When thinking about placemaking, we try to think in terms of creating an urban living room, with an illustrative carpet for bikes; one with clearly marked routes, restrictive speed limits and wider pavements, that make cyclists feel confident and safe. Cycle storage and signage should introduce something joyful, and inclusive, not just technical and functional. Cycling must be integral to an urban fabric, not an intervention, or afterthought.
Similarly, when designing homes within a neighbourhood, bike storage must be positioned with easy access to these local routes, not tucked away in a basement, but ideally as active street frontage, with windows for safety, potentially in combination with a cycle repair hub. These spaces may not be occupied on day one of a new development so could adopt an alternative, interim use to enhance a feeling of community, until critical demand is reached.
To create join-up in a neighbourhood, you need to consider where a 30-minute cycling radius takes you. Retail and food and drink establishments need a safe and easy bike lock up – especially as studies show that cyclists spend more time in local shops than drivers, and stations and transport hubs need safe routes and easy access secure bike storage so more people can commute car-free. And to improve air quality, schools and town centres must be designed to allow for pedestrians and cyclists to drop in and drop out.
The concept of the ‘15-minute city’ is gaining traction amongst city-leaders across Europe keen to bring back the convenience of city living, but it’s a concept that needs joined-up implementation. If you are lucky, a London borough will have a small team working on a cycling strategy, but not always. And they will not always be joined up with the neighbouring borough. When it comes to influencing cycling behaviour, we need oversight at GLA level, with focus on the greater London network, plus an understanding of travel across and between borough boundaries.
We’ve heard, time and time again, that the pandemic will teach us to live differently, and to live locally. Yet we run the risk of pushing people back behind the wheels of their car, to go about their ‘localised’ lives. This is the moment to embrace low key, non-elite cycling, that doesn’t carry the usual barriers, of an expensive vehicle and a specialist kit, and that can save you finding your car keys and risking a traffic jam or not getting a space.
Cycling is a way of life, a behaviour, a mindset. But one that is most likely to be adopted with the infrastructure to support it. To seize the moment and push for a greener city, London needs to be fast on its feet, joined up in its thinking, and outward looking, harnessing the trials and errors of other major cities like Melbourne, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, as they go about translating the ‘live local’ philosophy into action.