Cycling is back on the London political agenda, as Mayor Ken Livingstone – a man who refuses to get on a bike himself – unveiled a package of ambitious upgrades to the capital's bicycling infrastructure, including a commitment to a city-wide rental scheme similar to the Velib project launched last year in Paris.
Although the London project will be smaller – about 6,000 bikes, compared to 20,000 in Paris – it will deliver a big jump in the number of two-wheeled journeys in the capital. Better still, the scheme will be matched by another big investment in London's cycle network, building a dozen new "cycling corridors" for speedy access to the heart of town. For me, this development is the most exciting. One of my main frustrations is having to choose between slow cycle routes or dangerous main roads. A cycling corridor could wipe 10 minutes off my commute and make it much more enjoyable.
My only fear is that such a project may be impossible to deliver in an old city like London, where the streets are narrow and planning bureaucracy unwieldy.
To work properly, the corridors would need to be at least twice as wide as current cycle lanes and unhindered by traffic signals every few hundred metres. Given that most roads are too narrow to fit car, bus and adequate cycle lanes, it will be very hard to find the 12 new routes.
One solution would be to remove cars altogether from some central arteries, turning bus lanes into cycling corridors and car lanes into bus lanes – but that may cause chaos elsewhere in the city. So planners will need to think laterally – rather like the Toronto architect Chris Hardwicke, who has designed a network of overground cycling "tunnels" for the city. It may sound, and look, crazy (check out the image below, and more at www.velo-city.ca), but if Livingstone really wants to transform London, ambitious projects such as this would deliver results. The Mayor says he wants 5 per cent of all journeys in London to be made by bike by 2025, but with a truly radical overhaul of the infrastructure, these numbers could be much greater.
Still, good to see Ken upping the budget for cycling-related projects in London – even if he is doing it, in part, to score political points off his main rival, Boris Johnson, in the run-up to May's election. I'm disappointed that cycling hasn't played a bigger part in the campaign. As a keen cyclist, Boris was expected to make more of it. So far, he's only come up with a few loose promises to make cycling "easier and safer". For now, my vote stays with Ken.