I was excited to read in yesterday’s evening standard about Boris Johnson’s plans to install rental e-bikes in Haringey. This will obviously be a great asset to anyone that lives, works or studies in Haringey. However, I believe they will also help bring e-bikes into mainstream British culture and provide an important spark in creating a thriving e-bike industry in Britain.
It is remarkable how popular e-bikes are on the Continent; not only with customers, but also with politicians like Angel Merkel who see the clear economic benefits of boosting cycling rates. Over in Blighty, David Cameron has cynically dropped cycling from his agenda ever since he left opposition so it is good to see Boris Johnson raising the public profile of e-bikes as an easy, cheap, clean, and green way to get from A to B without even having to get sweaty.
I understand concerns that the large cost of this e-bike rental scheme will be coming out of the Mayor’s £913m fund for cycling infrastructure improvements. It is clear that the single most important thing London needs to boost cycling rates and make it safer is not rental e-bikes, but dedicated, segregated space for cycling which doesn’t involve those on bikes sharing motor traffic lanes with taxis, buses or HGVs. However, creating this dedicated space for cycling is fast becoming a political, rather than financial, issue.
Take the proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 which TfL would like to build, and segregate, along Kensington High Street. Boris Johnson has the money to do this but is currently being blocked by his intransigent and ignorant fellow Conservatives on the Kensington and Chelsea Council who oppose the creation of any space for cycling in their borough. Councillors like Nicholas Paget-Brown would rather see more Londoners die on streets like Ken High St – or Notting Hill Gate where Eilidh Cairns was killed by a lorry driver in 2009 – than segregate this wide London road. Until local councils like Kensington and Chelsea start placing the lives of their residents above their councillors’ endless desire for private, on-street car parking, Boris Johnson is better off spending his money on e-bikes.