"It's time to talk about values and what values we want to express in our city," said consultant Patricia Brown on Tuesday (3 September), at a talk that asked: "Are London's Cycling Policies Working for Everyone?".
"We need to walk in each others' shoes," she added. "There is so much competition for space and it's only going to get worse. We need to treat each other with dignity and respect."
The talk was co-organised by On London and the London Society, to discuss why cycling in London is not more diverse. The event rested on data showing that, while the number of people cycling had grown as investment in cycling infrastructure had increased, the proportion of people cycling had not - and the bike-friendly demographic was overwhelmingly white, male and relatively old.
A host of reasons were put forward by Brown and fellow speakers Jill Rutter, Institute for Government programme director; former Hackney councillor Rita Krishna; and transport consultant Leon Daniels, who was managing director of surface transport at TfL under mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. They included:
- New infrastructure (especially cycling superhighways) encouraged people who already cycle to ride further and more often
- Initiatives such as cycling proficiency tests no longer existed, so that children did not "grow up cycling"
- The congestion charge immediately reduced traffic in central London by 15% but was not followed up with measures to maintain or improve that reduction
- Few drivers, cyclists or pedestrians fully understand the traffic laws and the Highway Code
Rutter described the cycling investment approach of Toronto, Canada, which focused on two out the three groups into which cyclists can be divided: comfortable riders, who prefer to use dedicated infrastructure but will cycle without it; and hesitant cyclists, who are not confident enough to ride on busy roads and want the reassurance of segregation and safe routes.
The third group, strong and fearless cyclists, will cycle anyway and regard it as a point of honour not to use cycling infrastructure, taking their chances with the traffic, she said. By contrast, Rutter suggested, London's infrastructure investment had focused on the third group.
Krishna described how more women cycle in Hackney than men cycle in any other London borough, other than Islington, thanks to sustained measures to control and reduce traffic. But, she said, other forms of sustainable transport were neglected by TfL, particularly buses, the users of which are overwhelmingly BAME. "Imagine if a tenth of the effort going into cycling was directed at encouraging white people to use the bus," she said.
Daniels claimed that: "One of the things we're missing, which Mayor Ken Livingstone had, was a road-user hierarchy with a clear understanding about the top and the bottom of that: walking ought to be at the top, private car usage at the bottom, and everything else somewhere in the middle."
He added that work done by former TfL managing director of planning Michèle Dix should be revived, in particular the findings of the Mayor's Roads Task Force on particular roads, what they were for and how they should be used.
"I also think we should end the war between all forms of road-users and build respect," Daniels concluded. "That war is destroying everyone's confidence in using the network and can't help but make potential cyclists feel less like wanting to cycle."