The legendary Roebuck ride starts at half a dozen West london locations and converges on the Roeuck pub on Richmond Hill to watch the sunsset. The 2013 ride takes place on Wednesday the 19th of June. otos
Andrew Gilligan, Mayor Boris Johnson’s Cycling Commissioner, taken part in a fact-finding visit to the Netherlands organised by the Dutch Embassy with assistance from the London Cycling Campaign.
Gilligan said, “British cyclists should never come to Holland because it just makes you jealous and angry at the state of facilities in the UK.”
He said he was keen to see Dutch ideas such as bike-specific traffic lights, station cycle hire, and streets designs that could be implemented in London.
The trip was a direct outcome of our Love London, Go Dutch campaign whose high profile encouraged the Dutch Embassy to promote the know-how of the Netherlands to British politicians and transport planners.
This visit isn't Gilligan’s first to the country: indeed, he has ridden across the Netherlands and been impressed by the commitment to cater for cycling in every planning project.
The study tour also included senior politicians and planners from Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Manchester, and visited a wide range of Dutch facilities and cycling programmes.
The trip included exposition of these aspects of Dutch cycling and more:
- Major cycle highways being implemented in Nijmegen
- Children taking a cycling exam, part of their regular curriculum
- The town of Houten, where everyone cycles and moving cars are rarely seen
- Rail stations with spaces for thousands of parked bikes
- High-quality junctions, cycle bridges and cycle-friendly ferries
Dutch MPs and the mayors of Amsterdam, Nijmegen and The Hague all made clear that cycling was seen as a cost-effective solution to transport problems and a benefit to individual heath and the environment.
The chair of the Dutch parliament’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee, Paulus Jansen, told British delegates that they were not standing still and investment was continuing – he wanted to see half of all journeys made by bike.
London Cycling Campaign Office Volunteer Elaine Yeung writes about her recent ride to Paris with friends.
It had been on my mind to go on scenic rides that didn't involve endless traffic lights and weaving around cars in the city. This seemed like the perfect idea paired with the ability to justify an overdose of French pastries, chocolate, bread, cheese and wine against the 80 miles per day. I hadn't given it much thought that I don’t own a touring or road bike, the latter which everyone else would be riding. But there was a big part of me that wanted to do this on my single speed bike. My single longest distance was a recent weekend ride to Oxford and back which was 70 miles each way although I do clock a fair distance with my 18 mile daily commute and cycling around London whenever I can.
The bike itself is an early Foffa creation, when Dani first started out working on vintage bikes. I’ve since customised it with a reclaimed saddle reupholstered with a decorative William Morris pattern by Cycle Fabric. A single speed bike has fixed gearing with no other variable mechanical advantage meaning the bike goes as fast as your legs will pedal yet allowing you to freewheel. I was quite concerned about whether this distance in one gear was a good idea for all sorts of reasons, namely the numerous hills that we would encounter. It has a gear inches of 78 with 46 teeth in the sprocket, 16 at the back which is a decent middle ground ratio for both speed on flat terrain and a bit of climbing. Reading about other single and fixed gear riders having done the Paris journey as well as the hill climbs like the infamous Box Hill and Ditchling Beacon, it slightly reassured myself the feat was achievable, I just needed to train enough in the remaining two months and hold back on those croissants.
Organising a trip like this takes some time and effort to plan, we split up the tasks of planning the route, accommodation, hire cars, ferry and the logistics of the ride itself. The London to Dover leg was tested and refined, finding the optimal route to catch our 6pm ferry. The routing in France was based on rides from blogs and forums. Our trip dates meant we couldn't time it with the Newhaven - Dieppe crossing and follow the Avenue Verte. Possibly another ride in the future?
My own preparations for the ride include kitting the bike with a saddle bag (a generous capacity of 2.7L) and a water bottle belt to eliminate having to carry a rucksack or fixing a bottle cage to the bike frame. I was constantly checking the weather forecast during the week before the ride. Unfortunately, no matter how many different websites I checked or the number of times I hit refresh, the outlook for the first day was to be very wet. Cue a last minute mudguard purchase which I fixed to the bike with some string after having packed all my tools in the support vehicle.
Day 1 - London to Dover
Waking up to the weather reporting the coldest day in May, I knew today’s 80 miles would be challenging. As we meandered our way out of London, the sky was dull and grey. We were soon greeted with heavy showers and hail bringing the temperature down to 2C. Along with the cold wet conditions, we had 11 punctures between us. It was not an ideal day to be cycling and I was stretched to the edge of my mental and physical limit. With the looming deadline of the ferry check in, I dug deep for last remaining ounce of energy I could on what seemed like never ending undulating country lanes. We soon reappeared back onto roads in the outskirts of Dover. Then, to my disappointment and ever so slight sigh of relief, with only 2 miles to go to the ferry terminal, a puncture meant a call for the support car for the final dash to the port. By the time everyone got to the port, collated our luggage and returned the hire car, our pre booked ferry had already set sail. With new tickets purchased, we were back on track and off to cross the Channel. After a hearty and surprisingly rather delicious fish and chips on board, we arrived in Calais to much needed hot showers, dry clothes and recovery from the day’s dramas.
Day 2 - Calais to Amiens
A new day and things were another world on this side of the Channel. The conditions were warm and sunny. After a trip to Decathlon to stock up on a few spare parts, we were on the road with renewed enthusiasm whilst reminding each other to keep to the right side. As soon as we left Calais, the landscape opened up to rolling fields and trees with the smoothest roads I’d ever been on. The flat stretches were almost effortless to glide along. This was more than how I’d imagine it, taking in the colourful view with the quiet hum of the wheels against the road and the occasional car overtaking by moving completely into the opposite lane.
the open road; fuelling up; the town square in Fauquembergues
Without ready access to internet, we relied on the preloaded GPS routes on a handful of devices in the group. Following a blue line on a screen took us through some woodland and rocky terrain, difficult for the support car to find us but luckily no punctures occurred. With no time pressure, we leisurely arrived in Amiens to enjoy a deserved French dinner.
Day 3 - Amiens to Paris
Getting out of bed was a little harder this morning. Legs were definitely achy and suffering from fatigue. The first few miles were a slow painful wake up call for the body but once warmed up, it was ready for the home straight. The hill climbs were accompanied with shouts of encouragement reminding each other 'to think of the downhill on the other side'. Thankfully, there was an even distribution of hill climbs rewarded with some fun and fast descents.
Navigating into Paris was a bit tricky with one way systems, lots of traffic and junctions. With persistent and patience, we finally arrived into the heart of Paris. Only after the obligatory photos at the Eiffel Tower as we stood with our bikes beside the evening tourists did it slowly sink in that we had travelled all this way by the power of our ourselves on two wheels. The whole body was aching and jelly-like but boy what an amazing journey. A memorable trip with tan lines across my face, hands and legs in time to compliment the summer wardrobe.
Berthillon ice cream on Ile Saint-Louis; tree lined cycle path in Paris; a bike lock on the Pont des Arts
As for cycling the distance on a single speed, a few climbs were undoubtably really tough, but it shows that the simplest of bikes can still go a long way. A total of 16 of us completed the 270 mile journey over 3 days, roughly 22 hours in total on the saddle.
Bringing the bikes back on the Eurostar was very straightforward. After handing it in at the drop off point, the bikes are labelled and placed on trolleys hung by the front wheel as if they were fish being taken to the smokehouse. In one tenth of the time it’s taken on two wheels, we were back in London to a balmy evening. A great way to finish off the trip was a gentle 5.5miles feet-stayed-on-pedals-the-whole-ride through central London back home.
What’s next? I'm planning to do more scenic touring rides in England, exploring small towns and local eateries along the way. My friend is also suggesting me to cycle the Alps and Pyrenees, I would definitely need a bike with gears for that!
This year for the first time the London Cycling Campaign sponsored our very own race at the IG London Nocturne.
