Wednesday, 1 August 2012

"I HATE cyclists the way they swarm my car like the plague, they have no awareness of sharing the road": A whopping 55% of people think the government SHOULD do more to promote cycling. Just more swarms or time for real bicycling infrastructure?

Cyclists 'swarming my car' as posted by @pinkosi25 on twitter. This is the scene at Vauxhall Cross most mornings

Pictured above, a fairly typical scene at Vauxhall Cross, as photographed by a driver calling herself @pinkosi25 on twitter. She posted this picture as an attachment to a message that read: ""I HATE cyclists the way they swarm my car like the plague, they have no awareness of sharing the road". 

So far, so Daily Mail, you might think. 

The thing is, as someone who cycles and drives in London, I can just about understand where she's coming from. Putting aside my cycling hat for a minute, I can see how some drivers (especially those who have no experience of cycling through horrific junctions like Vauxhall) don't understand how to drive around people on bikes. Why are all these bikes in the way, they ask? How did they get there? 

Well, that's because the roads are designed that way. They are actually designed to make driving worse for drivers and cycling worse for cyclists. 

Let's just look at this junction in a bit more detail. There are two alternatives at this junction:

Vauxhall Cross protected bike lane.
Bollards, give way in every direction. Insane.
a) Use the (rare) protected bike lane. 

If you're going in a straight line, using the protected cycle lane here means you give way at traffic lights SEVEN times versus TWICE on the road. Each traffic light is absolutely full with pedestrians at rush hour and you have to hustle your way through lots of grumbling. You even have to give way two more times on the cycle track - to a car park exit. Who is going to give way nine times over a few hundred yards and put up with the sense that they shouldn't be on the shared bike/pedestrian crossings, when they can simply stick to the main road and only stop a couple of times? 

Pictured left, another part of the Vauxhall bike track. Imagine driving down something like this. Give way on a pavement to motors coming from behind you and from the side road. Then dodge the pillars. Then rejoin the tiny bit of cycle path by dodging the two-way warning sign and then drop immediately back on to the road, with cars racing up behind you while having to give way to the bus stop directly in front of you. It's insane. 

b) Alternatively, use the main road. 

You need nerves of steel and the ability to speed off in front of the cars. Just imagine (if you've never ridden a bike) what it's like to have a row of cars behind you, almost all of them trying to push past you, change lanes and whizz to the next set of lights on a SIX lane motorway-style junction. 

My conclusion is that the road design actually encourages cyclists NOT to use the cycle track and encourages cyclists to actively put themselves in front of car drivers like @pinkosi25.

There are lots of people like @pinkosi25. Lots of them profess to "HATE" cyclists. Some of them even love Bradley Wiggins and hate all other cyclists. 

A bit part of me wonders if these people really 'hate' cyclists. Or whether they hate the insane road conditions just as much as I do.

After all, who or what is a 'cyclist'? There are some astonishing figures in a poll published today by YouGov and The Sunday Times. A whopping 52% of Britons surveyed by the poll would be interested in cycling to work but say it's either not 'practical' or - just as importantly - not 'safe'. Looking at the example above, it's no surprise many people think cycling isn't practical or safe

Asked 'Do you think the government should or should not do more to promote cycling?' a stonking 55% of respondents said that the government should do more to promote cycling.

Question is, what will the government do? So far London has got £15million to sort out some junctions. Literally a handful of junctions, though. Transport for London has updated its website this week with detailed plans showing what junctions it will improve and when it hopes to get round to making those changes. But a few junctions just in London is not going to encourage the 52% of people who would consider cycling to work to make the switch. And the money doled out by the Department for Transport for the rest of the country for cycling is frankly pathetic. If you look at outer London, Boris Johnson has committed only a few hundred thousand pounds for a handful of boroughs to squabble over. Serious infrastructure means serious money.

People are beginning to say that things have to change. Up to 55% of them, by the sounds of it.

We need a wholescale shift in how we look at our roads and who we design our roads for. Until then, we'll just have to wobble along on our bikes, "sharing" the road with people who think we are like a 'swarm' and 'hate' us simply for being in their way. Not a recipe for good and safe cycling, I'm afraid.


Meanwhile, in a short footnote, I can't say enough just how fantastic today's Olympics have been. Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, frankly unbelievable results today. Wahay!!!