Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Boris Bikes grow up

The not-so-humble Boris bike is now just over two years old. It's come a long way - from an initial 300 or so docks to 568 today, taking in all of central London and a big patch of the east. Okay, so it never made the Olympics, but during our Jubilee/Olympic summer its useage has soared to around 40,000 trips per week, shared almost equally by members and casual users. And already plans are afoot for a western extension, also taking in some new areas south of the river. Long forgotten are the early teething problems - the largest problem now is that so many people use the bikes that docks are often either empty or full, particularly at commuter times. Communities like Brixton and Islington are clamouring for bikes in their areas. You can't spend long in central London without seeing a Boris bike, or even a family of them, gliding serenely past.

Boris bikes - agents of social change?
Boris bikes have changed the face of cycling in London. No special clothes or helmets are required; the bikes are reassuringly robust; even novices can have a try in the parks. With London's transport network struggling to take the strain, and with the urgent need to improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions, the Boris bike is a knight in shining armour. In bright blue hues it invites us: 'try me, you can cycle too'.

Cycling campaigners (and I am one) will tell you that to maximise the potential of cycling in London, we need more protected cycle lanes and road design which prioritises people on bikes or on foot ahead of cars and lorries. This is right. And where the Boris bike clinches the argument is that it shows ordinary Londoners, and our international visitors, do want to cycle in our beautiful city. Every extra Boris biker is one more reason for politicians to listen to those who want to cycle, or perhaps have taken their first step. Cycle hire is bringing us to a tipping point, where the major user of roads will no longer be the car, but the bicycle. It's an exciting prospect.

Recently I've read two excellent articles, one from the relatively new Two Wheels Good blog, which I recommend, and an older one the author has flagged up at Bike Biz. Both say similar things to what I'm trying to say here.

We have an interesting year ahead. Cycle hire is extending, and to keep working needs a quite aggressive intensification in the central area as well as new docks to the south and west. Boris has promsied the first Dutch-style projects for cyclists in London, and perhaps Dutch-style design will characterise the four new Superhighways opening in 2013. We need to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives, but there are reasons to be hopeful.

1 comment: