Cycling in the City


Alors que Paris lutte contre la pollution en ce début de mois de mars, Londres a déjà mis en oeuvre des mesures afin d’éviter un tel incident. Campagnes pour montrer les mérites du cyclisme, projet d’aménagement de pistes cyclables… Les Londoniens semblent s’être reconvertis au cyclisme. Mais quels défis reste-t-il à relever pour que Londres soit l’exemple à suivre ?


London has experienced a cycling boom since the beginning of the 21st century. According to the Department for Transport, the number of bicyle trips made in London has doubled between 2000 and 2012 to over 540,000 per day. The Greens have never looked more credible nor more confident in their own credibility. The Green Party is the 3rd largest political organization in London.

In London, when the Tube shut down in 2005 following the terrorist attacks, Londoners discovered that bikes were faster and cheaper.  Moreover, more and more people are sensitive to  sustainable development, a concept which came into general usage in 1987 following publication of the UN Brundtland commission report. It was defined as development “that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. As air pollution is mainly caused by exhaust fumes from motor vehicles and contributes to respiratory diseases, people tend to choose their bike instead of gas-guzzling vehicles such as SUVs which had fast become an upper middle-class status symbol. The Bradley Wiggins effect following the 2012 Olympic Games intensified crowd’s love of cycling.

British cities increasingly encourage urban residents to use environmentally-friendly means of transportat by building more cycle-tracks, and subsidizing public transportat. “Cycle superhighways” were created in May 2011 and a “summer of cycling” campaign was launched in 2012. More recently, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, appointed London’s first Cycling Commissioner to deliver his first term promise of seeing through a cycling revolution. According to Danny Williams, an influential cycle blogger who runs the Cyclists in the City blog, “Andrew Gilligan is a strong supporter of making cycling something that everyone can do as a normal activity and a real form of transport, not just a commuter activity or leisure activity.” The goal is to make cycle a safer and more popular mode of transport in the capital. For instance, TfL (Transport for London) published in December a map of a “Central London Grid” of new cycle routes.

However, improvements should be made. Two-thirds of those using the cycle-hire scheme in London earn more than £50,000 a year and 77% are men. Moreover, bicycles are not allowed on many forms of public transport. Certain bits of London such as Elephant and Castle in South London could be redesigned to be friendlier. Six cyclists died in London in November 2013. A war of words was declared between the cyclists, who underline the lack of road planning for bikes, and those who accuse them of taking unreasonable risks, by going through red lights or by not respecting the highway code. The issue became political when Boris Johnson claimed that “road infrastructures won’t save lives as long as cyclists don’t respect rules and signalization panels”. “It is an insult to the dead and injured that the mayor continues to blame victims in this way, rather than accepting his responsibility”, Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson said. “It’s got to be made safer and we have got to have more of these bicycling superhighways which physically separate cyclists from roads”, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said. Norman Foster, the internationally famous architect, presented his concept of SkyCycle, a 220-kilometer network of raised cycle-only streets to be built above existing suburban rail corridors in London.

One challenge that the British government has to face in the future is the “path dependency” theory. This theory explains how current political decisions are limited by the decisions made in the past. London has for so long been dominated by cars that installing proper cycle lanes might mean demolishing some buildings. Moreover, as Danny Williams said in his blog : “I think it’s great that [Boris Johnson] appointed a cycling commissioner, but it’s a shame that it’s only part-time. We don’t have a part-time commissioner for buses.”




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