Saturday, 6 November 2010

Bicycling news

The latest issue of the Campaign for Better Transport's London Group Newsletter (PDF) includes a review of the new London bike hire scheme. We are supposed to call it the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, but I don't see why we should give an evil grasping bank any credit for contributing less than one-fifth of the cost. Most people seem to be calling them Boris bikes, but I won't do that either, because B. Johnson has merely brought to fruition a scheme that was already being developed when Ken Livingstone was Mayor.

The reviewer welcomes the principle of the scheme, but is a bit sniffy about the bikes themselves, which he finds heavy and slow. As it happens, I got round to joining the scheme myself a couple of weeks ago, and have now used it a handful of times. I find the bikes just fine, and easier to use than I expected; not terribly fast, sure, but they are not meant for racing, after all.

I do already have a bicycle, but the great beauty of this scheme is that you can take a bike from one docking station and leave it at another, so that you don't have to bother about finding something suitable to which to lock your bike and then still worrying that it might be stolen none the less. The density of the docking stations is quite remarkable: on average they are said to be only about 100 metres apart. The only big problem is that so far they are only to be found in roughly Tube zone 1, so it's entirely an Inner London thing for the moment.

The scheme seems to be a huge instant success. I see loads of people using the bikes, and it's not that unusual to find a docking station with no bikes available at all, so clearly more need to be provided already.

TfL's other great cycling innovation of this year has had more mixed reviews: it is the first two Cycle Superhighways. These are commuting routes into central London from, so far, the east (Barking) and the south (Wimbledon). From what I have seen of the southern route, there are rather few stretches where the cycle path is separate from the road. Mostly the "superhighway" amounts to putting a lot of bright blue paint on existing streets. Amsterdam or Copenhagen this is not. But, as the CBT newsletter points out, it should at least help raise awareness of cyclists on the part of motorists, and it certainly makes the route more visible to the cyclist himself.

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