Part criterium, part obstacle race, the LCC Urban Cycle Cross was the first race to pitch men against women and rider against rider in the ultimate race of truth.
On every lap competitors rode a section of the course, before dismounting and carrying their bikes over barriers, detours while having the added complication of having to stop at traffic lights - think Wacky Races, IG London Nocturne-style.
The race was inclusive for all, with Lycra clad racers taking on everyday cyclists, even a man-sized penguin.
The race was no mean feat with 10 laps to complete jumping over two sets of kick stands, weaving in and out of cones, and 36 people took part in total.
The race started in fury for the first 100 metres before a set of red traffic lights greeted 36 eager racers.
The action resumed on amber and a small group of riders took to the front, leaving the penguin waddling in the middle of the main pack.
The cycling was made even more eventful by the strategically positioned, 'Cyclists Dismount' now signs where participants were forced to carry their bike over cyclecross-style barriers.
The course layout provided not only a lung-busting format for riders but also gave the large and boisterous crowd plenty to shout about.
As the race reached its climax, a group of three riders contested the yellow jersey going into the final lap.
An exciting finish saw Daniel Davies (see photo below) break away in the last few hundred metres to take the inaugural crown of LCC Urban Cycle Cross Champion 2013.
Watch out for next year's race, where there'll be more obstacles representing the challenges everyday cyclists face on London’s streets, and keep a close eye out for sign-ups as the race is going to be twice as popular next year now the is word is out.
Ben Broomfield, one of our racers speaks:
Q: What's black and white and goes round and round? A: The penguin taking part in LCC's fantastic Urban Cyclo-cross at the IG London Nocturne.
Despite riding my heaviest bike and nearly boiling to death, I had a great time jumping, weaving and track-standing at traffic lights. The cheers from the crowd certainly helped. No crashes either, so fortunately I didn't have to p-p-p-pick myself up off the floor... I can't wait for next year."Winners
1. Daniel Davies
2. Stefan Schott
3. Alex Ingram
Claire Beaumont came fourth overall, and was the winning female racer.LCC's Tyre Change Time Trial
The Nocturne also saw the return of our 'Tyre Change Time Trial' competition - first aired at SPIN in May.
Race participants, mechanics and families took part, both against the clock and in head-to-head battles to win an LCC Cycle Cap, but no-one managed to better the Top 10 times recorded at SPIN.
We've launched exciting new cycling jersey and cap designs, and for the first week we're giving members the opportunity to get a FREE cap with their jersey order.
The design of the collection is based around a geometrical pattern created by repeating and resizing the circles of the London Cycling Campaign logo. The result is clothing that's visible, stylish and flattering.
London Cycling Campaign jersey
£60 + free cap worth £10
Designed in conjuction with respected clothing manufactorer Milltag, the jerseys are made from a highly technical sports fabric that encourages wicking to keep you dry and cool. Each jersey features a full-length front zip, along with gummed elasticated hem so the jersey stays in place. The rear pockets (one zipped) are angled to allow easier access on the move. The jerseys are available in seven men's sizes XS-XXL, and six women's sizes XS-XL.
ORDER JERSEYS NOW
London Cycling Campaign caps
The poly-cotton caps are one-size-fits all, with an elasticated rear to ensure they stay on while you're on your bike. They feature the same fun geometrical design used on the jersey.
ORDER CAPS NOW
Hounslow and Kensington & Chelsea are latest two councils to adopt Safer Lorries procurement policies
Two more boroughs, Kensington & Chelsea and Hounslow, have signed up to our 'Safer Lorries, Safer cycling' pledge to only use the best-trained lorry drivers and best-equipped lorries.
LCC Communications Manager Mike Cavenett said, "We're thrilled the total number of councils to have taken our Safer Lorries pledge has now risen to nine.
"Every council that takes the pledge ensures that even more drivers do cyclist-awareness training on bicycles, and that even more lorries have a full set of safety equipment, such as sensors/cameras and mirrors.
"Many of these drivers and lorries are employed by private sector organisations who also work on other contracts besides those for the council, helping a culture of safety permeate the haulage industry."
The full list of compliant councils now includes:
- City of London
- Hammersmith & Fulham
- Kensington & Chelsea
- Waltham Forest
In May, Transport for London won the Best London Cycling Initiative for introducing a Safer Lorries procurement policy, and for its work in encouraging councils to follow its example.
Its hoped that all councils in Greater London will eventually use Safer Lorries procurement policies to help reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries that involve lorries in the capital.
Transport for London shows off potential new cycling facilities being tested by the Transport Research Laboratory
LCC's campaigns officer Charlie Lloyd and a group of other transport experts were invited to visit Transport Research Laboratory, a company undertaking research into Dutch-style cycling facilities in the midst of a Berkshire forest on behalf of Transport for London.
Our Love London, Go Dutch campaign called for our politicians and civil servants to learn from the Dutch-style cycling facilities, so it was satisfying to visit a research facility in Berkshire to see these being tested.
The day started with mild amusement for those of us who took the train and cycled to Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire: we arrived on time, while the Transport for London coach got caught in congestion on the motorway, arriving 40 minutes late.
First, we were shown a mock-up of a four-way junction with all possible combinations of high and low traffic lights, the low down ones showing a bike logo when lit. Several makes of the lights were being tested, installed at various heights and angles.
These cyclist-specific traffic lights (see photo above) allow a green light to cyclists while motor vehicles are held at red. This is an easy-to-see and easy-to-understand ‘early start’ solution. After a few seconds, all the lights go green but if the timing is done properly, bicycles should be well ahead. Going uphill or at a particularly wide junction, bicycles must be given more time to get clear of the motor traffic or a different solution used.
It's essential the Department for Transport agrees to allow here what has been proven to work in other European countries, in particular the Netherlands. These lights work with fully separated traffic or with no cycle lanes at all, and is far more cost-effective than the complex ‘early start’ jumble of lights installed at Bow Roundabout.
After seeeing the lights in operation, we were encouraged to ride all over a Dutch-style roundabout (see photo below) built in the middle of a carpark. Lorry trailers represented where buildings might be on a suburban street.
This is a junction designed to slow everyone down, creating a place of safety. The Dutch understand that most injuries happen at junctions, and their design objective is to minimise casualties not maximise motor traffic flow.
At TRL they test different layouts and widths, moving the blocks around and re-painting the crossing lines. Our pictures show different markings to those seen in the press last month.
Car, lorries or bikes turn relatively sharply into separate routes. The magic is to design it so people on bikes and people on foot have priority over machines. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it, and we were delighted to find that we didn’t have to cycle where the cars go but had an uninterrupted path to where we could exit the roundabout.
The design requires motorists to be prepared to stop and give way as they leave a roundabout. There is no need to rush as people have priority here.
Our estimates are that Dutch roundabouts take up about the same amount of space as existing British roundabouts because our designs have two lanes for cars and nothing for bikes. A Dutch-style redesign means a more equitable use of space and a much safer junction.
Finally, we saw lorries fitted with devices that detect bikes carrying a beacon sending out radio frequencies. TRL is testing these to understand how effectively these systems work, and to see whether this is a reliable way of reducing road danger.
The solution sounds attractive, but we have doubts as to how effective it would be if only some bikes have sensors. We've published a list of questions that we say must be answered before these systems can be considered safe.
London Cyclist columnist, Zoe Williams - Why is it that a tumble from your bike makes you consider things in a philosophical way?
I was intending to write this column about Jack Thurston’s wonderful book of London-handy home counties bike rides, Lost Lanes; indeed, I was on my way to St Pancras to do one of his Kentish routes when some idiot junkie ran in front of me and knocked me off my bike. It’s been ages since I came off my bike, indeed, I don’t think I’ve come off at all since I mastered some basic principles (don’t hang bags off handlebars, don’t be drunk, er, that’s it). A lot of things felt like new information, although maybe they’re things I already knew but just forgot.
