A virtuous cycle

A virtuous cycle

Can the London cycle hire scheme bring a step change in bike use in the capital?


17 January 2011

Key people

Can the London cycle hire scheme bring a step change in bike use in the capital?

With almost six months since the introduction of London bike hire scheme, Matt Gieve gives his thoughts on the scheme, in the light of learning gained from The Tavistock Institute’s evaluation of the England wide cycling promotion scheme: ‘Cycling Cities, Cycling Towns’.

Having been on the periphery of transport policy in the UK for many years cycling is making resurgence (or maybe just a surgence). Nowhere is this truer than in London. The reasons for this change are complex. They are in part due to specific targets to diversify transport and to reduce carbon emissions but also fit with wider societal concerns over health and the environment.

Our research is beginning to show us that you need several elements to work together to increase levels of cycling in an area. These include improving infrastructure such as lanes, bridges and lights, raising the awareness of other road users to cyclists, countering the public perception of cycling as a dangerous activity, and building up peoples cycling ability. All of these aspects working in concert can contribute to virtuous circle of increased cycling.

While the London Cycle hire scheme is not solely aimed at cycling promotion its will contribute to the growth and reinforcement of a cycling culture. Evidence shows that the more cyclists there are on the roads the fewer accidents per cyclist there is. It also contributes to a general impression of cycling as a mainstream activity rather than the reserve of fanatics. Equally the scheme means that those without working bikes can become enthused with cycling without having to invest in a new bike.

The success of this scheme seems to hinge on whether it can grow to the extent that it becomes a genuine alternative to other forms of transport. It currently covers only central London and is priced to stop excursions too far beyond so its full benefit is only experienced by those who both live and work in zone one or day trippers. Recent research1 shows that largely the bikes are being used by quite a narrow demographical group and replacing public transport rather than car journeys.

However there is a planned extension into East London for the Olympics and were that to be matched in all directions perhaps the scheme could then significantly alter the traffic on our roads.

For more information on the evaluation of the ‘Cycling Cities, Cycling Towns’ programme, please contact Dione Hills.

1 Transport for London, 2010. Travel in London Report 3. [online] Available at: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/travel-in-london-report-3.pdf pp.225-245.

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