Ride A Bike In London? Are You Insane?
London’s cycle lanes appear and vanish with what can only be described as caprice. You might coast a corner and find that the road is suddenly squeezing four lanes into two. A man in Archway just became the sixth London cyclist to die on the city’s roads this year. Each morning, I get to walk past a cellotaph of lamppost flowers for a dead cyclist in King’s Cross, a young student forced under a truck because the council had decided to change the road layout unannounced again.
The Boris bikes dream is stalling – the superhighways never materialised and the costly experiment to end pollution collapsed (it was basically sticky tarmac). The bikes are losing money; the scheme cost £225 million, of which just a fraction will be paid by sponsor Barclays. Losses over the next two years will be more than £23 million, and users are down almost 10 per cent this year, thanks to TfL doubling access costs. An annual subscription is now £90. One in five users told a TfL survey that they planned to ditch their annual memberships.
The question in the back of any London bike rider’s head must be ‘Will I make it through the day in one piece?’ closely followed by ‘What is the arterial pollution problem doing to me?’ and finally, ‘Will I get my bike nicked?’ (Answer from a friend who has lost THREE bikes in a month, ‘Yes, probably.’)
So, it’s not safe and it’s not making you healthy. Is it any faster? Not if you’re catching the tube, which is still the speediest way of getting around Central London. And given the capital’s notorious weather patterns, a morning spent crushing your gusset on a torturous strip of leather and trying not to disappear under a lorry full of sprouts from Rotterdam will probably then require that you wring your clothes out and dry them on a radiator before starting your day’s work.
Then again, maybe it’s me who fails to see the allure of the spokes, as I’m a Tubehead. The obvious solution would be the pedestrianisation of the most populous routes, which Londoners treat as strolling parks anyway – at night nobody bothers to walk on the pavements in Soho. But every time this plan is put forward, it falls apart again. Nobody needs to drive through what is essentially regarded as London’s ‘Old Town’ other than delivery vans, who could be given access at certain times.
As in all London solutions half-measures prevail, so we have partial cycle lanes, partial arterials, partial pedestrianised areas. But I wouldn’t allow a loved one on a London bike – at least not until the situation is sorted out for good.