Getting More People on their Bikes: Why Cycle Storage Matters

By Mark Ames - author of i b i k e l o n d o n blog. Mark has sought to stimulate discussion about the place of everyday cycling in London since 2009, and hopes that one day riding a bike in the capital will be as easy as riding a bike for all.

Any barrier to cycling is a bad thing – and there are many psychological barriers that can build up to such a level that you never end up using your bicycle at all (“It’s too cold, I’m too tired, I can’t be arsed to carry my bike down five flights of stairs….”)  It might seem ridiculous, but in order for there to be a massive increase in cycling rates, cycling needs to be made easier.  One way to do this is to ensure that those people who live in inner-city and high density areas (those, who I think it is fair to presume have the most potential for increasing their cycle trips) have somewhere to store their bikes easily and securely.

Cycle theft in London has been a growing phenomenon recently.  Nobody wants to have to carry two or three different kinds of lock around with them, but sadly it’s often a necessity in London.  But, if you don’t feel safe locking your bike up outside, or if there is nowhere suitable to lock it, you don’t want to have to carry your bicycle up and down into your home twice a day.  (The stairs up to my flat are Amsterdam-esque in their narrowness – it takes two of us to carry a bicycle indoors and work it up to our pad).  You want to be able to know that your chosen mode of transport is going to be there for you when you need it, not spirited away to the bottom of the local canal…

Consider the motor car and think how easy it is to use.  It’s pretty secure in itself with it’s central locking and immobilising systems, can be left on the street and isn’t easy to steal.  To open it you just have to press a button, turn a key and away you go.  We need to make bicycles as easy to use as that.

It’s great that there is more bike parking in the central London these days (though we do need more), and I’ve already written about the woeful inadequecies of cycle parking at central London stations, but how about some joined up thinking from our Borough leaders and planners on ensuring that there is somewhere to park your bike at home too?  The planning standards of my home borough, Tower Hamets, dictate that new residential developments only need provide one cycle parking place for every three flats (bearing in mind that developers usually count one Sheffield stand as parking for two bikes), and one ‘secure place’ for every new house.  For motor vehicle parking all new residential buildings must have one car parking space per dwelling (plus one visitor space for every 10 dwellings!) - hardly the kind of far-sitedness needed to bring about substantial change in a Borough that is a spit from Central London and is stuffed with Tube lines, buses, London Overground and the Docklands Light Railway.  The Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington on the other side of town is slightly better, mandating for “Space suitable for the convenient, safe and secure storage of at least 1 bicycle per dwelling unit.”

Of course, developers are driven by their bottom line and will not be keen to give over too much of their expensive valuable land to cycle parking, especially when car parking spaces might seem more desirable (though there have been recent moves to the contrary according to London’s estate agents), but with a modicum of imagination, good quality cycle parking can be provided on street and include traffic calming measures at the same time (see the Beech Croft Road experiment over at Roadwitch)  Well-maintained and used cycle parking also has the added beneficial psychological effect of demonstrating to other residents how many cyclists there are on their street, and might help them consider getting back on their bikes themselves.

A version of this article originally appeared on i b i k e l o n d o n blog. Images courtesy of Mark Ames and Velo Runner