Cyclists make up a quarter of London traffic, official census finds

"No longer good enough" to marginalise cyclists, say activists

by John Stevenson   June 24, 2013  

London cycling Image by Flickr user Motorblog

London cyclists have long suspected that there were far more riders on the streets of the capital than the authorities gave credit for, and new figures from Transport for London finally confirm it, with cyclists a staggering 64 percent of peak hour traffic on one road.

The Evening Standard reports that a new census of cycling in London has found that one in four road users in the morning rush hour is a cyclist, and that the proportion is even higher on some popular routes.

Theobalds Road, Holborn takes the gong as London’s most bike-trafficked street, with bikes making up 64 percent of vehicles in the morning peak. Other streets full of bike commuters include Kennington Park Road between Kennington and Oval, with 57 percent bikes and Old Street, Shoreditch  at 49 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of cyclists crossing the city’s bridges, as there’s no alternative (short of a substantial detour to breathe fumes in the Rotherhithe Tunnel). Blackfriars, Waterloo and London bridges are the fourth, fifth and sixth busiest streets for cyclists. Riders make up 42 per cent of traffic on these bridges and 15 per cent of people, but take up just 12 per cent of road space.

Bike trips doubled

Previous Transport for London showed that cyclists make 570,000 trips in London every day, almost double the 2001 figure of 290,000. Across the day, bikes make up 16 percent of all road traffic in London.

In the latest census, bicycles were the majority of vehicles on the road at 29 of 164 monitoring stations

For the Mayor’s office, these figures are strong ammunition to protect Boris Johnson’s proposed £913 million-worth of cycling schemes against possible cuts in Transport for London’s budget.

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In a comment piece on the Evening Standard website, Andrew Gilligan, Boris Johnson's cycling commissioner, said: “Until recently, cycling in London was seen as faintly marginal. These amazing figures show those days are over.

“In the morning rush hour, no fewer than 38,000 people enter the centre by bike. The bicycle is a mass mode of transport — and an indispensable one.

“But bike provision in London still largely reflects the old idea of cyclists as a tiny, irrelevant minority. Cyclists are wedged into narrow, sometimes dangerous painted strips or onto shared-space schemes on pavements. The old view was that you could only do things for bikes that didn’t affect motor vehicles in any way.

Pointing out that these figures explain the Mayor’s plans and the commitment by Transport for London funding and delivering the cycling infrastructure programme as “one of TfL’s highest priorities”, Gilligan writes: “Our plans won’t mean colossal reductions in space for motor traffic. Bikes are efficient users of road space. But it will mean some reductions, simply to cater for what’s already happening on our roads.”

He finishes with a rallying cry: “Join us: you have nothing to lose but your trains. And you’ll always get a seat.”

No longer good enough

Danny Williams, author of the Cyclists in the City blog, and a member of the Mayor's Roads Task Force, says the figures indicate that it’s “no longer good enough” that cyclists get far less than 24 percent of planners’ attention.

Williams said: “What is frustrating is that Transport for London only counts a bicycle as equivalent to 20 per cent of a motor car when it designs roads and junctions, so it’s still failing to make these very busy bike routes work properly for people on bikes, even when they’re the dominant form of transport.”

On his blog, Williams writes: “One key issue that the Evening Standard didn't address is that the cycling boom in central London - despite the fact that the headline numbers are hugely impressive - is still very much confined to office worker-only rush hour times. And that cyclists in London are still disproportionately young and male and fit.

“If we want London's roads to work more efficiently, we're going to need to create conditions for everyone to get on a bike, not just those of us brave and fast enough to fling ourselves down fast roads that are optimised for motor vehicles.

“It's time to create conditions that optimise cost-effective, more efficient use of road space in London. That means creating space on our roads for the whole range of Londoners to get on a bike.”

9 user comments

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This is interesting, not for the 64% headline, but the comparison with 'traffic'. You'd read this and think that London was some mini-Holland. The problem is it's a comparison with ***Traffic*** - i.e. cars. As we know cars make up a very small % of how people get around London

If you look at how many people use bikes to get to work, it's a measley ~4% - http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-hackney-more-people-who...
- so yes, put far more funding into bikes and not cars. But to see handing bikes 64% of the current overall 'traffic' budget (we wish) would be misguided. To realise the health benefits of cycling and reduce pressure on public transport, the target should be 50% of *all* journeys by bike - including those 6.5M per day or whatever by public transport.

