We might insure more females, children and a greater diversity of riders in the capital if the mayor and his cycling tsar forged ahead with their promise to transform cycling
Will Norman, who is London’s cycling tsar under mayor Sadiq Khan, has identified a problem with bike employ as it exists in the city. However, it’s one where the answer lies primarily with Norman and his boss.
In an interview with the Independent, Norman said he worried cycling in the capital was too much the preserve of white, middle-class humen. Many might agree. But what Norman omits is that this isn’t down to the cyclists – it’s a direct product of the streets they are forced to use.
The evidence from around the world shows that the more safe and reassuring the road infrastructure is for motorcycles, the greater the variety of cyclists. In the Netherlands, for example, a slightly higher proportion of women cycle than men. In Odense, which styles itself as Denmark’s most bike-friendly city, 81% of children ride to school, generally without their parents. These are places that have spent 40 years constructing streets more amenable to human beings.
In contrast, London remains a largely feral and hostile environment for cyclists, despite the arrival of a handful of so-called cycle superhighways. It is a road culture that emphasises velocity and assertiveness, and this tends to put over many but the most gung-ho, fanatic riders, who tend to be drawn from a smaller demographic pool.
The solution is clear- safer cycling streets. Regrettably, Norman and Khan aren’t precisely rushing ahead with this. Khan promised before his election in 2016 to transform cycling, but he and Norman have become mired in endless delays and consultation, seeking to assuage a minority of critics who will never be convinced.
It is, as one exasperated campaigner notes, as if Joseph Bazalgette had been stopped from building his sewers for a two-year consultation on whether separating drinking water from sewage was a good idea.
Norman is enthusiastic and keen, and no one can expect he and Khan to transform London overnight. But equally, it needs to be pointed out that their own lack of boldness is exacerbating the very male problem Norman complains about.
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