Cycling in London

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Cyclists gathering outside the Palace of Westminster

London has experienced a cycling boom since the turn of the 21st century, with the number of journeys made by bicycle in Greater London having doubled between 2000 and 2012 to over 540,000 per day, according to the Department for Transport.[1] The extent of the rise in popularity of cycling as a mode of transport around London varies between sources, for example Transport for London (TfL) reported a 150% increase from 2000 to 2011, and it varies between regions within the city, for example on Cheapside cycles were reported to make up over half of rush-hour traffic.[2]

In January 2013, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, appointed London's first Cycling Commissioner, tasked with making it a safer and more popular mode of transport in the capital.[3] In December 2013, TfL published a draft map of a "Central London Grid" of new cycle routes.[4]

A spate of cyclist deaths in London occurred in November 2013, drawing heavy criticism of TfL's cycle facilities and sparking protests and calls for rapid safety improvements from politicians, cycling organisations and the media.


Starting in the 1960s, Britain experienced a decline in utility cycling due to increasing wealth and affordability of motor vehicles and the favouring of vehicular traffic by planners. Cycling's comeback began in the 1970s[citation needed] when cycling advocates gained more concessions for cyclists and voiced ecological and social concerns about car use.

In 2007 there were more than 500,000 cycle journeys each day in the capital - a 91 per cent increase compared to 2000 - even though 2007 was England's wettest summer since 1912.[5]

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone set a target of a 400% increase in cycling between 2008 and 2025. On 9 February 2008 Livingstone announced an estimated £400 million of initiatives to improve and increase cycling and walking, including thousands of new bike parking facilities at railway and tube stations. To be co-ordinated by the TfL and London boroughs the aims include having 1 in 10 Londoners making a round trip by bike each day and five per cent of all daily trips by bike by 2025.[6]

In 2011 around 2.5 per cent of all commutes to work in London were by bike,[7] though this jumps to 9% for Hackney.[8] This compares to other cities in the United Kingdom such as Cardiff (4.3 per cent), York (18 per cent)[9] and Cambridge (28 per cent of commutes)[10] and to cities on the continent such as Berlin (13 per cent), Munich (15 per cent), Copenhagen (23 per cent of all journeys / 36 per cent of commutes),[11] Amsterdam (37 per cent of all journeys)[12] and Groningen (57 per cent of all journeys).[citation needed]

Plans to construct twelve "Cycle Superhighway" routes were announced by Livingstone in 2008, connecting inner and outer London, as well as providing cycle zones around urban centres.[13] The firsts two pilot routes were implemented in July 2010 and connected Barking in east London with Tower Hill on the eastern perimeter of The City of London and Colliers Wood in South London to Bank in The City. The concept was designed by German Dector-Vega and included a trial of cycle lanes through junctions (as in Denmark), convex mirrors at traffic signals to reduce the blind spot between lorries and cyclist (as used in Switzerland), new signage, and the re-design of some traffic junctions to improve safety.

In July 2010, 6,000 bicycles became available for short-term rental from Transport for London under the Barclays Cycle Hire at 400 docking stations in nine central London boroughs. This was later expanded to 8,000 cycles from 570 stations. The scheme, run by Montreal-based BIXI, initially covered about 17 square miles (44 square kilometres) over nine central London boroughs, and included 6,000 bikes and 400 docking stations.[14] The docking stations were spaced by 300m and mainly at key destinations and tube stations in central London. There is a charge for hire but there was a period of free use to encourage the scheme.[citation needed] The scheme was designed based on a feasibility study produced by German Dector-Vega and Charles Snead in Nov 2008.

Over the next few years, pressure from bloggers and cyclists using social media to complain about the state of London's roads led to significant new investment in safer cycle infrastructure for London.[15] In March 2013, City Hall announced £1 billion of improvements to make cycling safer and easier in London, as well as to improve air pollution and inner city congestion in the capital. Boris Johnson planned to build a 15 mile "Crossrail for bikes" running from the West London suburbs across the Westway, through Hyde Park, the Mall and along the Victoria Embankment past Canary Wharf and into East London.

