Cycle Infrastructure (Again)

Sorry. This blog’s supposed to be real Girl’s Own Adventure, picnic blanket and ginger beer stuff, instead of a constant litany of “really, TfL, are you deliberately trying to kill us?”

This is another “really, TfL, are you deliberately trying to kill us?” post.

See this image, taken from the Transport for London website. The red markings are a lorry’s blind spots (I have rotated it so it makes a bit more sense).

Lorry blind spots

Lorry blind spots

Now see this image from the latest edition of the Highway code, showing a fairly typical cycle lane and Advanced Stop Lane for cyclists at a major junction.

Does anyone else see the problem here? The lorry’s left and front blind-spots are almost identical in shape to a cycle lane and ASL.

Typical cycle infrastructure guides vulnerable road users to the most dangerous place for them possibly to be while waiting at a junction.

Leaving aside the issue of why we allow vehicles on busy city roads when the driver’s vision is impaired to such an extent as in the blind spot diagram above, I really would like to know why cycle infrastructure is constructed to be deliberately dangerous.

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I am stunned

I nearly entitled this post “words fail me,” but clearly they haven’t, because this is going to be another epic.

As Cyclists in the City point out so eloquently here, Transport for London have spent millions of pounds installing a death trap which they are now advising cyclists not to use. And I would echo that.

Please don’t cycle on Cycle Superhighway two with your children, they will be terrified and might be killed.

I was all agog to see the alternative route suggested, as I thought that both alternative routes were shut due to Olympics construction work, so I went onto Transport for London’s cycle route planner. I view this site with deep mistrust ever since I asked it for an “easy” route to Brompton Oratory and it sent me through that horrible underpass at Waterloo station, onto Westminster Bridge and round Parliament Square. I did a lot of walking that day, and I was late for church.

Here’s a screen shot of part of the suggested route (I’ve fudged the start and end points in this example, as putting up a route map from Rosamundi Towers to my work strikes me as a little on the foolish side, but the route is the same). I have also uploaded the detailed PDFs of the three routes, as provided by TfL.

Screen shot from Transport for London's cycle planner

 

I asked it for all three versions of the route – “easy,” “moderate” and “fast.” Transport for London’s definitions of these terms are as follows:

Easy: “Mainly quiet backstreets, canals and park routes. The speed is 12km/hr [7.5mph].” Represented on this screenshot with a purple line. You can see the PDF of the full route here wise road to berkeley square easy

Moderate: “Mainly back streets, with some main roads where unavoidable. The speed is 16km/hr [10mph].” Represented on this screenshot with a fuchsia-pink line. You can see the full route here wise road to Berkeley square moderate

Fast: “Mainly fastest, most direct routes. The speed is 20km/hr [12.5mph].” Represented on this screenshot with a grey line. You can see the full route here wise road to berkeley square fast

The fuchsia pink line is the “moderate” route, and requires you to dismount at a set of traffic lights, cross the road, double back on yourself (either cycling on a road which is three lanes of speeding traffic or, presumably, pushing your bike on the pavement), and go off down the Greenway. I thought the Greenway was still closed but it has, apparently, recently re-opened. I don’t know if they’ve installed street lighting as part of the renovation work. If they haven’t, there is no way you’d get me cycling down there at night. The route then goes off by the side of Victoria Park, and into London through Islington and so on.

The purple line is the “easy” route. Where the “moderate” route turns off to the greenway, the easy route goes straight on. Straight on towards Bow interchange. A junction which Transport for London (the entity which provided this route), is currently advising cyclists to avoid.

The astute of you will notice that there is no grey line on this screenshot. That is because the “fast” and “easy” routes (one of which is supposed to use “mainly quiet backstreets, canals and park routes,” remember), are identical apart from one weird jink that the quiet route goes on to go briefly through Mile End Park.

Now, I don’t know the algorithm that the cycle route planner uses. I don’t know if it is programmed so that a route which has a Cycle Superdeathway on it is automatically a quiet route, and thus suitable for beginners, nervous cyclists and kids, and if it goes on road speed to work out the fast route, or what.

