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The Wheels of Change

Huez* riding London’s highways in support of British cycling

Popular support for UK cycling has never been greater. Stats released by TFL in advance of Bike Week (13th – 21st June) show that the levels of commuters using bikes in London has risen to 610,000 (23 million journeys a year), which coupled with growth rates of up to 80% in cities such as Brighton, Bristol and Newcastle, suggests that the long heralded cycling revolution is well and truly underway. Never before has the need been so pressing either – we’re told on a daily basis that our roads are too congested to drive, too dangerous to cycle and too polluted to walk.

But these figures hide the harsh truth. Increased numbers in the workforce means that the percentage of commutes by bike hasn’t risen in ten years (at 2.8%), and ONS analysis has shown that while leisure cycling might be on the rise, dangerous roads and limited infrastructure is stunting growth nationally. Our cycling policy continues to lag behind demand, its coat tails snagged by every business group and residents’ association within a mile of a proposed path or route.

Paths to prosperity

Advocates of cycling infrastructure rightly see a double standard when looking back at the fanfare that surrounded the first motorways, and the support lent to projects such as the HS2 today. It seems confusing that a heavily opposed train route is given free rein to smash through the gardens of middle England, while widely supported and socially beneficial cycle routes find it hard to gain traction.

Authorities argue that projects such as the HS2 bring prosperity to Britain’s regions, but in the same breath fail to acknowledge that these arguments also ring true for urban cycle routes. Where motorways took wealth to Britain’s extremities, cycle paths pedal social mobility to the urban periphery, improving health and the environment along the way.  This is highlighted by the commuting figures in the latest census – in which cycling rose by 144% throughout inner London where the infrastructure is most complete, but only by 45% in the suburbs where routes are comparatively lacking.

London leads the pack

London shows what can be achieved in a city that, until recently, presented some of the most inhospitable urban cycling conditions in the world. Superhighways have undoubtedly been a great step forward, providing arteries to safely pump growing numbers of cyclists to their destinations.

The highways, along with the proposed ‘quietways’ and ‘mini Hollands’ (in Kingston for example) prove that when a city controls its own cycling policy, and investment is poured down the right channels, a real difference can be made to the lives of its inhabitants. We need only look to countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, where commuting levels are over 10 times our own, to see the benefit of local policy based on local needs.

Thankfully, transport planners are beginning to take note - Manchester was told last November that it will soon receive greater power over its own transport links; an example we hope is replicated nationwide. We can also look to cities such as Cambridge for hope, where favourable geography and local support has seen cycling commutes reach near continental levels of 29%.

All together now - London Bike Week 

It is in support of a more coherent and effective bike policy that Huez* has thrown itself wholeheartedly behind national Bike Week, which encourages ‘everyday cycling for everyone’ in an attempt to spread the ‘social, health, and environmental benefits of cycling all over the UK’.

To show our support for highway projects nationally, we will be scouting and riding the growing number routes in the capital - drawing attention to the great work that has been done, and the distance we’ve yet to travel. More stories