— This post is part of Taylor Griggs’ trip through Europe. See all stories here.

To be honest with you, I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to visiting London. I like coffee more than tea, I’ve never owned anything with Union Jack iconography and I am really not enticed by Royal weddings. But I added it to my European itinerary anyway, mainly because I found a cheap flight from Newark to Heathrow. And since I have long been intrigued by the idea of taking a high speed train under the English Channel from the United Kingdom to the European continent, it seemed like a quick layover in London would be a good chance to check that out. 

As it turns out, I love London, and I wish I’d allotted for more than five hours to explore the city. I think my enthusiasm can be attributed in part to my low expectations, particularly regarding the city’s bike infrastructure: I went in knowing essentially nothing about London’s layout and whether or not it would be feasible for me to bike around at all during my brief visit.

In fact, I was blown away by the bike infrastructure in central London. I rented a Lime e-bike for a bit and was thrilled by the bikeways and all the people I saw riding bikes around the city. I found the design so easy and accommodating that I barely noticed the backwards traffic pattern (I still think it’s weird, though, and will be glad to return to the right side of the street).

Here are a few of the main things I noticed while biking around London:

Sophisticated wayfinding

London’s bike networks (called cycleways) are each numbered. Street signs show where the cycleways can take you, and painted signs on the bikeways make it easy to keep track of where you are. (These are a few ideas Portland bike advocates and wayfinding enthusiasts want to see on our own greenways!)

Lots of couriers

My observations about bike couriers and freight deserve their own post. But for now, just note that bike delivery is a thriving industry in London. And notably, the bike couriers seem to be treated with respect by the city’s designers, people riding regular bikes and even people driving cars/bigger freight vehicles. In New York, which was absolutely rich with bike and moped couriers, I noticed a lot more intermodal conflict.

Rental bikes galore

It’s clear that Lyft and Uber have taken over the e-bike rental market in cities around the world. However, London does things differently than what I’ve seen elsewhere (notably, Portland and New York). Even though Uber/Lime still operates a service in London, the city also appears to utilize a public bike share service as well, renting regular and electric bikes for more affordable prices than what the private companies charge. These bikes are part of London’s public transportation system and are marketed as such.

And as far as I could tell, the existence of this public service doesn’t mean the Lime bikes are left to rust. When I tried to rent an electric Citibike (operated by Lyft, same as Portland’s Biketown) in Brooklyn on Monday, so many of them were out of battery that I just gave up and rented a normal one. The Lime bike I rented in London was charged and worked on the first try. Plus, they have bigger baskets in the front and a place to hold your phone while you ride, which I am a huge fan of.

No unlicensed ice cream trading

’nuff said. (Just kidding. I have no idea what this means and I frankly don’t want to find out — some things should remain a mystery.)

Overall, I was highly impressed: I think London has some very special qualities that Portland would be wise to emulate in our planning. London hasn’t always been known as a cycling mecca in the past (and I’m sure there are areas outside of the central city that aren’t quite so easy to navigate), but I thought there were a lot of things to give them kudos for.



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