Monday, 2 January 2012

Cyclists, should we settle for second best?

We MADE it! We deserve the ultimate pat on the back for surviving another year of remaining safely seated on the saddle to the backdrop of our car clogged, tarmac roads. We have reluctantly guzzled fumes, dodged lunatic white vans and survived the cold, soggy weather.  A pat on the back for all cyclists is well-deserved.

So now with this fresh New Year upon us, it is the time for reflection and resolutions. Apart from reflecting on how best to avoid the superhighways/Kings Cross and every HGV out there, it has been a time to look forward to the future and raise the age old question, will cycling in England ever be safe for all people?

With this waging a war in my mind on a turkey-fuelled day over Christmas, I had an interesting discussion with a fellow cycling friend of mine. After much cycling chit chat and the usual lingo, my friend dropped this nugget of a sentence into conversation about the Blackfriars Bridge and whether the protest was worth it's while (yes, you remember that protest? Way back when it was actually LIGHT in the evenings)...

It was something on the lines of this:
'If Blackfriar's bridge is unsafe for cyclists to use, why don't they just change their route and choose a safer road? I see it everyday, cyclists choosing to cycle on dangerous roads. In London, we are spoilt for choices of quiet back streets....if a road is too dangerous, just choose a different route'
GASP, shock horror! Are cyclists giving up?? Please tell me they are not throwing in the Lycra?

Well actually, you may say that she has a point. In my retaliation I had to admit that I cycle an extra 3 miles each day just so that I avoid the suicide roads on my commute (Upper street/Holloway road).

But why should us cyclists choose an extra long route for the sake of cars hogging the roads? And if a road like the Blackfriar's bridge is having a complete redesign then shouldn't it incorporate suitable cycle infrastructure rather than cyclists having to choose the back roads once again?...

One of the challenging aspects of cycling is negotiating junctions, crossings and turnings - backstreets have plenty of these. And as far as I know, there is no 'backstreet' over the Thames. (Maybe we should build a bike ramp over the Thames?) Why should we be forced to cycle an extra 3 miles to work just because it is safer to? After all we are the ones who are healthier and not burning a hole in our atmosphere, we surely should be the priority.

Also, is choosing back roads for your cycle journey doing any favours for the future of making safer roads for cycling? For example, if cyclists always avoid dangerous junctions and choose an alternative route then councils might not see a point in reviewing these junctions and incorporating a safe cycling network through them. On the other hand, should we risk our safety to stand up for cycling and not choose second best? I for one know that there isn't always the option of a quieter route, this is one point my friend mentioned as a disadvantage of cycling in towns and the countryside. What do you think?

And now for my big cycling 2012 speech of optimism...Hold tight folks...

We all know that the more cyclists there are, the safer the dangerous roads will be. So let's make the resolution to cycle more in 2012! I'm not talking about single-handedly overthrowing the car hegemony of the roads (however I can arrange this in exchange for puncture-resistant tyres please). I'm talking about collectively threatening the inherent car hegemony there is across the roads of our country. YES MY CYCLE FRIEND, this is no revelation to you or to I, but let's all hear it again. The more people who cycle, the more we can change the attitude that cyclists are second class citizens. We can shake the perception that car drivers are superior and command the roads, an imagined conception hand delivered from the motor industry and ever so unhealthily embedded in our culture. 

The more people cycling = safer roads. Simple enough and widely known. A while back Boris scoffed that we are in a 'cycling revolution',it's no cycling revolution if we have to avoid cycling on main roads through London and settle for second place.

So now that I have successfully persuaded the WORLD to cycle more and have discovered the solution to the problems of the entire universe...(explanation for disproving the theory of relativity is tomorrow's speech everybody)  I would like to wish you all Happy cycling in 2012! And to all you new cyclists out there who will be choosing two-wheels over the next year, welcome to the roads and watch out for the pesky pot holes!!


commuterjohn said...

I had a guy crash into me on a cycle path today, I shouted to him but it was too late and he came off, he was ok but his brakes didn't work well apparently!
If were not safe with each other on a cycle path then where are we safe?

Paul M said...

I don't have a problem with the suggestion I find a quiet alternative, where one exists. For example, in parts of the City of London, it is possible to use side streets which run quite close parallel to major roads such as Moorgate, and reasonably direct, but without the traffic. Many more routes would be feasible with further work to improve permeability - make one-way streets two-way for bikes, or create virtual one-ways by closing off at one end or in between with a cycle gap. Some of these already exist but not enough.

