Hackney Cycling Conference: Why cycling is the future


Cyclists spend more money in local shops than those who travel by other forms of transport; are an integral part of our fossil fuel-free future; but they need an image overhaul to get more people riding and to gain wider public support.

Those were some of the thought-provoking lessons from the fourth annual Hackney Cycling Conference, held at Hackney Picturehouse, on Friday.

More than 200 delegates from the cycling world - including academics, campaigners, transport planners and London councillors – assembled at the Mare Street venue for the day-long convention which saw 13 speakers, some from as far away as the USA and Mexico, share advice and expertise.

Andy Clarke, President of the American League of Bicyclists, told the conference: “Cyclists make more frequent trips to local shops and spend more there than people who travel by bus or drive. In San Francisco, 66 per cent of merchants say bike lanes have an overall positive effect on business.”

But he added: “We [cyclists] are not our own best advocates, and studies show this. We need to improve our image.”

The theme of this year’s conference, ‘the economics of cycling in world-class megacities’, explored the arguments for investing in cycling and its infrastructure, but it also touched on many other subjects, including the need to push the cycling agenda with local and national decision-makers; the necessity for smart software to design a world where everyone can cycle; and the need to mainstream and normalise cycling.

Dr Robin Lovelace, from the University of Leeds, whose team is building an IT tool to show which parts of UK have the most potential for increased cycling, said the world was at the end of the fossil fuel age, and that cycling in cities was “part of the solution of a fossil fuel-free society”.

Hackney is London’s premier cycling borough, with the highest rate of commuter cycling in the capital and the lowest proportion of car-ownership in the country. It offers free cycle training to everyone who lives, works and studies in the borough, with more than 16,500 people having taken-up the sessions. In addition, the Council is currently rolling out a borough-wide 20mph speed limit; is using an app to increase its understanding of cycling habits in the borough; and last year launched its successful cycle loan scheme. 

The Conference, organised by the Council with help from the Hackney Cycling Campaign, also saw residents attend two exclusive, free film screenings at the Mare Street cinema, thanks to a partnership with the BFI. And outside Town Hall, passers-by were able to try out parent-and-child-friendly bikes, with demonstrations from the Hackney Cycling Campaign and local bike shops.

Cllr Feryal Demirci, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Sustainability, Hackney Council
This year’s Conference was our biggest and best yet. It brought together some of the world’s foremost thinkers on cycling and transport to share best-practice, offer advice and ideas, and ignite debate on how we improve cycling for those already riding and promote it to those who are not yet in the saddle. 

The Council has been able to take away some genuinely thought-provoking ideas which I believe will lead to cycling improvements in the borough. I want to thank all the speakers for helping make it such an inspiring day.
Cllr Feryal Demirci, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Sustainability, Hackney Council

Other speakers at the Conference, which was chaired by consultant Jeff Ligo and supported by Steer Davies Gleave, L&Q Housing, Cyclehoop and Transport Initiatives, included: Cllr Demirci, Mayor Jules Pipe, Hackney MP Meg Hillier, Rodrigo Guerrero Maldonado, Cllr Julian Bell, Elettra Bordonaro, Liesbeth van Alphen, Chris Harrison, Amy Aeron-Thomas and Ken Spence. Some undertook Q&As with audience members following their presentations. For more, go to: http://hackney.gov.uk/cycling-conference