In January 2013 Johnson appointed Andrew Gilligan as the city's Cycling Commissioner.[16] In March 2013 Gilligan, together with Johnson, launched "The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London", a statement which included plans for a "Crossrail for bikes" running a fully segregated route from east to west across London, to be in place by 2016. The statement also announced a Central London "bike grid" which would join-up and improve existing cycle routes in Zone 1,[17] as well as a network of "Quietways"[clarification needed] in outer London, and E-Bikes[clarification needed] for rents in hilly areas of the city.[18] The London Cycle Hire Scheme has been described by the deputy mayor as "oozing" out over London with expansion in 2014 in Hackney, Notting Hill, Hammersmith, Fulham and Wandsworth.[19][20]

Tower Hamlets Wheelers, a London based cycle group

In recent years[when?] Islington and Southwark have imposed borough-wide 20 mph zones, with Camden announcing plans to introduce the same system in 2012 and the City of London going 20 MPH in 2013.[21][22] Such zones are backed by cyclng groups,[23] who support traffic speed restrictions for both encouraging walking and cycling and making them safer.[24]

TfL has also introduced a 20 mph limit on Waterloo roundabout and its approach roads in an effort to improve cycle safety and smooth traffic flow.[25][26]


Cykelbox London.jpg

London's main roads often have heavy, fast-moving traffic, although there have been efforts made by politicians for 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) maximum speed limits across the city.[27] Many roads in London are lined with guard rail, and cyclist deaths have occurred when vehicles passing cyclists have crushed them against it.[28]

Cycle lanes and paths[edit]

On-road cycle lanes vary. Some have raised concrete kerbs that separate the cyclist from the traffic, whilst others are defined by lines painted on the road surface. The Cycle Superhighways went into use in May 2010.[13]

Cycle paths include routes through the royal parks (St. James's Park, Hyde Park, Regent's Park and Green Park), along the Thames Path and London's canals and waterways. There is a code of conduct for riding on London's towpaths.[29]

A bike rack on a Thames Clipper commuter catamaran on the River Thames

On public transport[edit]

Full-size bicycles are prohibited on all London Underground and most National Rail lines during morning and evening rush hour, but are otherwise permitted on the London Underground system except where the trains run in "deep level" tunnels ("tubes"). Bicycles are generally permitted on National Rail services and at off-peak times on the London Overground and the Docklands Light Railway (except at Bank). Folding bicycles, fully folded, can be carried on any public transport service;[30] they are allowed on buses at the driver's discretion.[30]

Bicycle parking facilities, generally simple cycle stands but in some cases more secure facilities, are available at many Underground, DLR, and National Rail stations.[31]


Cycling in London is sometimes perceived as unsafe so the London Cycling Campaign and Transport for London issued guidance to minimise the risks.[32][33]

A study of deaths of cyclists in London published in 2010 stated that "the biggest threat remains freight vehicles, involved in more than 4 out of 10 incidents, with over half turning left at the time of the crash."[34] The London Cycling Campaign and others strongly recommend that cyclists should never undertake a lorry, especially in front of red lights.[35]

Between 1986 and 2011, 439 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in Greater London.[36] The annual number of deaths varies considerably, for example, in 2004 8 cyclists died whilst one year later the number rose to 21. The worst year was 1989 with 33 fatalities. According to Andrei Morgan et al. (2010) "the number of cyclists killed in London remains small, meaning that even if trends were present, they may not have been detected."[34]

The absolute number of deaths can be compared to the number of cycles on the road. The absolute number of bike journeys in London has roughly doubled since the 1990s, from 300,000 daily journeys in 1993 to 500,000 in 2007.[37]

Andrei Morgan et al. (2010) estimate a "death rate per 100,000 cyclists per kilometre per year". This number came down significantly in recent years: In 2006 it was 11.1, while the average between 1992 and 1999 was 15.5. Morgan et al. estimate that this figure declined by 2.7% per year.

A map showing all cycling fatalities in Greater London since 2006 is available on the internet,[38] as well as a spreadsheet containing publicly available information about the crashes.[39]

Figures released by Transport for London in June 2013 showed that while the number of cyclists killed in 2012 had fallen by 13% from 2011 (from 16 to 14 deaths), the number of cyclists seriously injured in 2012 was 1,054, a rise of 17% from the previous year. Boris Johnson stated that the rise in injury rate was greater than the rise in the rate of cycling, and described the figures as "troubling".[40]

2013 deaths[edit]

