Ride A Bike In London? Are You Insane?


Boris&ArnieAmsterdam, yes. Beijing, good luck to them. Brussels, of course, anything to make their lives less boring. But London?

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.

6 comments on “Ride A Bike In London? Are You Insane?”

  1. Ken Murray says:

    Don’t get me started about cyclists! The latest madness proposed by our Green Party is a law to require motorists to leave a gap of 1.5 metres when passing a cyclist.

    Given that they already advise cyclists to ride at least 1 metre from the kerb to avoid drains and the like (not to mention those civic minded lycra clad legions who ride two or more abreast) this would put the motorist firmly in the path of oncoming traffic. In the case of the narrow winding road that circles the local inlet that would put me in the water!

    Well at least they tell me they’re saving the planet, shame about all the hydrocarbons that go into making all that lycra…

  2. Janet Wilson says:

    Ha- y’ve just brought back a memory of the adrenalin rush of cycling round Marble Arch, circa 1980, pedalling like buggery on a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed gear bike, amd no helmets in them days! That was a rare venture tho- I was far more likely to be found popping up and down the burrows of the underground. Took me a few years to make the connections between parts of the city that you only get by walking. And a few more to make those other connections that you only get by reading; then put the 2 together. Sad truth about cycling, people used to see it as second class (‘push bikes’), now they see it as only for the fit and the brave.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Perhaps it is because I’m not a bike person – I’m used to having my voice at its normal baritone pitch, not post-ride contra tenor – but I don’t understand how city couriers make it through the day alive. I certainly wouldn’t insure them and many of them weave in and out and all about. More excitement per day, I’d think, than test riding refurbished rollercoasters.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The couriers cite the excitement as one reason for taking the job. If you are a pedestrian you have to really watch out because they veer onto the sidewalk to avoid stopped cars and don’t worry about how many people are waiting for a walk signal. I haven’t heard as many complaints lately, though, so I wonder if computers are taking some of the load. My husband always says that if a proposal doesn’t involve bikes in Vancouver it will never get passed and I hear there were problems on transit this morning. The free bridge was closed over the weekend so you had to use the new toll bridge and traffic was backed up in two areas this morning. It doesn’t matter what means you use, it’s problems all the way!

  5. Janet Wilson says:

    Reading part two of ‘Invisible Code’ after a break. Is it The Angel, Rotherhithe, where Edona has a narrow escape?

  6. Andy says:

    I ranted at length on cyclists in London on my LJ ages back. Pedal bikes in London are more trouble than they’re worth, they’re dangerous, they slow down traffic and there is simply no room for them. I wish it were otherwise, I wish there were wide avenues they could sail gracefully down in the mornings. But this is London, there isn’t. And unless you ban all private traffic and commercial traffic during rush hour (which is an option) there never will be. Most people I know who cycle in London have had at least one accident. A few stop at lights and zebra crossings and these I make a point of thanking, others assume they own the road and need follow no rules because they are on a bike and simply sail across. Almost been mown down several times by these. And if you send so much as a mild complaint their way you get a torrent of abuse back. I hate London cyclists, but my deepest contempt is reserved for those who ferry their children around with them. During rush hour. I just want to stop them and scream “ARE YOU TOTALLY MAD!!!”. The little seats on the back are bad enough, but the push-chair affairs you sometimes see welded to the front, often carrying two children… What? Just… What?

    Sign. Rant over.

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