Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The joys of Holborn Viaduct

A Lambeth Cyclist, Vivian, has recently posted various movie shorts of her cycle trips around London including a chunk along Holborn Viaduct.

I’m posting it for a couple of reasons

Firstly, it’s quite fun. The music goes rather well with the sense of using a bike to zip past the stationary traffic and then slows down fabulously when Vivian's out of the traffic. That's exactly how I feel when I cycle around. Adrenaline rush in the traffic. Phew, calm, slower riding when I'm out of the traffic.

Vivian’s posted this to highlight the benefits of cycling vs. sitting in a traffic jam in central London.

Secondly, a good chunk of it is in the City. Between Cheapside and Holborn Circus as it happens.

When I first started to get interested in cycling, Holborn Viaduct was a particular bugbear of mine. The road is part of the City’s so-called ‘strategic cycle network’. In essence, that means there are parts of this route that have some cycle markings that keep the motor traffic slightly away from bikes. But then there are daft features. For example, the fact that the west-bound route narrows to a pinch-point outside City Thameslink station where there is a massively wide pavement. As a cyclist, you’re forced to cut into the traffic flow. I brought this up with someone very senior at the City once. The response was to send an engineer out (brownie points for that) and then report that no-one could see the problem (groan). That’s probably because none of the City traffic engineers has ever tried to cycle along this stretch at rush-hour.

My second bugbear at this point is that just as you come to Holborn Circus, you have absolutely nowhere to go. You’re either stuck trying to find a space for yourself in a stinking queue of traffic or for your own safety, you take your chances by overtaking both lanes of non-moving traffic. Vivian does exactly that. And I can’t blame her.

Head west on this stretch and you’ve got an insane gyratory system to deal with if you want to carry onto Cheapside.

If some of our City officials took a look at this video, they might just maybe get a sense of how hopeless the bulk of their strategic cycle network is. And they might also get a sense of the pleasure of cycling when things are a bit calmer when you’re away from motor traffic.

Or maybe they could just read the sorts of comments that Vivian’s received:

“What a horribly realistic picture of what it feels like to cycle in London! If you weren't already a London cyclist it would put you off for life. Can you imagine anyone wanting their children to find themselves in such close proximity to so many moving vehicles? My dad wanted to persuade me to stop cycling in London to the day he died - I was fifty by then.”
“watched the film but found it kinda scarey...”

I asked Vivian what she thinks about Holborn Viaduct. In her own words: "I avoid it like the pest! That place is not cycle friendly at all"

The City wants us to celebrate cycling as a fashionable form of transport. And it wants us to cycle safely. All well and good. Except that with conditions like those on Vivian’s video as the norm, I’d rather dress assuming that I have to defend myself against the motor traffic and dress to maximise my safety than to exhibit my fashion sense.

Moral of the story? Give us infrastructure that makes for a pleasant and safe cycling environment and you might be surprised. I bet you’ll see more cyclists, cycling more slowly and securely and, I don’t doubt, dressed in elegant outfits like their Copenhagen counterparts, instead of just a swarm of us pedaling for all we're worth to dart out the way of the traffic and togged up in specialist cycling kit.

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