• Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #27. Beck to the future.

    #BECK TO THE FUTURE. London has a tangle of cycle routes, with different signs and maps, and often insufficient signage at road level, meaning that detailed planning and memory is necessary for all but the most local cycle journeys.

    The situation is similar to catching a tube train in the early twentieth century. In 1931, Harry Beck’s famous Tube map succeeded in taming a complex system of tracks – making it far easier to navigate. He was an uncommissioned hobbyist at the time, but now Beck’s design is synonymous with catching the Tube in London: you just take one look at the map, identify which lines to travel on, which direction to travel in, and where to change, before heading off. With a minimum of planning and memory you can follow signs that take you from virtually anywhere to anywhere in the capital.

    Something similar is needed today for cycling: a single London Cycle Map that you can take one look at, identify which routes to travel on, which direction to travel in, and where to change, before heading off. With a minimum of planning and memory you could follow signs which would enable you to cycle from virtually anywhere to anywhere in London.

    Simon Parker has come up with a magnificent blueprint for a London Cycle Map. He has re-imagined the London Cycle Network as a series of long straight coloured routes dissecting the capital at all angles. With the corresponding road signs and markings, Londoners could cycle to anywhere in the capital by following just a few of these coloured routes.

    Parker’s achievement is comparable to that of Harry Beck, but in a way even better. Whereas Beck’s Tube map improved the presentation of a network of train lines that were already named and identified (as the Victoria Line, Bakerloo Line, etc), Parker has proposed not just a map but a radical overhaul of how London’s cycle routes are named and identified. When his brilliant map gets the recognition it deserves from the authorities, it will be a great day for London.

    Beck’s Tube map defined the future of urban rail mapping and travel; Parker’s London Cycle Map will do the same for urban cycling.


    Harry Beck's 1931 Tube map

  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #28. Great for folding bikes.

    #28. GREAT FOR FOLDING BIKES. If James Bond wasn’t so obsessed with cars, he’d ride a bicycle that folds up to the size of a suitcase. There are fewer cooler contraptions.

    Folding bikes are really useful in a city like London, where commutes often involve different stages with multiple modes of transport. For people who want to get a bit of exercise but not get too knackered, or just avoid central London, a folding bike makes it easy to cycle one or more stages of a journey. During busy periods it’s often not possible to take a conventional bike on public transport, and fitting one in a car is a bit of a hassle all the time, but a folder can be carried more or less anywhere without fuss.

    Perhaps those who benefit most from folders are people who commute long distances into London. Compared to rural settings, the capital can be a loud and intimidating place. What a relief it is to be able to travel across it in the open air on a bike which can be so easily transported to the city outskirts.

    I receive loads of emails from prospective visitors to London asking me “what are the safest cycle routes” from one part of the capital to another. I sigh and tell them to use a cycle route planner, or order a bunch of TfL maps, then I just hope they’re not going to be put off by having to remember hundreds of directions.

    It would be so much better if I could say to these people, “just follow a route or two on the London Cycle Map: the coloured signs and road markings make it as easy as catching the Tube”.

    A London Cycle Map would be the perfect complement to the convenience of a folding bike. In just a few simple steps – unfold bike frame, raise seat post, click pedals into place, ride to nearest point on network, check London Cycle Map, follow routes, change routes if necessary, leave network at nearest point to destination – an owner of a folding bike could travel from anywhere to anywhere in the capital, free of hassle, free of charge.

    London: a vast metropolis that can be folded into a bike the size of a suitcase, and a map the size of your hand.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #29. Enabling freedom.

    #29. ENABLING FREEDOM. As Jean Paul Sartre pointed out, human beings are always free, whatever the circumstances, to choose. Yet our circumstances influence the likely outcomes of our choices and therefore what we actually do choose.

    Here’s an example: although most Londoners recognise that they are free choose to cycle to work each day, the typical outcomes of such a choice – either ending up in heavy traffic, or having to plan and memorise a complex route through the backstreets – put most people off. Irrespective of what regular cyclists may feel about the decision made by non-cyclists, the fact is most Londoners just don’t want to cycle in the present circumstances.

    Human freedom can be extended when the obstacles to making certain choices are removed. We become not just able but enabled to choose certain behaviours.

    A London Cycle Map would enable millions more Londoners to choose cycling. By signing the London Cycle Network in accordance with the long, straight coloured routes depicted on Simon Parker’s map, we would enable cyclists to get from virtually anywhere to anywhere in the capital on safer, quieter streets. Instead of having to remember hundreds of turn-rights and turn-lefts to avoid the traffic, cyclists could remember just a few coloured cycle routes.

    The status quo in London makes cycling an undesirable choice for millions of would-be cyclists. In changing this, a London Cycle Map would extend the freedom of Londoners.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #30. Perfect for electric bikes.