In November 2013, six cyclists were killed on London streets within a two-week period, bringing the number of cyclists killed in London in the year to 14, nine of which involved a heavy goods vehicle (HGV).[41] In response, the Metropolitan Police announced an initiative called Operation Safeway, in which 2,500 traffic police were stationed at major junctions throughout the city to issue fixed penalty notices to road users breaking road traffic laws and offer advice to vulnerable road users.[41] Following the deaths, Boris Johnson stated in an interview on BBC Radio that cyclists were endangering their lives when not following road traffic laws, making it "very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess [their actions]". The comments were immediately condemned as "deflecting blame onto cyclists [and] grossly insensitive" by Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director of the Cyclists' Touring Club, and as "dodging responsibility" and "an insult to the dead and injured" by Darren Johnson, the Green Party member of the London Assembly.[42] Former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman, policy director for British Cycling, the national governing body for cycle racing in Great Britain, called on Johnson to ban HGVs from some London roads during peak hours, saying that Johnson had made a verbal promise to him "to look at the successful experiences of Paris and many other cities in restricting the movements of heavy vehicles during peak hours". Johnson stated in a radio interview that he was unconvinced by the idea, but was however considering banning cyclists from wearing headphones while riding.[43] However, the traffic division of the Metropolitan Police were unable to identify any serious cycling incidents in which headphone use could be identified as a contributing factor.[44]

Two weeks after the sixth death, a protest campaign organised via social media held a "die-in" - modelled on the Dutch "Stop de Kindermoord" pro-cycling demonstrations of the 1970s - outside the headquarters of Transport for London, in which over 1,000 cyclists lay silently in the road and held a vigil for cyclists and pedestrians killed by road traffic.[45]

A BBC poll taken in December 2013 found that one fifth of regular cycle commuters had stopped cycling to work as a result of the recent spate of deaths. A fifth of the survey respondents had also been involved in a collision, and 68% believed that London's roads were not safe to cycle on.[46]

Growth and effects[edit]

The number cycling in London has grown in recent years. For example, the introduction of two new "cycle superhighways" led to an increase of cycling numbers on those routes by 70% overall (one of the two routes actually doubled in numbers) within one year to 2010.[47]

Growth is assisted by governmental encouragement of cycling and the construction of improvements to enable safe and efficient cycling.[48] Other conditions are:

  • Bicycle advocacy
  • cost of public transport and running private cars, including the London congestion charge and petrol price increases.
  • safer roads for cyclists, this includes allowing cycling in bus lanes, 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) default limits, and redesign of roads to make cycling safer.
  • better support facilities, including parking spaces
  • better bicycles and gear, including waterproof bags and panniers, better lighting
  • concern over terrorism on public transport networks since the 2005 bombings

In 2009 London estate agents reported that close-by bike paths and on-site bike parking facilities were influencing the decisions of prospective property buyers and tenants.[49]

Regular events[edit]

London Freewheel 2008
  • Mayor of London's Sky Ride: an annual event launched as London Freewheel in September 2007, for which certain roads in central London are closed to motor vehicles for several hours on a Sunday. On 10 August 2012 it was announced that the 2013 Skyride would be re-branded as 'RideLondon', a two-day 'World-class festival of cycling'.[50] The event will incorporate an 8-mile 'Freecycle' event, 'Aimed at cyclists of all ages and abilities' on closed roads, as well as a 100-mile ride and a 'Grand Prix' event for professional cyclists. The 8-mile event on closed, flat London roads no longer requires helmets to be worn since Andrew Gilligan intervened.[51]
  • Critical Mass, which leaves the National Film Theatre on the South Bank around 7.00pm on the last Friday of each month

