London cycling, social change and urban geography


Just a quick post this week, but an apt piece to share with you, given the lengthening days into summer.

This is a really interesting article about the policies (and failures) underpinning London’s growing cycling trend, which as a London cyclist I’ve been following with interest over the past few years (not least the ever-growing debate on helmet wearing – I’m a helmet wearer myself, but always interested to hear other views). But back to cycling itself: go to central London at rush hour and you’ll be amazed at the density of cycle commuting going on, helped in places by dedicated cycle provision, and hindered in others by the ongoing difficulties of shifting an urban infrastructure to shared modes of transportation.

In terms of urban geography, cycling is a fascinating topic of study – during my north American conference trip last month, I was pleasantly surprised to find fully established state-funded cycle schemes not just in New York and Toronto, whose density would suggest that this kind of offering can be implemented without hassle, but in Boston and Miami too. There are questions to ask here about who uses these schemes (Tourists or commuters?) and for what purpose – just weekend leisure, or daily commutes that mitigate against more polluting journeys by other residents? There is a lot of talk about cycling reaching ‘critical mass’ in cities – some argue that we are already there, but others argue that outside London, UK cities are less cycle-friendly than ever, not least in that drivers seem to be now joined by pedestrians in their complaints about poor cycling behaviour.

Bike Sexuality and the City blog Sam Miles.jpg

A little calmer than cycling the Old Street roundabout

What is interesting about this article (and I don’t agree with everything in it, but then that is no reason not to find valuable content in it, right?) is the persuasive argument that policy initiatives with this kind of change really do seem to come down to money. The environmental factors, the health benefits (yes, the health boost of urban cycling does still outweigh air pollution in all but the most polluted cities), the improved efficiency in road density: those are collateral. In a neoliberal city infrastructure predicated on continuing development, money remains – and it seems will likely persist as – the central driver(!).

You can read the whole piece below.


When I lived in London 10 years ago, biking to work was almost unheard of. I remember a colleague of mine, the only cyclist I knew, rolling up her pantleg, lifting her shirt, to show me all her scars.

Since then, though, cycling has nearly doubled, and is expected to surpass driving in just three years.

cycling revolution

London has—visibly, significantly—become friendlier for cyclists. The bike-hire scheme, the bright blue “cycle superhighways,” you even see tourists and kids out cycling now. I started biking on my work-trips to London about six years ago, and it seems like every time I visit, there’s more quietways, better signs, (slightly) nicer drivers, fewer close calls.

I am perplexed by how this happened. All the arguments for cycling to work—cheaper, less pollution, more exercise—applied as much a decade ago as they do now. So why have they suddenly found purchase?

As far as I can tell, the…

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One thought on “London cycling, social change and urban geography

  1. Pingback: What We Have Won(?): Sexuality, pride, and the gay health gap | sexuality and the city

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