I was told there would be Cake. Luckily there's http://TestValleyCC.org.uk

KiwiMike's picture

posted by KiwiMike [763 posts]
24th June 2013 - 16:18

5 Likes

Part of the problem may be inm the way many commuter journeys are recorded by the 'core' mode of transport, so that a commuter arriving by rail at Waterloo, and cycling to The City is recorded as a rail traveller in the National Travel Survey, but is a cycle user for the part of the journey made between train and office.

I've monitored cycle-rail use pretty closely for over a decade, and urge others to do spot surveys on the trains e, and at the stations they use. With CTC staff, and others passing through Waterloo we estimate that well over 1000 bikes per hour flow out during the morning peak, of which 50-60% are folding bikes, and others are parked overnight or from the 300 or so Barclays Bikes going out every morning.

On the trains the low figures quoted by various passenger surveys are seriously skewed by the fact that huge numbers are travelling on commuter trains at peak timers when bikes are often banned, but outside those times I'm consistently getting counts of around 10% of the passengers on a train with bikes - even some peak time services (eg Bristol-Cheltenham, Sheffield-Leeds, several trains to Cambridge) have bike carrying % up in the 10% range, as do reverse flow services from London, and when you observe passengers on the train (as I do occasionally on the Haddenham-Marylebone service) you can see around 10% with the indications that they will have cycled at some point on their journey to work (clues like panniers, pumps, helmets, cycling jackets etc) - no great surprise at Marylebone as 5% of commuters make their onward journey by bike from this station, and they have recently more than doubled their cycle parking capacity.

Blackfriars Bridge gets a substantial cycle traffic from those replicating the Waterloo & City Tube line, many of whom 'converted' in 2007 when the line shut for 6 months and cycle use at Waterloo 'exploded' jamming all the available racks solid with bikes overnight. From just 30 spaces at the key parking location in 2002 we now have over 300 - a 1000% increase in capacity, and still growing. St Pancras has seen a similar effect with a 2000+% increase in parking provision between 2004 and the current position. Marylebone shines here as the station has had registration for bikes parked by regular users for nearly 2 decades, and is moving forwards with an enhanced system of managing the use of their cycle parking.

Thankfully (at last) most train operators and Network Rail are beginning to realise that the cycling connection at each end of a journey is a requirement of a significant number of passengers, who want clear and consistent information and delivery of a well thought through 'product' that enables them to use a bike at one or both ends of a rail journey, and that may well be through more than one solution.

We also have the need for parking bikes and the exemplar of Glasgow, where since 1995 the Council has been installing and monitoring 200-300 on-street cycle parking spaces per year, and measuring over 30% year on year growth at some locations. In one instance a single bike parked in 1995 has now grown to a 48 space covered parking facility - often filled during the day. Across the city the daytime use of cycle racks shows a massive but insidious use of bikes, and many are simple 1 or 3-speed machines, very obviously for basic everyday use.

Do send me any counts that you may have done on train or at station, maybe you can beat the record of Pollards Hill Cyclists who managed to provide 70% of the passengers on a train one Sunday, when they set off out from London for a rail-assisted bike ride.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [537 posts]
24th June 2013 - 21:50

7 Likes

You've rather fallen for this. The count is of vehicles, ie wheeled objects, not people. Theobalds Road is the busiest cycling road in London - it's the highway to the hipster heartlands of Hackney and Islington - but cyclists are certainly not a staggering 64% of peak hour road users. It's also on four bus routes, with about fifty buses an hour during the peak. That probably means cyclists constitute 15-20% of road users, which is still great news.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [32 posts]
25th June 2013 - 9:55

7 Likes

KiwiMike wrote:
This is interesting, not for the 64% headline, but the comparison with 'traffic'. You'd read this and think that London was some mini-Holland. The problem is it's a comparison with ***Traffic*** - i.e. cars. As we know cars make up a very small % of how people get around London

If you look at how many people use bikes to get to work, it's a measley ~4% - http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-hackney-more-people-who...
- so yes, put far more funding into bikes and not cars. But to see handing bikes 64% of the current overall 'traffic' budget (we wish) would be misguided. To realise the health benefits of cycling and reduce pressure on public transport, the target should be 50% of *all* journeys by bike - including those 6.5M per day or whatever by public transport.

