London has a somewhat complicated love/hate relationship with the cyclist. On one hand the biking commuter, peddling furiously through the drizzle at 8.30 on a cold February morning, is revered as a kind of work-ethic übermensch – a champion of the everyman’s unwavering dedication to the job. They refuse to give-in and buy a Smart Car. Instead, everyday, they’ll weave through traffic jams, get honked at repeatedly and swerve around oblivious pedestrians, all in the name of getting to work on time. They may arrive a little sweatier than their motorised and public transport-faring colleagues, but they’ll sleep easier having trod a tinier carbon footprint. Also they’ll likely be exhausted from frantically cycling all the way from Haringey to Kennington in 25 minutes.
However there are those who aren’t quite so enthusiastic about the bike life. Those who feel maybe no wheels are better than two wheels. From the widely agreed public consensus that the fabled waxed-moustache sporting, fixed gear hipster is the worst type of human, to the more serious and arguably more legitimate detractors that feel the current, lacklustre cycling facilities offered by London’s roads not only discourage more people getting on their bike, but actually put lives at risk. It’s a testament to the commitment of the London cyclist that despite such obstacles, they remain such a presence in the capital. London certainly hasn’t made things easy for our two-wheeled compatriots. The mortality rate amongst London cyclists has remained tragically consistent over the past few years despite various danger awareness campaigns, and has led to cyclist safety campaigners taking it upon themselves to demand that something be done. From mass ‘die-in’ vigils, where activists numbering in the thousands lie down and ‘die’ in locations of fatal accidents to flash rides that see streets packed with bicycles all engaged in an awareness-raising journey across the city, it’s clear that the need for greater road safety in London is pressing.
Come spring 2016, London may just have a solution. Mayor Boris Johnson is backing plans to build 18 miles of road exclusively for cyclists. Cutting through the heart of London, the cycle super highway would consist of one east to west route as well all as a north to south route. Essentially offering bicycles a road of their own, the proposal would not only seriously cut down on traffic accidents but also likely encourage warier would-be cyclists to pick up their helmets and ride out. With ambitions to be Europe’s longest segregated urban biking lane, the east-west “Crossrail for bikes” as it has been dubbed, will link Acton and Barking, while its perpendicular brother will run from King’s Cross down to Elephant and Castle.
Having transport access to the rest of the city will be particularly beneficial to London’s 350,000 students, a demographic that accounts for a hefty chunk of the London cyclist population. Passing by a number of university campus’ including Birkbeck, City University and all the way down to Camberwell, the north-south route will prove a valuable asset to students who cycle. The east-west route will be equally convenient, offering access to Queen Mary University, LSE, and the University of Westminster, before travelling further west towards the Royal college of arts and Imperial College London. The fact that the cat-like reflexes necessary for dodging lorries in central London will no longer be so essential, it’s highly likely that an even greater number of students will, quite literally, get on their bikes; and thanks to the many Boris bike stations dotted along the routes, ownership of a bike is also no longer needed, as riders can simply rent a pair of wheels when they need them. Offering a greener, healthier and cheaper alternative to the bus, it’s highly likely this will be an initiative whole-heartedly embraced by London students.
Initially the project raised concerns that giving so much road space to bikes would have a severe impact on traffic congestion, but recent amendments have managed to minimise the toll such a large-scale, city-wide scheme will take, but the project is still not without its opponents. The London Taxi Driver’s Association are not thrilled with the proposal, presumably due to the significant dent the number of people suddenly choosing to cycle rather than take a taxi will make in their profit margins. However the chances they have of derailing the project are probably quite slim. Come 2016, there’s going to be a whole lot more pedaling going on in London.
Despite usually being the first to implement new ideas, that later seep out into other cities in the UK, London has been relatively slow to accommodate and facilitate the cyclist. Many cities across the country, particularly ones filled with students are already havens for bicycles and have been for sometime. Walking around places like Oxford, Cambridge or Bristol it’s important to keep your wits about you, so to avoid being mowed down by a student on a bike, scrambling to hand in a dissertation on time. Of course these cities benefit from both a much smaller population but also a far less complicated traffic infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean the kind of tranquility found in these ‘bike’ cities is something unattainable by London. It perhaps goes without saying that there’s something far much more peaceful about road filled with bikes than a long line of vehicles, all honking horns and pumping smoke from exhaust pipes. By cutting down on the cars and increasing the number of bikes, perhaps London can lead the way to a greener future for its residents.
So what does this cycle-friendly London of the future look like? What will it mean when a considerably larger proportion of the population begin to travel by two wheels rather than four? Well for a start the city’s carbon footprint will be significantly reduced. Already boasting an impressively high number of trees, (over 8 million at last count), London would be leading the charge in lessening the toll such big cities take on the environment. We’d also probably see new ways to store the increased number of bicycles. Finding somewhere to lock up your bike can be infuriating, and you’ll end up walking as far as you cycled in search of a free lamppost. Urbanest, however, have free fold up bikes at all it’s properties to hire, so you can always take the bike inside with you. But to deal with the increased demand for safe places to store bikes, it’s likely that councils will begin implementing novel solutions that are both space and cost efficient to help cope with the new influx of bikes. Think the bicycle equivalent of multi-story car parks. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ll finally see a reduction in the number of deaths on London roads. Having a safer way of traveling through some of London’s most congested areas is the kind of action safety campaigners have been working so hard for, and hopefully those white ghost bikes, locked up in locations to commemorate fatal accidents, will become a much rarer sight.