A whole street approach to improving health and activity in London

Cycling in London has seen remarkable growth, even since my last article for Sasakawa Sports Foundation in June 2015. During the morning rush hour in London’s zone 1 (the central area) 32% of all vehicles on the roads are now bicycles, and that includes me on my Brompton bike. 

In 2000 cars outnumbered cyclists by 11 to 1, by 2014 the ratio had dropped to 2 to 1, and unofficially in 2016, following the opening of some of the super-cycle-highways, 70% of vehicles on some roads are bicycles. Investment in cycling infrastructure, around one billion GB pounds, (131,471,890,500 Japanese Yen) is boosting the number of cyclists.

For tourists and locals alike this new world where cars, pedestrians and cyclists all have their own traffic lights, lanes and space will take a while to get used to. Unlike Japan, Londoners have been used to jaywalking but that is changing as everyone needs to be more alert and aware of others. All road users have a responsibility to each other now more than ever. This new bike culture shows what can be achieved by rethinking the process of getting around. Olympic legacy was one element in a perfect storm of events, politics and policies that changed behavioural patterns, adjusted attitudes and put common sense first. Londoner’s and tourists alike are discovering that cycling truly is one of the greatest feelings of freedom you can have in a modern city. 

Transport for London (TfL) not only has the budget to spend on the new cycling lanes but it also has a role in improving the health of Londoners. The importance of walking and cycling as part of everyday routine is being encouraged as these deliver huge economic and social benefits by keeping people active. The expected growth of cycling up to 2020 is estimated to deliver “£250 million in health economic benefits annually”. Increased walking and cycling offers many other advantages including cleaner air, less noise, more connected neighbourhoods, less stress and fewer road traffic accidents. A-whole-street approach to improving health and quality of life is being adopted by TfL. World-wide cities compete these days on ‘quality of life’ and the Monocle Quality of Life Survey of top 25 Cities has Tokyo first, Fukuoka seventh and Kyoto ninth, London is not listed so far. 

Since the launch of the public cycle hire scheme in July 2010, TfL confirmed over 52 million journeys have been made and the number of bikes have almost doubled since the 6,000 originally sponsored by Barclays Bank. The new sponsor, Santander Bank, is offering a free weekend this month and it is estimated that August 2016 will break the monthly record of 1.2 million hires. Bike events are adding to the interest in cycling and the Prudential Ride London 100 Mile event, a legacy from 2012, had 26,000 cyclists participating last month with an additional family ride around the London sites and a smaller 46 mile ride too. The media company Sky, who also sponsor Team Sky, with successes in major events like Tour de France, have expanded their city-wide rides in to cities outside London due to popular demand. Sky Ride will reach the magic figure of 1 million registered riders this year.

The London Plan, the statutory spatial development strategy for Greater London, has recognised that new residential and office developments must have higher levels of cycle parking to meet the growing demand. Released in March 2015, the Plan has doubled the cycle parking for new offices to one space for every 90 sq. m. of gross floor area. The new standards allow for between 8-15% of the workforce to travel to work by bike. New residential developments also have higher standards of two spaces for all two bedrooms or bigger homes. The London Plan is reflecting the rapidly changing patterns of work and travel. Flexible working is now an option for many, particularly those with young children, so a better balance between work and home life can be achieved. The digital economy and the rapid changes in technology are also driving changes in working patterns.

The philosophy of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ was developed by Dave Brailsford, the former performance director at British Cycling and now general manager of Team Sky. Brailsford believes by breaking down and identifying every aspect of the athlete’s performance and then making a 1% improvement in each area the performance can be significantly enhanced. The same philosophy can be flexible enough to be a tool for sustained improvement City-wide and ‘whole-street’ as shown by TfL and the London Plan. Other sports adopted the philosophy as the aim at Rio was to ensure Great Britain became the first home nation to deliver more medals at the following games. With 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze, a total of 67, putting Britain second in the medal table. It was the highest number of medals for Britain since 1908, so job done, till Tokyo 2020.

David Minton is the Director of The Leisure Database Company & Correspondent for SSF in London.

Original article can be found on the Sasakawa Sports Foundation website.