London Mayor Unveils Ambitious, $1.3 Billion Bike Plan

Coming soon to one of New York's global competitors. Image: Mayor of London

In some ways, London and New York have each leapfrogged the other when it comes to bike policy in the past few years. London’s bike-share program launched back in 2010, but its bike lanes remain largely sub-standard, with little in the way of physical protection. Here in New York, the bike lanes are gradually forming a safe, useful network, while bike-share is a few years behind London.

If New York’s next mayor doesn’t keep up the pace on bike infrastructure, though, London may soon take the lead on both counts. Yesterday, Mayor Boris Johnson announced an aggressive plan for a comprehensive bike network, including protected bike lanes.

“Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network,” Johnson said. ”I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life.”

The plan includes big changes, including new types of bike lanes for the capital:

  • The flagship initiative, a 15-mile separated crosstown route connecting western and eastern suburbs via central London and business districts including the West End and Canary Wharf.
  • A network of “quietways,” akin to bike boulevards, that will connect suburban and central London neighborhoods.
  • Adding physical separation to the existing “cycle superhighways,” which sometimes offer little more than a stripe of paint on some of London’s busiest roads.

The plan also has a broad policy framework to transform biking in London:

  • A promise to invest £913 million — that’s more than $1.3 billion — in cycling over the next decade.
  • A competitive funding program, inviting London’s 32 boroughs to apply for funds to transform their streets.
  • Appointment of a new Cycling Commissioner to oversee the program within Transport for London, the city’s transportation agency.

Johnson has always identified as a cyclist, but until very recently he has mostly disappointed bicycling advocates, especially with his “cycle superhighway” implementation. Over the past few years, a robust advocacy effort has led the mayor to change direction, starting with minor changes to existing projects and culminating in this week’s big announcement.

The local press has also played a major role. In the run-up to last year’s election, The Times of London launched a campaign for street safety after one of its reporters was seriously injured in a crash, and mayoral candidates vied to be the most bike-friendly.

New York’s crop of candidates — and our daily papers — certainly have some catching up to do.