London mayor calls for a ‘cycling revolution’

July 30th, 2010 - 8:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, July 30 (IANS) The city of London woke up to a bit of chaos on the launch of the bipedaller - that mayor Boris Johnson calls the “Rolls Royce of bicycles — as the newest mode of public transport Friday morning, but as the day wore on people did manage to make short trips on it instead of taking the bus or the tube.

The mayor himself was present at Leicester Square, cycling around and encouraging the morning commuters to take to biking.

He described the bike, produced in Canada, as the ‘Rolls Royce of bicycles’. “I’m not saying it will win the Tour de France, but it is a beautiful, beautiful machine. I believe this cycling revolution will tackle all sorts of problems in society: pollution, it will help to get us fitter, it will help to tackle the scourge of obesity.”

He was aware the Transport for London (TfL), which oversees the city’s public transport, would be crammed with calls about problems.

And there were problems. While 9,000 people have so far registered themselves to hire the bikes, TfL could manage to park only around 5,000 in 300 docking stations on the two of the 12 main cycle arteries opened for public use Friday.

One could see harassed TfL staff in high-visibility jackets trying to calm down the registered users. Outside St. Pancras station, al bikes had been hired out by 9 a.m. A law firm assistant, Ted Griffiths said: “I have been waiting for over a hour, but no bike has returned. If this becomes a regular thing, it’s going to be a problem.”

The affable TfL staff weren’t turning away the media wanting to know about other complaints. The Holborn docking station was not working. It’s full of bikes but nobody could take them out. At the Red Lion square station, the gates open, but the machine was not issuing bikes. The Baker Street cycle park was empty because bikes were yet to be placed there. And so, forth.

Laura Siddle thought taking a bike from Leicester Square would save her a bus ticket and 20 minutes in time. She got her bike, but the brakes were tight. “I found it wasn’t simple taking another one. If you return the bike to the docking station, it takes five minutes before you can take another out. Overall, it took me nearly 15 minutes to finally come out of the station, that too, without riding the bike.”

The bikes’ weight and bulk look belie how easy they are to ride. They have three-speed gears, a bell, a basket and are fitted with dynamo-powered lights. However, the lack of mirrors is a grumble. One cannot park it anywhere other than a docking station: if the bicycle is lost, the user forfeits the &pound300 deposit fee.

There will be 12 special bicycle lanes connecting the suburbs with the City of London by 2015.Two of them, from Merton to the City Barking to Tower Gateway have been opened for use. The TfL will be installing or upgrading cycle lanes and bus lanes (which cyclists can use) along over 90 per cent of the first two routes.

The Barclays Cycle Superhighways - named after the sponsor, Barclays — will be 12 in all radiating from Central London, broadly on a “clock-face” layout. The superhighways will have blue surfaces. The lanes will be 1.5 meters wide and continue through junctions. Advanced stop boxes at traffic lights help cyclists get ahead of traffic, and changed junction layouts give them more space.

TfL hopes the hire scheme, which emulates similar schemes in Europe, Montreal and Boston, will generate an extra 40,000 cycle trips a day. As Boris Johnson says, 20 per cent of all London traffic in 1904 was cycle traffic and he wants a similar percentage of daily commuters to eventually use the bikes.

(Venkata Vemuri can be contacted at venkata.v@ians.in)

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