1) People are outrageously kind to you when you’ve hurt yourself. It’s a weird primeval thing, the minute they see blood, they mentally clear their diaries. “Security guard, you say? Never mind the security, there is a person here with a BLEEDING THUMB. I’m afraid I really must ask you to stop using the lobby while I administer the BIGGEST BANDAGE IN THE WORLD, so that now it looks like her thumb has been amputated.” At one point, I had six people engaged fully in holding my stuff; the train guy at St Pancras changed my ticket; the woman in WH Smiths offered me a free Boost (the bar, not an uplift in mood). It was just this massive groundswell of human sympathy and cooperation. I would go as far as to say it has made me look at the whole world slightly differently.
2) You can have quite a dramatic tumble without hurting yourself. It’s weird.
3) Everything looks about 15 times worse than it actually is. There’s some sound physiological reason for this, related to the fact that your blood is pumping faster because you’ve been cycling. But even knowing that, your first thought is that you must have severed an artery. One of those lesser known finger arteries. That’s what must’ve happened.
4) But then when you realise that you haven’t severed anything, you are filled with a powerful elation, a sense not only of your own resilience but of invincibility, such as you haven’t known since you were a teenager, and didn’t really recognise at the time because you were too busy hating your thighs.
5) And it is to this that I attribute the total failure to make any realistic inventory of what’s just happened — so you check out all the obvious stuff, find yourself to be totally unharmed, and think “wahey! Back on the road! Nothing can touch me, I’m like the Hulk; an incredibly, no, slightly feminine Hulk!” Only five minutes in do you realise your handlebars are totally battered and your brakes don’t work and your white handbag is covered in blood and you have scraped your leg from ankle to knee, so that it looks like you’ve rolled your trouser up for the sole purpose of showing everyone your graze. You look like a total lunatic, in short. The Hulk, were he to meet you, wouldn’t even speak to you in the street.
Getting back in the saddle
6) Sometime well in the future, a few hours or even days after the event, you start to think about what would have happened if things hadn’t been going your way, if you’d fallen off into the path of a lorry. This is the danger moment for the commuter cyclist. It’s different if it’s our hobby and your passion, in that case adversity just makes you even keener. But when, like me, you mainly do it for love of the convenience, your rational mind does present alternative scenarios, like, well, it wouldn’t be very convenient if you had your head smashed in, now would it? You’d kick yourself for that haughty, twowheeled self-sufficiency if you ended up with two broken legs (it’s true that you wouldn’t be able to kick yourself very hard). Given that your bike is smashed up anyway, not to mention covered in blood, chained to some lamp-post while you hobbled home, this is the time when your habit could be poleaxed. Fifteen years of unbroken London cycling could come to an end, just like that, a combination of a sore thumb, a wrecked bicycle and the heebie-jeebies.
7) Which brings us neatly back to Jack Thurston’s book — as great as London cycling is, sometimes you need to get out to the sea, or the owns, or the cuttings round Canterbury, or the flats of the Suffolk/Norfolk borders, just to rekindle all that is good about you and your bike.
Think of it like a mini-break for the pair of you. A little bit of quality time for your relationship, after a rocky patch. That’s where I’ll be going, as soon as I’ve got my handlebars fixed. Back to St Pancras, where the mini-break was supposed to begin.
Zoe Williams is a freelance journalist and columnist who contributes regularly to publications including The Guardian and New Statesman.
This article first appeared in the June /July 2013 issue of London Cyclist magazine, delivered free to LCC members every two months.
London Cycling Campaign PR Manager and journalist, Juliet Elliott tackles her first mass participation event, the London Revolution. Read about her training and preparation from this previous article.
Joining the Revolution: riders enjoying the Surrey Hills
It’s mid March in the LCC office and we’re examining the summer schedule, divvying up events to cover. Initially, I feel like I’ve drawn the short straw — I’m assigned the MITIE London Revolution, a challenging 180-mile sportive due to take place over a weekend in May. I’m thinking it might be a stretch; I’ve only ever ridden 92km before, but a quick chinwag with my boyfriend and I find myself signing on the dotted line.
Fast forward six weeks and I’m at the start of my first sportive; a new challenge made all the greater by a total lack of training. Over the preceding two weeks, my main concern has been whether we’ll have to endure rotten weather, but luckily we’re greeted at the start by mild, dry conditions with relatively little wind.
We set off in groups, following the first of the arrows we’ll be looking for all weekend. As we ride out through London I’m lifted by the excitement of my first mass participation event and have to force myself to hold back a little — I’ll never make it all the way to my first ‘century’ if I go off too fast at the beginning. As we head out towards Epping, Dave and I happily settle into a rhythm, sometimes streaming small pelotons of riders, more often riding as a pair. It’s a lovely feeling, knowing all I have to do is turn the pedals of my bike for the next two days — everything else is taken care of and I can just enjoy indulging my passion.
About 40 miles in we spot the first ‘pit stop’ and sit in the sun happily stuffing our faces with flapjacks, chocolate, crisps and more chocolate. My legs feel fresh, despite the fact I’ve rarely ridden much further than this in the past. We’ve been careful to roll steadily and it’s paying off. The next 30 miles go by in a flash. The route planners have chosen some exceptionally pretty villages for us to ride through and the countryside is delightfully lush and green. Another pit stop and we begin the final section in high spirits. We hit some hills, a struggle with so little left in the tank, but before we know it we’re at Windsor racecourse.
After yoga, food and a massage, we manage one solitary pint before descending into the deepest sleep imaginable. Sunday dawns bright and sunny and we clamber aboard our bikes; amazed at our good fortune and hoping the weather lasts. We roll through Surrey and its perfect cottages and woodlands in the sunshine. The hills of the North Downs are a little challenging after so many miles but considering my apprehension at doing this ride, I feel incredible. Even Box Hill, which had worried me for so long, was an absolute pleasure.
Back in London’s East End, we pedal into the finish to applause and we’ve done it. I’d never have dreamt that I could ride so far — for weeks I’d been imagining some kind of gruelling ordeal when the reality couldn’t have been more different. From start to finish, the ride was an absolute pleasure, so at next year’s planning meeting, I’m definitely putting my name down again...
This article first appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of London Cyclist magazine, delivered free to LCC members every two months.
LCC lorry expert asks whether some new safety technologies could increase danger to cyclists not reduce it
Charlie Lloyd, LCC campaigns officer and a leading road danger reduction expert, asks whether some of the newest high-tech lorry safety gadgets actually have the potential to increase risk to cycling, rather than reduce it.
We've been campaigning for measures to reduce the danger to cycling from lorries on London streets for years. Most recently, our 'Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling' campaign has persuaded nine councils to sign up to our lorry safety pledge to only used the best-trained drivers and best-equipped lorries.
Because of the media attention accorded to lorry fatalities and our own high-profile around these events, it's not surprising that a week rarely goes by when we aren't contacted about another device aimed at reducing the casualty count. A few of these are wacky ideas, but most have some merit. Very few get taken beyond the prototype stage into production.
Recently, there has been a group of similar devices based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. The idea is simple: put a tag like a supercharged Oyster card on every bicycle and a detection system on every lorry. The bike ‘talks’ to the lorry, telling the driver where the cyclist is. The better systems might turn on a camera or allow extra messaging to give the driver more information.
We reviewed one such RFID system, Cycle Alert, last year, and that company has now gone into full production, including a launch event at the Tate Modern. In our review, we expressed doubts as to the practical application of the system:
"The main problem with this device appears to be the logistics of installing devices on potentially millions of bikes in the capital and the UK."
