Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Happy Birthday to the Tube, which is 150 years old and showing its age. The Standard reports Mike Mike Brown, head cheese of London Underground, is out with the begging bowl. And he's not after 150 candles to put on a cake. "Without an additional £12 billion to pay for a gap in funding for upgrades to Bank, Monument and Holborn stations and the modernisation of the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, the reliability of the Tube will be compromised and money wasted on repairs", he wheedles.

So let's get that straight - this is not much more than just keeping the existing system running.

Let's consider what we could do with a tenth of that money spent on cycling - £1.2bn. Even at an average cost of £1M/mile, you could build over 1000 miles of Continental-style cycle infrastructure. It wouldn't all be segregated tracks - we'd also have filtered permeability and offroad routes. And maybe one or two cycle bridges. No-one in London need be out of range of a quality cycle route. Kids would be able to cycle to school or to the park. Pensioners would be able to cycle to the shops. Ordinary people without sideburns or an Olympic medal could cycle to see friends, or even to work! And I mean ordinary people - people with a suggestion of muffin-top or man-boobs who today use cars to go everywhere, because a quality, subjectively safe cycle network would guarantee no more 'taking the lane' against HGVs, or having to cut across 3 lanes of fast-moving traffic. No more lycra, no more hi-viz, no more helmets. And no more cycling on the pavement.

It's not unrealistic to expect that with this investment we could end up with Continental levels of cycling, so instead of having maybe 2% of journeys made by bike, we could have 10%. Or even 20%. Londoners would be healthier, with lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all the other maladies associated with lack of exercise. That alone would likely save in excess of £1.2bn from the NHS budget. There would be less transport poverty, with journey costs massively reduced with cycling replacing expensive public transport and car travel. Many Londoners would likely no longer need to keep a private car, using taxis or car clubs for occasions where motor journeys are necessary. And with fewer cars and car journeys, we'd have quieter, more peaceful, less dangerous neighborhoods, no more parking problems (and fewer parking fines). Motor journeys would be quicker due to less congestion. We'd also have a lower carbon footprint and reduced pollution. Local authorities could sell off surplus car parking for house-building, raising revenue and easing the housing crisis. Building the cycle infrastructure would generate jobs of course.

It all sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn't it? Maybe we'd be better off sticking to the tried-and-tested formula of congested, dangerous roads and overcrowded, massively-subsidised but still expensive public transport.


  1. Of course, better conditions for transport bike riding would mean fewer people using the tube (I can't be the only one) which would mean that the tube system wouldn't get the hammer it gets now, which would mean it doesn't cost as much to keep alive.

    Of course, the contractors who stand to receive that £12bn might not like the sound of that…

  2. In all fairness, I have "... a suggestion of muffin-top or man-boobs" and I cycle to and from work (about seven miles each way, over hills) every working day and have done for 18 months. Unfortunately, when I get off the bike all I can think about is food!

  3. And I think employers and offices would need to adapt to include showers and changing areas for employees cycling to work.

    Station Cars