Who’s Got Your Bike? : The UK’s Missing One Million Wheels

Do you have a bike? Or,rather,did you have one? According to Halifax General Insurance,500,000 of them,with a value of more than £113 million,are stolen in the UK every year. The worst areas are Cambridge,Oxford,Bristol and Kingston-upon-Thames in London. Boris Johnson,the Conservative Party candidate for the 2009 Mayor of London elections,has ‘lost’ seven so far. ‘Evening Standard’ columnist Simon Davis is on his fifth. The last time,the seat,handlebars,pedals,wheels and chain all disappeared,leaving just a lump of metal.Transport for London recommend you take all these –plus the lights & pump – with you.when you park your bike,but that’s not exactly practicable if you’re going to work or have a date.You should also ‘buy a decent lock or two’,though as all cyclists know this is no deterrent for thieves with hacksaws and boltcutters. The number of cyclists in London has increased by 50% in the past five years. That’s 480,000 cycle trips every day,so now there aren’t enough stands available. In the City,if you use lamp-posts or railings instead,the bike will be ‘relocated’ by the police.

A French survey has concluded that after a theft only 25% of cyclists buy another ( cheaper) bike and 23% give up cycling altogether. They at least have a  realistic alternative: An economic public transport system. London fares are much higher than in Paris,Tokyo & New York,despite the October 1st reduction (by £1) in the cost of a weekly Oyster Bus Pass. Mayor Ken Livingstone has admitted that £3 cash for a single tube journey in Zone One (introduced in January 2007) is probably the most expensive in the world.

London’s cyclists face other problems (in addition to keeping their bikes). Injuries (serious & fatal)have increased by 9%,some caused by the Mayor’s much-debated ‘bendy-buses’.He wants  all bikes to be registered and have number plates fitted so any cyclists breaking the law (such as jumping red lights) can be caught by CCTV cameras and prosecuted. Since 2005,an estimated 5,000 ‘lycra louts’ have paid a £30 ‘on-the-spot’ fine for riding on the pavement. This penalty, criticised as ‘totally inadequate’( pedestrians have been knocked down) will go up to £100. New safety rules will also control the 600 ‘pedicabs’ (bicycle rickshaws) operating in Central London. At the moment,although they carry passengers,the ‘drivers’ don’t have to be licensed or insured.

The Mayor himself usually goes to work by Tube. Apparently,he doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Boris Johnson,has offered to teach him. Both are likely to include strong pro-bike policies in their election manifestos in response to the ‘Evening Standard’s’ “Safer Cycling’ campaign. Its ‘Cycling Charter’ advocates bike lessons,better cycle lanes,more stands (especially at railway & underground stations),cyclist safety mirrors for HGVs (lorries),compulsory cyclist awareness training for bus & HGV drivers and a police ‘crackdown’ on bike theft.  Lambeth Council has already switched 10% of its traffic wardens from cars to mountain bikes. 43% of America’s local police departments use bike patrols (compared to 28% in 1997) Their London colleagues have not yet followed this example. Meanwhile,if (like the Mayor) you’re not confident on two wheels (but don’t want to drive),the choice is: Take the bus,tube – or walk.

Filed under: Society | Posted on October 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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