But imagine this. You’ve just picked up your shiny new bike from the bike shop. You ask Transport for London to give you a quiet route from home to work, and you set off, following the blue line of paint.

And you are confronted with this (image from London Cycle Campaign).

And this (image taken from the Cyclists in the City blog, note, it is not of CS2, but it’s similar).

Um.

Actually, now I am lost for words.

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Blue paint is not magic

This video is Transport for London’s idea of “safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city [which] could be your best and quickest way to get to work.”

I sent this video to a few friends.

“It’ll be better when they put the superhighway in,won’t it?”

“That is the cycle superhighway.”

“Don’t ever cycle on that, you’ll die.”

If you were told “we’re putting in a new cycle route which will be safer, faster and more direct, … [which] could be your best and quickest way to get to work,” and it’s going in along the Mile End Road, a street which has two lanes of traffic in either direction and pavements so wide that ten people can walk abreast, what would you think?

I confess that I thought “brilliant! They’ll run it down the middle of the pavement,with strategic give-way points so that people can access the bus stops along the road. It’ll be segregated from the motorised traffic so we won’t have to battle with cars and vans and the lorries delivering to Tesco, and the Olympics construction traffic, and it might give a safe passage around Bow Flyover and Algate Gyratory.”

I’m a wide-eyed, trusting soul, sometimes.

Instead, as you can see, it occupies half of one of the car lanes. It doesn’t even have advisory broken white lines along its side, never mind solid “do not cross” white lines. This means that cars, vans, lorries and buses can and do drive in it with impunity, because what else can they do? They’ve sort of lost one of the lanes of traffic but not really because it’s not properly segregated off.

When it comes to a bus stop it abruptly disappears and is replaced with a couple of blue boxes in the middle of the carriageway, so it’s right signal, fling yourself out into the traffic, and hope like hell the bus driver uses his mirrors before signalling and pulling out from the stop.

The paint surface itself is an interesting choice of two different materials, one quite decent textured, rubberised paint which provides a fair amount of grip in poor weather, and one frankly awful slick gloss paint which, in the rain, is like cycling on a greasy skating rink.

There are two decent sections of segregated path, one just after Bow Flyover and one just after the church, both heading west into London. Every time I go on them I sigh and think “oh, it could have all been like this.”

The rest of it is the biggest waste of blue paint since the last time something big was painted blue to no purpose.

Because Newham Council refused planning permission for the route to be installed in the borough until after the Olympics, the route starts halfway round the Bow Flyover junction, a hideous roundabout on steroids with sixteen lanes of traffic and no pedestrian crossings because they would slow down the traffic too much. It heads west along Mile End Road in half a car lane, giving way to bus stops and car parking.

I kid you not, the route has to accommodate car parking.

Let me remind you that this is supposed to be a “safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city [which] could be your best and quickest way to get to work.”

And yet the route breaks to accommodate on-road parking, forcing cyclists to merge right into the traffic, hoping the driver behind has seen you and is prepared to give way. Eastbound, the route actually has parking spaces painted into it, and cyclists are travelling in the door zone.

At the western end, it abandons you just before Aldgate Gyratory, a hideous one-way system where if you want to turn right to head into the City along Bevis Marks you have to hurl yourself across four lanes of traffic going at thirty miles an hour.

It is lethal. It has already killed one person. I should not be arriving at my destination mentally saying “hurrah! I’m not dead!” And the worst bit of it is not that’s it’s dangerous, but, as someone said on Twitter last night, “it’s dangerous and it pretends not to be.”

Blue paint is not magic. It does not have miraculous tipper-truck-repelling powers. It will not save me from an idiot who opens their car door without looking. This is not safe cycle provision. This is a mess.

If I were either the Mayor of London or Barclays, I would be absolutely furious, utterly livid, at what is being done to cyclists in my name.

Cycle Superhighway 2 is desperately, appallingly dangerous and pretending not to be.

So, if I’m killed on the cycle superhighway between Bow Flyover and Aldgate Gyratory, will someone point the coroner at this blog post and say “I told you so?” Thanks.

