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Cycle Superhighways causing congestion?

The report on Cycle Superhighways from the City of London Corporation, which was published last month, gave those that persist in their objections to people getting around the City by bike a hook on which to hang their anti-bike opinions on, with its assertion that there were pockets of congestion caused by “…the construction and subsequent operation of TfL’s Cycle Superhighway”.

This was seized upon by many, ignoring the fact that the report actually identified the recent pressure brought to bear on London’s already stiflingly congested roads as being multifactorial, and particularly due to so many requests for road closures due to construction projects.

Road safety week feels like a good time to defend Cycle Superhighways and all of the other great work being done in the Capital and which we hope will fuel change nationwide.

To consider congestion in London today, it is important to consider the wider demographic. According to Alan Bristow (Director of Road Space Management, TfL) since the introduction of Uber in 2013, it is reported that Privately Hired Vehicles (PHVs) travelling into London has increased by 52%, which is around 109,000 additional vehicles on London’s Roads.

Caroline Pidgeon (MBE), chairing the recent Transport Committee meeting for Traffic Congestion in London believes that new PHVs licences being issued are “going up by 500 a week”, which is approximately 26,000 a year and currently there are congestion charge exemptions available to these vehicles.  
At the time of writing, there is no known plan released to limit the amount of licenses being issued, therefore the amount of PHVs on London’s roads continue to increase.

Mr Bristow believes that there has also been an 11% increase of light freight vehicles coming into the city over the last few years. This has been put down to the economy growing and online shopping increasing, with many personal deliveries made direct to places of work in the City.

Construction levels in central London continue to grow in number, requiring heavy goods and construction vehicles to enter the City and surrounding Boroughs. Add all of this to the continuing use of private cars in and around the city and it is easy to see how congestion levels still remain high.

In that context its easy to see how the additional pressure added by the construction of a cycling infrastructure really is only the tip of the iceberg.
What is more concerning by far is the light that this whole story casts on parts of the public’s perception of ‘cycling’.

Undoubtedly a significant aspect of the reporting was that of an anti-cycling feeling – like those people who choose to ride bikes are in some way de-humanised and a menace to motorists.

It is an attitude that hampers mass participation in cycling in tandem with the even wider-held myth that cycling itself is an inherently dangerous activity.
If you google “cycling in London”, the 8th hit in the search results is “A to B: How not to die on a bike in London”.

This paints a very dark image of general attitudes about the safety of cycling in one of the greatest cities. It is well-regarded that the main reason why many people do not cycle in London is due to safety concerns. British Cycling recognises that “For the majority of people, the prospect of cycling on busy roads is too daunting”.

TfL announced a vision in 2013 to make London’s streets places where cyclists feel they belong and are safe. They estimated then that by 2020 cycling will have doubled.

It is reported[i]  that According to TfL in 2015, motorists entering central London during the morning peak in the year 2000 outnumbered cyclists by more than 11 to 1. By the year 2014, the ratio was 1.7 to 1. In March 2016 (Boris Johnson whilst still in office as London Mayor), recognised that within a few years, at the current rate of growth, people commuting by bike to central London will outnumber those commuting by car. He went on to state, “already, in the centre, a third of all vehicles on the road during the morning rush hour are now bicycles”.
Leon Daniels (MD of Surface Transport at TfL) said: “that there has been an average 60 per cent increase in cyclists using the new routes when compared to before they were built, and at its busiest, cyclists makeup 70 percent of all traffic on Blackfriars Bridge on the North-South Cycle Superhighway”.  It is estimated that in rush hour, over 3000 people pass along the Embankment Cycle Superhighway an hour.

With the introduction and continued development of the Superhighways and the proposed quietways and mini-Holland projects, we can only hope that the fear around cycling will continue to erode as more and more people take to bicycles to facilitate everyday travel and increase the health of the nation.
The ‘bikes cause congestion’ example shows how crucial it is that large UK organisations take responsibility for making sure that cycling is widely seen as a sustainable mode of transport.

British Cycling has been doing just that with their push of the #ChooseCycling campaign. For Britain to be a true cycling nation, they believe it is achievable by three simple steps: 
1. Better places to cycle;
2. Smarter investment; and
3. Strong leadership.

For it to happen, we need central government, local authorities, business, industry and most importantly of all the wider general public behind it.
Stories like ‘people on bikes cause congestion’ and promotion of them in the national press really does not help of course, but the feeling, thankfully, that we have is that those are minor skirmishes in the movement towards cycling as the majority’s choice of transport in our cities and towns of the future. 

[i]Carlton Reid, "The utterly amazing growth of cycling in London" Bike Biz, 24 March 2016

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