How cycling in London could be more like Copenhagen

Copenhagen. Image: Tom Payne

Copenhagen. Image: Tom Payne

The original version of this article appeared here.

By Tom Payne

I recently had the opportunity to complete a dissertation on a topic of my choice. As expected, I decided to research bikes in the city…

Beginning the dissertation I envisioned undertaking a fairly straightforward analysis of how London has attempted to copy Copenhagen’s Cycle Superhighways (CSH). As with most research, it wasn’t long before I realised that the delivery of each of these policies wasn’t as straightforward as it first seemed.

While London and Copenhagen’s motivations for implementing CSH remained generally the same, their designs could hardly be more distinct. London’s blue splats of paint are hardly the safe and coherent, segregated cycle paths that stretch into and out of Copenhagen’s centre.

In reality, London has made no effort to actually ‘copy’ Copenhagen’s CSH network: it has merely copied the name.

While cycling around Copenhagen in the glorious summer months conducting an urban design analysis and interviews with planning professionals, I was faced with the complex question: how can London improve its cycling culture to become more like that of Copenhagen?

London. Image: Tom Payne

London. Image: Tom Payne

The answer is essentially quite simple: build it and they will come. But why has this been so difficult in London? Why does every cycle scheme ignore the need to build infrastructure that separates bikes and cars?

It wasn’t long before I was exploring the histories of both cities, making links between past events and contemporary transport planning culture.

On the one hand, Copenhagen has decades of experience in implementing segregated bike lanes (although it wasn’t always this way). On the other hand, London has a long history of implementing lousy, ad-hoc cycling schemes, which in a sense, continually try to please everybody, without actually pleasing anybody. This continues because of the status-quo mentality that runs deep within bodies like Transport for London.

How can London get out of this rut? With such a democratic approach to planning, how can it begin to finally close the ‘cycling credibility gap’ (relationship between acceptance of cycling culture and the level of infrastructure) – as I’ve termed it – without already having critical mass?

As a final recommendation, I’ve argued that London (i.e. Boris) must finally begin to deliver sections of high quality cycling infrastructure. By communicating the benefits of fully segregated cycle paths, he can finally gain the momentum to persuade the lobby groups, institutions and various road users that this is exactly the long-term infrastructure London needs to become the cycling city it envisions itself to become.

Read the full dissertation here: Policy mobilities, planning cultures and Cycle Superhighways (note: names of interviewees have been removed for privacy).

This article originally appeared at Tom Payne’s blog on 25 November 2013.

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  1. The problem with London |

    […] We know what good bicycle planning looks like. Copenhagen and Amsterdam have been doing it for decades. Use that model and apply it to this city – it’s simple. Only then will we have cleaner air to breathe, improved high streets and urban vitality, and most importantly, less carnage on our streets. […]

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