If the cable car were a bus route, it'd be London's 407th busiest

Look at all those happy punters. Image: Scott Heavey/Getty.

Great news, everyone! London's favourite cable car has hit a major milestone!

 

Five million people! Isn't that brilliant?

Let's put that amazing number in context, shall we?

Over the last year, just under 1.6m people have used the cable car. That's so many it's approximately one tenth of the number that used* London's smallest tube line, the Waterloo & City line shuttle.

Approximately 50,000 passengers a week use the nearby Woolwich Ferry to cross the Thames; that means that the cable car is attracting nearly 60 per cent as much traffic as that.

And if it was a bus route, it'd be London's 407th busiest! Take that, H14 from Hatch End to Northwick Park Hospital. How’s it feel to be in 408th place? Loser.

To sum all this up, here's the passenger traffic on the cable car compared to selected other transport routes in London:

Here’s another version of the chart which includes the Central Line. That’s London's busiest route, and even that only receives a mere 168 times as much traffic as the Emirates Air Line.

And it only did that well by having 49 stations and cheating by actually going to places people want to go. Watch your back, Central Line!

But we shouldn’t just think of the route itself of course: we should think of the stations, too.

Those 1.56m people each, presumably, used both Emirates Greenwich Peninsula and Emirates Royal Docks stations once each. (If they didn't, that raises some worrying questions.) That gives each of them an annual consolidated "entries + exits" figure of, yes, 1.56m.

Compare that figure with those published for the London Underground network, and you'll find that, if the cable car's two terminals were tube stations, as the tube map seems to think they are, they'd be joint 248th most popular! That’s ahead of around 20 other contenders, including such big names as Mill Hill East, Chalfont & Latimer and Upminster Bridge. Amazing.

To finish up, let's check out the long term passenger usage trends on the cable car route. Here's a graph showing average weekly passenger numbers over the past three years:

And here’s another version, this time using a 10 week rolling average, so you can see the long term trend and the effect of the seasons more clearly. 

 

Two things jump out at you here. One is that the cable car's traffic is seasonal, hitting its peak in summer.


The other is that nearly a quarter of the people who have ever used the Emirates Air Line did so in its first three months of existence – a period which, coincidentally, included London's Olympic Games. Since then, passenger numbers have been gently, but gradually, falling.

But never mind all that on this joyous day. Congratulations, to Transport for London and the Emirates Air Line, for hitting this amazing milestone.

The Emirates Air Line cost an estimated £60m to construct and £500,000 a month to run.

 

*Incidentally, tube passenger figures are for 2011-12, the most recent year we could find. Given the network-wide trend towards growth, it's almost certainly an underestimate. 

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Copenhagen puts cyclists at the top of the social hierarchy

A cyclist in Copenhagen, obviously. Image: Red Bull/Getty.

Have you ever wondered why Britain is not a nation of cyclists? Why we prefer to sit in traffic as our Dutch and Danish neighbours speed through the city on bikes?

Forget about hills, rain, and urban sprawl: the real reason we aren’t cycling is much closer to home. It is not just lack of infrastructure, or lack of fitness, the reason that 66 per cent of Brits cycle less than once a year, is because of status.

An obsession with social status is hard-wired into our brains. As we have built a society that relies on cars, the bicycle has slipped to the periphery, and gone from being regarded as a sensible mode of transport, to a deviant fringe-dwellers choice.

Even though cycling to work has been shown to be one of the most effective things an individual can do to improve health and longevity, researcher David Horton thinks that there are a set of collective anxieties that are stopping us getting in the saddle. These include not just an unwillingness to be made vulnerable, but fear of being thought of as poor.

A quick look over the North Sea shows that there is an alternative. Danish culture has elevated cycling to the point of reverence, and the social status of cyclists has followed. As we have busied ourselves building infrastructure that testifies to the dominance of the car, Denmark has been creating magnificent architectural features, aimed specifically at bike users. The Cycle Snake, or Cykelslangen, literally suspends the cyclist above the city, metaphorically elevating the cyclist and creating a sense of ceremony.

In doing so, they are subtly persuading people of all backgrounds to see past their prejudices or fears and take it up as the clearly better choice. This means there are more women cycling, more older people cycling, and more ethnic minorities cycling. The activity is less dominated by comfortably middle class white males: there are cyclists from every side of the community.  

The Cykelslangen, under construction in 2014. Image: Ursula Bach and Dissing+Weitling architecture.

Despite abstract motivations like getting ripped and conquering global warming, it is only when the bike path becomes the obviously better choice that people will start to cycle. It can take years of traffic jams before people try an alternative, but if you make motorists jealous of cyclists, then the tables can quickly turn.

Another way that Copenhagen has done this is by taking privileges normally afforded only to the motorcar, and given them to the bike. The city has ensured that cycle routes do not include blind corners or dark tunnels, and that they form a complete, coherent network, and a steadily flowing system – one that allows cyclists to maintain a reasonable pace, and minimises the amount of times you have to put your foot down.

The ‘Green Wave’, for example, is a co-ordinated traffic light system on some of the main thoroughfares of the capital that helps minimise the amount of cycle congestion during peak times. It maintains a steady flow of cycle traffic, so that there is no need to stop at any point.


Small measures of prioritisation like this one increase the sense of safety and consideration that cyclists experience, making it natural for the citizens of a city to act in their own self-interest and get on their bike.

As well as redefining the streets around the bicycle, the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog positively fetishises cyclists. The tagline “dress for your destination, not your journey” depicts the social fashion life of the cycle lane as a “never ending flow of happy people heading from A to B”. Its writers are  literally making cycling sexy, dispelling the idea that going anywhere by bike is odd, and helping the world to see that the bicycle is actually the ultimate fashion accessory.

So unlike in London, where cycling is still a predominantly male pursuit, Copenhagen sees a more even split between men and women. Not just because they feel safer on the roads, but because culturally they are comfortable with their appearance as part of a highly visible group.

So while our low level of cycling is partly due to our physical infrastructure, it is also due to our cultural attitudes. The mental roadblocks people have towards cycling can be overcome by infrastructure that is not only safe, but also brings old-fashioned notions of dignity and grace into the daily commute.

Of course, office shower facilities might stop cyclists being ostracised, too.