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Two Wheels Better". The Economist. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Mayor Appoints Andrew Gilligan as Cycling Commissioner | Greater London Authority". 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  4. ^ "London cycle network map published". BBC News. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  5. ^ "More than half a million cycle journeys now made every day in the Capital". Transport for London. 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  6. ^ Taylor, Matthew (9 February 2008). "City's two-wheel transformation". London: Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  7. ^ "D.K" (Dec 16, 2013). "The Economist explains: Why does cycling thrive in some cities and not in others?". The Economist. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Local area walking and cycling statistics: England 2011/12" (PDF). 16 April 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "Bicycle Culture by Design: The World's Most Bicycle Friendly Cities". 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  10. ^ "How many people ride bikes in Cambridge?". Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  11. ^ "Bike City Copenhagen". Copenhagen Municipality. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  12. ^ "Mayors Transport Strategy - Cycling". Transport for London. 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  13. ^ a b "Cycle Superhighways". Transport for London. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  14. ^ Quigley-Jones, Jennifer (2009-11-13). "On yer bikes". The World in 2010 (The Economist). Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  15. ^ "BBC News - How London bloggers changed cycling". 2013-03-06. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  16. ^ Lydall, Ross (25 January 2013). "Andrew Gilligan to be Mayor's cycling tsar on £38,000 salary for two day week". London Evenining Standard. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Boris reveals £900million plan for 'Crossrail for bicycles' with cycle route from one side of London to the other". Daily Mail. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ Anna Edwards (2013-03-08). "London Crossrail for the bicycle: Boris reveals his plan for £900million 'Crossrail for bicycles' including 15-mile link from Acton to Barking | Mail Online". Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  20. ^ Dec 6 (2012-12-06). "London Cycling Campaign". Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Plan to cut road deaths and serious injuries in London by 40%". BBC News. 6 June 2013. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ David Williams and Ross Lydall (2009-01-09). "20mph limit for London". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  28. ^ Rashid Razaq (2009-04-09). "Woman cyclist crushed to death by lorry as she turns corner". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  29. ^ "London's Towpath Code of Conduct". British Waterways Board. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  30. ^ a b "Cycling / Bikes on public transport". Transport for London. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  31. ^ "Bike parking at stations". Transport for London. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  32. ^ London Cycling Campaign. "Confidence and safety on the road". Confidence and safety on the road. 
  33. ^ Transport for London. "Get Cycling: Cycling Safety". Get Cycling: Cycling Safety. 
  34. ^ a b Morgan, Andrei S; Helen B Dale, William E Lee, Phil J Edwards (15 November 2010). "Deaths of cyclists in London: trends from 1992 to 2006". BMC Public Health 10: 699. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-699. PMC 2992064. PMID 21078190. 
  35. ^ London Cycling Campaign. "Four steps for cyclists to stay out of the lorry/HGV danger zone". Four steps for cyclists to stay out of the lorry/HGV danger zone. 
  36. ^ Storbeck, Olaf. "Cycling Accidents London - Figures 1986 to 2011 (Spreadsheet)". Cycling Accidents London - Figures 1986 to 2011 (Spreadsheet). 
  37. ^ Transport for London. ""Travel in London" - Report, p 20". "Travel in London" - Report, p 20. 
  38. ^ Storbeck, Olaf. "Cycling in London: Severe crashes, 2006-2011 (map)". Cycling in London: Severe crashes, 2006-2011 (map). 
  39. ^ Storbeck, Olaf. "Cycling in London: Severe crashes 2006-2011 (Spreadsheet)". Cycling in London: Severe crashes 2006-2011 (Spreadsheet). 
  40. ^ Beard, Matthew (27 June 2013). "Injured cyclists outstrip the number taking to two wheels". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  41. ^ a b "London cyclist deaths: Officers at dangerous junctions". BBC News. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  42. ^ Jones, Sam; Walker, Peter; Wintour, Patrick (14 November 2013). "Boris Johnson accused of dodging responsibility over cycling deaths". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  43. ^ "London cycle deaths: Chris Boardman wants HGV ban". BBC News. 21 November 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  44. ^ Walker, Peter (19 November 2013). "Boris Johnson's credibility with London cyclists is slipping away". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  45. ^ Stuttle, John (1 December 2013). "Over 1,000 cyclists stage die-in protest outside Transport for London HQ". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  46. ^ "London cyclists: Fifth of riders 'stop bike-commuting'". BBC News. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  47. ^ "Cycle Superhighways boost cyclist numbers". Bike Biz. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  48. ^ New Statesman - Vote Cycling on May 1st[dead link]
  49. ^ Miranda Bryant (2009-10-28). "Bike sheds and cycle paths rival Tube stations and car parking". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  50. ^ "Mayor announces world class RideLondon event to take forward capital's Olympic legacy". 2012-08-10. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  51. ^ "RideLondon terms and Conditions". 2012-08-10. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  52. ^ "London - World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) - Wiki information site". 2013-03-29. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  53. ^ "Bike Week 2009". London Cycling Campaign. 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  54. ^ "Charity rides & events". London Cycling Campaign. 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  on LCC website
  55. ^ "London Cycling Award Winners 2008". London Cycling Campaign. 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 

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