    #30. PERFECT FOR ELECTRIC BIKES. Around 3 million people take the Tube each day, with over 500 trains rattling round the network during peak periods. The average speed on the Tube is around 20 miles per hour, including stops. In total, the Tube eats up 1,163,000,000,000 watt hours of electricity per year.

    That’s a lot of power – especially when you consider that electric bikes are six times more energy efficient than trains. If all those Tube passengers used an electric bike instead, London’s energy bill would be dramatically slashed.

    Is this just an idle fantasy? Surely electric bikes are too expensive, and London’s too big and scary for cycling to achieve mass popularity?

    Not at all. A decent electric bike costs around £500 – surely less than the average Londoner spends on travel each year – and with the help of a motor the vast majority of Londoners could easily cycle the large distances involved in living in a metropolis.

    As for navigating those journeys, if the authorities installed road signs and markings corresponding to Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map throughout the London Cycle Network, cyclists could ride from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following just a few coloured cycle routes on safer, quieter streets.

    It would be as if every Londoner had their own little Tube train!

    The slightly slower speed of electric bikes (maximum 15mph) would be compensated for handsomely, not just by their energy efficiency, but by the vastly greater well-being cycling brings. Instead of being restricted to grim Tube trains (or traffic jams), users of electric bikes could travel wherever and whenever they wanted, while getting some moderate exercise in the fresh air.

    A London Cycle Map, combined with electric bikes for those people who would struggle with cycling longer distances, would utterly transform London for the better, both economically and psychologically.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #31. Changing London's drinking culture.

    #31. CHANGING LONDON'S DRINKING CULTURE. I’m no teetotaller, but I can’t help noticing how much Londoners like their booze. It’s partly down to their gung-go, competitive attitude to drinking, but it’s also caused by the prevalence of venues with stupidly loud music and insufficient seating, forcing the locals to drink just to put up with the conditions. The places people inhabit shape people’s habits, and vice versa.

    Maybe I’m turning into a lightweight or getting old, but sometimes I yearn for a more continental cafe culture in the capital. The problem is, cafe culture only really works when you can sit outside until midnight in nice weather. Alas, we can’t do anything about London’s climate.

    But there are other ways to promote moderation in drinking. My brother lived in New Zealand for a while, and when he came back he told me about how the transport situation out there tends to curb excessive drinking. With New Zealand being sparsely populated, people tend to converge from miles around when going out, and so they drive to the venue and back, and stay more sober. Influenced by their customer needs, pubs usually serve ‘lights’ – lower percentage alcoholic drinks – with no social stigma attached to drinking them.

    A London Cycle Map, accompanied by road signs and markings, would change the transport situation in London. On a bike, people could get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following a few safe, quiet, coloured cycle routes. This would inspire lots more Londoners to cycle, and might even make cycling the default transport choice for millions.

    In turn, this might change people’s drinking habits. As anyone who has ever travelled on a late-night Tube or a night-bus can attest to, inebriated people can and do make it home on public transport. But it’s not so easy on a bike. Most cyclists, rightly, drink sensibly if they are riding, just as they would if they were driving – after all, drunk cyclists can cause fatal crashes just as drunk drivers can. In addition, cycling makes boozing seem less intrinsically appealing: feeling fitter and more energised and alert, as well as less stressed, reduces the impulse to drink.

    By inspiring more Londoners to cut down on their boozing – albeit indirectly – a London Cycle Map would have a positive effect on individuals and communities, boosting levels of fitness, motivation, happiness and intelligence, while reducing violence, callousness and infidelity. (David Nutt, former drugs advisor to the New Labour government, noted that, when you factor in alcohol's effect on other people not just individuals, it is more harmful than heroin or crack – a pronouncement he was promptly sacked for.)

    I propose a toast to the London Cycle Map – with a cup of tea.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #32. It's just the beginning.

    #32. IT'S JUST THE BEGINNING. Choosing between the LCC’s Go Dutch campaign and the London Cycle Map Campaign is like choosing between a few high quality car parts, or an unglamorous car that drives but needs a bit of work.

    What do I mean by this?

    Parker’s London Cycle Map is based on the concept of ‘minimum functioning’, which states that developers should make the minimum change necessary to achieve maximum functionality.

    In the case of cycling in London, the required functionality is a safe network of easy-to-follow cycle routes. Parker has shown how we can achieve this through one small step: equipping the London Cycle Network with road markings and signs corresponding to the long, straight routes depicted on the London Cycle Map.

    Doing so would enable cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere on the LCN by remembering a few coloured routes, just like on the Tube: a magnificent result for such a minor investment (estimated at just £50,000 per borough). Londoners would be reassured by the thought of being able to cycle safely on quieter streets throughout the entire capital, and millions of people would soon take up cycling.

