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Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 13:08 UK
Are two wheels better than four?

Cyclists outside Buckingham Palace
The Mayor hopes to double the number of journeys to over a million per day

By Tom Edwards
BBC London's Transport Correspondent

None of Boris Johnson's critics can say he isn't a cyclist. For many media events I've been at, he's turned up on his bike. No lycra either, he is a cyclist in a suit.

In the past cycling has been perceived by some to be firmly in the realm of the left. The French peasant on his bike. The miner going to work. Some claim it's egalitarian. A bike is a bike.

Conservatives though say cycling is about empowering the individual and freedom, and many are just as passionate to claim cycling as theirs...

Either way the Mayor Boris Johnson wants to encourage cycling in London and use it to transform the capital.

One of his very earliest documents he published called "The Way Forward" on transport was covered in pictures of cyclists.

He's aiming at a 400 per cent increase by 2025. That means doubling the number of journeys at present to over a million a day.

Boris Johnson and his bike
The real issue will be how to cope with the increasing numbers of cyclists in terms of infrastructure and safety
Tom Edwards
Transport Correspondent

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Making it work

The real issue will be how to cope with the increasing numbers of cyclists in terms of infrastructure and safety.

This is where "critical mass" comes in . The more cyclists there are, then supposedly the safer it is. The theory is drivers of other vehicles give groups of cyclists more room and become more used to seeing bikes on the roads.

The figures for injuries and deaths do bear this out to some extent. While the number of trips has doubled since 2001. The number of injuries and deaths has stayed roughly the same.

But there are plans to make the roads safer, these include more training for lorry drivers and cyclists - education not legislation.

Figures show 69% of people who cycle in London have never had any cycle training and the Mayor by giving £3 million of funding to local boroughs wants to change that.

Grand plans

The big ideas though from the mayor are a bike hire scheme and cycle superhighways or "hybrid cycle lanes" - most of the Mayor's £111 million cycling budget will go on these 2 projects.

There will be 12 cycle superhighways. They'll be miles long and mainly consist of a blue (what other colour for a Tory Mayor?) cycle lanes about a metre and a half wide.

The lanes will go through junctions to show motorists where cyclists are likely to be. There will be mirrors on traffic lights to help HGV drivers see cyclists on their left hand side.

Cyclist in London
The cycle superhighways will lead straight into the centre of London

There will also be signage to tell cyclists how long it will take them to get from say Tooting to Bank. And the benefit is these routes will directly lead into the centre of town - so they're designed for the commuter cyclist.

In Aylesbury where they have a smaller version of these hybrid lanes they have been a success. But there is a lot of work to do on those in London and cycling groups are now lobbying hard to make these radial routes effective.

One problem will be taking the routes through extremely busy centres for example on the A24 in Balham, south London.

There, the road is very congested anyway and it will be interesting to see how the scheme works and how and if its accepted by similar communities and other road users. And these cycle superhighways have not been tried on this scale before.

The bike hire scheme is on track at the moment, a quarter of new docking stations have been given the go-ahead already.

The French system

Cycle hire scheme in Paris
The cycle hire scheme in Paris has been a mixed-success

The scheme will be run by Serco who run the DLR. But the Paris Velib scheme has hit some problems - although it's extremely popular - the cost of running the scheme is proving a problem to the advertising company that do it, JCDecaux.

In Paris there are 20,000 bikes, compared to 6,000 initially planned for London.

Eight thousand have "disappeared" from the French capital and a further 16,000 have been damaged beyond repair.

JCDecaux has admitted it is struggling to fund a system with such a rapid turnover. If it happens in Paris, there's every chance it could happen in London and transport budgets are already stretched.

However, the positives are that if it's cheap and easy, it will introduce cycling to a different audience who might consider two wheels permanently.

Naysayers

There are criticisms about the Mayor's policies:

  • Not enough funding
  • The ideas are too Zone One-centric
  • The London Boroughs will need to be on board to achieve a 400% increase by 2025

But cycling groups believe the Mayor's vision of a cycling city is genuine.

Groups like the London Cycling Campaign say they have to capitalise now on the political goodwill towards two wheels. Above all they want to promote an easy, quick, clean and environmentally friendly form of transport.

There's a long way to go but there is real optimism from cycling groups that now is the time to try and turn London into a truly cycling friendly city. Of course, the challenge for any politician is not to alienate other groups and in this case other road users on that journey.




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