Skip

"Sign Up, Hop On, Ride Off"....or maybe just walk?
January 30, 2011 2:02 PM   Subscribe

In which our guide, Iain Sinclair, expounds upon and attempts to participate in the Transport for London/Barclays "Cycle Hire" program ("scheme" in the Queen's English").

In a wonderfully pyschogeographic essay, we are instructed in the differences between "pod, posse, and peloton," distinctive socio-econonomic bicycling castes, the evolution of bicycling in London, complexities of corporate-owned green transport, and the silliness of politicians riding bicycles. Elsewhere, similar programs have encountered better adoption by the public (perhaps because other cities have rejected soul-less corporate branding ("Barclays Cycle Hire" v. VeloV (Lyon), “Velib(French link)” (Paris) and “Bixi” (Montreal)?).

Ultimately, the author is less than thrilled with the scheme: "Like everything else in the Alice in Wonderland world of pre-Olympic London, cycling has become the plaything of bankers and politicians. We have been persuaded to undergo an online [application] process, like applying for a mortgage, or a loan we don't need, in order to become mobile advertisement for the benevolence of a financial institution. And by this application, we are registered, tagged, our movements logged and our conversations recorded."

Note: Readers not well-schooled in London politics will likely be utterly baffled and at a loss to understand any of the first two paragraphs in the linked LRB article. Keep reading, Gentle Reader.
posted by webhund (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Boris bike" users are... like Boris Johnson:
The majority of users are white professional men aged 25 to 44 and earning more than £50,000 a year. Six in 10 Boris bikers earned this sum, compared with about a quarter of Londoners overall. Only five per cent earn less than £20,000 a year.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:18 PM on January 30, 2011


tl;dr: Guy has a major axe to grind with the cycling community and Boris Johnson. Wraps it up in academic jargon, in hopes that nobody will notice.
posted by schmod at 2:20 PM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The majority of people who work 9-5 in downtown london are white professional men aged 25 to 44 and earning more than £50,000 a year.

Fixed that for you.
posted by schmod at 2:22 PM on January 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've seen quite a few Boris bike riders in Bloomsbury over the last three weeks, and they're almost inevitably well-dressed and wobbly.
posted by MadamM at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2011


David Byrne seems to like them, though he makes essentially the same point as Schmod: the geographic limitation of the system to the city center makes it most attractive to the kind of people you'll find in the city center.
posted by monocyte at 2:51 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ian is a great writer (I loved Lights Out for the Territory) but this is silly, poorly researched, and in many areas, factually inaccurate.

The rise in the social status of the bicycle has much to do with the sense of entitlement of public school, Oxbridge-educated politicians.

Does he really believe this? At least blame the hipsters, not the Bullingdon club.

His claims about lack of availability are also silly. It's a pilot scheme. Lots of free bicycles would mean not enough users.

Furthermore, registration is *not* required to use bicycles. For the last three months, casual users have been able to use a debit card right at the payment kiosk. And since the scheme has been so successful, TFL plans to significantly expand it. Here's what the TFL website says:

With more than 1.5 million journeys in just over three months of operation, the Mayor, Barclays and Transport for London (TfL) today announced that by 2012 the cycle hire area will be extended beyond central London to include all of the Borough of Tower Hamlets as well as North Shoreditch in the Borough of Hackney.

People living in Bethnal Green, Bow, Canary Wharf, Mile End and Poplar will also see docking stations built in their area.

Altogether 2,000 more cycles and 4,200 extra docking points will be installed across the existing and new Barclays Cycle Hire area.

posted by honest knave at 2:52 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a wonderfully pyschogeographic essay ...

Sinclair has apparently deemed psychogeography to be "not that interesting anymore".
posted by ryanshepard at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2011


The scheme is a bit useless for me - I'd have to get the tube in to pick up a bike, so I might as well stay on the tube until I get where I'm going rather than cycle the last fifteen minutes of it. It does seem like it's all targeted at those who don't live in London but commute in to one of the major railway stations.
posted by robertc at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2011


Wraps it up in academic jargon, in hopes that nobody will notice.

I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of Iain Sinclair, but that's because his essays often fly into run on historical interludes that I can't be bothered with. It's a bit dense and tiring to follow but it's hardly academic jargon.

The majority of people who work 9-5 in downtown london are white professional men aged 25 to 44 and earning more than £50,000 a year.

Fixed that for you.


The median weekly wage in london is £642. I make this out to be around £31k a year. These people live in and work in the same city as these fellas earning more than £50k and given the increasing rise of tube costs, would benefit more from a bicycle hire scheme in their areas. TheophileEscargot's link is more telling statistically than Iain Sinclair's essay:

TfL's user map shows most are in central London, where the scheme is based. Westminster has the most subscribers (13,632) followed by Kensington and Chelsea (8,537), Islington (6,467) and Camden (6,095).

Southwark (6,084) and Lambeth (5,301) are close behind, with SE1 having the largest number of subscribers of any postcode — 4,063.


So when Sinclair says "cycling has become the plaything of bankers and politicians." I'm inclined to believe him.