    Compare this to the LCC’s proposal to build a handful of segregated cycling facilities on main roads in the capital. For this rather big investment, cyclists would get a rather small return. Does anyone really think that Londoners will start cycling en masse just because of a few new cycling facilities? New cyclists want to be consistently safe – an outcome which Parker’s London Cycle Map would make much more realistic – not just safe on a few main roads.

    But here’s the best thing: a minimally functioning LCN would be just the beginning. Once the network was up and running, with millions of new cyclists using it, new investment would soon follow. The routes would get even better equipped, and even safer.

    What’s more, this would have a knock-on effect throughout the whole capital. Once millions of people were using the LCN, cycling would spill onto other streets. This would create a demand for better cycle facilities all over London.

    The moral is familiar: less is more. The LCC’s Go Dutch campaign may be promising a few high quality cycle developments, but these will hardly make any difference to cycling in London.

    Meanwhile, the London Cycle Map Campaign is promising some new road markings and signs to get the London Cycle Network functioning to a minimum standard. It’s an unglamorous proposal, but it would be maximally effective, ushering in a golden age for cycling in London.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #33. Nobody has found anything wrong with the proposal.

    #33. NOBODY HAS FOUND ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE PROPOSAL. A few objections to the London Cycle Map crop up repeatedly but they’re all easily refutable.

    For instance, ‘how do I know where the routes are’ gets asked regularly. Simple: in the same way that you’d find out where a Tube station is – by consulting an A to Z or Google maps, or asking someone.

    ‘How will I know which direction I’m travelling in’ is another question that’s easy to respond to: just monitor the junctions as you go, as you would with streets names or other markers when walking or driving. You’d soon work out if you were heading the wrong way.

    Here’s a cynical response: ‘Putting up a few signs won’t make a difference’. Quite right! Over the last thirty years, the authorities have put up a few signs on the London Cycle Network and it’s still impossible to navigate. That’s the whole point of the London Cycle Map Campaign! We’re calling for painted trails of ‘breadcrumbs’ on the road and a comprehensively signed cycle network so that cyclists cannot possibly get lost on it. This will mean that people new to cycling can be confident that they can get from anywhere to anywhere in the whole capital just by following a few coloured cycle routes.

    ‘Main roads are faster’ is another classic response, since Parker’s routes predominantly use the quieter backstreets of the London Cycle Network. Main roads aren’t necessarily faster – they’re loaded with traffic lights, not to mention traffic including buses and trucks, and you still need to spend time planning a route in advance. Even with segregated cycling facilities main roads wouldn’t be faster than backstreets – they’d be slower, in fact, because the restricted cycling area would limit everyone to the speed of the slowest cyclist. Following a few coloured routes on the quieter, traffic-lights streets featured on the London Cycle Map would make cycling quick, spontaneous and convenient.

    ‘Who wants to cycle that far?’ is a common query. But if this objection is valid we might as well give up on cycle development altogether, because the average commute in London is 7.5 miles. In fact, cycling this distance is easily doable for the majority of people, and for those who might struggle, an electric bike would make it a doddle and a delight. A London Cycle Map would be perfect for these commuter-length journeys, by removing the need for complex route planning and giving cyclists safety in numbers.

    Some people worry that ‘cyclists should be able to cycle wherever they like’. This is a silly objection. The London Cycle Map would be an optional resource for cyclists.

    Apart from these easily answered queries, I’m yet to hear any concrete objection to the proposal. Bear in mind, we are on the radar of every major cycle advocacy group in the UK, and none of these has come up with any reasons why this amazing and affordable proposal shouldn’t proceed.

    Please sign the petition and make sure Parker’s London Cycle Map gets the positive attention it deserves.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #34. World-leading.

    #34. WORLD-LEADING. Last year, a row (and a legal case) broke out in New York about a cycle lane on an affluent street in the city. Not only did the story make the front page of the New York Times, journalists in Britain, too, waved their broadsheets at the flames. Bike blogger Matt Seaton concluded his article:

    “New York City justly sees itself as the world's greatest city: here, in some sense, people live the way everyone would live if they had the chance. How New York – the city that still has a uniquely low level of car ownership and use – manages its transport planning in the 21st century matters for the whole world: it is the template. If cycling is pushed back into the margins of that future, rather than promoted, along with efficient mass public transit and safe, pleasant pedestrianism, as a key part of that future, the consequences will be grave and grim.”

    That all sounds very reasonable, if a little blustery, I thought… at first sight. Then this comment below the article made me think twice:

    “I live in Brooklyn and feel the need to speak up. While I wholeheartedly agree with the article's final sentence you have to live here to experience the absolute lack of common sense that is used by the city when planning bike lanes.

