Inside London’s cycling renaissance

A cyclist in London, England, with the Union Jack in their wheels
Graphic: Sean Creighton/The Progress Playbook

In the UK’s capital, efforts to make cycling a mainstream mode of transport once again are bearing fruit.

The latest: The number of daily cycling journeys reached 1.26 million in 2023, up 6.3% from the previous year and a 20% increase from 2019, pre-Covid levels. A quarter of Londoners now cycle at least occasionally, according to data from Transport for London, a local government body.

While the city has a long way to go to catch up to the likes of Copenhagen and Amsterdam, the cycling renaissance shows how the right incentives and infrastructure investments can pay off relatively quickly.

Policy nudges: As part of the 2018 “transport for London cycling action plan” — which set out a vision for the capital to be “the world’s best large city for cycling” — the strategic cycling network has almost quadrupled in size. It’s now 352km long, up from just 90km in 2016.

To help commuters plan their trips as the network expands, and to identify areas that need improvement, the city launched a cycling infrastructure database, which includes detailed information on parking spots, among other amenities.

Meanwhile, the government has partnered with companies to incentivise bike purchases through a “cycle to work” programme, and to introduce a range of rental options.

Santander Cycles, for instance, offers a day pass for just £3. Monthly memberships — which provide access to both e-bikes and regular ones — cost £20 per month. The service plans to triple the size of its e-bike fleet in the first half of 2024, it said in January.

Transport for London is also working to implement its “cargo bike action plan” to extend the cycling revolution into the freight space.

However, it’s early days yet.

More to be done: Transport for London estimates that more than 8 million motor vehicle trips could be made by bicycle in London every day.

Yet the resurgence of biking is already outpacing the roll-out of dedicated cycling infrastructure, meaning routes are sometimes congested. At the same time, political opposition to cycling investments, coupled with budget constraints, is creating fresh challenges for city managers.

Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, has unveiled a “new climate action plan” for the city, which is aimed at significantly boosting investments in walking and cycling infrastructure.

Among other things, more than 40,000 new public bicycle parking spaces will be provided by 2030, per the plan.


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