Does he really believe this? At least blame the hipsters, not the Bullingdon club.

You know there are plenty of hipsters in Oxbridge.
posted by doobiedoo at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've used it occasionally. It's a useful extra option for getting about.
posted by mr. strange at 3:41 PM on January 30, 2011


CO2 emissions from bankers are just as polluting as those from beggars. I understood the idea was to 1) cut pollution and 2) cut congestion. How does the socio-economic grouping of the person polluting or congesting matter? Seems like just another excuse to score political points to me. We should be happy if anyone chooses to use a bike.
posted by prentiz at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The median weekly wage in london is £642. I make this out to be around £31k a year. These people live in and work in the same city as these fellas earning more than £50k and given the increasing rise of tube costs, would benefit more from a bicycle hire scheme in their areas. TheophileEscargot's link is more telling statistically than Iain Sinclair's essay:

FWIW, London's (exactly) half the size of Rhode Island. Generalizations and statistics about the entire city are worthless when discussing the city's urban core.
posted by schmod at 3:55 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Me: At least blame the hipsters, not the Bullingdon club.

doobiedoo: You know there are plenty of hipsters in Oxbridge.

<sheepish blush> I wasn't actually trying to blame the hipsters, whose preference for cycling I respect.</sheepish blush>
posted by honest knave at 4:19 PM on January 30, 2011


CO2 emissions from bankers are just as polluting as those from beggars. I understood the idea was to 1) cut pollution and 2) cut congestion. How does the socio-economic grouping of the person polluting or congesting matter? Seems like just another excuse to score political points to me. We should be happy if anyone chooses to use a bike.

Well it doesn't get any more political than public transport so that's not a surprise. I went through TheophileEscargot's link again and it seems that 87% of people who use the bikes switched from either tubing, walking and bussing. It says nothing about who gave up their cars but at most it would be 13%. At 5000 bikes this suggests it's not easing congestion or helping pollution much at all.

FWIW, London's (exactly) half the size of Rhode Island. Generalizations and statistics about the entire city are worthless when discussing the city's urban core.

Fair enough, I looked a bit deeper into these stats from the ONS - 2010 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings and this was the table I used; Analysis by Place of work by Local Authority, Table 7.7a: Annual pay: Gross. Now of the largest boroughs mentioned in TheophileEscargot's link here are the median wages in order of subscribers:

1. Westminster; £34.8k
2. Kensington & Chelsea; £27.6k
3. Islington; £32.3k
4. Camden; £34.1k
5. Southwark; £31.9k
6. Lambeth; £30.7

I actually got here via a bbc article on wages which gave a little rundown of the percentiles back in 2009;

The ASHE figures reveal that a salary of £44,881 is enough to just edge into that top bracket. [10%] A gross annual salary of £58,917 gets you into the top 5%.

So there you have it, maybe not the sole preserve of bankers and politicians, but definitely a plaything.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:45 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Washington DC launched a (by many measures) successful bikeshare program, using the same basic scheme (same bikes, same contractor.) However, it's been pointed out that while usage in NW DC and Crystal City is high, few trips are taken in Anacostia, the historically poorer, blacker part of the city. A few months after the programs' launch, there were 11 users in Anacostia, out of the 2,000+ total, (For seven stations.)

Furthermore, biking in general was strongly linked to ex-mayor Adrian Fenty's government, seen as ousted by Mayor Gray. One councilwoman from Anacostia said "We don't need bike lanes" in condemning Fenty's administration.

I guess what I'm saying is, this isn't strictly a London issue.
posted by Vhanudux at 7:42 PM on January 30, 2011


To be fair, his criticisms seem apt to every bike share program I have seen. They are not bikes for the masses. They are just another transport option for urban commuters - usually urban professionals.

My biggest objection to the London bikes is that they are hideous bikes, especially with the stupid Barclays branding. Honestly, most of the French bikes are kind of ugly too. When I was in Torino recently, I noticed that I envied the Italian share bikes.
posted by vacapinta at 8:12 PM on January 30, 2011


It all really has to do with what sort of livery and branding that the bikes carry. In DC, our first bikesharing system used those Italian bikes that you mentioned, which were hideous after about a year of use.

On the other hand, the replacement system, Capitol Bikeshare uses the same Bixi bikes as Montreal, London, and a few others. However, the bright Red and Yellow livery that DC's bikes carry makes them look WAY better than their counterparts in other cities.

One other advantage of the Bixi system is that the stations are solar powered, and very easy to install. A station can be installed or removed by a team of 4, and a small flatbed truck with a crane in about 2 hours. No prep or infrastructure work is provided, as long as there is a reasonably level surface to attach the station to. This makes station deployment and reconfiguration very easy and inexpensive, which is a huge perk for cities initially deploying these systems.

(That said, I don't find the Barclays bikes to be particularly offensive in the context of the London streetscape. Opponents of the program (esp. the ones in London) seem very axe-grindy for reasons that have nothing to do with the cycle hire scheme itself)
posted by schmod at 8:44 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went through TheophileEscargot's link again and it seems that 87% of people who use the bikes switched from either tubing, walking and bussing. It says nothing about who gave up their cars but at most it would be 13%. At 5000 bikes this suggests it's not easing congestion or helping pollution much at all.

