Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"I'm in my fifties: It will take radical redesign of cycle routes to keep me in the saddle much longer or to persuade potential cyclists to join me". Have your say and put pressure on the Mayor to take cycling more seriously


Cycling with the traffic. Vauxhall. Not a solution
for most people in London. 
I've been contacted a lot recently by people copying me on letters and emails to their MPs and their London Assembly Members. Some of this is in response to the London Assembly, which is holding an investigation into cycling in London. Everyone is free to send their thoughts and comments to the Investigation and, unusually, the Assembly is inviting people to turn up on the day (10am July 12th) to help shape the formal questions that the Assembly will put to the Mayor and Transport for London later in the year. 

The London Assembly transport committee consists of politicians from the Conservative, Labour, LibDem and Green parties. I'd urge you to spend five minutes sending them an email by writing to: 

Whether that's about the insane new design of Camden Parkway - recently made unfit for bicycle traffic at vast expense by the council - or whether you have broader thoughts and issues, everything is valid. 

The Assembly is looking specifically:

I thought I'd share with you one of the several emails I've been copied on and that resonates with a lot of themes I've addressed in this blog:

In case you've forgotten, the old layout on
Blackfriars Bridge was even worse than now. Courtesy Ralph Smyth
"I have worked in central London all my working life, since 1977, and in the EC4 postal district since 1988.  Initially I lived in London but since 1986 when I moved out to South West Surrey I have been commuting into Waterloo.  For most of that time I walked from station to office but I started to cycle from Waterloo, and between my home and local station, in 2006 once the Blackfriars Bridge cycle lane was sorted out following the death of Vicky McCreery – I would definitely not have contemplated it before.  I had owned a Brompton since 1988 and at this stage I dug it out again from the corner where it had been gathering dust for several years.  Since then my interest in cycling as a leisure or exercise activity has also revived.

From the timeline you can no doubt work out that I am in late middle age.

It took a radical redesign of a critical component of my daily ride (ie Blackfriars Bridge) to convince me that cycling might actually be safe enough to try.  Having started, I did find that for the most part cycling in London felt neither unpleasant nor unsafe, even where there was no specific provision for bicycles.  An early accident at Hyde Park Corner, when a car jumped the lights as I was crossing the pedestrian crossing, did not discourage me – I went out and bought a new Brompton to replace the one the motorist had wrecked.  Since then I have had a further three collisions with vehicles, all taxis, all “left-hooking” me in their hurry to take a corner before the lights changed.  The last one got closest to finishing me off – I have had two operations, one as an inpatient, and months of physiotherapy to largely recover from the effects.  The cabbie, by the way, drove off without stopping and no-one managed to get his plate.

Quality taxpayer money being spent. Typical cycle lane
at Vauxhall Cross. Give way in three directions, including
behind you, dodge the bollards and signpost, rejoin the
bike lane for two metres past the road, then
rejoin the carriageway. Bonkers.
However, things are subtly changing.  I have never been a sprinter, and a Brompton doesn’t make an ideal road-race bike anyway, but in the early days I had confidence in my ability to accelerate my way out of trouble, and to “take the lane”  at sufficient speed that following vehicles in the congested central London environment had no good grounds for objecting.  Now, having recently celebrated my 57th birthday, I can sense that I am slowing down.  I can also sense that I am becoming more apprehensive about traffic conditions as I either can’t or don’t wish to engage in a time trial or dragster race to filter into gaps at roundabouts, change lanes to make right turns etc, and I am just becoming more plain nervous.

In addition to my journey to/from the office, for which I generally change out of a suit and into everyday wear or waterproofs, I try as often as I can to travel to meetings on my bike, suited and booted and cycle-clipped.  This is only feasible if you adopt a much more sedate pace so you keep fresh and don’t impose your sweaty odour on your hosts when you arrive.

Trouble is, many London streets are simply unsuitable for cycling in “normal” clothes or a business suit, or for cycling at a sedate pace.  Survival demands 360 degree vision, the hearing of a bat, nerves of steel, and more acceleration than a Ferrari.  Oh, and “keeping your wits about you” – I shouldn’t forget that one. In wet conditions, everyday clothes would soon be filthy from road splatter kicked up by vehicles passing too close. Sure, many journeys are possible, but it is often if not always the case that you have to divert off the obvious desire lines to find quieter roads, routes through the parks etc, which can add significantly to the distance covered.  If you just want to enjoy the ride that is fine, but if you are maintaining a timetable or charge your clients by the hour, that is not efficient.

Want to cycle to the shops dressed like this when you're older?
Make sure the facilities for cycling are suitable first. Otherwise, no
chance you'll be on your bike. Courtesy BicycleDutch
The examples of streets which simply don’t work for cyclists, and should, are too numerous to list, but here are some examples:

·         The Strand – narrow lanes either side of a central median which seems to be entirely unnecessary given the low speeds attainable on that road.  Large numbers of buses and HGVs take up almost the entire lane width and make this one of the most unpleasant cycling experiences in the city.  Sadly, we are seeing other major streets go the same way – Pall mall since it reverted to 2-way, for example.  Piccadilly, and Ken High St.  I have even heard that the highways architects responsible for these schemes see cyclists as traffic calming measures – “rolling speed humps”.
·         Parliament Square – a shooting gallery par excellence
·         Just about any road on the TLRN
·         Just about any bridge over the Thames.  All my four accidents were on TLRN roads and/or bridges

Brand new London cycle infrastructure.
Taxpayers money spent on blue paint. Southwark Bridge
Road. What's the point of any of this? 
In addition to my own accidents, I  have seen dozens of events in which cyclists have been hit by motor vehicles.  I can thank providence that so far I haven’t seen a serious injury, although it is only a matter of time, and I have seen many mangled bikes.  I can imagine that in a few years time, if conditions do not change, I will be put off cycling in London entirely.  I will then join the significant percentage of society who would cycle, but can’t/won’t, and are frustrated by that fact.

To repeat, it took a radical redesign of a critical part of my cycle route to persuade me that cycling was an option in the first place.  I predict it will take radical redesigns of quite a few more stretches of road, bridges or junctions to keep my in the saddle for much longer, or to persuade many potential cyclists to join me."

Says it all, in my view. And please add your comments by sending them to transportcommittee@london.gov.uk before July 12th. Feel free to copy me as well cyclistsinthecity@gmail.com. Good luck.