The Mayor of London led a celebrity cyclist through rain for what looked like another boring photocall. But as Boris Johnson and Chris Boardman pedalled back into traffic yesterday, they left behind a billion-pound vision for cycling hailed even by some of the mayor’s critics as a potential revolution in British transport.
The mayor, dressed in suit and tie, said he wanted to “de-Lycrafy cycling” and push conflict and fear off the roads, revealing a 10-year plan that represents an unprecedented challenge to the supremacy of the car.
The £913m vision includes extensive Dutch-style segregated cycle ways, including a 15-mile “Crossrail for the bicycle”, and the redrawing of dangerous junctions.
Parts of the elevated Westway road will be repaved for cyclists. “The ultimate symbol of how the urban motorway tore up our cities will become the ultimate symbol of how we are claiming central London for the bike,” Johnson said. “Cycling will be treated not as niche [but] what it is: an integral part of the transport network.”
Boardman, the Olympic gold medallist credited with kick-starting Britain’s bike boom, called the plans “the most ambitious cycling development and promotion plan in the UK in living memory, perhaps ever.”
Sir Peter Hendy, London’s transport commissioner, added: “This is about much more than routes for cyclists. It is about the huge health and economic benefits that cycling can bring.”
There was some restraint at City Hall. Caroline Pidgeon, chair of London Assembly Transport Committee, claimed the money, which is due to come from existing budgets, was “not a significant advancement on current funding levels.”
But the scale of the announcement surprised many campaigners who have criticised the progress of a mayor known for his fondness of cycling.
Johnson was jeered at a hustings last April after suggesting riders were typically dreadlocked, Lycra-clad racers who believed themselves to be “morally superior”.
The backlash was fiercer still after his re-election in May when he implied the majority of cyclists killed in accidents were to blame for their deaths, citing statistics he later admitted were false.
“I can only assume it stung him into action,” said Carlton Reid, a cycling historian and editor of the Bike Biz website. “This plan is a shopping list of all the things people like me have been calling for for years.
“The beautiful thing about it is that it’s not for cyclists, but for all people. Campaigning for cyclists is a hard sell when they remain a minority. But as soon as you start saying to motorists there’ll be less traffic and to pedestrians that there won’t be cyclists on the pavements, it gets easier.”
Reid said the vision was greater than plans drawn up in the late 1930s that would have steered Britain along the path taken by cycle-friendly cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The Second World War dashed those plans and Britain later hitched its transport policy firmly to the car.
The new plans were a potential national “tipping point,“ Reid said. “The obvious worry is that they will be put into action but the fact Johnson is putting up this money and talking about taking space away from cars is ground-breaking.
“With a billion pounds you could build 33 miles of motorway, or you could turn London into a world-class beacon cycling city for transport and public health. Which is better?”
The plans will include:
* 15-mile continuous 'Crossrail for bikes' spanning London with considerable segregation using Westway and Embankment.
* More Dutch-style fully-segregated lanes
* Greater “semi-segregation” on other streets
* A new network of “Quietways” – direct, continuous, fully-signposted routes on peaceful side streets.
* Big improvements to both existing and proposed Superhighways.
* A new “Central London Grid” of bike routes in the City and West End.
* Substantial improvements to the worst junctions, with measures such as segregation and cycle-only paths or phases.
* Trials of “Dutch-style” roundabouts and eye-level traffic lights for cyclists.
* “Mini-Hollands” in the suburbs, with between one and three outer boroughs chosen for very high spending concentrated in those relatively small areas for the greatest possible impact.