Monday, 18 June 2012

Day before AddisonLee bus lane court judgment, its minicab drivers say: "I feel so vulnerable on a bike". How many more people need to say this before Boris updates his cycling strategy?

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AddisonLee driver looking nervously at a white van: Part of a group of minicab drivers testing new cycle training for drivers, courtesy sk8dancer

A couple of months ago, the chairman of AddisonLee made some unbelievably irresponsible comments about people who use bicycles. In the media storm that followed, AddisonLee's chairman, John Griffin promised to consider cycle training lessons for his minicab drivers.  

Now, several months on, John Griffin has been true to his word and put a small group of minicab drivers through a pilot cycle training lesson. You can read about the lesson on the London Fixed-gear and Single-speed forums. According to skydancer, the training was a 'pilot lesson attended by drivers and AddisonLee training people to assess its value for the company'. I genuinely hope AddisonLee implements compulsory cycle training for all of its drivers - it is the corporately responsible thing to do and could change London's road culture in a very significant way. 


What really fascinates me about the cycle training are the comments of the minicab drivers, carefully recorded by skydancer:



"Now I realise why cyclists ride in the middle of the lane sometimes"

"I feel so vulnerable on a bike. I'll be more patient and give them more space"

"Some cycle lanes are crap. I get why some riders don't use them and I wont hoot them"

I think these statements more or less sum up two problems in London: There's a complete lack of understanding between road users, depending on whether they're behind a wheel or on a bike. But more than that, here's a bunch of blokes who normally whip around town in high-powered minicabs, dashing from job to job. Yet, take the motor engine away from them and, hey presto, all of a sudden they seem to understand that London's streets are intimidating to cycle on. Why's that? Because they're on bicycles and they suddenly feel rather vulnerable.
The fact that a bunch of AddisonLee drivers find London's roads intimidating to cycle on seems to fly in the face of the fallacy maintained by Boris Johnson that you 'just need to keep your wits about you' when you're cycling around some five lane gyratory. I bet you, that if you quoted this Boris theory of safe cycling to one of these minicab drivers, they'd tell you that he's bonkers.

Tomorrow, the High Court will rule on a judgment whether to allow AddisonLee minicabs access to London's bus lanes. In a letter in today's The Times, John Griffin says the 'judgement will have huge consequences for millions of Londoners'. Too damn right it will. If AddisonLee gets to use bus lanes, you can kiss goodbye to safer cycling on London streets. Even his own cab drivers might understand why allowing minicabs (and it will be all minicabs, not just AddisonLee cabs) access to the bus lanes would deter people who might otherwise use them to cycle in. I've long felt that the bus lanes are the nearest thing London has to a bike network. Pathetic isn't it but kind of true.

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AddisonLee minicab drivers and staff start their cycle lesson

Back in January, Olympic cyclist Nicole Cooke issued a statement aimed squarely at the Mayor: "I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour, and those are only two examples. If we want more people to ride their bikes, we can’t have parts of the city where cyclists feel like they are taking a big risk just crossing a junction — it just shouldn’t be that way." It seems to me that AddisonLee minicab drivers might agree with her now they've done their training. 

The thing is, Boris isn't budging. At least not yet. Only last month, he repeated his insistence that Elephant & Castle is 'perfectly negotiable'. Yes, Elephant and Castle is perfectly negotiable. In the daytime, when it's not raining, when you're confident and hyper-well trained, provided you're prepared to cycle like an Olympic athlete to accelerate through the junction and you have every fibre of your being honed to make sure no-one accelerates or drifts lane into you. Boris seems to think we can turn London into cycling paradise by training more road users so everyone can play nicely with everyone else on roads like this. 

The thing is, not a single mayor in a single other major metropolis agrees that Boris Johnson has the right strategy. Neither do our Olympic athletes. And my tuppence worth is that those AddisonLee minicab drivers don't agree with him either now.  

Mr Mayor: Yes, we have responsibilities to ourselves and to others on the road. Some of us can negotiate places like Elephant. But all of us know our friends and family don't cycle in London for the same reasons these AddisonLee drivers don't. It can be extremely intimidating. And that's an issue you are responsible for solving. 

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By the way, in case anyone thinks I'm having a love-in with AddisonLee, I'm not. They need to make this cycle training compulsory for all their drivers. The weekend before last, I was cycling back from Bow roundabout on Cycle Super Highway 2. I was dangerously cut up by...you've guessed it. AddisonLee minicab LT59 0HB who was happily chatting on his mobile phone as he cut me up in the bike lane with a couple of centimetres to spare. He even wound down his window to talk with me when I remonstrated with him. And carried on talking on his mobile, in his right hand. 


If you're looking for some cycle training for yourself, you can take lessons for free in most boroughs. Check this TfL website for more details.