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The Future of Cycling in the UK


The Future of Cycling in the UK

According to British Cycling, more than two million Brits cycle at least three times a week. Yet, today, a lowly 2% of the country’s journeys are made on a bike.

As a result, Britain is near the foot of the European league of bike journeying, falling behind the likes of Germany, Slovakia, Austria, Portugal and Bulgaria.

Cars still dominate in cities but initiatives are underway across the UK in an attempt to turn the tide. By 2030, the cityscapes could look drastically different if the right steps are taken.

How UK cities are looking to become more cycle-centric? – London and the Boris Bikes


In the capital, bikes make up 32% of rush hour traffic as cycling is becoming an increasingly commuting choice.

The first major push for cycling in London occurred back in July 2010 with the introduction of the ‘Boris Bike.’

It’s safe to say the scheme has been an overwhelming success. The number of bikes and docking stations in the city have doubled since launch. Bikes have surged from 6,000 to 11,500 whilst docking stations have risen from 400 to 748.

By 2015, nearly 43 million journeys were made, with a record 73,000 hires made in one day, and the hardest working bike was hired almost 4,300 times.

Now, known as the Santander bikes after the Spanish banking group paid over $43.75m to overhaul the cycles in what was the largest public sector sponsorship deal in the world, Transport for London (TfL) has awarded company Serco a £79.7m contract to distribute and maintain the Santander bikes.

The bikes will be replaced at a rate of 500 per year and the TfL plans to incorporate the scheme in line with its other travel options, perhaps with oyster card integration.

London’s Cycling Network


London has certainly provided its populous with the means of travelling by bike but what about its infrastructure in terms of cycling routes?

Research shows that London has a much smaller cycling network length at 141km than global cities like Hong Kong (218km) and New York (1,626km).

Density is particularly thin outside of Zones 1 and 2 and many want see more cycle lanes and better traffic segregation around the capital.

The Floating Cycle Path

In recent years, there have been plans for a ‘Floating Cycling Path’ and the ‘SkyCycle’ project.

The Floating Cycle Path would involve erecting a seven-mile-long floating cycling path along the River Thames.

It would have four lanes, two in each direction, and would allow cyclists to completely avoid traffic.

However, despite looking and sounding impressive, it would be terribly expensive and not very practical.

The project, estimated to cost £600m, would run parallel to existing routes and may get hit by passing boats who dock just a few feet from South Bank.

The consortium behind the concept have launched an Indiegogo campaign, aiming to raise £175,000 to conduct a viability study, but it does seem like a concept doomed to fail.



The other outside the box idea is SkyCycle; a network of elevated paths above railway lines.

The project has backing by Network Rail and Transport for London and would see the installation of over 220km of car-free routes over London’s suburban rail network.

The proposed network would cover a catchment area of six million people, half of whom live and work within 10 minutes of an entrance point.

The designers argue that elevated cycle paths could be constructed at a much cheaper cost than new roads and tunnels.

Access points would double up as residential developments, which is hoped to draw in private investors and property developers.

Sadly, the seemingly innovative and futuristic idea is stuck in limbo for now but not everyone is convinced of SkyCycle’s worth.

The Guardian’s Mikael Colville-Andersen argues to not waste time on “ridiculous headline grabbing schemes” and states:

“Crazy Bladerunner-style ideas like Lord Foster’s SkyCycle dream prove that cycling for transport is still sadly misunderstood. As Marie Kåstrup from Copenhagen’s Bicycle Office has said, even if Copenhagen had the money to build a version of SkyCycle, they wouldn’t bother.” – Mikael Colville-Andersen

Mayor Khan’s arrival


London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is a huge advocate of cycling and wants to see more “active transport” (walking and cycling) in the city. Instead of the wackier aforementioned concepts, Mr Khan’s ideas are much more grounded.

He wants to continue investing in the Cycle Superhighway Programme, prioritise Quietways and deliver more cycle storage and parking.

Val Shawcross, deputy Mayor for Transport, says TfL’s five-year plan intends to increase the £150m a year spent on cycling under Boris Johnson’s tenure.

Some of this budget needs to go towards solving a huge problem for cyclists in London which is lorries and HGVs (Heavy Goods Vehicles).

In the past two years, HGVs were involved in 58% of cyclist deaths and 23% of pedestrian deaths in London despite only accounting for 4% of the miles driven in the city.

To counteract this, thousands of lorries face bans from London as part of Mr Khan’s HGV rating system initiative.

He proposes enforcing a five-star system for HGV’s based on the driver’s level of vision. By 2020, zero-star rated lorries would be banned and by 2024, any lorries with fewer than three stars would also be prohibited from entering the city.

