Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Mall - Time for the Bikes?

Boris bike on the Mall - no docks here
I have written extensively on this blog, and others have elsewhere, about the Cycle Hire scheme. But never in all that time have Boris bikers been approached by TfL to ask us where we would like to see a dock situated. Having commented on the Royal Parks, it is time to make a case, that being for a docking station on the Mall.

Back in 2009 Boris bikes were still in the planning stage. TfL submitted an application for a docking station on the Mall. It would have been quite big. But it was rejected. You can view the paperwork here. Remember that this all happened before the scheme was up and running. Since then a lot has changed, but the Mall still has no docking station. In fact, a quick look at a map of docking stations shows that the Mall is part of a really quite large area of London with no docks at all. This is despite it being an area popular with tourists and workers alike.

The arguments made against the docking station centred around the 'special character' of the area. Now, having worked in an office overlooking the Mall for nearly 8 years, I understand the Mall's character very well. On a normal working day, it is a dual carriageway, ferrying huge numbers of motor vehicles, mainly taxis in fact, through central London. It is noisy and polluted. Many cyclists also use the Mall, but it is not a tale of equals; motor traffic moves quickly and aggressively. On Sundays only the Mall excludes cars, and pedestrians and cyclists rule; it is, comparatively, a haven.

Considering the unpleasant state of the Mall at present, with its noisy and polluting traffic, what possible reasons might prevent installsation of a docking station for cycle hire? One reason advanced is that it may clutter the 'special character' of the Mall. But, as the Palace rightly points out in its submission (which supported a dock) as long as these can be removed on ceremonial occasions (which they can), there is no objection. This has happened seamlessly for Olympic events this summer in fact. The docks themselves are less than a metre high. The tallest part of the set-up is the terminal, but as this incorporates maps, it would actually benefit those using the area. In short, the docking station would clutter the Mall far less than the current noise and pollution of constantly moving traffic.

Now that the objections to a Mall dock have been set aside, let us turn to the benefits of a cycle hire dock, and the reasons why the Mall in particular is an appropriate location:

- there is ample space for a docking station.
- a docking station at this location will have very high levels of useage from local workers and tourists alike. Visitors to the Mall, St James's Park and the Palace neeed a dock which is in clear view.
- more BCH cyclists will help reduce motor traffic through the Mall area by getting more people on bikes. Therefore the whole area will be safer for pedestrians, have cleaner air, have less noise pollution, and be less congested with motor traffic.
- There is no docking station convenient for the Mall at present, restricting use. The nearest are towards Wellington Arch (at some distance) and in Waterloo Place (try carrying your bike up all those steps).

In the years since the original application was submitted, there has been a shift in perceptions of the economic and environmental benefits of cycling. Cycle hire has been embraced, and almost 40,000 journeys are made each day. The Olympic and Paralympic Games have inspired us to lead more active lives, and created a positive vibe for cycling. With expansion of the Boris bike scheme due in 2013, this is the moment to seize to bring the bikes to a key part of historic and cultural Westminster.

Please support the call for a Boris bike dock on the Mall - 'Two Wheels Good' is calling for the same. Write to the Royal Parks (cycle@royalparks.gsi.gov.uk), TfL (ENQUIRE@tfl.gov.uk) and also your local London Assembly representative. If you're in Westminster, let your MP and councillors know your views. Together we can make a change.

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