With cities around the world working to make life easier for cyclists, London has been no slouch. The UK capital has seen an 83 per cent increase in cycling since 2000, but there’s still plenty to do.
In an exclusive interview the Mayor’s green transport adviser, Jenny Jones, told Bikeradar.com why she thinks Tory mayoral hopeful Boris Johnson is giving cyclists a bad name and how tens of thousands of bikes are about to take over the streets of the capital – if only for one day.
BikeRadar: Are you a keen cyclist?
Jenny Jones: I don’t wear Lycra or go on long cycling holidays, but you could say I’m a committed regular cyclist. I do take my bike on a lot of trips but I think the phrase keen cyclist is a bit more than I am.
At the moment there are two pro-cycling candidates running for London mayor – Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Why is cycling on the up?
The Green group has negotiated relatively big sums of money to spend on cycling. I think cycling didn’t go up Transport for London’s agenda until more and more money was being spent on it. This year we will spend £36 million, which for cycling is a lot of money. I still think it’s nowhere near enough and it’s got to keep increasing because the more people we have out there [cycling], the more they will need public funding for cycling. We’re trying to make up for decades of under-investment from the 1960s, so it’s pretty tough to do it all in one go. But I think we have achieved it.
Secondly in London it has become harder to use your car, with the congestion charge and even public transport sometimes is crowded. People have just started thinking, “Cycling is the quickest and easiest way to get somewhere, and I don’t have to join the gym.”
Do you think it’s partly because the green message is being taken more seriously?
It is being taken seriously, but I don’t think that’s really enough to get people out of their cars and buses and onto their bikes. They’ve got to have more encouragement. By and large it’s for practical reasons, or a little bit for health or ease of travel.
“If we are going to get more women cycling we absolutely have to make them feel safer.”
Recently we had the Tour de France Grand Depart in London and the sitting mayor Ken Livingstone is in talks to bring the Tour back next year. Has it really helped get people cycling?
I’ve got no doubt that it’s had an immediate impact. You sit at Advance Stop Lines (ASLs) now and you are surrounded by groups of people in Lycra, people riding racing bikes, stuff like that, along with ordinary commuters. It just raises the profile. It makes it slightly more glamorous.
Cycling has suffered from a bit of a fuddy duddy image for quite some time, and I think we’re getting away from that, particularly with all the work that the London Cycling Campaign do. They’re a bunch of mainly professional people who are dedicated cyclists and are changing the image of cycling generally.
You’ve been outspoken in supporting fines for London drivers who “stray” into cycle lanes. Why is this proposal so important?
First of all, there is very little protection today on roads for cyclists. We have to protect them as much as we can. There’s a second issue that the perception of road danger is higher among women. If we are going to get more women cycling we absolutely have to make them feel safer, and the policing of ASLs and bike lanes is just one way of doing it.
During the London Triathlon this summer, the Docklands Light Railway, which joined up with the event, allowed competitors to take bikes on trains. What do you feel about train companies’ claims that bikes should not normally be allowed for safety reasons?
I don’t agree that there is a safety issue. Train companies have to realise that taking bikes on trains is a normal part of cycling. It shouldn’t be limited to two bikes per train as some companies do. I use trains a lot and I always take my bike.
No [rail] franchise should be let without the stipulation that bikes have to be carried. It’s just garbage – they just can’t be bothered, and I find that unacceptable. If you look in other countries you can even take bikes on trams and nobody makes a fuss about it. We’ve got a bit of growing up to do, as far as the recognition of the value of cycling is concerned.
Every time I see a cyclist I think, “Good, that’s one less car, that’s one less bum on a seat or space on the Tube.” Cyclists and walkers do the rest of society a good turn and we don’t recognise that.
London is working nationally and internationally with other cities sharing ideas about the future of cycling. How have you been involved?
I’ve been to some conferences and talked to people and brought ideas back but I don’t know of any formal work. Could I go back to this idea of the candidates for mayor cycling?
Of course … we’ve heard Ken Livingstone is pro-cycling but he doesn’t cycle himself.
He is pro-cycling. He says he had a bad crash when he was young and he didn’t go on a bike again. But with Boris Johnson, he does cycle, which is absolutely great and he doesn’t have a car coming after him with his shirt and shoes in it. But I’ve seen him myself actually using a mobile on his bike and I’ve read that he cycles through red lights, all of which I find unacceptable.
It sounds as if he is the sort of cyclist that I get so annoyed about because they make life more difficult for the rest of us. If you do things like cycle through red lights you anger drivers, which means that the rest of us have to cope with it. You have to show other people consideration and obey the laws of the road.
I should also mention our green party mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, who regularly cycles five miles across London from Camden to work.
Drivers don’t seem to suffer the same attitude – a bad driver is a bad driver. How have a minority of red light jumpers come to represent all cyclists?
I haven’t really got an answer to it but I’d imagine it’s because not enough of drivers cycle. And the more drivers who end up cycling at other times, the more patient they will be with cyclists. Cycling was just unfashionable for so long and as it becomes more and more the norm then I think that attitude might lessen.
The Velib bike rental service in Paris has been a huge success and Ken Livingstone has announced he’s considering one for London. Could it be the solution to the capital’s traffic problems?
It’s an excellent idea if people like it. Similar things have been tried in London and haven’t really taken off. I’m delighted the mayor is considering it – I’ve been pushing for this for over a year, and will include it in our budget demands next time. It will make cycling part of the public transport system and encourage more and more people to see cycling as a normal thing to do.
In Paris, Barcelona and Lyon the city authorities have teamed up with advertising companies to fund the schemes. Are you okay with that?
I wouldn’t have a problem with that, depending on who the advertisers were. For example, we’ve got this London Freewheel coming up in September and the mayor’s office has been very good at running stuff past me, asking could I live with this sponsor, could I live with that sponsor. But really, any money you can get with this project from outside public money is a really good idea.
“We hope to get 30,000 – while secretly thinking it would be good to get 50,000 [for the Hovis Freewheel].”
Tell us more about the Freewheel.
It’s the first annual ride for London of a kind that’s taken place in all sorts of other cities for decades. I think that it’s been going for 30 years in places like Berlin. On September 23 people will be able to cycle from wherever they live into various centres – so Brixton might be one, Hackney might be another, where they can congregate and then they can come into the city centre. Cyclists will have the roads to themselves apart from pedestrians. It’ll be utterly safe and you’ll go past all these monuments, all these famous landmarks in complete safety.
It’s the same feeling on Critical Mass. There are so many of you that you feel very safe. It’s going to be a fantastic day. There’s thousands signed up. We’re expecting a very big turnout. We hope to get 30,000 – while secretly thinking it would be good to get 50,000. At the moment it looks as though we’ll get those sorts of numbers.
Critical Mass in London lost a court ruling this year which means they now have to inform police of their routes. Do you see this as a loss for cyclists?
I’m just about to meet the two officers who are going to be policing the events subsequent to that ruling. So far it’s been policed completely normally, but what they’re talking about is having a rethink about how they police it and I hope to be involved in that. It would be a very sad day for London if they were to ban it. It obviously takes place in a lot of different countries. London should be proud of things like this – not try to limit them in this way.
What else are you working on that Bikeradar.com users should know about?
Well, I really do just want a constant increase in the money for cycling. If we’re going to make up for this deficit of decades then we have to be quite robust in pushing forward with cycling measures. So that’s my main aim.