Apparently I live in one of the most cycle friendly boroughs in London. I learned this amazing fact quite recently, thanks to data from the 2011 census results, published at the end of January. It revealed that more people in Hackney cycle to work than anywhere else in the capital.
According to commentators, ‘Hackney’s councillors have pursued planning and transport policies that make it easier for all their residents to get around’, and as a result ‘the roads cater for slow, safe and simple cycling that works for all sorts of people of all ages.’
Despite living in the borough for almost ten years, this was news to me. I mean, it hadn’t escaped my attention that there are quite a few other cyclists around and that yes, their number seems to be growing. But I always thought this was happening almost by accident, and not by design. I thought, like me, they were cycling as much out of necessity as anything else.
If you’re familiar with the area, you’ll know that Hackney isn’t the easiest of boroughs to get to, from or around. There are lots of buses, an increasing number of Overground trains but still, as yet, no tube.
If I want to get to a tube station from my house, it involves a combination of walking, bus or train, which can take anything up to half an hour. As a result, I rarely bother. The buses, while convenient, are hardly quick – I can get into the centre of London by bike in half the time it would take by bus. And the Overground, while handy, doesn’t go into the centre of London at all.
So the result is, unless there’s a good reason not to, cycling is my default way of getting around.
Of course, you could argue that it doesn’t automatically follow that a lack of decent public transport would lead someone to start cycling. But then if you start to look at the people who live in Hackney – particularly the ones who are cycling – then you can start to understand why it might.
I’m not just talking about the recent influx of Hackney hipsters, although their presence is undoubtedly swelling the numbers of cyclists. Amongst its many diverse communities, Hackney has a long tradition of being home to a bunch of left-wing, eco-friendly, independently-minded and not overly rich people – the kind of people who would be attracted to cycling for much the same reasons as I was. It’s a cheap, convenient and environmentally friendly way to get about.
I may be making over-generalisations here. In fact I know I am, because I’ve seen plenty of people on bikes who don’t fit my rather narrow stereotype. But still, it seems to me that here in Hackney you’ve got a bunch of people with an inclination to cycle who have a good reason to cycle. I could be wrong, but I think that’s got a lot more to do with why so many people round here cycle than the council’s commitment to making Hackney a cycle-friendly borough.