Now seems as good a time as any to look back over the success or otherwise – on a personal level – of the London Cycle Hire scheme. I tried to sign up to ride on day one but the first (of many) IT cock ups meant I had to re-register and my key only arrived in time for the second week of action. Since then I’ve undocked a beast at least once a week and have no doubt caused whimpering frustration to my fellow road users every time. So here are my somewhat random thoughts about the scheme and where it’s at:
(1) Cycling is addictive
I only signed up to have something to do that would help me keep vaguely fit during lunch breaks. That became: I will cycle from Marylebone to where I work (which was then near Waterloo). And that has now become: I cycle from my home to the station (4 miles twice a day) and then I will most days cycle to and from work (another 3 miles all told). It’s only for commuting and it’s not exactly the longest journeying ever undertaken but I wouldn’t be doing any of it without the cycle hire scheme. And I do find myself wanting to cycle more.
(2) Boris bikes are for boys
The same demographic rides the cycle hire bikes as ride across London on their own bikes: blokes with a bit of cash. Mostly. That’s not to say women or the downtrodden are excluded but that there’s been no change in either the public perception of cycling or cycling safety that is going to lead to a change in that. Add to that the scheme’s sponsorship by a bank and you’ve probably turned some of the people who blame the banks for the current mess we’re in right off. But it’s no wonder the bikes are popular in the City. If not actually with the City of London corporation.
(3) Fundamentally, it’s rubbish
With the exception of the bikes themselves pretty much everything has gone wrong with the scheme. Both for me and for everyone else. The distribution by Serco is random and ill-timed; the docks prone to crashing; the data about bike numbers available distorted by counting bikes that are out of action; the phone helpline staffed by nice people who are unable to help; planned docks not happening leading to barren wastelands; the website being both unreliable and not very helpful. Pretty much everything that is useful to users has been done away from TfL or Serco – the Boris Bikes forum, the splendid range of apps to locate docks, the oobrien visualisation – and sadly it benefits the tech savvy and those interested in geekery. Another reason why the scheme benefits the boys.
(3a) And a particularly rubbish bit is the set-up of the docks
Unlit. Signage that doesn’t help anybody understand anything. Listing nearby docks by names rather than showing them on a map – oh, my mistake there is a map. Did I mention its unlit so you can’t see it after dusk or that even if you could it wouldn’t help any. Still, it’s not like some of them jut out onto busy roads so as you pull your bike out there’s a danger to … oh, wait it is. My mistake.
(4) Boris bikers must be the safest cyclists in the world
Often helmetless, frequently looking like gentlemen from the lost world of penny farthings, and predicted by black cab drivers to be lemmings at the edge of a cliff, boris bikers seem to have emerged from the first seven months mostly unscathed. Which given that one of them was me (I hadn’t owned a bike for 20 years, nor ridden one in 15) is a miracle. In part it must be down to the sturdiness of the bikes themselves and their distinctive visibility. But it must also be because the people who are riding them are doing so sensibly and safely. Well done them. And me.
(5) It’s hard to ride sensibly and safely in London
What with all the cars, HGVs that can’t see you or the pedestrians on the pavement and the lack of decent cycle lanes. Not to mention the lycra clad humanoids who are also cyclists but also ‘other’. I’m not naive enough to think that London will ever be criss-crossed by beautiful boulevardes for cycling but when you see that even if cycling does reach a majority position (i.e. Blackfriars Bridge) TfL’s immediate thought is to reverse that to make it better for cars. Thus making it worse for … oh can’t even be bothered to go on.
And, finally …
(6) I know so many people who would cycle in London and use the hire scheme if …
They weren’t so scared of the thought of it. The Cycle Hire scheme is wonderful and liberating. The Cycle Superhighways are blue splurges on a road. Sadly, more cycle infrastructure follows the superhighways approach of addressing a problem that isn’t there and addressing it badly anyway. There actually is plenty of space for some decent cycle lanes in London and also plenty of places where bikes and cars could move together with no problem. It doesn’t have to be either/or. But right now it’s neither/nor. And until that changes it’s going to be me and the city boys having our fun and nobody else is going to join in.
Actually, and finally …
(7) I do actually bloody love it