Too few women and people from ethnic minority groups cycle in London and more must be done to promote diversity among a largely white, male and middle class biking community, the city’s walking and cycling commissioner has said.
Grand schemes, such as the Cycle Superhighway network of partially-segregated routes linking the suburbs with the centre, are too often perceived as simply a way of getting “middle-aged men cycling faster around the city”, Will Norman acknowledged.
He said he was considering setting diversity targets for London’s cycling population to ensure progress was achieved.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups account for about 15 per cent of the city’s cycle trips – around two-thirds less than Transport for London estimates it could be.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Norman, whose job it is to deliver on Sadiq Khan’s pledge to make walking and cycling safer and easier in the capital, said: “There is a problem with cycling and the way it is perceived of getting middle-aged men cycling faster around the city, which is not the objective at all.
“It touches on something which is a real challenge for London cycling, which is diversity.”
Mr Norman, the capital’s first cycling commissioner, said he wanted to tackle the “gender divide” among cyclists that had spawned the term middle-aged men in lycra – or Mamils.
He added: “Even when we have seen the growth in the number of cyclists, we haven’t seen that diversity.
“There are a number of reasons for that. One is that safety is paramount for getting different people from different walks of life cycling: older people, younger people, those from different backgrounds.”
The mayor’s office has unveiled a number of projects it says will begin to address a lack of diversity, including cycle training courses, grants for community groups who do not typically cycle and promoting electric bikes, as well as expanded cycle routes. On Quietway 1, a new route linking Waterloo with Greenwich, the proportion of women has risen from 29 per cent to 35 per cent.
Duncan Dollimore, road safety and legal campaigns officer at Cycling UK, backed the moves, saying authorities should be “focusing on the barriers that deter people from cycling rather than existing cyclists”.
Mr Norman also responded to mounting criticism of Mr Khan’s record on delivering cycling projects after nearly two years in City Hall, saying his boss had achieved more for London’s cyclists than Boris Johnson had in his first six years in the job.
He said it was “nonsense” to suggest the Labour mayor was failing in his promise to make London a “byword for cycling” and said the city was on track to double the number of cyclists on the streets by 2026.
However, he admitted more needed to be done.
“Is it ambitious enough in the longer term? I think we need a higher level of change,” he said.
“The target that we have set out in the mayor’s transport strategy is over that 25 years we want to shift to 80 per cent of journeys to be walking, cycling or by public transport.
“That is a much more ambitious target and really is fundamentally rethinking the way that we move around our city.”
Mr Khan has promised an average of £169m annually for cycling schemes over the next five years, tripling the length of the Cycle Superhighway network, and recently announced six new cycle routes.
That compares with an average yearly spend of £91m promised during the previous Tory mayoralty.
Critics, including the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, have warned that Mr Khan is “not acting quickly enough to build new cycling infrastructure, particularly new segregated cycling routes, even where there is public support for them”.
Concern about a lack of progress comes after the latest death of a cyclist who was hit by a lorry on a busy roundabout in Greenwich, southeast London.
That prompted the London Cycling Campaign to call on Mr Norman and Mr Khan to “hurry up” fixing the most dangerous locations in London for cycling.
Simon Munk, the group’s infrastructure campaigner, said only a network of safe, comfortable cycle routes would see cycling’s appeal broaden.
“The mayor just needs to crack on with making sure that network is there and is high-quality,” he said. “Each new main road cycle track and safe-feeling quiet route brings loads more people to cycling as one of the most convenient, healthy and safe ways to get around.”
Asked to address criticism the mayor had struggled to tackle stubbornly-high car use in the capital by shifting people onto two wheels, Mr Norman said: “I think that is utter nonsense, there is an awful lot being delivered.
“We have done more in the first year-and-a-half of this administration than Boris did in his first six years. It seems odd that that is the way people are looking at it because it is not actually true when you look at the figures.”
The number of cyclists in London continues to rise – reaching three times 2000 levels – but at 2 per cent of all journeys, the city falls well short of others on the continent, including Berlin (13 per cent) and Paris (3 per cent).
Concern has also been raised about controversial plans for a new road tunnel given the green light by the mayor earlier this month.
The £1bn Silvertown Tunnel, which will be closed to cyclists and pedestrians, will worsen congestion and have a dire effect on the local environment, campaigners warn.
But Mr Norman defended the plan, saying that east London was badly served by cross-river connections. He also stressed a second, bike and foot bridge was planned to link Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.
Following a successful ban on cars, taxis and lorries at the Bank interchange, which has led to a reduction in accidents and improved air quality, he said other junctions may soon see a similar overhaul.
“Where we can take out traffic, we will do, and there are a number of schemes which we are looking at from a design perspective,” he said.
“The evidence I have seen shows there have been drastic reductions in the number of accidents in that area. It has improved speed for the buses. That approach of bus and bike only is certainly something I would be keen to look at [in other locations].”
Commenting on stalled plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street, he said he was “confident” a solution would be found by the end of the year.
And he said he supported the proliferation of dockless hire bikes, insisting they were helping to drive higher-than-ever rentals of the TfL-run Santander bike hire scheme.
Ruling out a TfL version of the dockless bikes, he said: “There is an ecosystem of bike hire that is working well.
“I personally think they are great. If we can get more people cycling, particularly in some of the outer London boroughs where we don’t have some of the resources to grow the Santander scheme, that is fantastic.
“But it has to be done in a way that works for all Londoners, so having those cluttering up the pavements is really not what we want. If that is done in a responsible way with good numbers then I think that is a very positive thing.”
He also defended the incoming deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, who stood down as an MP earlier this month.
Ms Alexander became an advocate for tougher penalties against dangerous cycling after her constituent, Matthew Briggs, lost his wife in an accident involving a cyclist using a bike with no front brakes.
Mr Norman said the former Labour MP for Lewisham East was an “avid cyclist” who was already “talking about the things she would like to see in terms of cycling”.