Letter From London: What a Mayoral Commitment to Cycling Looks Like

Image: ##http://www.london.gov.uk/publication/mayors-vision-cycling##Mayor of London##

A few weeks after SF Mayor Ed Lee displayed a total lack of commitment to the city’s Bike Strategy, London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced an aggressive $1.3 billion plan for a comprehensive bike network, including protected bike lanes.

Streetsblog NYC‘s Stephen Miller reports:

“Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network,” Johnson said. ”I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life.”

The plan includes big changes, including new types of bike lanes for the capital:

  • The flagship initiative, a 15-mile separated crosstown route connecting western and eastern suburbs via central London and business districts including the West End and Canary Wharf.
  • A network of “quietways,” akin to bike boulevards, that will connect suburban and central London neighborhoods.
  • Adding physical separation to the existing “cycle superhighways,” which sometimes offer little more than a stripe of paint on some of London’s busiest roads.

The plan also has a broad policy framework to transform biking in London:

  • A promise to invest £913 million — that’s more than $1.3 billion — in cycling over the next decade.
  • A competitive funding program, inviting London’s 32 boroughs to apply for funds to transform their streets.
  • Appointment of a new Cycling Commissioner to oversee the program within Transport for London, the city’s transportation agency.

Johnson has always identified as a cyclist, but until very recently he has mostly disappointed bicycling advocates, especially with his “cycle superhighway” implementation. Over the past few years, a robust advocacy effort has led the mayor to change direction, starting with minor changes to existing projects and culminating in this week’s big announcement.

The local press has also played a major role. In the run-up to last year’s election, The Times of London launched a campaign for street safety after one of its reporters was seriously injured in a crash, and mayoral candidates vied to be the most bike-friendly.

Meanwhile in SF, the mayor has failed to deliver on his bike-friendly rhetoric, even when city transportation planners have laid the foundation for a visionary citywide bike plan. As we reported last month, Mayor Lee made it clear that he has no intention to help fund the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, denying that bicycle funding even needs to be increased at all.

At the same time, it’s striking how much work London estimates it can get done with $1.3 billion. With SF’s population being a tenth of its fog-shrouded brethren city’s, the equivalent amount of funding here would be far less than $200 million, which is the SFMTA’s estimate for its mid-level plan that would increase the city’s bike mode share to 8 to 10 percent.

Could SF can get more bang for its bike infrastructure buck than the SFMTA lets on?

  • I lived in London for nine years until last August and cycled around 4,000 miles a year there. I suspect people are getting a bit carried away about this.

    First of all, Boris Johnson is a decidedly curious character. I report a bike ride with him here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/05/thoughts-on-electoral-cycle.html 

    Secondly, Boris Johnson has had to devise this scheme partly to repair the damage he’s done with his terrible, dangerous Cycle Superhighways, which are painted strips down main roads and have killed quite a lot of people. I describe one experience of riding on one here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/09/farewell-to-london-where-cyclings.html

    I’m seeing reports that the centerpiece of this scheme – two shortish bits of segregated cycleway that will link up some existing infrastructure to create the big east-west route – will cost around $22m. It may be that over $1bn will end up getting spent somehow on the roads where people cycle on the various routes. But the sums of money that are recognizably going on cycling will be in the tens of millions of dollars, I think.

    We cyclists are always prone to thinking that somewhere else cyclists are getting a great deal and it’s our stupid politicians’ fault we’re not. There are some places where cyclists are getting a great deal – like Copenhagen. But they’re fairly isolated. There’s a very substantial amount of flam in this plan, I fear.

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