normal people riding at 8-12mph in everyday clothes. The kinds of interactions that make people ride fast, or not ride at all, are removed by design.

      To give you an example – there’s a bit of road in North Croydon where I have two choices: ride in the middle of the lane at my top speed of 22mph, and deal with irritated drivers who want to do 30; or ride past parked cars in the “door zone” at maybe 15-18mph, and get traffic squeezing past less than a metre away doing 30+. It’s not even a main road, by the way! I choose the former (and pull over where there’s space for traffic to overtake safely) because I’d rather slow people down and ride wide of the door zone than allow a dangerous overtake or risk getting “doored” – but it takes quite a bit of chutzpah to do so & isn’t really an option if 12mph is all you’ve got.

      Elderly mobility scooter users are of course frail & vulnerable – but so are lots of other people on the pavement; I’m inclined to think that a scooter weighing 50kg, with a top speed of 8mph, has more in common with a bicycle than it does with a young child or elderly person on foot.

      • mraemiller says:

        “works extremely well in the Netherlands” – the cyclist lobby’s constant refrain.
        Never mind the different population denisty and urban sprawl.

        “To give you an example – there’s a bit of road in North Croydon where I have two choices: ride in the middle of the lane at my top speed of 22mph, and deal with irritated drivers who want to do 30; or ride past parked cars in the “door zone” at maybe 15-18mph, and get traffic squeezing past less than a metre away doing 30+. It’s not even a main road, by the way! I choose the former (and pull over where there’s space for traffic to overtake safely) because I’d rather slow people down and ride wide of the door zone than allow a dangerous overtake or risk getting “doored” – but it takes quite a bit of chutzpah to do so & isn’t really an option if 12mph is all you’ve got.”

        The thing is someone has to take a decision to widen the road – which probably cant be done without knocking people’s houses down or digging up their gardens OR take the road space away from cars OR take the road space away from pedestrians. The path of least political resistance is to take it away from pedestrians. The shared cycle path pavement like the ones round Waterloo is the most annoying thing invented for pedestrians. But I suppose non-fatal pedestrian injuries are better than cycling fatalities.

        • Re the Netherlands – was replying particularly to the issue around scooters, mobility scooters & bikes sharing the same tarmac.

          In the case of the above mentioned road, it doesn’t need widening – it’s a minor road used as a rat-run for the congested A215, A213 & A212. What it needs is to remove all the through traffic, add a few single-yellows to discourage school-run parking (the residents have driveways and garages), and bring the speed limit down to a point where nobody feels the need to overtake aggressively.

          Shared pavement really should be a last resort, they’re pretty much an admission of failure – “we can’t figure out how to make this decent for cyclists, so we’ll just make it crap for pedestrians as well”. There are one or two places where they make sense (Bricklayers roundabout under the A2 flyover, for example – massive wide pavements, not many pedestrians, five or six lanes of traffic), but generally speaking if the pavement is wide enough for sharing to work, it’s wide enough to put in a proper bike lane and have done with it.

  3. Nick Davies says:

    Sadly the young(ish) healthy(ish) men on Tour-de-France(ish) bikes tend to be the ones who give cyclists a a bad name with their often aggressive and “entitled” behaviour. I would observe that some of the most aggressive, entitled car drivers are young(ish) healthy(ish) men in Audis and BMWs and am convinced that they are often the same people. Calm them down and getting around London would be a whole lot more pleasant. I’ve no idea what the answer is; I don’t think bromide is available nowadays.

    • mraemiller says:

      There have been attempts by the Police to mass fine bad cyclists in problem areas but the problem is the to begin with people just laughed and cried “waste of public money”. As the number of cyclists increases though this has got to be taken seriously.
      It’s £60 for jumping a red light. According to the Daily Mail last year
      7,000 cyclists were fined for cycling on pavements
      4,000 were caught jumping red lights and ignoring other road signs
      3,508 fixed penalty notices issued after cyclists were caught jumping red lights
      6,173 tickets were issued after flouting the cyclists flouted the law by riding on pavements
      etc etc

      • Why do bad cyclists give all cyclists a bad name? I don’t understand this. Do unruly bus passengers reflect badly on all bus passenger? So if I hear someone playing music on their phone loudly on the 453 through Deptford, I should think all bus passengers are louts? This is a new way of thinking for me.

        Actually, when I think about it properly… it sounds more like ignorance and bullying minorities than being grounded in any kind of reality. When I ride my bicycle you should think of me as a person, and my character make-up is in no way affected by anyone in the next street going through a red light. Just in case that isn’t obvious enough.

        • mraemiller says:

          Do unruly bus passengers reflect on all bus passangers?
          Well judging by the number of people doing material about night busses yes.
          Funny how you can form a lobby group thereby associating yourself with others when you think there is political gain but dissasociate yourself from any collective responsibility when an individual behaves badly.
          Yes it is stereotyping but that’s a strategy the bike lobby uses too when it suits it.

          • There are 74 hit and run incidents involving motorists every day in London.

            Does the principle of collective responsibility justify a complete moratorium on all road-building projects in Greater London until the car community sorts out this kind of lawbreaking?

          • Comedy’s hard work without stereotypes of one sort or another, whether it be mothers-in-law or Muslims. Crack all the jokes you like about scofflaw cyclists in ill-advised Lycra, just leave that stuff at home when it comes to grown-up discussions about council policy.

  4. As a cargo bike start-up in the Croydon/Sutton area, we at Long Bikes are committed to the promotion and education of cycling attitudes. There have been comments on this thread comparing the UK to other European countries that have a strong cycling culture. The biggest difference and obstacle to cyclists in the UK is that we still consider cycling to be a pleasure or sporting activity. In Europe bikes are considered transportation and as transportation deserve the consideration given in relation to road space.

    It is going to take a change in general attitudes of both the public and politicians to start thinking of bikes as ‘real’ transportation and not just a sunny day bit of exercise.

    Bicycles are not only for commuting and rides on sunny days, but are also a viable transportation option for many small businesses. The potential for cycling in the UK is enormous, lets keep the big picture in mind as we work on the details. Once the changes in attitudes takes place, the infrastructure will follow.

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