I’m Sarah Burr, Senior Strategy & Planning Manager for Cycling at Transport for London. I mainly use London’s cycle hire scheme (Santander Cycles) but I also have a very pretty, yellow Bobbin Birdie bike. I’ve become slightly obsessed with eBikes recently so have my eye on the Victoria Pendleton electric bike, which I’ll be getting soon.
What is your connection to the world of cycling?
I’ve been working on cycling projects in London for 14 years, since joining the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone’s office in 2003, where I worked for his adviser on sustainable transport. In 2006, I was seconded to Transport for London (TfL) to work on the Tour de France Grand Depart from London in 2007. I then moved permanently to TfL to work on the project initiation of Cycle Hire (now Santander Cycles) in 2008, where I built the team responsible for delivering the scheme. After the launch of the first phase of Cycle Hire in July 2010, I was responsible for its development, future strategy and expansion. In 2013, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, published his Vision for Cycling in London and I moved to my current team to work on wider cycling strategy, particularly the project definition and initiation of the new infrastructure schemes. Since 2014 I’ve headed-up the Cycling Strategy & Planning Team at TfL. Our aim is to get more people cycling more safely and more often in London, with a target of 1.5m daily cycle journeys by 2026.
What got you into cycling? (or back into it?)
Cycling in London has grown hugely in the past two decades. In 2000, there were around 290k cycle journeys each day in London and this has more than doubled to the current level of over 670k. This is almost as many people who use the DLR and London Overground combined each day. As a major mover of people in London it’s a relative newcomer and I’ve been lucky to have worked on cycling and learnt so much about it throughout that incredible period of growth. My background was in medieval history but I also have an MA in London Studies, which looked at the history of London’s urban development and the use of public space. To complement the work I’ve since done on cycling, I also have an MSc in Transport Planning and Management, where I specialised in cycling and sustainable transport. I cycle on holidays and for leisure far more than I ever cycle locally. I don’t tend to commute by bike as my train is door-to-door for work but since the introduction of Cycle Hire in 2010, I cycle regularly in central London for site visits, meetings, socially and for leisure. Like 50% of Cycle Hire’s users, I started cycling in central London as a direct result of the introduction of the scheme. I have three young children so family cycling becomes a bit expensive and hard to coordinate at this stage in life. I bought a bike trailer, roof box, bike rack, bikes for the kids, etc. but they grow out of them so quickly. This is something we’re trying to address strategically – what measures could we do to make cycling a convenient choice at all life stages and for more types of journeys.
What would you say was your most significant achievement (so far!)?
I think the biggest achievement work-wise has been in successfully making the case for long-term investment in cycling. My team have led some ground-breaking work on this and as a result, we have secured more investment than ever for cycling in London. On a personal level, my most significant achievement has been to continue to develop my expertise and leadership in cycling while having three children in the past eight years, including starting my MSc on maternity leave when my eldest daughter was three months old.
What’s your biggest frustration?
Every day I’ll see dozens of drivers on their mobile phones, when we all know cars can do so much damage to vulnerable road users. But when I talk to people about my job, so often I’m given long lists of the things they hate about cyclists. I think there are still so many people who are principally anti-cycling. That means, perhaps, we’re not persuading people of the benefits of cycling successfully enough, so that’s a big priority of mine. Most people want safe, healthy streets to live and work on and we know that cycling can be a real contributor to that. TfL’s approach is to deliver Healthy Streets, rather than specific cycling, walking, road projects. This gives us a good opportunity to personalise the benefits of different schemes when we talk to people, depending on their own individual priorities.
If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one thing you’d wish for?
A lot of my cycling is to places I’ve not been before rather than the same route again and again. I want someone to invent a GPS app linked to Bluetooth gloves so that I can plug in my chosen route and the gloves would buzz left or right while I cycle to give me directions. This seems like something very invent-able – more than happy for someone to steal this idea and run with it please!
What’s your typical day/week on cycling?And what are the rides you dream about?
I will typically cycle two or three times a week for meetings around London on Santander Cycles, more frequently if I have site visits to do. There’s nothing like a site visit on a sunny day in London to remind you you love your job. The rides I dream about are holiday cycling when my daughters are all old enough to ride independently – a few years off yet.
One of the purposes of the Women’s Cycle Forum is to promote women who are in cycling and make them more visible – and particularly to see the end of the dreaded all-male panel. Would you be interested in speaking more on panels or at conferences and if so what about?
Yes, always happy to share experiences of cycling strategy and planning from a London perspective. I also work with a lot of excellent women who could speak too.
Who are the women in cycling you’d like to hear from next and why?
I think women are a bit under represented on the cycling engineering side so it would be interesting to hear from women working in that field. And more around successful behaviour change projects.
Sarah also tweets if you fancy following her.