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London's Mayor: Bike Share Will Civilize New York

Monday, June 11, 2012 - 02:49 PM

London Mayor Boris Johnson. (photo by hammersmithandfulham / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) When we heard that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, would be sitting for an interview with show host Leonard Lopate in a studio at WNYC, we made sure to plant a transportation question.

Lopate: Our news department wanted us to ask if you have any advice for New York as it launches its bikeshare program next month.

Johnson: My advice is, 'Enjoy it.' I think it's high time that New York had it. It's a great scheme; it will go well.

Johnson then described how London's bikeshare program has transformed street life in Great Britain's capital city, and what New Yorkers should brace for.

Johnson: I think drivers have got to learn to recognize they are going to find bikes on the streets. It's just a fact of life, and it will civilize the place. It will improve the atmosphere. There's nothing more immediately redolent of a village than loads of people wobbling around on bicycles.

Understandably, Lopate was suspicious of the idea that New Yorkers could be civilized, especially compared to Londoners.

Lopate: London's always had a bicycle culture. And bicyclists, at least when I rode around London, actually observed the traffic rules. We would signal left turn, right turn, and not go through red lights. That doesn't happen in this city. Has there been the kind of war between drivers and bicyclists that we've seen in New York?

Johnson: I wish everybody was as punctilious as you are, Leonard. I'm going to have to confess to you that we've got some bad habits now in London. There's loads of people who jump red lights, ride on the pavement, intimidate pedestrians and disobey the rules of the road. If any of them are listening, they know who they are.

Despite such problems, bikeshares have come a long way since the 1960s, when a Dutch anarchist group collected several hundred bicycles, painted them white and left them lying around Amsterdam to be used for free--a bold stroke that inspired this super-groovy song. Today's bikeshares, like Barclay Cycle Hire in London, tend to be organized, branded and growing.

Johnson: We've seen a massive expansion of cycling in London. Last year alone, it's gone up 15 percent. The cycle scheme we've got in is expanding very fast. We're at something like 40,000 rides a day. We will go further.

Still, the Mayor of London ended with a cautionary note about the need for police to crack down on bad actors.

Johnson: But there's got to be a reciprocal understanding by cyclists that they've got to obey the rules of the road.

Are you listening, New York City?

Here is a video about how London's bikeshare works:

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