    Instead of introducing them into less busy streets (that still make good route one directional sense for cyclists) bike lanes are often introduced into each local areas' main traffic arteries.

    This leads to more bottle necking, traffic jams, aggressive driving and engine idling pollution in communities that had not experienced these urban blights prior to the bike lanes.

    I live on Dekalb Avenue in Fort Greene - a busy road, especially during school runs etc and a very popular and busy bus route. Despite this, the traffic moved smoothly a great deal of the time. Since introducing the bike lanes it has become a cluster f***. Running parallel to Dekalb is far quieter street that would have been perfect for a bike lane.

    ... The law suit has not come about because of peoples' mistrust of the bike and love of the automobile but because we're getting royally pissed off at idiotic decision making.”

    Could it be that New York needs a 'New York Cycle Map' similar to Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map?

    Parker’s map identifies a series of long straight cycle routes connecting all areas of the capital, but it does so while predominantly using the generally quieter backstreets which comprise the London Cycle Network. This proposal offers an alternative to the confrontational policy of focusing cycle development on main roads. Trying to provide space for trucks and buses and bikes all in one place tends to have the effect of leaving all groups dissatisfied. And a few piecemeal developments on a handful of main roads is hardly going to reassure would-be cyclists that they can ride safely throughout the city.

    By implementing a London Cycle Map with spots of paint and signs to make navigating on the capital’s cycling backstreets easier and safer, we wouldn’t just be leading the way for cyclists in London; we’d be leading the way for metropolises all over the world, New York included.

    Instead of moaning about ‘grave and grim’ consequences elsewhere, why don’t we create a beacon of inspiration on our own doorstep?


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #35. Reducing inequality.

    #35. REDUCING INEQUALITY. Reducing inequality is a good thing. As Wilkinson and Pickett show in their famous book The Spirit Level, societies which are more equal tend to have lower levels of health and social problems.

    That doesn’t mean that everything done in the name of equality is equally good. Just as Jim Davidson doesn’t always make people laugh in the name of comedy, governments and their redistributive policies don’t always work. Deciding what counts as a fair distribution of wealth involves so many details and civil servants that the whole process can become woefully inefficient and ineffective.

    A more direct way of reducing inequality is to influence the way people seek status. In conspicuous charity, status comes from acts of kindness rather than the accumulation of wealth and power. We rightly look up to generous people, yet their actions narrow rather than widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

    Cycling culture is better than car culture at fostering human nature’s community-spirited side. In automobiles, drivers tend to feel grandiose. It happens to all of us. In a luxurious, high-tech cockpit, controlling a big, shiny, fast machine we develop a sense of entitlement, at least subconsciously. We come to view other road users as irritating obstacles (pedestrians or cyclists) or challengers (other drivers).

    In contrast, cycling fosters a more modest mindset. On a bike you’re at close quarters with other road users, more of a participant than an overlord. You encounter pedestrians and fellow cyclists directly and openly – face to face, eye to eye – and you co-operate to give each other room. Good cyclists also communicate their intentions and make their presence known to drivers through frequent eye contact and other friendly gestures such as waving and nodding. Conscientiously sharing the road brings humility and empathy. And, whether you're JFK or Joe Bloggs, you come as you are on a bike.

    Of course there are exceptions, but generally the more people cycle, the more people develop a gentler approach to their fellow human beings. London – a sadly unequal place with lots of aggression – could certainly do with more cyclists.

    The London Cycle Network is big enough to accomodate tens of millions of cyclists each day. What a great leveller that would be! To make it happen we need a London Cycle Map and properly signed cycle routes.


  • Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #36. Great for students.

    #36. GREAT FOR STUDENTS. Students in Londonhave an open mind and more places to go than time to get there. With lectures, libraries, seminars and parties calling, the only bad thing about living in the capital is the hassle of travelling across it.

    Thankfully, great ideas thrive in universities, and buying a bike is one of the best students can have. It enables them to travel free and live the dream that brought them to London in the first place: to experience the greatest city on earth first-hand, face to face.

    Cycling also helps raise serotonin levels, an important barrier against the epidemic of mental illness found on modern campuses.

    But even for the brains of Britain, cycling in London can still be tricky. To cycle across the capital you need to prepare a safe route with hundreds of turn-rights and turn-lefts. Using a smart phone is an option, but these cost money and distract riders from the surrounding traffic.

    Off their bikes students should be using their brain-power to study, while on their bikes they should be relaxing and giving their subconscious creativity a boost.

    A London Cycle Map would make travelling throughout the capital as easy as catching the Tube yet much more pleasant. By following simple signs and road markings on a network which provides a direct connection between any two areas, students on bikes could remember just a few coloured routes to get to their destination.

    With around a quarter of a million students in higher education in the capital, a London Cycle Map would bring huge rewards to people who love to learn about the world around them.



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