Will Boris Johnson’s cycling vision defuse cyclist-driver tension?

Mayor: "There’s got to be understanding on both sides"

Segregation, segregation, segregation it wasn't quite, but separating cyclists from cars was the silver thread running through London mayor Boris Johnson’s vision for cycling in the capital.

As well as the 15 mile Crossrail for bikes announced today, which will reduce a busy six lane road to five, with cyclists claiming one as their own, the mayor’s vision went big on channelling cyclists quite literally out of the road of vehicles and into their own space. The 12 largely segregated so-called "cycling superhighways" will be completed by 2016. Some will be slightly re-routed, and all will be renamed with either tube line and bus route label to align them with the mental maps of most Londoners.

The reallocation of a car lane for bikes reflects a general trend in Londoners’ transport choices.  “There’s been a massive fall in the number of motor vehicles and massive rise in the number of bikes,” said Andrew Gilligan, cycling commissioner for London. “At the same time bike traffic across London Bridge has increased by more than 200 per cent.”

But Johnson told Bikeradar he didn't want people to “run away with the idea that I’m segregating cyclists into reservations and into particular parts of the road. I want cyclists to feel safe everywhere.”

And despite the changes and the new off-road lanes, both tribes – cyclists and drivers – will have to continue rubbing along together the majority of the time.

Johnson said driver education was a fundamental part of the vision. Heavy goods vehicles, which, despite only making up four per cent of the city’s vehicle fleet are responsible for 53 per cent of fatalities are going to be a particular target. “I think bus drivers have really changed in their appreciation of cyclists on the road but others are less good. I think HGV drivers still find it challenging and they really need help.”

Among other plans, the vision lays out aims to restrict HGV movements during rush hour, put more HGV drivers through cyclist awareness schemes and increase the number of vehicles carrying cyclist detection equipment. And when an accident does happen there are now eight Met Police officers to investigate collisions too.

Cycling may be on the ascendency and have staked out some new territory, but Johnson had a sharp word for headstrong cyclists.  

“They’ve got to stop losing their rag when someone does something trivial, they’ve got to be less threatening and bullying sometimes. I really mean that,” he said.

“I think symmetrically, drivers shouldn’t cruise up behind cyclists and hoot very aggressively just because the cyclist is occupying the carriageway. We cyclists have a perfect right to be there; it’s our road just as much as theirs. There’s got to be understanding on both sides,” said Johnson.

The mayor’s support for cycling, which he says is shared by Prime Minister David Cameron, means cycling has surely taken a great stride towards ridding itself of the minority interest tag that has bedevilled it in the past. Only time will tell whether cyclists’ newfound mainstream status will salve their often red-raw relationship with vehicle drivers through a greater sense of security and belonging, or harden drivers’ attitudes because they feel the bike is being prioritised at their expense. 

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