The absolute state of London's bike storage
‘I waited years for a hangar — but by then I’d moved'
Morning — in a city where bike theft is commonplace, protected lock-ups have become prime real estate. Exclusive data obtained by the Spy shows just how insanely long waiting lists for London’s bike hangars are these days, with your chances of getting stuck in cycling purgatory basically a postcode lottery. Dare you hope your bike gets a safe spot? Read on after your briefing below.
Plus: east London cladding, a moaning oligarch, and some big cultural highlights.
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BTW: Apologies for the late issue — the Spy was at a conference outside of London over the weekend, and much of our travel ended up a nightmare thanks to Storm Babet…
What we’ve spied
🔫 Armed police surrounded a 13-year-old boy in Hackney after his water pistol was mistaken for a real gun. The boy was having a water fight with his sibling at the time, using blue, pink and white water pistols that have been described as “unmistakably toys”. The boy’s mother has spoken to the BBC, stating she believes the police were motivated by race: “I know — and the police know — that they would not have treated my son in the way they did if he had been a white 13-year-old boy”.
🏢 In a national first, the owner of an east London tower block has been found guilty over delays in replacing dangerous Grenfell-style cladding. In 2019, four types of flammable cladding were found on the block on Romford Road in Forest Gate, prompting Newham council to issue an improvement order instructing the owner to remove it. But when the deadline came, work hadn’t even started, leading the council to bring a criminal case against the block’s owners. The ruling is thought to be the first time a local authority has used its powers under the 2004 Housing Act for a cladding-related prosecution, and has been described by the council as a “major milestone”. Elsewhere in the capital’s housing crisis: signs that empty offices may be turned into flats. A new report has pointed out that the proportion of vacant office space in the capital has almost doubled since the onset of the pandemic to around 8.5 per cent, potentially freeing up around 16 million sq ft of empty blocks that could create close to 28,000 new homes.
🤑 TROUBLE IN PARADISE 🤑 Two squabbles from London’s more affluent quarters have ended up in court this week. First is the sanctioned oligarch who’s been moaning to the High Court that he should be allowed to spend £30,000 a month on upkeep for his Highgate mansion. Lawyers for Mikhail Fridman, who was sanctioned shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, argued that he needs to spend the money to prevent Athlone House, his £65m Victorian mansion in Highgate, from falling into disrepair. This is despite the fact that he has already been allowed to make payments totalling around £1m to cover “basic needs” since he was sanctioned. Next is a dispute about a designer glass cube sunroom that has also made its way to the High Court. Howard Davis, the head of Prince Harry’s former Polo Club in London, is attempting to force fashion power couple Oliver and Tamara Benjamin to remove their “obtrusive, intrusive” first-floor glass-cube sunroom on their £2m home in west London.
🎭 Some cultural tidbits that have caught our eye:
Kensington Design Museum has opened a new skateboarding exhibition, tracing skateboard design history from the 1950s to the sport’s admission to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A West End cinema has backed out of hosting the world premiere of Kevin Spacey’s first film since his acquittal, with staff saying they were “horrified” to be associated with the actor.
The Tate Britain is about to open an installation featuring five edible sculptures of people made from cake, biscuits and meringue. It’s being created by feminist artist Bobby Baker who says she came up with the idea when she was “disillusioned with the art world”.
A parliamentary hearing has shed new light on the theft of 2,000 artefacts from the British Museum, with George Osborne describing the incident as “an inside job”, with “a lot of records” being altered to facilitate it.
Speaking of — the British Museum has announced a new show dedicated to the daily lives of men, women and children at the height of the Roman empire (you might say it’s timed perfectly given the Roman hype that’s gripped social media lately).
More details on how the Museum of London will be re-opening its doors in its new home in the old Smithfield Market.
Disney has opened its centenary exhibition “Disney 100 years” at the ExCeL centre featuring costumes, artefacts, props and artwork.
Reviews are in from the London Film Festival, which played 252 titles including 14 world premieres. The Times gave out just one five-star review — for the Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro starring Bradley Cooper.
The National Theatre is piloting earlier start times of 6.30pm inspired by post-covid working patterns.
🐜 P.S: Once again we’ve pestered TfL about bed bugs. Still no confirmed sightings on their transport network, they told us on Friday.
London’s biking bottleneck
BTW: keen to see the waiting list of a specific bike hangar near you? We’ll soon be sending out an interactive map with all of our data to everyone who’s pledged to the Spy — pledge yourself here to get the full intel.
There’s nothing like heaving a bike up a flight of stairs, its pedals scraping your ankles, to remind you of your lack of space and security in London. Every day cyclists across the city are awkwardly stashing bikes in their hallways and bedrooms in an attempt to dodge the thieves outside. Safe parking out front — like in an on-street bike hangar — is a pipe dream for many. But for now, at least, they’re doomed. 70,000 Londoners are stuck on waiting lists for a spot in the city’s hangars, internal council data obtained by the Spy shows, and hangar supply will need to triple just to meet current demand.
