We all deserve better

Another day, news of another fatality, the fifth in just nine days and another at Aldgate, on or near CS2. I’m genuinely speechless about this. I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m frustrated.

It doesn’t have to be like this, but the hollow promises of the ‘Go Dutch’ and similar campaigns cannot be allowed to continue.

For years I’ve laughed off talk from friends and family of the dangers of cycling; I’ve always thought of myself as road aware, decently savvy on the streets, that the thousands of miles I do annually, the tens of thousands of miles I’ve cycled on London’s roads over the last couple of decades have given me a few extra senses. To a significant extent, that’s true. I’ve had many close calls but very few collisions, the last time I had unintended physical contact while riding – with the road or another vehicle – was several years ago and even that was a minicab running a red light, so I’m especially conscious of those complaining about the ubiquitous red-light-jumping cyclist.

We can generally ignore the inane witterings of Rod Liddle, most reasonable thinking people see cycle commuting in London for what it is – just ordinary people trying to get to work.

For me madness is being crammed like sardines into the tin cans of tubes and trains when there’s (mostly) fresh air and exercise to be had on your bike. It’s cheap, it’s quick, it doesn’t contribute to the crap air quality of London, it frees up space on public transport

The roads might not have been built for cars in the beginning, but they have certainly been redesigned for them in recent decades. Our 21st century road system is increasingly unfit for its cycling purpose.

There are junctions in London right now, like Blackfriars Bridge, where the majority of rush-hour traffic are bikes. Why are HGVs even allowed there at the same time? We need segregation at major junctions, not being asked to dodge 3 lanes of motorised traffic so we can turn right, not having to share what provisions we do have with illegal motorbikes. I’m sure the HGV drivers don’t like the bikes swarming around where they can’t see them, either.

I’m off to make another donation to RoadPeace and to apparently count myself lucky that I made it to work in one piece again.

If five pedestrians had been killed in the last nine days there’d be questions in parliament and front page headlines, special programmes on the TV. But because it’s the roads, the carnage out there is just something we’re expected to tolerate and put up with.

This isn’t about red light jumping, whether to wear helmets and hi-viz jackets, or some smug sense of middle aged lycra clad entitlement. This is just about making London – and the UK – more pleasant places to exist. A city choked by motor vehicles where the inhabitants travel around feeling physically intimidated and consistently let down by the elected (and unelected) powers that be.

Cyclists deserve better. London deserves better. We all deserve better.

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Grab back control

A recent edition of the Evening Standard, which I never read even when you had to pay for it and I still don’t despite it is now free – as a wise man once said, twice crap is still crap, you just have a bigger pile – carried a banner headline (it must have been as I saw it on someone else’s copy) cycling city touting the new bike hire scheme, similar to Paris’ Vélib’ programme.

This is a tremendous idea, don’t get me wrong, more people on bikes is a winning situation on so many levels. Cycling is now a viable method of commuting in London, which it wasn’t 15 years (and some 35,000 miles) ago when I started on two whiles about this metropolis. Cyclists are a lot more visible on the capital’s road and, by extension, the chances that the car driver behind you is also an occasional cyclist too have now grown. If more people get out, even a little, on bikes then life does get better for all of us.

But Boris needs more than just a few thousand hire-bikes and some headlines. The “cycle superhighways”, especially the two scheduled for “opening” in May of this year, are possibly progress – although what’s a new lick of blue paint really going to accomplish? You’ll still have dozens of sets of traffic lights and too many cars, vans and buses fighting over too little road space with drivers and other cyclists who have little or no roadcraft, patience or manners worth speaking of.

The problem is that London’s roads are no longer fit for purpose. From the bus lane on the M4 to the kerfuffle about the Olympic lanes, drivers complaining about red-lighting jumping bikes, motorbikes being allowed in some bus lanes; too many people feel that they’re special and that it’s everyone else who is the problem.

We are all the problem. When I’m on my bike I’m a smaller problem admittedly, but my daily round-trip is now almost 25 miles, surely that’s the hub of everyone’s problem? Too many people are working in too compact an area – be it the West End, the City or Canary Wharf. Too many people are being moved into too small an area, too often by a transport infrastructure that cannot be taken seriously.

I don’t intend to move to the East of the City, but for now I’m working there. Canary Wharf had the chance to do it right. They started the place from almost scratch and could have designed in cycle access but it really feels that they did the exact opposite. The roads within a mile of the development are generally massive and car-focussed. Actually everything East of the Tower, so make that three miles. Cyclists aren’t expected to feel like second class citizens here, they are expected to consider themselves are untouchables. In 2007 90,000 people worked in Canary Wharf and just 2.9% cycled. Frankly, I’m surprised it is that much considering how we’re treated.

I don’t want much – and maybe May’s cycle superhighway number 3 will be enough – but I’d like London to repay some of my taxes by allowing me to travel to work without risking my life on a daily basis. Canary Wharf is a soul-crushing place at the best of times, it doesn’t have to be a body-destroying one on the commute too.

I don’t expect to cycle from my front door to the secure underground parking (sic) with neither stopping nor even putting a foot down, and having broken no rules. We all will need to stop and give way at points, but frankly the current situation is ridiculous – too many red lights where all I’m doing is waiting (and probably watching other cyclists going past me) for no obvious good reason.

If Boris wants to make a difference he needs to get everyone moving and not stopping, helping each other and not getting in each other’s way any more than we have to. The system is now built to stop and control, taking away our right to think and react. A cyclist at a redundant red light has more ability to exert some freewill than the car nth in the queue – but because it’s “illegal” everyone gets up in arms.

I’m not about to condone their flagrant disrespect, but get angry at the red light, not the cyclist flexing some degree of independence. In these pre-election times, the traffic light is about control; the zebra crossing, roundabout or crossroads are about give-and-take and letting us sort ourselves out. It’s about democracy versus totalitarianism. We don’t all always need to be told what to do. Running a red light is almost certainly unsafe because the junction doesn’t assume you to do it, so why shouldn’t we hand some control back to the road users and have us work out for ourselves what we need.