Safety is one of the biggest issues why many don’t try cycling in major cities. These steps could be a motivating for many to commute on a Santander Cycle.

Enough about London. What’s England’s second city up to?


In Birmingham, work has started on creating safer cycle lanes on Birmingham’s major routes.

This is all part of a £60m plan to make cycling an everyday way to travel in Birmingham over the next 20 years.

Birmingham City Council want 5% of all trips in the city to be made by bike by 2023 and to double this to 10% by 2033.

Cycle pathways will emerge along a series of commuter routes including the A34 Walsall Road, A45 Coventry Road, A38 Tyburn Road and Harborne Road.

There will be a 20mph speed limit around schools and busy local centres, a city centre cycle path along Queensway, investment in cycle paths in parks and canal towpaths are integral to the project.

How are the Mancunians getting on?


Manchester was subject to an onslaught by the Guardian’s North of England Editor, Helen Pidd, in August 2015.

She said that Manchester is a “terrible cycling city” and became nostalgic for London’s superior systems. Just a soundbite of what was a very thorough dismantling of city’s attempts to cater for the two wheeled community.

Not too long after, Transport for Greater Manchester Committee cycling champion Chris Paul replied to Pidd’s comments. Stating that a better assessment would have been that the “UK is a terrible cycling country.”

He went on to say that Boris Johnson boasts a £1bn ten-year budget. Manchester, meanwhile, have to work with spending £10m per year across their three million population (around £3.50 per head).

Comparatively, Kingston is spending £30m on its Mini Holland project serving 170,000 people (working out at £176.50 per head). The North-South divide has never been plainer to see.

What is happening with Velocity2025?

The committee’s proposal, named Velocity2025, aims to boost Manchester’s bike use from 2% to 10% of all journeys by 2025.

What is concerning is the difficulty of finding information on how Velocity is going.

The most recent update being the three new proposals in 2015:

  • A city Centre Package – The details of would emerge following consultation with stakeholders
  • Upper Chorlton Road – There is already an established cycling demand on this route
  • Rochdale Canal Towpath – This would provide a route similar to that already in place along the Ashton Canal.

Manchester City Centre is still virtually impenetrable for cyclists and is getting worse due to the Metrolink. It is questionable whether there is enough funding to undo the damage. This is a theme throughout the three projects; is there enough money to address these problems properly?

It seems Manchester is fighting a very difficult battle to morph itself into a cycling city, only time will tell whether they’ll achieve their 2025 goals but, for now at least, reaching that target seems unlikely.

Around the rest of the UK


Elsewhere, Leeds recently opened a new £29m cycle superhighway to Bradford. The route has segregation for cyclists and priority over cars at some road junctions.

Up in Scotland, Glasgow is aiming to turn itself into a “mini Holland.” Spending £6m over the next three years on improving cycling infrastructure.

The number of people cycling in Glasgow has increased by 200% since 2007! And, since 2010, the cycle network in the city has grown from 230km to 310km.

The ‘Strategic Plan for Cycling 2016-2015’ aims to enhance the city’s cycling infrastructure, increase the provision of safe cycle routes segregated from traffic as well as improving road safety, introduce traffic calming schemes, and develop further safer cycle and walking routes.

In Cardiff, trips by bike increased by 28% between 2013 and 2014. Meanwhile, the 2015 Bike Life Survey of the general public in Cardiff showed 78% want an increase in investment in cycling in the city.

Organisation, Cardiff Cycle City, launched a manifesto in 2015 citing the changes they’d like to see to make the Welsh capital the best Cycling City in the UK.

Progress is slow but one of their manifesto points is coming to fruition. The Cardiff Council has allocated £100,000 for transport projects including increasing the number of 20mph zones across the city. It’s a start I guess.

Finally, in Northern Ireland, transport minister Danny Kennedy aims to turn the country into a cycling society.

His 25-year plan aims to increase the number of cycle lanes, dedicated 10mph zones, bicycle hubs and cycling parking to give the bike “equal priority.”

By 2040, he wants cycling to account for 40% of all journeys under a mile.

Final Thoughts


Overall, it seems London is setting the example for how the rest of the country should embrace the bike.

Though, we must remember that the capital’s spending power on such projects is comparatively gargantuan. Thus, for all other cities in the British Isles, it’s going to be a case of baby steps. A slow crawl to a nationwide cycling Nirvana.

That’s not to say that progress isn’t being made outside the capital. It is almost a certainty that the UK will become greener and more of the population will adopt a two wheeled method of transportation. The statistics back that up.

Although every city won’t be in alignment with Copenhagen, the world’s urban cycling heaven, the future of cycling in the UK is bright.


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