When we visited the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) earlier this week we had a chance to see how well these systems work. As well as Cycle Alert, the TRL is testing Cycle Safety Shield, which has ambitions to equip all Barclays Cycle Hire bikes with their device. There are also other similar systems at the prototype stage.Lorry drivers told that they can "concentrate on driving and not be continuously checking for cyclists"
Cycle Safety Shield has started an aggressive marketing campaign, sending emails to every councillor in many London boroughs asking for councils to adopt their product. The testing of the system at TRL is not yet complete. We find parts of their website quite distressing: they say that they are “working in partnership with TfL”; they also suggest their device allows "the driver to concentrate on driving and not be continuously checking for cyclists".
We are deeply sceptical this approach will reduce danger on London streets. The designers of many of these devices claim that if they can stop even one cyclist death a year it will be worth it. Our fear is that these systems actually increase risk by giving drivers and cyclists a false sense of security.
We have seven burning questions about how these systems work in practice, and have told the TRL testing team of the potential pitfalls. Before any system is adopted for use by companies or governments then we must have answers to these questions:
- How many of the 1-2 million bikes in London need to fit a tag before a lorry driver can be sure he'll not put a cyclist in danger?
- What happens if drivers begin to rely on a system that only shows a minority of cyclists?
- Even if the system notifies a driver to the presence of one cyclist, how will they know about any other other bikes without tags in the immediate vicinity?
- If the alarm goes off at a three junctions in a row and is silent at the fourth, should a driver assume there are no bikes in the immediate vicinity?
- Is it a failsafe system? How will the lorry know if the battery in a bike’s tag has died? How will the cyclist know that the lorry’s system is turned on and working?
- Will cyclists with the device fitted assume that it's safe to go up the left side of any lorry?
- If drivers stop looking out for cyclists, will this have a detrimental effect on pedestrian safety? Most years far more pedestrians than cyclists are killed by lorries in London.
In recent years we, Transport for London, the police, GLA and many councils and much of the transport industry have made great progress changing the way the transport industry operates. Our aim has been to introduce a ‘safety culture’ so drivers and managers work together to identify risk and work out how to reduce them.
This safety culture might include safety devices, but a key requirement is better driver training and awareness. Any device that gives a sense of security without actually delivering it for the majority of cyclists and all the pedestrians in London is likely to increase risk.
We urge all councils and transport operators not to adopt these systems until there are convincing answers to these important questions.
Van Gogh Walk in Lambeth is a fabulous people-friendly street but highlights need for more Dutch-style residential zones
Van Gogh Walk in the London borough of Lambeth was treated to a dramatic facelift earlier this year. What was previously nondescript shabby Isabel Street, has become an oasis of sophistication, a street that even has its own Twitter account.
Named in honour of artist Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in nearby Hackford Road in the 1870s, the new urban space uses raised tables at entry points to slow down motor vehicles, and there are signs warning of ‘children at play’. Materials used include attractive paving blocks for the carriageway, shiny cycle parking stands that spell out the street’s initials, plus dark stone planters that provide a setting for the abundant plants and shrubs.
Visually, it’s stunning, and those planters also form a modal filter, preventing motor traffic from passing from Morat Street to Liberty Street. A basketball hoop and climbing frame signal the architects' intention that this is a child-friendly public space, not just another chunk of carriageway.
Local residents are certainly pleased, heaping praise on the scheme, which has been nominated for a New London Architecture award:
"It’s like a square from a small Italian town"
"We’re proud to live here"
"What a lovely peaceful and calm haven in the heart of London"
"Transformed into something of an urban idyll"
Other local improvements include around 40 lockable bike sheds that have been installed by Lambeth Council, working closely with Cyclehoop, in surrounding streets to encourage residents to travel by bicycle. There's a 20mph speed limit on some surrounding roads, a new zebra crossing outside the nearby Reay Primary School, where there’s also some evidence of traffic-calming on the junction between Hackford Road and Caldwell Street.
Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh lodged in Hackford Road, adjacent to Van Gogh Walk, from 1873-74, while working as an art dealer in Covent Garden. His time there, including his unrequited love for his landlady’s daughter and his walks to work in central London, has been dramatised in the 2003 play Vincent In Brixton. Van Gogh Walk was opened officially on 30 March of this year, 160 years to the day after the artist was born.
The street design is intended to reflect van Gogh’s interest in walking, gardens and nature, and the walls and planters have been decorated with words van Gogh wrote to his brother talking of his love for the city of London (see photo).
The street transformation was made possible by a number of factors: the developers of the nearby Freemans catalogue building on Clapham Road, Galliard Homes, provided a pot of Section 106 money (where developers are made to pay for local infrastructure improvements from their profits), while the rest of the £420,000 cost came from Transport for London’s grant to the borough council. Lambeth worked closely with residents to transform what had been characterised as “a dimly lit back road that some were too scared to walk at night” into a more attractive and people-friendly street.
Councillor Imogen Walker, Lambeth cabinet member for environment and sustainability and Stockwell councillor, said:
“This project is a great example of residents and the council working together in a truly co-operative way, and has delivered not only a cleaner, greener and safer street for our current residents, but also one that honours one of the borough’s most famous past inhabitants.”
Local campaign group Streets Ahead, which lobbied for the improvements and worked with the council, was set up in 2005 by local residents keen to improve the community around two schools in the area, Reay Primary School and Durand Academy. The group started with gardening projects and neighbourhood events, and then lobbied for a zebra crossing outside the junior school, eventually working up to this major project involving councillors, council officers, architects, the police, and many others. The transformation of Isabel Street into Van Gogh Walk is a testament to the power of a small number of people to effect change at their local area, given favourable conditions such as finance and a sympathetic local authority.
On the occasions we’ve visited the street, it has been a very pleasant experience. There have been some grumblings that some cycling turns through the junction appeared to be banned at launch by the signage. However, it appears these were an oversight and the architects only ever wanted to restrict motor traffic movements. The road is one-way from Morat Street to Hackford Road for motor traffic, and in practice you can cycle anywhere through it as long as you give pedestrian priority.
So, is it all smiles in SW9? Well, children at the local schools have a fun new play area, while adults have a place to sit or stroll in the evening. The council has had bags of positive local coverage, as well as stories in the Evening Standard and on the ITV website. The project will no doubt be beneficial for property prices in the immediate vicinity, and – perhaps most importantly - a principle has been established that it can be a very good idea to restrict motor traffic on residential streets.
Looking at the surrounding streets, however, we can’t help thinking this principle is sorely needed on many more residential streets in this neighbourhood, as well as across Lambeth and all over Greater London. There are a number of streets just a few minutes away from Van Gogh Walk that are still unpleasant rat-runs, with private cars and commercial vehicles cutting through from Brixton Road to Clapham Road and vice versa. Nearby Fentiman Road has long been identified as a rat-run, where fast motor vehicles put local residents and people using London Cycling Network route 3 in danger.
And it’s worth making the point that creating people-friendly streets doesn’t have to cost much money. Simply removing through traffic with bollards doesn’t always create the kind of headline-grabbing environments liked by politicians, but for a fraction of the cost it’s possible to create child-friendly streets and boost house prices. One street I cycle through every day – Stevenson Crescent in Bermondsey – is blocked to through-motor-traffic (see photo), which is why it’s not at all unusual to see children playing on the street there, in the road on roller skates or just sitting on the kerbside talking.
We must support schemes Van Gogh Walk, which transform through-roads into destinations – something we might characterise as ‘urban parks’ – but we clearly can’t spent half a million pounds on every 100 metres of city street. The success of this scheme shouldn’t stop us clamouring for area-wide programmes to reduce motor traffic in residential areas.
When we talk about segregating bicycles from motor traffic in the Dutch way, it’s often assumed we only mean building separated cycle paths. On the contrary, in the Netherlands the authorities go to extreme lengths to ‘separate’ bicycle traffic from through motor traffic, even though cars and bikes still share the same carriageway.
We look forward to the day when Van Gogh Walk is just one of hundreds of thousands of people-friendly residential streets in Greater London. It will take transformations on this scale to create the mass cycling that will create a cleaner, safer, healthier and happier city.
