Throughout the year thousands of people travel around England’s capital city every day by bicycle. However, many cyclists have taken advantage of the arrival of Spring and are inundating the streets, therein promoting a clean and healthy mode of transport.
Every day, more than 7 million residents of London traverse this great metropolis using a variety of modes of transportation, including the Underground, the train, the bus, even bicycles and boats, each of which has its own advantages and drawbacks. Every day, around 3 million people use the 13 Underground lines to access approximately 300 stations. These people often have to deal with delays or unexpected cancellations, although to a lesser extent than those using the train or the bus.
On the other hand, those using the bus occasionally have to endure traffic jams during rush hour. On top of that, we must also take into account the traditionally high cost of transport in London, which has further risen since the start of the year due to the increase in VAT (Value Added Tax). Currently, a 1 week travel card for zones 1-2 on the Underground costs £26.70 (£160 per month), whereas in 2010 it cost £25.80. A 7 days bus pass costs £17.80 (£68.40 per month).
For many citizens of London, this is seen as an extravagance which can be avoided by cycling, as is the case with Alvaro, who has lived in the capital city for 6 months. Alvaro cycles for fun as well as out of necessity, due to his job as a delivery man, and since arriving in the city he has begun to use his bicycle in order to save a few pounds a month. Thanks to this he has been able to travel and see the city in-depth. In fact, whenever he leaves his house he takes a Transport For London (TFL) map with him, which anyone can obtain for free, and which lists all the bicycle routes throughout London.
He says: “It’s a way to save money and despite the fact that there is a huge amount of traffic in the city, I like cycling and it’s not taken much to get used to doing so”. That even includes long distance journeys, and he points out that it takes 40 minutes to get to Brixton, in the south of London, from his house in Mile End, which is in the east, around the same amount of time it would take to get there by Underground.
After a year in England’s capital, Igor also started cycling, out of financial motivation. He too has had no problems in terms of adapting to cycling, although it is the first time he has used a bike daily in a city as densely populated as London. Both acknowledge the fact that drivers are very respectful of cyclists, however, Alvaro comments that “at times some taxi drivers don’t take into account the fact that cyclists are there”.
The dangers of cycling
Despite all the positive aspects, one dark spot still impinges upon this method of transport: traffic accidents. Although his experience was not as serious in comparison to others, Alvaro for example was recently involved in a small collision with another cyclist, which left his bicycle unusable. “We apologised to each other and when he left I realised one of my wheels was broken, although neither of us were injured”. Unfortunately, others have not been as lucky as Alvaro.
According to figures from TFL, the increase in the number of cyclists in London is directly proportional to the number of accidents. As such, although the number of cyclists who have died in traffic accidents has dropped from 13 to 10 cases between 2009 and 2010, these numbers combined with the number of serious injuries show an increase of 8% in cycling accidents.
In spite of that, and taking into account other road users, the total number of accidents has fallen.
According to TFL, this is due to the rise in the number of cyclists in the city, as between 2000 and 2010 the use of bicycles has increased by 150%, only 15% of which was in 2010. In fact, over the past year, cyclists have made up 14% of injuries caused by traffic accidents, 17% of deaths or serious injuries and 8% of all deaths.
In terms of zones, Westminster had the biggest number of cycling accidents in 2010 with 308 accidents, and in Camden, the number of these types of accidents increased by 40%, reaching a figure of 234. As such, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, one of the biggest supporters of bicycle use in the city, has led an intense campaign since he came to power in 2008, in order to encourage this type of clean transportation, and he recognises that there is still much to do, especially in terms of cyclists’ safety.
In spite of these figures, London, as well as other central European cities such as Amsterdam and more recently Barcelona, clearly represents a group of European cities who are willing to encourage clean transportation, adapting their roads to suit cyclists’ needs, as well as promoting mutual respect between cyclists and motorists.
(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach)