You are here: Home > News

How the cycling minister's vision is not matched by London's reality

20 January 2014/Categories: PTRC News

Robert Goodwill, wants Britain’s streets to be filled with 'basket-on-the-handlebars' cyclists. Our video shows why those less gung-ho riders remain a minority 

It is a creditable ambition: the (relatively) new minister for cycling, Robert Goodwill, wants Britain’s streets to be filled with “basket-on-the-handlebars” cyclists, people in everyday clothes pedaling at moderate speeds, in contrast to the knee-pumping, dayglo-clad types more common in some cities.

Goodwill, who can himself sometimes be seen riding round Westminster on his Brompton folding bike, wearing a suit and occasionally helmet-less, is also keen on more cycling infrastructure on the roads, though it remains to be seen where the money for this might come from.

Goodwill argues that the current planned national spend on cycling of £375m over five years is “a substantial amount.” Many cycling advocates disagree, pointing to sums of around £20 per person, per year, for many years, spent by nations like the Netherlands where the minister’s basket-on-the-handlebars vision is a reality.

Why is so much money needed? Simply because study after study has indicated that without the wholesale construction of properly segregated and protected cycle lanes a city, let alone a whole country, will never see mass cycling.

To take one example, London has many cyclists on the roads, and significantly more than it did some years ago. But stand on a busy junction at rush hour and the riders will be predominantly male, and very predominantly young. Those aged fifty plus are rare, children non-existent. The bike of choice tends to be a fast-moving hybrid or road type. Baskets are rare.

The reason for this is pretty clear. While London has some very quiet, peaceful cycling back routes, and even a tiny smattering of segregated lanes, unless you know your route very well you will, at some point, end up encountering a main road. And this is where it gets frightening.

It must be stressed, frightening is not the same as outright dangerous. Novices on bikes do venture onto London’s busiest roads – very often these are tourists on the blue hire bikes – and serious incidents are extremely rare. But just the intimidation factor is enough to put people off.

This is where the video above comes in.

It is by no means representative of cycling in London, and very few people would pick the route I used deliberately. But all five places I rode around on a bike festooned with GoPro cameras – the Elephant and Castle and Vuaxhall roundabouts in south London, Victoria and Hyde Park Corner in the centre, and King’s Cross slightly to the north-east – are major routes, and cyclists use them.

Some, like Hyde Park Corner, have no bike provision at all. Others, like Vauxhall, do have bike lanes but they are often badly designed and hard to locate.

In the film I ride onto the Vauxhall system from the west, which I virtually never do, and simply didn’t see the entry route to a small, bumpy bike path adjoining the pavement. Probably just as well, since that small, bumpy path soon ended with some roadworks and a “Cyclists dismount” sign.

My memory of the ride itself was mainly the lack of incident. I took so long fixing the cameras to the bike and making sure they worked I missed the peak of the rush hour, and the traffic felt relatively light.

But that possibly says more about me as a veteran city cyclist. Looking at the footage from the bike-level perspective of the cameras and it can seem pretty unnerving, especially the moment on Hyde Park Corner where I’m more or less completely boxed in by high vehicles. Imagine that involving Goodwill’s hypothetical novice, what he calls, “the sort of person who thinks cycling isn’t for them.”

Shortly before Christmas I met Jan Gehl, the Danish architect and guru of liveable cities. A workable city, he believes, should make people feel "they are invited to walk as much as possible and to bicycle as much as possible." I defy anyone to view the video above and feel that about London.

Context, of course, is key. This is, deliberately, an artificial tour de terror, a pre-planned route of the worst the capital has to offer. You can, with planning, avoid all these places (though King’s Cross is notoriously hard to bypass altogether). Many routes can be pleasurable, even for novices and plodders. And to reiterate: for all the publicity, mortal peril is remarkably rare. Taking a bus and eating Gregg's pasty en route is (if continued for years) more risky.

But these are the places some cyclists will, like it or not, occasionally find themselves on. And without change, and a lot more political will and money, Goodwill’s dream will remain a dream.

Courtesy of


Number of views (9313)


Theme picker