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Endura Urban Pant
Jeans or trousers that don't scream 'cyclist' have been around for a few years now – we've previously tested items from the likes of Muxu, Rapha, Swrve – but more mainstream bike companies have been slower to the party. Endura has developed a great reputation in mountain biking for more than a decade and more recently been making in-roads into the, erm, road market. However, these Urban Pants are part of a new range aimed at city cyclists.
There's a shorts version and a heavier Urban Softshell Pant, all available in sizes S-XXL, though the only colour is black. Our medium test pair was well sized for our tester; the fit is 'slim', with higher rear waist and lower front, and a very contemporary style that tapers to the ankle (there's no material flapping about or hem adjusters required). Leg length is regular, so shorties will need turn-ups or machining.
The easycare fabric has a four-way stretch, certainly welcome across the thighs, and it comes into its own in the saddle, neither sagging or creasing after riding to work. The seamless crotch gusset means you don't get that nasty chafing you do with regular jeans and it's not visible off the bike.
The front pockets reinforce the casual, jeans-style look, plus there are rear zipped pockets with reflective trim. There's also a loop to hold a D-lock, though we didn't feel it was strong enough without a belt. You get a free belt supplied, not to everyone's taste, and not ideal if carrying a weightier D-lock either.
In our mixed spring weather we've been pleased to find the fabric's not bad at seeing off the odd shower; however, we got wet to the skin in a serious downpour. We didn't find any deterioration after machine-washing, though would steer clear of the tumble-dryer.
Overall, these are less restrictive and more comfortable to ride in than jeans – and a million miles more attractive around town than cycling tights. If you need one pair of trousers for work/commute duties, they're well worth a look.
Review: John Kitchiner
Superfeet Yellow insoles
With the success of Team GB at successive Olympics and Wiggo's Tour de France triumph, every man and his dog seems to have heard of Sir David Brailsford's theory on 'marginal gains' — how an accumulation of small tweaks and changes have given his riders a competitive advantage. But attention to smaller details can also benefit the everyday cyclist, whether commuter, sportive rider, mountain biker or sometime racer.
Superfeet has been around for more than 30 years now, producing a range of performance footbeds (what many people used to wrongly refer to as 'insoles'; confusingly, the Americans still do). They're designed to slot into sports footwear and offer a significant increase in foot stability, comfort and, in turn, performance.
Each Superfeet model is made from several layers: a full-length foam, which helps with shock absorption, but is also perforated to help with air circulation and moisture control; an anti-microbial top cover for protection against bacteria and odours; and a 'stabiliser cap' (whose shape/design varies between models), again enhancing shock absorption and better contact with the outsole. Some models come is regular shoe sizes, others as 'trim to fit'.
We tested a pair of Superfeet Yellow which have been designed specifically with 'proper' cycling shoes in mind. Generally, cycling shoes fail miserably on the footbed front, those supplied being as worthwhile and effective as a limp lettuce leaf. Pull the supplied ones out, slot the Superfeet in – using the old ones as a template if any scissor-trimming's required – and you're set.
Walking around the house or office you'll notice an immediate comfort boost, especially if you're on your feet all day. But the Yellow version makes a noticeable difference on the bike too. We felt our heel was cupped, and therefore stablised better than ever before – in fact, our whole foot felt better positioned and over longer rides much less fatigued. While small things like that might seem inconsequential on shortish commutes, it makes a big difference on lengthier stints in the saddle, allowing you to ride for longer in comfort.
We've used the Superfeet Green in mountaineering boots for years, to summit peaks in the Greater Ranges, and they're still going strong, so we have no fears on durability. With merino-lined versions for winter, options for dress/fashion shoes, they seem to have the entire footwear market covered. We're big fans.
Unsurprisingly, the success of the range has spawned a number of rival products all claiming similar benefits, but we'll be sticking with these for the time being. If they were a little cheaper we'd stick a pair in all our shoes.
Review: John Kitchiner
Edited by John Pucher & Ralph Buehler
The arrival of this hefty academic tome on city cycling couldn’t be more timely. Politicians in the Western world are, at long last, waking up to the idea that cycling as transport can help address the issues of health, pollution and congestion in our mega-cities.
One of the book’s editors, John Pucher, says one US city is ordering electronic copies of City Cycling for its legislators. Few of them might read all 400 pages, or the treasure trove of useful references, but just a dip into chapters – such as the one on health benefits – is enough to convince that there is now a wealth of evidence to back the contention that more cycling is good for individuals and for communities. Politicians may try to shrug off cycling campaigners, but hard facts from cities in other countries are tougher to ignore.
City Cycling is aimed first and foremost at US legislators and it is frightening to read that some ill-considered US legislation is forcing schools to move out-of-town in search of the required larger land plots with disastrous consequences for active travel to school. The bulk of the book, however, shows planners that big increases in cycle use can be achieved and how this can be done.
Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is that on mega-cities such as New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Many readers will be surprised that in Tokyo, which has twice London’s population, cycling’s share of all journeys is 16.5%. While London is, at last, planning a cycle hub with several thousand bike parking spaces, Tokyo has a staggering 800,000 spaces at stations and 2.1 million in the city as a whole.
And while we consider more 20mph zones Tokyo has one speed limit in the whole city — 30kph or 19mph. Most cycling there is on shared pavements or quiet streets. Pucher and Buhler, however, highlight the high cost of motoring in Tokyo (4.5 times US levels) as a key factor in the city’s high cycling level.
Overall, this is a timely and impressively researched book on the benefits of cycling presenting global evidence. It's available for rather less than the RRP if you look online.
Review: Tom Bogdanowicz
Ashok Sinha explains why London cyclists should be keeping an eye on George Osborne later this month
As well as welcoming readers to the new London Cyclist Monthly e-newsletter, LCC chief executive Ashok Sinha also explains why it's now more important than ever to keep cycling at the top of the political agenda.
Question: what have 40,000 Londoners, including you, got in common? Answer: you’re all part of the largest urban cycling campaign in the world. That’s right... we, the London Cycling Campaign.
We’re the largest because of your support and better still, we continue to grow year-by-year. And because size brings influence, we're going from strength to strength in making London safer and more inviting for you and for other cyclists (and potential cyclists) whatever their age and abilities.
In fact, we don’t just press political London’s decision-makers to take action, we do it ourselves too. The projects we run in partnership with Transport for London, councils, community groups, businesses and schools (a massive thank you to all of them) bring cycling directly to many thousands of Londoners every year.
Projects like the hugely popular affordable cycle loan schemes we have set up in partnership with Greenwich and Lewisham councils, which are being used by people from all walks of life from across local communities.
We are able to achieve all of this because of your support. So apart from our great respect and sincerest gratitude (and a promise to continue to campaign tirelessly on your behalf) we owe you something more. You deserve the latest news, the snazziest products, the best offers, the most entertaining videos, the most attractive routes, and the most up-to-date event information, all packaged up in a neat bundle and delivered direct to your inbox. So that’s what we’re giving you.
Our new London Cyclist Weekly digest does all the hard work for you by collecting the best cycling-related content from London and beyond. Our new London Cyclist Monthly e-zine (of which this is part of the first issue) adds comment, analysis, money-saving deals, and info about events and rides, nicely complementing our more in-depth London Cyclist member magazine (now quarterly).
We hope you like our new weekly and monthly emails. If you do, please pass them on to your friends and colleagues. If we’re falling short, let us know so we can make them better.
Going back to the politics: it’s little more than a year since we successfully pressed all candidates in London’s mayoral elections to promise Dutch-style support for cycling, and little more than a couple of months since Mayor Boris Johnson explained how he is going to make his promise real through his Vision for Cycling – an unprecedented £400-million cycling programme over the next three years. By the time the July edition of London Cyclist Monthly arrives with you we'll know whether Boris has persuaded Chancellor George Osborne to give him the money he wants for transport improvements in London.
