One of the interesting points that is often raised with regard to the potential of cycling in London is that it is a big city – at least, substantially bigger than continental cities where cycling forms a large proportion of journeys.
Take this example from the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, interviewed by Portland to Portland earlier this year.
We have to learn some of the lessons from Amsterdam about how it is possible to have a city where there are enormous levels of bike usage. We’re never going to be quite as good as that, I don’t think – 30%, 35% of all journeys in Amsterdam are made by bike. London’s a lot bigger, a lot busier. But we can get up towards their kind of levels, by doing some of the same things they’ve been doing.
That is, the very size of London – ‘a lot bigger’ – is a reason why we can’t get near the cycling levels of a city like Amsterdam. The same claim – or variants thereof – can be found in forums –
London is a city of nine million people. Copenhagen is half the size of Birmingham. London’s CBD stretches from Paddington Basin to Westfield.- getting on for nine miles. Copenhagen is endless suburb. (And, frankly I’d rather live in Beirut than Copenhagen.)
These assertions of unsuitability seem to hinge on an assumption that in larger cities, people make longer trips, that their journeys get ‘stretched’, by comparison with smaller cities. These longer trips are less suited to cycling. But how much truth is there in these kinds of claims? How long are trips in London?
Joe Dunckley has put the journey lengths from the National Travel Survey into graphical form, including a bar for London.
70% of trips in London are under 5 miles; 42% are under 2 miles. So clearly, a large majority of trips in London are – in principle – cycleable. Indeed, around 50% of all London trips are between 1 and 5 miles long, the kind of trip length ideally suited to the bike, rather than walking or driving.
We also know – from Transport for London’s own data – that a huge proportion of car trips in London are exceptionally short.
London residents make 7.8 million car trips a day (out of a total of 9.4 million daily London car trips), and 67% of all these car journeys by Londoners are under 5km (3 miles). This is a distance that could be cycled in under 19 minutes, at a sedate pace of 16km/h (11mph). 49% of these car trips are under 3km, which could be cycled in under 11 minutes at the same pace. 36% are under 2km.
Despite London’s size, then, car trips remain very short, for the most part. Again, these are trips of a length that can – and undoubtedly should – be cycled, or walked, if conditions are attractive.
So it seems fairly clear that the barriers to mass cycling in London are not related to its overall size, which does not seem to have a bearing on the length of trips made within it. The majority of trips in London are short, especially those made by private car.
A big city, full of short trips.
I wasn’t able to find information on trip lengths in Copenhagen, or in Dutch cities. If anyone has any links, please supply them, and I can include the figures in this post.
Big cities are all made up of smaller places. As you point out so many journeys are 3 miles or under..this is the bicycles forte, providing that firstly it is facilitated for and then that the UK’s people can convince themselves that its not too arduous.
Focusing on Key congested parts of the ‘city’ with a proven A point and B point commute of 3 ish miles, attempting to resolve the traffic issues with supplementary/complimentary cycleways and education about what bikes could suit (probably Dutch) would make a very interesting project. A project with potentially a big savings in road costs and considerably reduced journey times, if even 10% of the cars were removed, that must speed the other cars along..
My first project of this nature that springs to my mind is the local to me business park of Aztec West and the big new town of Bradley Stoke in Bristol…There must be a huge number of people that commute Bradley Stoke and its environs to the massive business park of Aztec, its about 3 miles apart and the congestion around that area is legendary, even affecting the Almondsbury M4/5 motorway junction. yet there is no clearly perceived alternative but to drive. My advice would be to work on the traffic black spots that have lots of smaller journeys from a local A-B and improve the traffic with the addition of complimentary alternative routes, (probably bicycle routes). Its a scenario where improvements (or otherwise) can be quantified by pounds saved, traffic flow figures improved and that’s a language that governments like.(it may well have all those other stats that are a bit more fluffy about sick days reduced, more productive workers etc).
Think local, think smarter.
It’s all between the ears. i used to cycle from Battersea to Holborn in about 35-40mins every day, the days when I couldn’t ride, the train took over an hour and the bus was at least 2 as it went all the way though south London first. By taxi which would be faster than by car, most likely, takes at least as long as by bike because there is always alot of stop start traffic whether you head north and through Chelsea or go along the south bank and over Waterloo bridge, either way, by bike was the quickest and most pleasurable way to travel. London is beautiful and you can see it best by bike.
What I found frustrating was if I used the south bank, it could be deserted but if you saw a policeman, that was it you had to walk, There was easily room for a bike path and normal path, I don’t know if this is still the case.
I dare say some bits might be better now, but I can’t imagine cycling in London is better than 10 years ago. Better being relative. Faced with the options, I found a Brompton was the best mode of transport for London – when things go wrong or you want to travel with friends, you can still use the tube, a bus or a taxi. The distances even from the suburbs mean you are in the centre in 40 mins even if you pootle on a Brompton. When I lived in Utrecht I could be anywhere within an hour, to the centre within 20mins, 30 including finding cycle parking. London is bigger but it’s amazing and beautiful, riding along the Thames with the houses of parliament or over Waterloo bridge makes up for a lot!
I would argue the opposite, bigger cities are more suitable for cycling or rather cycling would have the greatest benefits, because the alternatives in terms of motor transport are viable.
