Over the last couple of years, both these schemes in London have been accompanied by the most amazing amount of hype. Having seen what was proposed I was skeptical from the beginning about both the superhighways and the bike share scheme.
These projects were so wrong-headed that they could never achieve what the promoters said they could achieve. Some people criticised me for saying this. However, if you read the report yourself you can see how well it has all worked.
A few highlights:
The original wild estimates of 10 uses per cycle-hire bike per day (which I pointed out long ago were rather unlikely) have of course not been met. Actually each bike is used on average about three times per day.
In planning, they assumed a "5% shift from car to bike", defined not as a proportion of the modal share currently by car (the scheme could never get anywhere near that) but with rather an odd usage whereby they were talking about 5% of the trips on the bikes being by people who would otherwise have used a car. This would have worked out as a mere 3000 trips per day converted from car to hire bike. However, given the much lower actual usage of the bikes and that the conversion ratio from drivers is actually "less than 1%", the number of trips being made by bike instead of by car is actually under 150 per day. Even 3000 is trivial in the context of a city of eight million people.
TFL originally predicted that the largest shift would be from walking (34%), the second largest from buses (32%) and with 20% of users using the bikes as alternative to the tube. The tube figures are born out in reality (though note this is with a much lower level of usage in total, so it's nowhere near the estimated not the same absolute number) but only 8% of users would otherwise take the bus and 7% would otherwise walk. 1% are the afore-mentioned car users. Almost half of all users would otherwise use their own bikes. 84% of registered users of the scheme own their own bike.
Now if we take that 20% of riders who would otherwise take the tube, how much of an effect of "relieving capacity" might this have ? 20% of users amounts to about 3500 trips per day displaced from the tube to the bikes. However, London Underground boasts of around 1.2 billion trips per year. Do the maths and you find that the Boris Bikes have displaced just 0.1% of tube traffic.
Thus far, the city seems unsure how much sponsorship money they will get from Barclays. I'm not the only one who doesn't know what's going on with this - even the committee describes the funding as "opaque". The corporate advertising is splashed all over everything already, but how much Barclays will actually pay is still unknown.
The bike hire scheme has previously been reported as already being "self funding". This never stood up to any inspection, but now we've been given actual numbers to look at. In reality it doesn't seem to come close to doing this.
Of course, the same can also be said of almost any large government infrastructure scheme, so that's not a criticism in itself. However, it's also unclear as to why they say that the bike hire should pay for itself ? This is never a consideration when building roads.
I'll leave it to others to criticise the slow roll-out of the scheme and problems which have occurred with registration and use. Some problems are to be expected, and whether this is better or worse than any other big project of the British government is open to debate.
Currently the plan is to eventually have 6000 bikes and 400 docking sites, compared with the scheme in Paris which currently has 24000 bikes and 1750 sites. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is quoted as saying that he wanted to overtake it, and that a London hire bike was a Rolls Royce compared to the Parisian "deux chevaux" [Citroen 2CV]. Those are words, not actions.
"60 per cent of respondents did not feel safer using the cycle superhighways and two-thirds did not feel they were respected by other road users." - hardly surprising given what they look like.
- “The superhighways are not wide enough, stop abruptly at junctions and are extremely badly positioned on roads.”
- “I found the experience rather scary being sent from one side of the road to the other. I will not be doing it again.”
- “Just when you need them [cycle superhighways] - at major junctions, roundabouts and so on – they vanish. A novice cyclist, persuaded to venture out by the superhighways, is left high and dry just when they need most help.”
"Sustrans has highlighted that the greatest barrier to Londoners cycling, or cycling
more, is fear of traffic yet the cycle superhighways generally follow busy arterial roads and provide no or minimal segregation from traffic."
"All 12 cycle superhighways will be installed, as planned, by 2015." - does it really have to take this long ?
One user said: “I cycle to work along the Barclays cycle superhighway to work in the Barclays building in Canary Wharf where there is not enough cycle parking! Oh, the irony.”
The conclusion of their report is overall quite remarkably positive given what they've reported on.
Everyone would of course like to see cycling increase in London and around the rest of the UK, but even with the positive spin they conclude, as I do, that not nearly enough is being done to encourage people who don't cycle to want to cycle.
To achieve the target now set by the Mayor, the bike hire scheme needs to be used for 40000 trips per day and the superhighways need to be used for 120000 trips per day. London is a city of 8 million people. At a rate of 2.5 trips per day (this is fairly average worldwide) that means that Londoners currently make around 20 million trips per day. If the targets are met, and 160000 trips per day are converted into bike trips by the new schemes then they will have succeeded in a less than 1% modal share shift. However, that's not actually on the cards at all. Currently, only a fifth of hire bike users didn't already cycle in London. That makes for around extra 3000 trips per day. The survey also shows that the "superhighways" currently are used by 5000 people per day, of which only 1% are new cyclists. That's 50 people. If we generously assume they do all of their 2.5 trips per day, every day, by bike they add just 125 trips. Take these numbers and divide them into London's total number of trips by all modes and you find that the massive expenditure on hire bikes and superhighways has resulted in a modal shift of just 0.01%.
London needs a lot more than that.
The problem remains what it always was. A lack of subjective safety. If you want Dutch levels of cycling in London, you need people to feel as happy cycling in London as they do in the Netherlands. These schemes have come nowhere near providing this.
So far, London's initiatives have proven to be merely a very expensive demonstration showing what not to do if you want mass cycling.
Update the next day
There's some more analysis of numbers here
And to think that it's not that long ago that Dutch newspapers were getting worried that the Netherlands would lose its number one spot for cycling due to initiatives like this. They also believed the hype, that somehow this country would be overtaken. Thanks to Freewheeler for putting me on to this.