The signs are that Mr Osborne won’t entirely play ball, leaving the Mayor looking for cuts, including potentially from the hard-won cycling budget. This means everyone who recognises that cycling has been starved of funding for decades despite being one of the most cost-effective ways to keep our city moving needs to stand ready to tell Boris to protect the new cycling budget, now that we have finally got a decent one.
That’s all for another day, however. For now, welcome once again to this first edition of London Cyclist Monthly. Enjoy the sunshine – and happy cycling.
The London Cycling Campaign group in Brent has published its own blueprint for the future of cycling in the borough (download the PDF).
Entitled A Cycling Plan for Brent, the 27-page illustrated document contains ambitious, concrete proposals aimed at transforming the cycling environment of the whole borough, from Kilburn in the south to Queensbury in the north.
The group, led by respected blogger and local activist David Arditti, has produced the plan in response to the proposals outlined in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London, which envisages, among other things, intensive investment in a number of outer London boroughs to create so-called 'mini-Holland' town centres.
Coordinator of Brent Cyclists David Arditti said:
“I took the initiative, as soon as the Mayor’s Vision was published, to make the Leader of Brent council, who is a cyclist himself, aware of the potential for Brent to benefit from a mini-Holland project.
"His officers asked us for ideas for a bid, so we set to work to create a radical plan, as this is a borough which needs radical solutions, with its major infrastructure barriers, particularly the North Circular Road, that make navigating it on a bike extremely difficult.
"We have called for a truly 'Dutch' approach, focusing on building a network using segregated tracks on wide main roads; the closure of smaller roads to rat-running traffic; and the provision of new bridges or underpasses to get across the North Circular and the railway lines – along with a 20mph default speed limit."
“It seems that Andrew Gilligan, the Cycling Commissioner, understands the need for major investment in outer London, and wishes to see the boroughs proposing big changes. We view this as potentially a pivotal moment, and want to work as closely as possible with the council to take advantage of it. The signs are that they want this too.
"Furthermore, Gilligan has said that the mini-Holland boroughs need a target group who are currently under-represented in cycling, and this is very much the case with Brent’s large non-white communities. Even if we do not win mini-Holland status, we need plans for the Superhighways and Quietways that are promised in the Mayor’s Vision, and this document also contains our thinking on those.”
Find out more about Brent Cyclists, and how to get involved at www.brentcyclists.org.uk.
Not long ago, we discussed the Conservative Mayor of London's Vision for Cycling with his newly appointed Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan. Now, we speak to Christian Wolmar, former LCC trustee and respected transport journalist, who's also a prospective Labour candidate for the next London mayoral election.
Q: If you were mayor, how would you make London a better city?
London is a fantastically successful city, with so much going for it, but it is falling behind other cities on issues around liveability. There is rapidly rising inequality, a shortage of housing, under-investment in transport infrastructure and serious problems around congestion and air quality.
Making London a better, safer, nicer place to be is what my campaign is about. One of the important aspects of making London a more liveable city is to improve its environment in every way possible. The key to this is to reduce the number of cars and lorries coming into central London while improving all other modes of transport.
A bit of a historical perspective is helpful here. For a period in the aftermath of the Second World War, it seemed that the car would be king. People would drive into central London and park their cars in huge underground car parks. The London Underground was neglected with very little investment, the bus service was unreliable, cycling was dismissed as being only suitable for those who could not afford a car and there was even talk of closing railways like the North London Line.
The apogee of this type of thinking was the plan for the ringways, three (or four, depending on the version of the plan) circular motorways that would cut swathes through London. One broadly became the M25 and the middle one would have followed the route of the North and South Circulars.
But it was the central ringway that was most extraordinary in terms of the devastation that would have been caused and, remarkably, part of it was built – the Westway linking Shepherds Bush with Paddington. The fact that a plan which would have destroyed 50,000 homes to create space for cars would even have been considered, let alone nearly implemented, gives one a feel for the thinking at the time. When Labour retook control of the GLC in 1973 it scrapped the ringway plans and saved London from becoming a Los Angeles-type of city, dominated by motorways and link roads.
Fortunately, the tide then began to turn...
Instead of major new roads we got bus lanes, controlled parking zones, better enforcement of traffic regulations, cycle lanes and the congestion zone. Thanks to the IRA, we got the 'ring of steel' limiting traffic into the City of London. These measures recognised that the car can be a hindrance rather than an aid to accessibility – a strange but compelling paradox. We have to build on this lesson and go with the historical flow.
Reducing the number of cars coming into the central area is the policy from which all others will follow. There are many ways to achieve it, from reducing parking spaces and implementing a more sophisticated and wider congestion charge zone to creating more bus and cycle lanes and making places such as Parliament Square more pedestrian-friendly. Indeed, one idea I have is to return the north-bound carriageway of Park Lane back to the Royal Park out of which it was taken in the 1960s, to create a crazy motorway between Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch.
But liveability is not just about improving our environment...
London is in danger of becoming a doughnut, where only the rich can live in the centre. This is damaging in many ways, not least because ordinary people are having to travel increasing distances to work. Making the city more liveable must include preserving the heart and soul of what makes London such a fantastic place by addressing the issue of ever-rising inequality measures such as the Living Wage, ensuring a good supply of social housing and making fares affordable are all essential to improving London.
Q: If you were Mayor of London, where do you think you'd encounter most opposition to plans to make the city more cycle-friendly, and what arguments would you use to win over opponents?
The main point to make is that cycling is not just about cyclists. It so happens that if you provide better cycling facilities — and make it easier for people to come into central London on their bikes — then the whole environment is improved, even for those who will never sit on a two-wheeler. It is quite easy to point to successful examples on the Continent where cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam are much more pleasant for everyone thanks to cycle-friendly policies.
We also need to emphasise the wider health and economic benefits of a more cycle-friendly city. Interestingly enough, at the campaign meetings I am speaking at, this issue rarely comes up. People do occasionally complain about bad behaviour by cyclists, but they rarely oppose the idea of giving them more space and establishing a more cycle-friendly environment. We need to be bold and continue to make pro-cycling arguments in a positive way.
Q: 42,000 people signed LCC’s petition "to make London’s streets as safe and inviting as they are in Holland". Were you one of them and, if so, why did you sign?
Yes, I did sign it and spoke at the 'Big Ride' when 10,000 cyclists turned up in the rain. It is a very interesting and effective campaign that demonstrates there is a mood for change.
Q: The Mayor responded to that petition with his Vision for Cycling – what do you think of it?
It could be fantastic. It is clearly a step change from Boris Johnson’s efforts during his first term of office and the appointment of Andrew Gilligan has clearly given the Mayor’s cycling policy a much greater focus. The Vision for Cycling has many of the ideas which I support.
The main problem, however, is the Mayor's policy of 'smoothing' traffic flow, and that road capacity is not reduced. These aims are incompatible with creating a more pleasant city, safe for cycling. He also doesn't support the idea of a universal 20mph zone, which would send the biggest message of all that vulnerable road users will be protected.
The key to properly implementing the Vision is getting Transport for London to deliver this programme quickly and ensuring local authorities are on board. The relationship between TfL and the boroughs is crucial to the success of this programme and we need a sense of urgency around this issue. Too often, unfortunately, the Mayor’s lofty rhetoric is not matched by reality.
I do have one concern which is whether the Vision will attract all types of cyclist. While I love the idea of turning part of Westway into a cycle lane, the notion of a cycling motorway is not the key to getting people on their bikes. It is aimed at the Lycra-wearing speedy cyclist (and I do sometimes indulge in fast riding on my road bike, though I eschew Lycra!) and in a way so are the Cycle Superhighways which I am glad are now recognised as inadequate.
This highlights the contradiction at the heart of Boris Johnson’s transport policy. He sees no conflict between ensuring that motorists can continue to go fast on London’s roads while trying to increase the number of cyclists. It is as if he is trying to make the cyclists go faster, so they can keep up with the cars, which is not the right way round.
