It’s not just about the bike

I’m not just a cyclist. I’m certainly no Lycra-clad road warrior (It’s hard to be militant in ankle-length moleskin skirts and a Bobbin Bicycles Miss World sash).

I’m a pedestrian.

I’m a public transport user.

I’m not a car driver, for a variety of reasons.

And I’m far from unusual in London. And yet what I see in London is a city whose surface infrastructure is built for the convenience of the car, and the car is a ridiculous thing to build our cities around.

They are expensive to run. They are noisy, polluting, an inefficient way of transporting people, not to mention the deaths and injuries they cause. The majority of cars I see on my cycle to work have one occupant, and one car takes up the space of ten bikes on the road.

Transport for London (TfL) have a policy of “Smoothing Traffic Flow.” This means that keeping cars moving has priority over everything else.

This means that there are no pelican or toucan lights at Bow Interchange (against the advice of TfL’s own consultants on Cycle Superhighway 2), because putting in toucan lights would “push the junction over capacity and introduce significant delays to traffic.” In order to accommodate TfL’s unhealthy prioritising of the motor car at the expense of other modes of transport, pedestrians have to run for their lives across junctions full of fast-moving, unpredictable traffic.

I’ve done it myself. It’s not a challenge I’d care to take on if I had a child in a buggy, or if I were mobility-impaired,or laden down with shopping.

This means that where TfL haven’t actively removed, or refused to install, pedestrian signals at lights, they have shortened the time that pedestrians have available to cross the road. I move at a fair clip, even in heels, and I am finding more and more junctions where I am not safely across the road when the lights change.

This means that at roundabouts such as the one at the south of Westminster Bridge, pedestrians have to go on an absurd, convoluted and time-consuming trek, penned in by metal barriers, in order to cross the road.

And it’s insane.

If we had safe, liveable streets for all, where cyclists didn’t have to do battle with buses and lorries and cars, where pedestrians didn’t have to take their life in their hands to walk back from the shops, or take their kids to school, everyone’s lives will be easier.

If the car wasn’t worshipped as a god by TfL, if they realised “you know what, prioritising the motor car in a city which is stuffed to the rafters with mass transit options is stupid,” and took some road space away from cars, people would discover that, maybe, that two-mile journey is walkable or cycle-able instead of having to take the car. And that five-mile journey. And maybe even that ten-mile journey.

So the number of cars goes down, and so even more people walk and cycle, and those people who have to take their cars find their journeys easier, and buses run more quickly, and TfL isn’t having to glue pollution to the roads in some vague hope of cheating the European Union emissions guidelines.

But at the moment I don’t blame novice cyclists who take one look at Bow Interchange and Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square and all the horrible, horrible junctions which not even car drivers like and quietly return their shiny new bike to the shed until such time as the road conditions improve.

I don’t have the answers. I recognise that getting rid of the car is not possible. But if we had infrastructure that wasn’t deliberately placing cyclists in harm’s way, we could make a start on reducing our reliance on the car and making London a cleaner, quieter, calmer place to be.

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3 Responses to It’s not just about the bike

  1. Nice post. I watch London from afar as what happens there often spreads elsewhere. It would be nice to see TFL get their act together and think of ‘people’ instead of ‘traffic’.

  2. Whiskey Mick

    Great article – I couldn’t agree more!

    The following occurs to me:

    Perhaps I’m the most cynical of the cynical but is it not true that the income generated from car ownership in London is quite ridiculously high (parking permits, parking fines, cost of fuel, insurance costs in london, road fund liscense, and the cost of having your suspension replaced periodicaly, etc) wheras the money they can lawfully mug from a cyclist is – well hardly enough for a new inner tube in comparative terms? Politicians and the agencies funded by them running with the money can hardly come as a suprise given events in recent memory.

    All that you so elequently describe is the inevitable effect of this inescapable financial reality.

    On a lighter note – I decided to desist from keeping a car in London some months ago – not because I have any special green credetials – my wallet just couldn’t stand it anymore. In spite of my poor intentions in this respect, I have learned to love my bike and have no desire to be put in harms way merely because I’m borassic lint, hence my unqualified agreement with the sentiment of your excellent post!

    There is a fiscal balance to be struck thus:

    The motorist is going to continue to be punished financialy until we are in a position that the significantly fewer number of cars will still generate an astronomical amount of money but there are not so many that they put other road users at serious risk on a regular basis and more can be done to assist them. Motorists are going to wince but they haven’t had thier pockets picked deeply enough yet to get anywhere close to achieving this equillibrium.
    The cost of driving is a primary and direct cause of animosity to cyclists when they are sitting in a tin box, not turning a wheel and they watch you sail past on your bike for free! It’s an entirely innacurate perception, but a common perception all the same. When they engineer a way to charge road use by the mile it’s going to get worse.

    I’m chuffed to bits to junk the car. That and smoking fewer giggies so I can pedal faster will mean the tax-man is light a few grand next year and I just might get to be around a while longer (London junctions permitting)!

    Dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into the 21st century you might say.
    If anyone ever sees me in lycra and a bash-bonnet however – please find an opportunity to protect other, perhaps more vulnerable members of the general public from exposure to such an affront to decency! 😉

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