Maddox’s offices have been nosier than usual over the past couple of weeks, with the sound of digging and drilling three stories below us a monotonous disruption. The reason for all the commotion became obvious yesterday, when eight docking stations suddenly appeared where before there had been tarmac, and we found ourselves atop a flagship site of London’s new Cycle Hire scheme.
It is easy to be cynical about the initiative. The bikes may be cumbersome, slow and bedecked in more sponsorship than an F1 car. The security system may fail and they may all end up at the bottom of the Thames or vandalised on South London housing estates (A problem that has blighted the Velib scheme in Paris) . The demand patterns may be out of balance and all the bikes may all end up in a few locations, waiting for lorries to pick them up and redistribute them (as again seen in Paris). And the vision of London’s tourists, lost as always, cycling on the wrong side of the road whilst studying their A-Z is enough to give every driver in London palpitations.
But for all the doubts, there are plenty of reasons to wish the scheme well. As a firm that has shunned taxis in the current downturn, any alternative to suffering on the tube must be welcomed – especially one for which the first half hour of travel is free (assuming you have paid a daily subscription fee). And on a macro level, over 20% of journeys under 1 mile are still made by car; addressing this is vital both for congestion and emissions. Anything that promotes cycling over cars as a realistic mode choice for these journeys should be given due consideration.
The scheme, coupled with the promotion of Cycle Superhighways across London, demonstrates the commitment of the mayor and TfL to promote cycling across London and again this should be welcomed. But for all the new bikes and blue paint appearing on trunk roads, herein lies the problem. For TfL is looking to put more bikes on congested, multi use roads that struggle to accommodate them, where cyclists can be a danger to themselves and others. And given fixed infrastructure, promoting cycling will be at the expenses of all other users of that network, either on wheels or on foot. We hope that TfL’s approach demonstrates the benefits of a truly integrated transport strategy including all modes of transport from walking to flying. But until then, we may continue to grit it out on the Piccadilly Line!