If it eases congestion on the tube, that is fine by me: in rush hour, I can easily wait for 5 or 6 trains to go past before I can board one (Clapham North). Although obviously we need to see more than 5000 users for it to have any real effect.
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:46 PM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe cycling adoption will increase in England when they change their traffic laws from the ones they developed to regulate horse-drawn carriages. Of course changing one set of unenforced laws for another set of unenforced might not have any impact at all.
posted by srboisvert at 2:29 AM on January 31, 2011


Almost everything he claims here is looking at the situation from an angle so perpendicular to mine that I find it hard to recognise.

He recognises that the bicycle is a great leveller - cheap to buy and run, it helps people on low incomes make short journeys easily and longer journeys possible. However, he seems to now view cyclists as being higher-class than the poor commuters: "The public transport system was left to the disadvantaged, to economic migrants and bendy-bus freeloaders who would be challenged, from time to time, by mob-handed raiding parties."

There are repeated mentions of how the cyclist causes problems for poor motorists: "[various professions] all did their bit to complicate London’s clogged and chaotic traffic, by staying away from stuttering buses and packed viral torpedoes, where they would be brought into intimate contact with the sweating mass of humanity."  However, in my experience, you can get more people on a stretch of road on a bike than in most other forms of transport, and without the downside of pollution or fuel costs. And most people would like to be able to avoid having to be packed into a tube train if there were a convenient alternative. Which brings us to the bike hire scheme...

"It does not favour journeys of exploration, drifts, day-long expeditions. The first 30 minutes, once you’ve joined, are free. A day’s outing costs £50." Absolutely true, if you are foolish enough to continually ride a single bike for an entire day. The more likely scenario is to use a bike to hop to a different area, walk somewhere and pick up a new bike for a new trip. "Move across the city, using the key, and your presence is logged." Oh, you mean like Oyster cards also do? Yes, unfortunately journeys are logged, but I can't see a way in which the scheme could work in its current form otherwise.

There are certainly problems with the current scheme - lack of supply, lack of churn so distribution tends to be less even than it should be, and faulty bikes. "Barclays keep an entire department to argue over unfair deductions." Surely he means Serco, the company that runs the scheme, or TFL

Also criticised is the small area covered by the scheme - central London only - but this is hardly surprising, and is being extended to the east of London (into some of the poorer areas) ready for the Olympics in 2012. I'm hopeful it will also be extended in other areas.

In the end (spoilers!), he is a convert to the general idea despite the flaws, even though he proceeds to waste his membership. I am hopeful that the opening of the scheme to non-members will encourage tourists to cycle around London, and that more docks and cycles will be added to make supply and demand somewhere closer to reality. I hope that the addition of thousands of inner-city cyclists will force London to become even more cycle-friendly, as it has been moving in this direction over the last ten years. But I'm not sure that wordy bollocks like this is really going to help.
posted by Stark at 4:07 AM on January 31, 2011


For starters, Sinclair gets the tribes all wrong:

- Fixie boys - hipsters on fixies. Dress in black with messenger bag and tiny LED light for full effect
- Sit up and beggers - Ideally with one of either a basket or a child seat attached. Some form of woollen clothing optional
- Rain or shiners - Generic fluorescsent clad commuters, more often now lit up like Christmas trees
- Coat and tailers - Short hop commuters, typically dressed in office wear
- Lilliputians- a subgroup of the previous two - notable by their fondness of cycling London's potholed roads on rims no larger than a child's plate
- Lycra louts - Lycra clad, typically 25-40 year old men. Also noticeable for the five minutes they spend when traffic lights go green fixing the feet back into their pedals
- Homeboys - Local lads swerving from A to B, normally via the middle of the road or the pavement. Noticeable through lack of lights and general disregard for their own wellbeing
posted by MuffinMan at 4:08 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing to remember about the wages in London is that there is The City of London, aka "The Square Mile" which has a population on the order of 10000 but where 300,000 people work and then there is greater London, which has an area of 600 square miles and a population of 7.5 million.

Using data from Croydon to examine an issue in the City of London is a lot like applying data from Seattle to a political debate in Vancouver.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:25 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget that the very last things this field of endeavour is about are data, measurement, conclusion drawing or freedom from judgement. Wasn't meant to be, never will be.
posted by cromagnon at 5:56 AM on January 31, 2011


Scanning a few random paragraphs - and it all rubbish. The rant about the tow paths? is it really that bad to walk along there? I've certainly not noticed on the many occasions I have walked along Regents Canal.

And the public school rant is bullshit. The majority of the daily regular cyclists in London are the very opposite of the public school educated.

I work in The City of London (the Square Mile) and live in E8 with all the hipsters. I cycle everywhere. - why? cause its the bloody easiest and fastest way to get around central London.
posted by mary8nne at 6:52 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Jack Nicholson interview   |   More than you ever wanted to know. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post