Westminster has a warren of side streets which might be amenable to such treatment, but expecting any sympathy from WCC is a waste of time and effort, compared with the relatively enlightened attitude of the City.

Bridges? Not possible I'm afraid. They are by definition bottlenecks - you can't fly, or swim, across the Thames so you have to use one bridge or another and they are all deeply unpleasant. Even Southwark, with its concrete barriers (built to prevent coach parking, not to create a cycle lane) is nasty on either approach. A typical bridge has three or four tributaries and distributaries as the roads fan out East, West, and North/South on either bank. Inevitably it creates congestion, speeding and reckless behaviour in between. You can't just choose another bridge. Proper segregated facilities are an absolute must.

anniebikes said...

I had an encounter and thoughts that were very much like yours regarding choosing alternate roads and whether we should or could safely negotiate the more direct routes. It all gets down to safety and the individual. A treacherous road to one cyclist might be doable to another. I blog about it here.

liz said...

I've been wondering about this recently - I've stopped cycling to work since I moved office from one where I could plan a route I was confident with, to one where I really can't find a good route to.

I do prefer to ride on quieter roads, but one-way systems don't always make that possible. I'm faced with the choice of either taking a substantially longer route, or riding through junctions and roads that I find hostile. I don't think roads like Regent St are "too narrow" for a proper bike lane, and the quantity and quality of cycling infrastructure in the centre of town is frankly rubbish.

I'm not asking for the right to cycle on motorways, but the reason that "main roads" exist is to offer the most direct, simple route to your destination. Why shouldn't everyone be able to use them safely?

rosamundi said...

In some cases, there isn’t an alternative route. Bow flyover is a case in point – there is no acceptable alternative to the junction when you are heading into central London. You can do a right turn before you get there and use the greenway, but that’s not lit, and, as a lone female cyclist, I wouldn’t dream of taking it late at night. Additionally, it means that you have to use the Old Street roundabout, so you swap one deadly junction for another.

Once past Bow flyover, you can turn off to the canal towpath which avoids the worst of the Mile End Road, but it adds a couple of miles and it’s not lit at night. Lord knows who lurks under the canal bridges, I wouldn’t risk it.

So I have a choice – I can take a dangerous but well-lit route, or I can take a quieter but unlit route and risk my personal safety that way, and, as someone who was sexually assaulted on my bike in broad daylight, I know which I’d rather take.

Sarah said...

I moved to London a few months ago and have ended up taking a busier route because it feels safer - on a major route, there were more cyclists and the traffic seemed more aware. Strange but true. I'd happily take a quieter route but drivers aren't used to seeing cyclists or seem to "switch off" on smaller roads (plus there's less space for them to overtake). My significant other worries just as much about me on quieter roads as busy ones because, if anything happens, its less likely that there will be passers by. Being new to the city, I don't yet know my way around so the major routes are safer for me because they're easier to navigate. I already take a longer (just as busy) route because it feels safer.

I don't think that there's a happy medium though "proper" (protected) cycle lanes feel a lot safer. A cross-thames cycle ramp could be fantastic though it's sure to be taken over my pedestrians.

ndru said...

Well said. I agree that people on bikes shouldn't have to navigate a maze of backroads and seek circuitous roots for fear of cars. Moreover I personally find backroads lines with parked cars, their doors ready to be flung open and with impatient drivers breathing down your back waiting for any opportunity to overtake quite dreadful. I prefer places like Tavistock, Cable street.however the track which runs along a busy a-road is most dear to me.without it my commute would be much less pleasant. I wish it could extend all the way to my workplace and to my don't school.

bookertfirerfly said...

pinarello treviso rear dop out snapped and gears snapped as a result hope it can be repaired

cycler said...

Not to mention that a lot of destinations are on the busiest routes- shops, theaters, offices. Your point about river crossings is especially good- the cycling community is working hard to improve all the bridges in Boston, and the state is coming around, but at first there was very much an attitude of "no one crosses the river here on a bike, why should we put in lanes?

Anonymous said...
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vente de maillot de bain said...

Je suis d'accord avec vous un très bon point. Pour le risque de sécurité pour monter un vélo de sécurité et personnel, doit ou peut négocier en toute sécurité une route plus directe. Une route perfide d'un vélo à un autre peut être faisable.

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