Category Archives: Olympics

Happy Birthday Boris Bikes

4 years old - happy birthday Boris bikes
Now 4 years old. There are a number of news stories accompanying the anniversary, one being that usage is once again increasing, and July 2014 is likely to show the largest number of uses in a single month in the scheme's history, beating the previous record set during the Olympics.

Caroline Pidgeon AM points out that usage per bike remains low, and certainly it would be great to adapt the terminals to accept Oyster and contactless payments. However, the newer docking stations to the west and south are away from the central, most intensive, area, so lower use out here will generally bring the mean down a bit.

Also is the news that Boris bikes will be free to hire on the weekend of 16/17 August, in a bid to tempt new users into the scheme. Beware though - you'll still get charged if you go over 30 minutes. Guided free rides will take place in Hyde and Regents Park, the latter for women only. Registration is needed.

Before that of course is Freecycle on 9 August - a chance to ride your Boris bike on traffic-free streets in central London. Hope to see you there.

Around the boroughs – Tower Hamlets

Isle of Docks - Boris bikes in Tower Hamlets
In April 2012 cycle hire went live across the whole borough of Tower Hamlets in the first major extension of the Boris bike scheme. Tower Hamlets is a borough of great contrasts, with huge diversity, areas of poverty, and of course the headquarters of Barclays, the main sponsors of the bikes.

Story so far: At launch only the western margins of the borough had docks, such as at Wapping High Street and Leman Street. Quickly it was announced that the first extension would cover the whole borough, including the affluent Canary Wharf area, home of Barclays. With two superhighways (2 and 3) in the borough, you might have thought it a recipe for success, but CS2 in particular has been widely criticised, and cycling infrastructure in the borough isn't quite as good as it could be. There are also notable gaps - why no docks in riverside Limehouse, or on Westferry Road? The closeness of the bikes to Greenwich have led to some interesting excursions, but it will be a long time before we see docks on that side of the river.

Olympic glory - new dock coming to Old Ford Road
Coming soon: Tower Hamlets is more or less a done deal, though I know of one new station at the eastern end of Old Ford Road, close to the Olympic Park, which has also raised objections from locals. News of others would be welcome!

The future? A real opportunity for Tower Hamlets would arise if the bikes are extended to the Olympic Park. It would also be great if some of the gaps in the borough could be closed. Extension of the bikes north of Victoria Park could in future help the cycling culture there, and more docks are definitely needed at the western end of CS3.

Boris rating: 6

Where next for the bikes?

An article which I did not read at the time discusses the reasons behind the uneven coverage of cycle hire docks in central London and its surrounds.

As docking stations are installed in the latest wave of expansion (partly paid for by the Councils, as the article notes) it is worth asking where future expansion should be planned.

The most obvious central London borough needing docks is Southwark. There are a handful in Bermondsey and Elephant, a couple on the northerly borders of Walworth (Wansey Street is currently closed after the Cuming Museum fire), and a few around Borough and London Bridge. In the current expansion, only three new docking stations will be built in Southwark, to serve the busy London Bridge area. As there is poor rail and tube provision, the best candidates for Boris bikes are probably Camberwell and Dulwich to the south and expanding east through Bermondsey into Rotherhithe and the Surrey Quays to the east. Peckham could also be included. These areas are not too hilly, and adjacent to the current central zone. In neighbouring Lambeth, bikes in Brixton and Loughborough Junction would complement this expansion, possibly as far as King's Hospital Campus on the southern slopes of Denmark Hill. It's not as far-fetched as it may sound, Southwark are already looking into it. However, with fears over funding (the bikes are not, it is often pointed out, self-funding as hoped) such an expansion might be wishful thinking.

If we refer to the Mayor's Vision for Cycling the plans for cycle hire are surprisingly unambitious. p26 mentions a superhub at an unspecified rail station, and expanded docking stations along cycle routes. What this document seems to hint at is that bikes need to be placed where they are going to be used. It is quite obvious that some of the docking stations currently installed, such as in the darkest corners of the Westfield shopping centre, or busy and inaccessible areas in the east of Tower Hamlets, are not the best use of money. A more intense presence of bikes in the central areas (close to stations, in the parks, and along superhighways and the future quietways) surely makes sense.

Another area mooted for expansion is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Frankly, it was daft not to put in bikes there for the Olympics, as it made the expansion out into Tower Hamlets rather pointless. Future expansion into this area I think will depend on the success of the extended CS2 route, and an urgently needed upgrade of the existing section of CS2 so that Boris bikers can safely move between the Park and central London. Considering the limits on funding, perhaps other areas should have a higher priority.

On a recent trip to Paris I was impressed by the Velib scheme. It is large, covering the whole city, docks are easy to find, numerous and large. Simply counting bikes by eye, it is better used than our own facilities. To rival its success, we need more ambition for our Boris bikes, with a co-ordinated approach which puts bikes where they're needed, and can be used with safety.

Boris Bikes grow up

The not-so-humble Boris bike is now just over two years old. It's come a long way - from an initial 300 or so docks to 568 today, taking in all of central London and a big patch of the east. Okay, so it never made the Olympics, but during our Jubilee/Olympic summer its useage has soared to around 40,000 trips per week, shared almost equally by members and casual users. And already plans are afoot for a western extension, also taking in some new areas south of the river. Long forgotten are the early teething problems - the largest problem now is that so many people use the bikes that docks are often either empty or full, particularly at commuter times. Communities like Brixton and Islington are clamouring for bikes in their areas. You can't spend long in central London without seeing a Boris bike, or even a family of them, gliding serenely past.

Boris bikes - agents of social change?
Boris bikes have changed the face of cycling in London. No special clothes or helmets are required; the bikes are reassuringly robust; even novices can have a try in the parks. With London's transport network struggling to take the strain, and with the urgent need to improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions, the Boris bike is a knight in shining armour. In bright blue hues it invites us: 'try me, you can cycle too'.

Cycling campaigners (and I am one) will tell you that to maximise the potential of cycling in London, we need more protected cycle lanes and road design which prioritises people on bikes or on foot ahead of cars and lorries. This is right. And where the Boris bike clinches the argument is that it shows ordinary Londoners, and our international visitors, do want to cycle in our beautiful city. Every extra Boris biker is one more reason for politicians to listen to those who want to cycle, or perhaps have taken their first step. Cycle hire is bringing us to a tipping point, where the major user of roads will no longer be the car, but the bicycle. It's an exciting prospect.

Recently I've read two excellent articles, one from the relatively new Two Wheels Good blog, which I recommend, and an older one the author has flagged up at Bike Biz. Both say similar things to what I'm trying to say here.

We have an interesting year ahead. Cycle hire is extending, and to keep working needs a quite aggressive intensification in the central area as well as new docks to the south and west. Boris has promsied the first Dutch-style projects for cyclists in London, and perhaps Dutch-style design will characterise the four new Superhighways opening in 2013. We need to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives, but there are reasons to be hopeful.