Q: You were on the board of Cycling England which was disbanded in 2010. What can be learned from its work?
The work we did was ground-breaking, creating the Bikeability scheme as a replacement for the old Cycling Proficiency tests and establishing Cycling Demonstration Towns that were funded at levels comparable with progressive European cities. It was an act of wanton vandalism that Philip Hammond, the then Transport Secretary, abolished Cycling England on the utterly gratuitous grounds that it was a quango. Cycling England spent its budget of £60m with just three staff and a few part-time workers, efficiently and effectively. Something similar needs to be recreated.
Q: How should the Department for Transport react to the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's Get Britain Cycling report?
The lessons can all be taken from the work of Cycling England. The recommendations of the report have been welcomed by David Cameron but he doesn't recognise there is a key role for government in delivering these changes. Of course local authorities are important, but it is central government which must take the lead in setting a strategy, galvanising support, and showing that it really wants to see change.
And of course, it needs money to speed up change. Without central government taking the lead, many local authorities will simply do nothing, while those who are already supportive will be hamstrung by lack of cash or not have the political will to force through changes that might be unpopular in the short term. That is why, too, the role of London Mayor is so important. It is not only the Mayor’s powers that are crucial, but also the incumbent’s ability to champion causes and influence debate.
Q: Do you agree that more roads will need to be built to cope with the growth in London’s population — a third Blackwall tunnel, for example?
No. Building roads is not the solution. Interestingly, we have reached something approaching ‘peak car’ in London with virtually no growth in car use since the late 1990s. There are good reasons for this including the rising cost of driving, the growing popularity of cycling, company cars no longer being tax exempt and improvements in public transport, especially buses. Therefore, the need for new roads is questionable.
Our efforts should be focused on modal shift, getting people out of their cars for all the reasons with which we are familiar. Of course, vans and other goods vehicles will still need to move around, but there will be plenty of space for them.
My campaign team, incidentally, is looking at ways of reducing the amount of freight journeys on London’s roads as a key transport initiative.
Q: What lessons come from the reduction in car traffic during the Olympic Games and the continuing fall in private car journeys in London?
The Olympics provided fantastic lessons. First, it showed that good planning and a coherent strategy can achieve substantial modal shift. This is very important as it demonstrates to opponents of schemes that people will leave their cars at home if there are compelling reasons to do so.
Second, a lot of roadspace was taken away for the ‘Games Lanes’ used by the Olympic ‘family’, and yet none of the predicted chaos materialised. That demonstrated that radical changes can be made quickly without damaging effect. I have the idea of using plastic barriers to implement road closures and narrowing quickly and cheaply, as a way of experimenting with what schemes could work.
The changes implemented for the Games also included reducing freight deliveries and changing delivery times away from peak periods, which again was a successful experiment. All these measures need to be followed through as part of the legacy of the Games.
Q: You’ve said in the past that you're astonished by the growth in cycling in London. What do you think are the reasons for this?
There are numerous factors, some of which are the result of action by local authorities, others which have deeper social roots. The turning point came in the early 1990s when a few councils began to implement genuine improvements. The widespread introduction of Advanced Stop Lines, even though a pretty crude measure and not enforced, was important in sending out the message that cyclists are entitled to some roadspace. Similarly, despite the poor nature of much of cycling infrastructure, its very existence sends out a pro-cycling message.
Then there were various events like tube strikes, and the 7/7 bombings in 2005, as well as the introduction of the congestion charge, liberating roadspace in town, which provided boosts to the numbers cycling. There are also demographic shifts at play too with London attracting bright young things from around the country who move to places such as Hackney, which not only has poor public transport but also benefits from a council that has done much to support cycling. All these explanations are partial, however, and probably do not explain the sheer scale of the increase.
The process is to some extent self-perpetuating. In other words, as more people cycle, they form a critical mass which makes it safer for further cyclists. However, we are in danger of reaching a point where all those likely to be attracted to cycling have started doing so and we need to work towards enabling those less certain of the benefits or more frightened of the traffic to get on their bikes.
Q: You're an expert on the rail industry, having published several books on the subject. Is enough being done to encourage Londoners to combine cycling and train travel, and what more could be done?
This has been a longstanding problem. The issue is not, actually, about getting more bikes on trains. Even the Dutch discourage that, though clearly at off-peak times there should be sufficient accommodation. I welcome, for example, the recent move by TfL to allow bikes on DLR. And of course all new trains should have a limited amount of accommodation for bikes, notably shared space with wheelchairs since, for the most part, this is available for bikes - wheelchairs should obviously have priority. I am delighted to hear that Crossrail trains will have some space on them for bikes.
The key to improving the situation is to have better bike parking at stations. Until recently the situation at London's major stations was nothing short of a scandal and while it has improved somewhat with the new racks at termini like Waterloo and Euston, there is still inadequate provision. The newly refurbished King's Cross has hardly any space, and there would have been no racks in St Pancras had it not been for a campaign by cyclists. Network Rail, TfL and the Department for Transport really need to get their act together on this one. The cycle parking needs to be secure, too, so that people can leave their bikes overnight safely. But please, the recorded woman's voice saying 'these racks are monitored by CCTV 24 hours a day' at Euston is enough to drive anyone happening to park their bike there quite mad!
soon we will be able to take bikes on DLR trains, not just lock them at the station
The Mayor's cycling Vision promised a trial of allowing people with bikes to use the Docklands Light Rail network.
A six month's trial of bikes on DLR will begin on 1st July. People will be allowed to take their bikes with them at off peak times on all DRL services except for Bank station. Bikes will be not be allowed between 0730 and 0930 or 1600 and 1900 on Mondays to Friday (except bank holidays).
This will open up many new areas for people to explore by bike. It will allow an easier river crossing to and from Greenwich. We would advise people not to use Cutty Sark station which becomes very crowded. To avoid the tourists it is easier to travel from Greenwich to Mudchute. .
London Cycling Campaign activists will take part in a special pre-trial testing over two weekends at the end of June. Working with DLR operators Serco Docklands we will help to identify possible problem areas and help inform the advice given to cyclists, Docklands staff and other passengers.
This week LCC and CTC's rail expert Dave Holladay met with Serco Docklands Ltd's Senior Operations & Customer Services Manager, Louise Cheesman, to plan this operation. A small group of our members will have special access to the system and will report back on any difficulties they find.
Allowing bikes on DLR has been a long term campaign objective of London Cycling Campaign. This is an objective we and other cycling groups have been campaigning for ever since the DRL opened in 1987.
Bikes are allowed on an increasing number of light rail and tram systems across the world.
We would also expect to see bikes allowed on the new Crossrail services, especially as they will be replacing many suburban trains that currently carry bikes at off peak times.
Snapper Steve has spent the last couple of years taking photos for the London Cycling Campaign member magazine, London Cyclist. Here, he shares a few thoughts on the subject of the best way to take a good cycling portrait.
Types of shot
There are a number of different types of cycling photo. Here are some thoughts on some of the most common ones.
A static shot of your subject with bicycle (above image) This works pretty well if you have an interesting subject or an unusual bicycle otherwise it tends to look a little flat and predictable.
An action shot. Pick a fast shutter speed, e.g. 1/1000s, or the sports icon on your camera. Ask the subject to cycle past you from left to right at a medium speed. Assuming that your camera manages to focus in time then you should be able to freeze them in motion as they pass by heroically. Inevitably there will be quite a bit of cycling backwards and forwards until you get a photo that you are happy with but you'll have a much more interesting image.
Variations on this include:
• Have the subject cycle towards you - this is much harder as your camera will have to adjust the focus as they get closer to you. (Expect many more trips backwards and forwards!).
• Slow down the shutter speed a little until the cyclist is frozen in the photo but the spokes are a little blurred. This is a bit of a balancing act as at some point everything will blur and you'll need to increase the shutter speed again.