I'm not sure i get your point, and that of Sven. If cyclists are 64% of vehicles on the road at rush hour they are a significant part of the traffic (more than the majority). You can argue about the numbers of people that use the public transport, including buses, to get about, but if 64% of road vehicles are bicycles then that is a fact.

It is great that the numbers are so high. In large part this is no doubt because the congestion charge dissuades people from driving through the city. Cars are much more prevalent outside the congestion zone. But it is this grassroots development which can help change the make-up of our roads and hopefully this is a welcome first step.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1435 posts]
25th June 2013 - 10:22

6 Likes

Sven Ellis wrote:
You've rather fallen for this. The count is of vehicles, ie wheeled objects, not people. Theobalds Road is the busiest cycling road in London - it's the highway to the hipster heartlands of Hackney and Islington - but cyclists are certainly not a staggering 64% of peak hour road users. It's also on four bus routes, with about fifty buses an hour during the peak. That probably means cyclists constitute 15-20% of road users, which is still great news.

"with bikes making up 64 percent of vehicles in the morning peak"

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7711 posts]
25th June 2013 - 10:23

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"a new census of cycling in London has found that one in four road users in the morning rush hour is a cyclist, and that the proportion is even higher on some popular routes."

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [32 posts]
25th June 2013 - 10:40

17 Likes

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
KiwiMike wrote:
This is interesting, not for the 64% headline, but the comparison with 'traffic'. You'd read this and think that London was some mini-Holland. The problem is it's a comparison with ***Traffic*** - i.e. cars. As we know cars make up a very small % of how people get around London

If you look at how many people use bikes to get to work, it's a measley ~4% - http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-hackney-more-people-who...
- so yes, put far more funding into bikes and not cars. But to see handing bikes 64% of the current overall 'traffic' budget (we wish) would be misguided. To realise the health benefits of cycling and reduce pressure on public transport, the target should be 50% of *all* journeys by bike - including those 6.5M per day or whatever by public transport.

I'm not sure i get your point, and that of Sven. If cyclists are 64% of vehicles on the road at rush hour they are a significant part of the traffic (more than the majority). You can argue about the numbers of people that use the public transport, including buses, to get about, but if 64% of road vehicles are bicycles then that is a fact.

It is great that the numbers are so high. In large part this is no doubt because the congestion charge dissuades people from driving through the city. Cars are much more prevalent outside the congestion zone. But it is this grassroots development which can help change the make-up of our roads and hopefully this is a welcome first step.

If I were a driver, the point might be: If 64% of people are already cycling, why do they need more money spending?
If I were a bus passenger, the point might be:There's more of us than there are of them. Why are they clogging up these bus lanes and slowing my journey? Perhaps I'll start writing a campaigning blog.
As a reader, the point might be: PR fluffery, critical judgement, bear.

To suggest that a majority of anybody is doing anything to do with cycling is to imply the problem's fixed. As Danny Williams and others have pointed out, cycling in London has been very successful with one demographic group.It hasn't yet had the sort of mass breakout that these headline figures might lead you to believe.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [32 posts]
25th June 2013 - 10:58

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"bike provision in London still largely reflects the old idea of cyclists as a tiny, irrelevant minority." It's a good thing that someone (other than an activist) is challenging this.

It would seem we are on the cusp of a new era in London's history. There is now leadership as well as funding in place to make a real and measurable shift in the way Londoners use the roads. The next few years should be brilliant.

posted by London Green Cycles [2 posts]
25th June 2013 - 15:05

8 Likes

Go Boris Go!! Anyone.....?

Thinking

cheers m'dears

2011 Rose Pro-SL 3000 Road
2006 Lemond Alpe d'Huez Broken
1997 Marin Sausaulito Urban bimbling/shopper
1980 Orbea project

daviddb's picture

posted by daviddb [127 posts]
26th June 2013 - 15:04

6 Likes