Uni-cycle: making cycling to UCL safer

17 December 2013

Tavistock Square

Cycling to campus has become an increasingly popular option for students and staff in recent years. It can be cheaper and greener, whilst also acting as a great form of exercise on your commute. But the recent spate of cycling deaths has raised a debate about safety. So what can be done to support cycling into UCL?

We talked to two people heavily involved in furthering the role of cycling around campus to find out what they personally feel can be done to improve the cycling experience in Bloomsbury and London-wide.

Richard Jackson is Head of Environmental Sustainability at UCL and responsible for cycle policy at the university. Oliver Leach is a student at the UCL Medical School and President of the UCLU Cycling Club.

Both agree cycling needs to be picked up by more people, but that London isn’t a city naturally designed for two wheels.

Of the issues, Jackson said:  “As a cyclist, I talk to a lot of people about cycling in London: the poor state of our roads, the number of angry drivers and annoying cyclists (in equal measure), and the need for more respect on the road. To encourage more people to cycle to UCL, we need to look at our own facilities, the wider quality of London roads, and see how we can encourage confidence and proficiency on bikes.”

Leach believes there needs to be a “total culture change on Britain’s roads, with an end to divisive, partisan thinking and the pervading mentality that we must all stake our claim to the roads. In London this seems to stem from desperation to get places as fast as possible, with everyone in a frantic rush.

“All of the incidents that I have been involved in have centred on a motorist that was desperate to get somewhere as quickly as possible, doing so in an aggressive, uncontrolled and careless way. All cyclists in London should understand the concept of ‘primary road positioning’ and the ‘door zone’ beside parked vehicles.”

We take a look at some of the solutions being floated to improve cycling in London:

In my view, cycle lanes should be used at key junctions and on particular 'unfriendly' highways, but a more appropriate alternative would be to introduce 20mph speed limits across the city.

Richard Jackson, Head of Environmental Sustainability

Cycle facilities

Royal College Street, on the cycle route between the Bloomsbury campus and Ifor Evans residence in Camden, is an example of ‘segregated cycling’ where road users are separated.

Leach said that this kind of infrastructure is “something that makes a difference for all cyclists, but particularly those who are less confident riding in the main stream of traffic. It’s important that paths are wide enough for cyclists to pass other cyclists, otherwise people won’t use them.”

Jackson mentions that his department is considering extra cycle facilities around campus to appeal to cyclists. “As a start, we are looking to make the campus fit by identifying areas for new cycle racks, improved showers and more lockers – although admittedly space is in high demand on our dense campus. I’d also like to find space for 1-2 public bike repair stands and bike repair vending machines. At the very least, this would increase provision of cycling facilities for those who already cycle to UCL.”

Free cycle training

Jackson believes that urban cycle training is an important element to improving safety around London: “We need to increase confidence and proficiency in bike users. As a 7 year-old, I took my cycling proficiency test – setting out the rules of the road and cycling behaviours - and this gave me enough confidence to cycle to school.”

All London boroughs offer some form of free urban cycle training, all of which can be found here. Camden Council offers a course which covers basic cycle training and support. UCL Environmental Sustainability will be working with Camden to promote the programme to the UCL community.

Cycle Racks

Cycle maintenance

UCLU Cycling Club’s successful Bike Logic workshop has been running for over a year now - providing maintenance services for UCL students and staff. Leach said: “It is a valuable scheme that performs bike maintenance with free labour and cheap parts to lots of commuting cyclists at Bloomsbury campus. Along with an upsurge in independent bike shops - such as our sponsors, Fitzrovia Bicycles - this can only be a good thing for keeping people’s bikes in working order and therefore keeping them cycling.”

In addition, regular cycling based events are taking place in the Quad at UCL. Dr Bike, the local cycle maintenance scheme, is available for repairs whilst the police offer a bike-marking service – to help them identify stolen bikes. Jackson said: “We have had lorries in the Quad so cyclists can sit in the driver’s seat and get firsthand experience of what can and cannot be seen from the driver’s position.”

Legal changes

One of the more controversial measures to improve safety on the roads is that of strict liability, whereby the driver's insurance is deemed responsible when a collision occurs between a cyclist and a car, unless the driver can prove otherwise. Jackson argues that the UK is one of only five European countries that hasn’t introduced strict legal liability on the roads.

Jackson also looks to the continent for other ideas, including following the Netherlands's example and reducing speed limits: “In my view, cycle lanes should be used at key junctions and on particular ‘unfriendly’ highways, but a more appropriate alternative would be to introduce 20mph speed limits across the city.”

Concluding thoughts

Leach believes getting commuters on bikes is vital, particularly at times when there is so much negative press surrounding deaths: “The CycleToWork tax relief scheme was very well advertised and reached a lot of people, leading to a big increase in the numbers taking cycling up. However, I’m not keen on Barclays Cycle Hire as I believe it’s irresponsible to introduce novices to London’s roads before installing adequate cycle infrastructure for them. Tourists are even more vulnerable - I often come across them cycling on the wrong side of the road!”

“Overall we need to change the culture to one where roads are shared. I am not usually shown the same courtesy and respect that motorists offer other motorists. They frequently misjudge my speed or take action to force me into moving out of their way, often effectively running me off the road and forcing me to the kerb.”

The UCL community should contact Richard Jackson if you have ideas on how to improve the cycling experience around campus (greenucl@ucl.ac.uk).


Case Studies

Liz Wooton
Liz Almond - Managing Editor, Office of the Vice-Provost (Research)

“I cycle to work every day from my home in South London, it's cheaper than the tube and means I can avoid the gym! Provision for cycling at UCL is patchy - some buildings have lockers and showers, but not all of them, and it can be tricky to find somewhere to lock your bike on campus. The back streets around Bloomsbury are generally quiet and safe, but we really need more space for cycling on main roads like Euston Road and Upper Woburn Place, and I think UCL should encourage Camden Council to upgrade the protected bike lane on Torrington Place – it’s an important link for staff and students but it’s not wide enough to cope with the number of cyclists using it now.”

Axel Fougner
Axel Fougner -  MSc Economics

“I usually cycle to campus from my flat in Hoxton, because its faster, cheaper, and more fun than taking the tube (except in heavy rain, of course). Either way, getting to campus takes me a bit less than 20 minutes. Closer to campus, I use the fully segregated bike lane along Tavistock Place and Torrington Place. But this stretch is so crowded during rush hours that one green light phase sometimes isn't enough for all the waiting cyclists to cross Woburn Place. Overall, I'm pleased with the cycling infrastructure on the southern and eastern side of campus, although more bike parking is definitely necessary. Even in December, it's often difficult to find a spot, especially in the area around the Gower Street Waterstones and the ULU building.” 

Tom Cohen
Tom Cohen - Deputy Director, UCL Transport Institute

“In the context of all the talk about separating bikes from other traffic, I’m not a fan of the segregated facilities on Torrington Place: I think that having both cycle lanes (east- and west-bound) on the north side of the carriageway both confuses drivers and means that cyclists going in opposite directions risk collision.  But plenty of people ride these lanes so I’m probably in a minority.  As for parking, the good people of UCL Estates have heard quite a bit from me concerning the need for improved parking facilities in the quad, beside the Chadwick Building.  Can we find a solution that will please the peddlers and the aesthetes?”


Links:

UCLU Cycling Club

Green UCL

Cycle training in Camden