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Tally Ho! London Breaks its Cycling Record as New York Flatlines

3:35 PM EDT on July 8, 2019

London's painstaking network of new bike lanes, its refurbished signals at intersections, and its world-renowned traffic congestion policies are paying off with record ridership.

Cyclists in the British capital rode an average of nearly 2.5 million miles per day last year, up 5 percent from the previous year, according to city figures.

That's the highest recorded since the city started monitoring cycling figures in 2015 and three times as high as the 1.8 percent increase in pedaling distance across Great Britain.

Ridership has risen dramatically in Central London — up 8 percent in the past four years thanks to the construction of a cycling superhighway used by 10,329 cyclists per day, roughly one every seven minutes and sometimes one every three seconds during rush hour.

The cycling boom is the work of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who increased funding for the city's transit agency, Transport for London, from roughly $211.5 million to $267.8 million per year, and installed the city's first full-time Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman. Khan and Norman are overseeing an extensive overhaul and expansion the region's bike network with 280 miles completed by 2024.

Norman is confident in the city's progress to become a world-class capital of cycling in the 21st century

““It is clear that where we have invested in new high-quality routes, people feel safer and more confident cycling on London’s streets," Norman told The Guardian. "And it is yet more evidence for boroughs across London that investing in walking and cycling infrastructure works – getting more people healthy and active as part of their everyday routine, and making our streets cleaner, greener and safer.”

But London has a ways to go to ensure that cyclists from all backgrounds feel comfortable enough to ride regularly through city streets.

Only 27 percent of cyclists are women and about 85 percent of cyclists are white, a figure that has changed little since the construction of protected bike paths on roadways. The gender and racial gap persists across the globe. New York City has the same male-female ratio as London, statistics show. But the Big Apple is also seeing cycling numbers start to flatline because of safety concerns.

Some Londoners in wealthy neighborhoods have adamantly opposed new bike infrastructure. The Kensington and Chelsea councils rejected a road safety plan with new pedestrian crossings and protected bike lanes after receiving 450 emails against the proposal, a mere 0.3 percent of the population. And a real estate company is behind a stealth campaign to rip up one of the city's most popular east-west bike lanes known as the Embankment.

Even with the new lanes and traffic calming measures such as the world's first congestion pricing plan implemented 15 years ago, cycling in Great Britain can be dangerous.

There have been 64 traffic deaths in London so far this year, which is still far less than New York, with its 109 road fatalities so far this year. Londoners mourned a cyclist in her 20s who was crushed by a cement mixer, an 86-year-old pedestrian struck by a coach, and a 17-year-old cyclist who stopped in front of a 69-year-old driver before the motorist punched him in the face and ran him over with his Jeep Cherokee. That driver is facing jail time.

Transportation officials urged all drivers in London to be more aware of cyclists and pedestrians on the roads.

"Tragedy on our roads should not be expected or tolerated and we are working hard to cut this down to zero — the only acceptable number," Transport for London Vision Zero director Stuart Reid told the Evening Standard.

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