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As London's "Year of Cycling" ends Boris Johnson to aim his hire bikes at the suburbs?

Proposals being studied, says Mayor - but is London's just too big?...

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said that he is considering extending the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, introduced last July to central London and due to expand eastwards to Stratford next year, to boroughs in Outer London.

Both Boris Johnson and the critics of his approach to bringing about a "Cycling Revolution" in the capital agree that it is in London's outer borough where any growth in cycling needs to be nurtured. So it will be seen as doubly ironic by some that the Mayor is considering pointing his hire bikes at the suburbs to help achieve this growth in cycling as it was money cut from London Orbital cycle network project - a connected network of suburban cycle routes which that mayor used to help pay for his flagship hire bike scheme in central London.

Mr Johnson was speaking last Wednesday at London’s City Hall in response to a question from Green London Assembly Member Jenny Jones, who had accused him of “starving Outer London boroughs of cycling support, an accusation the Mayor described as “complete and utter tripe.”

Ms Jones highlighted a 2007 Transport for London TfL report which found that promoting cycling in Outer London was a way of increasing levels of cycling in the city generally, and suggested that it might cost £60 million to complete cycle schemes currently planned for those areas.

According to The Guardian, Mr Johnson flagged up Skyrides and Cycle-to-Work schemes as examples of initiatives that were helping to get more Londoners cycling, but Ms Jones challenged him to think on a larger scale, which is when he made his comments about potential expansion of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme.

“A cycle hire scheme in Outer London would be a wonderful thing to do,” he said, although he claimed there would be barriers to doing so. “The difficulty is you can't just have a new, self-contained cycle hire scheme a long way away from the current one without necessitating quite a big set of journeys by the Barclays guys moving the bikes around.

“It is logistically difficult, for instance, to set one up immediately in Croydon or anywhere else much as I would like to. But we are looking at it,” he added.

As has been previously pointed out, the larger (in terms of number of bikes and docking stations) Vélib’ scheme in Paris was expanded into that city’s suburbs during 2009, so there is no reason the same should not happen in London at some point.

However, it should be borne in mind that London and Paris are two cities on very different scales – the area now covered by Vélib’ would pretty much fit within the area encompassed by the North and South Circular Roads.

Put another way, Stratford, the easternmost point of the planed expansion, which is 10.9km from Trafalgar Square would in distance terms from the centre of the city be on the very periphery of Vélib’s current boundary, although it certainly can’t be considered Outer London.

That means that even if the London scheme were expanded to cover the same footprint as its Parisian counterpart, much of Outer London would still miss out, and the greater population and geographical area involved means that the cost of achieving a similar scale of coverage throughout London may prove a deterrent.

Ms Jones comments followed her quizzing Mr Johnson about how he planned to reach his goal of achieving a 5% share of all journeys in London by 2026, up from the present 2%.

She pointed out that while TfL projections said that an additional 180,000 journeys a day should come from the Cycle Hire Scheme and the Barclays Cycle Superhighways, that left a shortfall of 820,000 journeys to reach that target.

Referring to the two flagship schemes, Mr Johnson said: “By putting in these measures, these very visible encouragements, we are getting people who aren't interested in cycling or have been a little bit timid, to try it out.

“What we want is to create, in as much of London as possible, a village atmosphere - a village atmosphere where people feel they are going to be safe on these big, clunking blue [Barclays cyle hire] bikes or on their own bikes, to cycle through the city.”

As for how much progress is being made towards those goals, a TfL report published last month entitled Cycling Revolution London – End of Year Review 2010 provides an overview of cycling initiatives throughout the capital taking place on a number of fronts.

Published towards the end of London’s Year of Cycling – we’re now into the Year of Walking, and presumably 2012 will be the Year of Sitting Down to Watch the Olympics – the report not only looks at the Superhighways and Cycle Hire Scheme, but also at initiatives designed to improve cyclists’ safety or promote cycling in the school or workplace, as well as the Biking Boroughs programme.

The latter is designed to encourage cycling in Outer London boroughs, 13 of which have signed up to it, having each drawn up strategies with TfL for improving conditions for cyclists. Whether that will ever include local residents having access to the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme remains, for now, unclear – certainly, it’s likely to be a good while before the likes of Hillingdon or Havering are included in any expansion.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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