Cycling campaigners and victims of bike theft in London – where around 50 bikes a day are reported stolen – have put 1,000 missing bike posters, known as ‘lamppost laments’, across the capital as part of a call for the installation of more cycle hangars, as recent analysis reveals that the demand for secure bike storage has risen by almost a fifth over the past 18 months.
Newly published research, conduced by transport consultancy Steer on behalf of the Clean Cities Campaign, a European coalition of organisations encouraging cities to transition to zero-emission mobility by 2030, has found that 8,500 bike storage spaces have been installed in London since spring last year, when the organisation launched its ‘This is Awkward’ campaign highlighting the cumbersome and often strange places cyclists in London are forced to store their bikes.
However, despite this increase, the waiting list for bike storage spaces in London has nevertheless expanded, with 8,700 more cyclists waiting for spots compared to last year, a 17 percent rise.
Based on the current plans of local authorities across the capital, it is estimated that London’s total cycle storage provision will nearly double to 70,000 by May 2026.
But, despite this investment, Clean Cities says at least 35,000 Londoners across 21 boroughs will still be on a waiting list for a bike space by 2026 – with most of them subject to a postcode lottery when it comes to both provision and the cost of a hangar spot.
Lambeth, for example, has committed to ending their waiting list with a new two-year supply contract for cycle hangars, some of which will be adapted to increase accessibility, and reducing the cost of spaces so that it is cheaper for a family of four to use a cycle hangar (£120 for four bikes at £30 each) than to park a car (starting at £120.21 for an electric car).
However, on the other hand, Hammersmith and Fulham and Tower Hamlets (boasting a combined waiting list of over 5,600 cyclists), along with Bexley, Harrow, and Hillingdon are yet to install any secure bike parking or storage at all, despite around a third of the residents of the latter three boroughs living in flats or apartments.
Meanwhile, in Islington, the cost of an annual space in an on-street secure cycle hangar (£107.25) is double that of the London average (£54), while the report also shows that it is cheaper to park an electric car than to rent a single space in a cycle hangar in most London boroughs.
A recent Freedom of Information request also found that Transport for London – who have reported that more than half of Londoners see the lack of cycle parking as a key deterrent to cycling – has funded just 1,000 spaces since 2021, despite a commitment by mayor Sadiq Khan to increase the number of secure bike hangars.
Launching their new campaign, Clean Cities says the introduction of more secure bike hangars has demonstrated a clear, positive improvement in a city where 20,000 bikes are reported stolen each year, with the actual figure of stolen bikes, including those not reported to the police, likely to be even higher.
“I cycled before I got a bike hangar space, but due to poor infrastructure to store my bike, I had my bike stolen from the premises,” Alekhya, a Lambeth-based victim of cycle theft, told the campaign.
“With the bike hangar I don’t have to worry about parking my bike near my home. It is definitely more secure and I find it safe and easy to use.”
Oliver Lord, the head of the UK’s Clean Cities Campaign, also argued that better cycle storage provision is key to enticing more people to ride bikes in the city.
“If our city leaders want to help Londoners jump on a bike and use their car less then they have to make it as easy as possible, including providing somewhere safe to store it,” he said.
“We are seeing a burgeoning demand for secure cycle storage across the capital that far exceeds supply and Londoners won’t be surprised to learn that getting hold of a secure cycle space near their home is very dependent on the borough in which they live.
“So many Londoners want to cycle but are put off by the threat that their bikes will be stolen or they simply don’t have the space inside their homes.
“A £35 million fund from the Mayor of London would boost the progress being made and go a long way to ending the long wait for thousands of Londoners and the unfair distribution of secure cycle storage”.
Richard Cantle, founder of grassroots group Stolen Ride, which supports victims of bike theft, added: “Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a house with a garage, secure metal garden shed, or have a secure monitored cycle hub on their doorstep.
“In fact, according to the 2021 Census, 54 percent of Londoners do not live in houses. If there is no provision for cycle parking at their residence, or very nearby, then they are stuck without cycle hangars. They have to either risk their bike being locked outside, struggle with a bike inside, or not cycle at all.
“Stolen Ride supports this campaign and urges all London boroughs (and beyond) to acknowledge immediate and future cycle parking needs, alongside the overall benefits of cycling, by increasing the number of end-to-end secure cycle parking solutions.
“Cycle hangar space fees should be strongly subsidised where needed and cycle hangar planning [should] factor in the costs to families, the mixed cost structures across London boroughs, accessibility and non-standard cycles.”
Amber Dowell, a four-time victim of bike theft in Hackney, also noted that “if London wants to ease pressure on public transport, reduce air pollution, and help people stay fit and healthy, we desperately need more secure bike parking. We need it on residential streets and estates, but also to support community centres and businesses.”
As Clean Cities calls on London’s local authorities to provide more secure cycle storage, Britain’s bike theft scourge appears to show no signs of abating, as just last month police in Bristol issued a warning that bike thieves may be following cyclists home to find out where they live, returning later to steal items, and asked riders to “consider taking different routes home”.
Almost 90 percent of bike thefts reported to the police in England and Wales between July 2021 and June 2022 closed without a suspect being identified, while a YouGov survey found that more than three quarters of British people do not expect the police to bother investigating bike thefts.
Concerns about the increasingly brazen tactics used by thieves to target cyclists are nothing new, with multiple incidents being reported on this website of criminals using tools such as angle grinders to cut through locks in broad daylight in busy locations, as well as the concerningly frequent reports of violent bikejackings.
Last month alone we shared shocking footage from the West Midlands which showed masked men attempting to steal a cyclist’s bike after forcing him off the road with an SUV, and reported on an incident in Wolverhampton which saw a thief attempt to cut through a lock outside Asda, seemingly unconcerned by the bystander withdrawing cash metres away.
And in September, a man was convicted of a bike theft, but only after the mother of the victim held a three-day protest outside the offender’s house amid clear CCTV evidence and police inaction.
However, the panacea offered by Clean Cities for this widespread bike theft problem – cycle hangars – has also not been without controversy in recent months, with motorists in London, Bath, and Brighton and Hove complaining over the past year that the storage units are eyesores, take up parking spaces for drivers, and cause motorists to crash into them.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.