In the recent discussions about the proposed 80mph motorway speed limit, I was reminded on twitter of an article by Jeremy Clarkson, where he says,
“People go with the flow. We drive as fast as traffic conditions allow. We use public transport when it’s better than taking the car. We use an umbrella when it’s raining and wear a jumper when it’s chilly.”
Clarkson is right. I love driving – but I always cycle or use public transport to commute in London. It makes sense.
Expanding on Clarkson’s point (words I don’t write often) is that as well as people shifting between modes of transport, they also shift routes within those modes, according to what makes sense at the time.
This effect seems to be present if we look at cycling levels at Blackfriars Bridge over the last 10 years – and it shows just how harmful TfL’s changes will be if they go ahead.
The magnet effect
Blackfriars Bridge has seen a greater than threefold rise in cycle commuters since 2000. But this increase has not been constant.
Prior to 2006, cycling over Blackfriars changed at around the same rate that cycling increased overall on London’s main roads. Since 2006 the number of cyclists over Blackfriars has more than doubled – far outpacing the overall cycling rise.
What is interesting is that we have not seen the same increase in cycling on the bridges which neighbour Blackfriars: Waterloo to the west and Southwark to the east.
In fact, rush hour cycling on both those bridges between 2006 and 2010 actually decreased – although cycling in London increased by around a third.
Why did commuters old and new (the total number of people crossing all three bridges still increased) suddenly choose Blackfriars over the other bridges?
I may be misinformed, but I don’t believe London’s office space all moved between 2006 and 2010.
What did change was the deaths of two cyclists in 2004 over Blackfriars Bridge. Transport for London resurfaced the road, adding a wide cycle lane.
This wasn’t perfect – the northbound junction was still a problem – but a wide clear space, largely separate from the bus lane, suddenly made this route cyclable again, at least relative to the neighbouring bridges.
The lane won the London Cycle Campaign’s award for best cycle facility of the year in 2006.
The increase in cyclists supports the argument that cycle bloggers have been making for a long time: what really bikes on streets is not marketing (competition in public services has not yet led to each bridge advertising its individual benefits to prospective consumers) – it’s feeling safe.
Jenny Jones, the Green Party London Assembly Member said last week that London’s cycle revolution is losing momentum.
At Blackfriars, TfL’s plans to narrow the northern cycle lane, remove the advanced stop box and addition of an extra traffic lane, are all clear signs that we’re now moving backwards.
I don’t want cycling to return to 2006 levels at Blackfriars – or at Elephant and Castle, Finchley, Richmond, Vauxhall or anywhere else that Boris Johnson’s TfL is making regressive changes to London’s streets.
That’s why I’ll be at Blackfriars on Wednesday October 12th at 5.45pm, for a flashride to show the Mayor which direction London needs to be moving. See you there.