London Freewheel

London Freewheel rolls down the Mall

Andrew Curry writes:

It was European Mobility Week last week, and London marked it with its second ‘Freewheel‘ event on Sunday. Quite a large area of the city centre (St James’ Park and the Embankment from Charing Cross to Tower Hill) was closed to motor vehicles; there were marshalled rides from feeder points around the city; and Sky Sports provided free hi-viz vests to anyone who wanted one. And during the course of the day around 50,000 cyclists turned out, helped by fine weather.

It brought to mind the idea that successful cities have to be both ‘magnets and glue’ (the phrase is Rosabeth Moss Kanter‘s). Magnets are the events and buildings which make a city prominent; glue is what makes people stay there. The first is high profile, the second more about locality and liveability (good parks, good schools). The first tends towards the spectacular, the second towards the participatory.

What’s interesting is the way in which London has used cycling to promote both. There have been the magnet events such as the stages of the Tour of Britain and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. Freewheel, in contrast, is glue – a social day out. But it turns out that a lot of the skills which are needed overlap. The roads closed off last Sunday were almost the same as for the first stage of the Tour of Britain earlier this month. The marshalling skills are similar.

As well as wanting to stage events such as this, cities have to learn how to do it. London has scaled up over time (the first time it closed off city centre roads for cycling it shut down a small area around Whitehall). It’s part of a successful pro-cycling strategy which has seen cyclist commuter numbers double in the capital over the last five years.

Freewheel photos (c) Peter Curry 2008

Freewheel photos (c) Peter Curry 2008

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