I used the same data in a blog post a few weeks back which included figures for the Netherlands. Londoner’s journeys are no longer and no different in purpose to those of Dutch people’s journeys.
This claim by Andrew Gilligan is simply one of the many myths used to explain inaction.
We should be suspicious of any city which appoints someone good at writing headlines or who does marketing as their cycling spokesperson. This is a problem which is not limited just to London or to the UK but has for some time been a problem in Denmark and is now also starting to infect the Netherlands. PR, BS and marketing in all its myriad forms is not nearly so effective for building modal share as is building the infrastructure which allows people to actually use their bicycles for convenient journeys and in safety.
It isn’t really surprising given the “London is a collection of villages” point you often hear. My own person experience aligns with this. I live in West London, commute by bike most days to the city and that is 8 miles or so but when I’m at home, pretty well all of my trips are within a radius of a couple of miles.
You should know by now where to look in the first instance! 😉
This is interesting because what I always want to point out when people do the “they built it and they didn’t come” argument about places like Bracknell and Milton Keynes that the problem is those places are so _small_!
I used to regularly make a 16 mile journey entirely within inner London. If you did a journey of 16 miles in Bracknell you’d be in Reading!
I’d argue that London is well-suited to having decent cycle infrastructure precisely _because_ its large (and also densely populated). Because of that the distances are often not walkable but the roads are congested with cars and public transport is over-crowded.
If it were small in area, like Stevenage or Bracknell, you could just walk everywhere you wanted to go, and if it were small in population congestion and overcrowding would not make other modes of transport problematic.
They have been on the BBC News recently saying they are encouraging tube passengers to walk or cycle instead, because the underground, especially the Northern Line is horrendously overcrowded. If TfL want this to become a reality they need to do some building on the ground rather than just put out press releases.
It can be a bit tricky to analyse trip length by area since obviously trips can go from one area to another. This poses particular challenges when comparing cities as there tends to be high levels of commuting in and out of London, so when measuring the length of trips ‘in London’ you should really be including all trips which begin or end in London, including those by people who live outside London. Not sure if Joe’s figures do or don’t include those trips but it would be something to bear in mind if making any comparison with Amsterdam or Copenhagen, particularly as their administrative boundaries might cover more or less of the ‘city proper’ than London’s.
That’s a good point – I’ll have a dig around in the NTS to see whether the figures for London are trips ‘within’, or trips that begin/end there.
I don’t think that it’s only “within”: The London numbers do include a number of >50 miles journeys, and even a (small) number of >100 miles ones. London is big, but it’s not _that_ big.
I live 30 km out of central London and can cycle in as fast as I can drive in. If there were proper cycling infrastructure I guess the bicycle route would be shorter (currently it is incredibly indirect) and it would be faster.
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Size of city, journey length etc. All cobblers. The local journeys are as important as the Mayor’s idea of arranging things to get everyone into Central London. The so called mini “holland” schemes (horrid name) will be few, but if all the main London town centres were re-engineered to make cycling and walking the priority for 3 miles around each town centre it would have a massive impact compared to blue painted routes.
Yes, I am getting wound up as nobody from TfL or local politically, or local seniior offical-wise are interested.
The cherry picking is rather tedious. London isn’t a city its a county, other countries didn’t create larger agglomerations, they stuck with the muncipal divisions they already had.
Alot of work commutes in Amsterdam’s metro area involve people driving or taking the train from Almere, Het Gooi and Purmerend. So you can use the same argument to claim that cycling could never be successful there either.
Copenhagen and Birmingham are similar sizes in population, but I believe Copenhagen sprawls over a larger area. London is the only urban area that is exceptionally large.
The greater Amsterdam conurbation, known as the Randstad, has a population of 7.1 million. Very comparable to London. For details, see:
What’s really annoying is this really shouldn’t be news to TfL or the Mayor. Transport for London’s own 2010 analysis of cycling potential showed that there were a huge number of potentially cycleable trips as yet unlocked, as much as 40% of trips could be by bike but aren’t in inner London.
Of course, it then believes that cycle hire and cycle superhighways version one would unlock them.
Don’t forget the integration of cycling with public transport. If people in Copenhagen, Amsterdam or many continental European cities have to make a longer journey, they can often cycle a few hundred meters to the station, take the bike on the underground or suburban train for a few kilometers, then cycle the last bit again.
Additionally, with good uninterrupted cycle networks, cycling is easier and you can cover longer distances even if you’re not terribly fit and fast. In British cities, a lot of the time and energy in cycling is wasted stopping and starting at traffic lights, and additional friction on bumpy roads and rough tarmac.
The other ‘big city’ argument goes that because London is big and important it can’t afford to, say, stop HGVs at rush hour, or slow the traffic slightly to make space for bikes. Personally I think this is complete rubbish as most of the exports from London are knowledge and services not goods & manufacturing, but that’s still a perception people have.
There’s a protest happening on Friday evening outside TfL HQ on Blackfriars Road (which the police will close) calling for segregated bike lanes across London, a ban on HGVs which can’t see other road users and increased investment in cycling. http://stopthekilling.org.uk/
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Interesting statistics about length of journeys made by cars in London.
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