In fact, supply is so bad in some parts of London that there are dozens of hangars with more than 100 people in the queue for a single spot, and even some where the wait list has breached 200. Many of those lucky enough to have got in say they were in the queue for multiple years — as high as five in some cases. Unlucky ones say they got the good news way too late, after they’d moved on to rent somewhere else in the city. The most desperate are considering hacky alternatives, like coughing up for a car parking spot instead so they can store their bike in the back of a van.
The data we’ve obtained via Freedom of Information requests to councils sent over this summer show 4,500 hangars are now installed across London, sometimes on pavements and sometimes in what were once parking spots. Most are the kind that look like half a green tin can and have space to lock up six bikes inside. Overall there’s 27,000 spots in the city, but close to 90% are occupied and 68,000 Londoners are on waiting lists — around three people per spot on average. But the supply shortage is particularly acute in some boroughs, where there isn’t a single spot vacant. In Hammersmith and Fulham, 3,700 people are in the queue for one of just 336 bike parking spots — around 11 people per spot, the worst shortage in the city. The borough’s biggest wait list is the 245 people in a queue for a hangar just off Fulham Road, outside a bougie wine shop and a Gail’s Bakery. Several other boroughs also have at least five people waiting per spot: Camden, Westminster, Haringey and Wandsworth. Camden is home to the most in-demand hangar in all of Greater London — 345 waiting for one of six spots by delightful terraced housing in South Hampstead.
The huge demand isn’t surprising though, given the general lack of confidence in bike security among Londoners. Crime stats lead some to conclude bike theft is ‘effectively decriminalised’ in the city — more than 18,000 bikes were reported stolen last year, and 93% of cases were left unsolved by police. And that’s just what cyclists have bothered to report. Every now and then footage pops up of thieves taking an angle grinder to locked bikes in broad daylight. The bike hangar bottleneck takes the shine off the general consensus that cycling is actually getting better in London, following efforts from City Hall and borough councils — more bike lanes, bus stop islands and — perhaps more controversially — low-traffic neighbourhoods.
“We know a quarter of people who’ve had a bike stolen don’t get another one – so tackling secure parking is vital to keep London cycling,” said Simon Munk, head of campaigns at the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), in reaction to the Spy’s stats. LCC is a charity with around 11,000 members in the capital that lobbies to improve cycling — recently its Hackney branch held a protest ride after several fatal crashes in the borough in September. Munk continued: “Every borough should be doing far more on secure cycle parking — they get funding for it and these are some of the least ‘controversial’ measures to deliver. So boroughs failing to roll out hangars really aren’t trying — and they’re letting residents down badly.”
When presented with our data, many councils told the Spy they’re well aware of the excess demand in their area, and that they’re planning to ramp up the number of their hangars. Hammersmith and Fulham council said it’s planning 600 new hangars over the next three years — which, if pulled off, would move the borough towards the top of the hangar league table. It would join the ranks of Hackney and Islington, two boroughs with a better grip on demand and typically just one or two people in the queue per hangar spot. Likewise, Mike Hakata, deputy leader of Haringey council, told us the council has the equivalent of 150 new hangars planned, which would increase total parking spaces to more than 2,000. Others point out the speed with which they’ve installed hangars already — a spokesperson for Camden council said: “We recognise that there is a large demand for bike hangars in Camden and the council wants to enable sustainable and healthy forms of travel. Because of this, over the last few years we have delivered 313 hangars across the borough.”
The Mayor of London’s office also stressed to the Spy that it’s both encouraging more hangars, while also trying to crack down on bike theft. “The Mayor and I want more Londoners to choose sustainable ways of getting around the capital like walking and cycling, and everyone should able to use their bike in London without fear of it being stolen,” London’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman told us. Recent City Hall efforts have included adding bike theft to the Met Police’s ‘MetTrace’ programme, originally a burglarly prevention scheme that involves maryking property with a special liquid only visible under UV light to deter thieves. “We will continue to work with the police to tackle cycle theft and build a better, greener and safer London for all,” Norman added.
On the plus side, hangar numbers are up significantly in London in the long term — from roughly 1,500 in 2017 to nearly 5,000 now, by Norman’s count. One of the city’s first hangars was installed ten years ago in Lambeth by a company called Cyclehoop, which today manages much of the capital’s stock on behalf of councils. Needless to say the company is happy with today’s mad demand, with a spokesperson telling us: “Whilst the demand for more cycle parking is extremely frustrating for those on waiting lists, Cyclehoop sees this increase as a positive sign of investment in active travel.”
London might need way more hangars than is currently planned, though. Group Clean Cities is currently running a campaign encouraging Londoners to get in touch and share their experience of cycle theft, so it can make noise about getting more storage. Oliver Lord, head of UK for Clean Cities Campaign, pointed out to us council waiting lists won’t be showing the full picture. “It's worth noting that these are the people lucky to have the time and energy to put their name forward — it's really the tip of an iceberg,” he said.
But until more hangars pop up, we leave you with the advice of one YIMBY-minded Londoner. They wrote on the r/London subreddit this week: “The trick is to lobby for more hangars, not just apply for a space. But your request isn’t enough. You need to show demand. That means getting your neighbours and their neighbours to ask for more hangars. And that means applying through official channels, but also by writing to your councillor and the council’s transport lead again and again and again.”
Hate the hangars? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want us to tell the other side.
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