A panning shot. This is a variation on the action shot but has quite a distinct look. Pick a much slower shutter speed, e.g. 1/80 second. Pivot your body from the waist as your subject rides past and, as smoothly as you can, take the photo, continuing to move after the shutter has released. With (quite a lot of) practise you will end up with a streaked background and a crisp subject. I would suggest standing by a busy roundabout and practising on passing cars / bikes until you get the hang of this. You should definitely experiment with the shutter speed too: A slower shutter = more streaky background but less chance of getting the subject to be sharp. A faster shutter speed means that your subject is more likely to be sharp but you won't get the sense of motion. It’s a tricky balance.
A static portrait but with the bike in the background. Some of my favourite cycling portraits have involved filling the frame with the subject and having the bike somewhere in the background of the photo.
Other things to think about include:
The position of the subject in the frame. Photos of moving things look better with more space in front of the subject than behind. If your subject isn't moving then perhaps try positioning them off centre - this often looks more interesting than a centered subject.
The amount of background you want in the photo. There are two extreme choices here - you could stand very far away from your subject and zoom in until they fill the frame or you could stand quite close to them and use a wider zoom setting. Either way you will fill the frame with your cyclist but the difference in the photo will be the extent to which the background appears in the photo.
Left image: Longer focal length = larger background buildings
Right image: Shorter focal length = smaller buildings in the background
How blurred your want the background to be. This is not really a choice you have with a point and click camera (as everything is pretty much in focus) but with an SLR you can choose how blurred you want the background to be by choosing a specific aperture (smaller aperture = everything in focus, larger aperture = blurry background).
More than anything the choice of light makes the biggest difference to the final image.
Natural light. The light around sunrise is often beautiful and makes for great photos and so it's often worth setting an early alarm. Similarly, the light in the hour before sunset is often great. In contrast, photos taken at midday on a sunny day tend to be very contrasty/unflattering and so I tend to avoid this time of day if I can.
Artificial light I typically blend some artificial light with natural light as I like the more contrasty look that this gives. It's a big subject and so I would suggest a visit to Strobist.com if you want to learn more about how to do this. Here's an example of the difference between a photo taken on a cloudy day with only natural light (left image) and one with some additional light added (right image).
I think that the choice of camera probably matters less than you would think. I use a digital SLR because of the level of control it gives me but that's not to say that it isn't possible to make great photos with a point and shoot camera.
The main advantages of an SLR are:
1. the speed of use - there's no delay between pressing the button and taking the photo
2. focussing speed - my Canon 5d isn't the best at this but it will typically lock onto a passing bicycle. 3. Blurry backgrounds - larger sensors allow you to blur the background which makes for less distraction from your subject.
That said, SLRs are more expensive, a little more fiddly to use and typically heavier than a compact camera. If I'm going on a cycling holiday then I'll definitely leave my SLR at home and take a small camera with me.
Suggested inexpensive kit purchases:
A 50mm lens. If you have an SLR then it would make a lot of sense to buy an inexpensive 50mm lens. Canon, for example, make a 50mm 1.8 lens which retails for around £80. The '1.8' part of the title means than there's a very large opening in the back of the lens which allows for blurred backgrounds (as discussed above) and also lets you take photographs in much lower light levels. It's not the most sophisticated or robust of lenses but you can't really argue with the price. I would just check that the lens will work with you camera - I know that the autofocus on some Nikon lenses doesn't work with certain DSLRs.
A 100cm "5 in 1" circular reflector. These are essentially large collapsible circular discs with reflective covers that let you bounce light onto your subject. The result is often a much more flattering portrait - skin imperfections are filled magically and the quality of the light is greatly improved (see courier photo). ln addition to bouncing light, they come with a black cover (to absorb light for more shadow) and can be used without a cover as a transparent diffuser to soften harsh sunlight. Prices vary with quality but you are looking at between £10 and £40.
Hopefully there are a few ideas here for you to try. Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions or if you have any questions.
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In a new series of guest bloggers for the London Cycling Campaign, we find out a bit more about Lady Velo, who blogs at Velo City Girl about cycling, fashion and all things in between.
Do you remember your first bike and how you learnt to cycle?
I do indeed! It was actually a hand-me-down from my big sister! She used to have a red and yellow Raleigh Burner BMX, which our older brother lovingly restored for me to have as my own. He was also the person who taught me how to cycle… on that very bike. Wednesdays after school he’d take me for rides around the neighbourhood… it’s a memory I hold fondly to this day.
What was your first memory / impression of cycling in London?
Admittedly, when I first started riding around London I wasn’t going very far: cycling with friends around the neighbourhood or riding to the shops and back. I was very carefree. It wasn’t until I got older and wiser to cycling around London that it started to make an impression on me… I became much more aware of the traffic around the city, which made me slightly nervous to ride.
Has that impression changed now and if so, how?
I still have my moments of nerves when riding around the city, but I love being on my bike in London. I’m much more aware and conscious of traffic on the roads and take care when I ride. I only got back on the saddle three years ago (after a ten year absence from riding) and I’m glad I’m cycling again.
What’s the best thing that has happened to you from cycling?
That’s a hard question as so many fantastic things have happened to me since I got back on a bike! The sense of freedom I feel when cycling has changed my life, along with the people I’ve met and the wonderful experiences I’ve had via my blog. I honestly can’t pinpoint it to one single thing, which says a lot about what cycling has done for me!
What style and colour bikes do you have?
I have four bikes: a black Pashley Princess Classic (a big traditional Dutch style sit-up-and-beg), a cream Pashley Clubman Urban (a retro fixie), a red and chrome Raleigh Twenty (1970’s shopper bike) and a black and chrome Colourbolt Ratty Black (a Ladies Frame in Ratty Black).
Do your bicycles have names?
The Pashley Princess is called Frankie & the Raleigh Twenty is ‘Southsea Sally’… I’ve nicknamed the Clubman ‘The Dandy’ & I only got the Colourbolt a few weeks ago but I have a name in mind…
Tell me what your 3 great things about cycling in London are.
1. Discovering ‘new’ parts of London I wasn’t aware of
2. Meeting likeminded cyclists
3. Awesome cycling-friendly coffee shops dotted around the city
If you could change one thing about cycling in London, what would it be?
Well, my best riding experience ever was in Berlin… dedicated lanes as wide as car lanes. If we could adopt an infrastructure like that in London, it would be amazing.
How do you rate the cycle routes and paths around where you live and work?
I live right on the CS3 cycle highway – I was thrilled when this was completed, as the cycle route into the city from was I live wasn’t great at all. I felt more confident on my bike taking this route (although there are some major works going on in Canning Town at the moment which are disrupting it a bit). I’ve yet to start cycling to work as I changed jobs a few months ago (now working in SW London) but will be soon – from my place to Waterloo & cutting out the Jubilee Line (yay!) hopping on a SWT to Earslfield and riding the rest of the way. There are no dedicated cycle lanes from Earsfield Station to the office, but the route is possible & I’m looking forward to it.
How accessible do you think it is for people to start cycling?
There are many avenues for people out there to start cycling – from the CycleScheme (if you’re employer is a member of the programme) and community led cycling projects / cycling training to get people riding… but it’s about that information being wildly known and available. Checking with your local council about such initiatives is certainly a place to start. 11. Do you have any advice / words of wisdom for people thinking about taking up cycling? It’s never too late to take up cycling and I say go for it! Definitely do some research into getting a bike suited to your needs, and check for local projects in your area that might be able to help (cycling training etc). Go at your own pace that is comfortable for you. Be safe, be happy and enjoy the freedom of a bike!
Illustration by Ste Johnson
Are you blogging about cycling in the city or would like to write articles for London Cycling Campaign, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Become a supporter of London Cycling Campaign - to help make London a more liveable city for both cyclists and pedestrians.