Oddly enough, I’ve been praying this a lot recently:

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

(Under thy protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our needs, but from all dangers deliver us always, Virgin Glorious and Blessed).

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Reflections on owning a bicycle

Zephirine arrived on the feast of St Mary Magdalene in 2010, (22nd July for those of you not up on your liturgical calendar), and so, on the feast  of another great Saint of the Dominican Order (St Martin de Porres, since you ask), some form of reflection seems appropriate…

I was on the Central Line one morning, standing nose-to-armpit with someone whose suit jacket was apparently last dry-cleaned before I was born, and the train suddenly slammed to a halt.

“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, signal failure up ahead…”

I made it into the office an hour late, steam pouring out of my  ears, to be greeted by a calendar reminder that said “renew season ticket loan.” The Transport for London website informed me that my annual season ticket would now cost over £1,200, and the psychological tipping point of paying over £100 a month to deal with other people’s aggression, the constant battle for a seat, the crowding that would see an animal transporter heavily fined and possibly jailed, the delays and the ever-present threat of strikes was reached.

“I can’t bear this,” I thought, but I couldn’t see an alternative – I live eight miles from work, and whilst I had been walking part of the  distance home most evenings, and catching an overland train from Liverpool Street, getting up early enough to do the same in the mornings didn’t appeal and I would still have to catch the tube part of the way.

Fortunately, Twitter to the rescue. There was a discussion that lunchtime about cycling, and someone whose commute is similar to mine mentioned it was quicker. My thought processes went “oooh, cycling. I used to enjoy that, err, I don’t want to wear bright yellow Lycra, I look ill in yellow, umm,” and then someone, I suspect it was the ever-charming and delightful Patrick Baty, mentioned Pashley.

Oh yes. Proper bicycles. Still made, lovingly, by hand, in Stratford on Avon. “Look, you can cycle in skirts!” I thought. “It’s got a bell! WANT!”

I had a few days off coming up, so I arranged a test ride with Evans Cycles in Canary Wharf. I came back from the ride with the most enormous grin on my face, and placed an order for “one of those, but in green please thank you.”

And, in order to prevent this post turning into an epic of Icelandic saga proportions, the rest, as they say, is history. Yes, there were a few teething problems. Hub gears take a bit of getting used to when you are used to derailleurs. The leather saddle was a bit unpleasant for the first 500  miles, but now it’s broken in it’s like riding a cross between a sofa and a  tank. London drivers seem to think that a woman on a bike is fair game for
everything from leering out of car windows yelling comments to actual sexual assault. Bow flyover gives me the fear every single day.

But I get to cycle along the canal towpath in the early morning, and see the wildlife. Last week there was a pair of swans gliding towards me in the early-morning mist. A vixen kept me company for part of the ride home. I don’t have to go to the gym. I don’t have to stand nose to armpit with anyone.
I arrive in work with a smile on my face, smug in the knowledge that I’ve done more exercise in a day than some of my colleagues manage in a year.

As bikes go, Zephirine wasn’t cheap, and she’s had some modifications which made her even less cheap, and she’s about to have a service, and I did need to buy some thermal gear and a waterproof jacket. However, even taking into account purchase costs, running costs, and clothing, she’s certainly paid for herself in the saving on Tube fares (I do still use the Tube
on some days) and I can’t begin to comprehend how much I’d have spent on a car in the equivalent time period. Never having run a car, I just don’t have an idea in my head of the cost of petrol and insurance and parking and congestion charge and maintenance and VED and whatever other costs one incurs when running a car in London.

There have also been other benefits. Not having to go to the supermarket every day, because I’m not limited by how much I can carry, I’m now limited by how much I can fit in two panniers and a basket (loads). Realising, as I pedalled merrily through Victoria Park on my way to the farmers’ market
that I had become the ultimate middle-class stereotype, especially when I bought a bunch of flowers as well as the other things on my shopping list. When I do go to the supermarket, I can take advantage of more special offers than I used to – I have enough toilet roll to last us until next Christmas, because you can carry 24 rolls on a bike far more easily than you can on foot (Bungee Cords Are Your Friends).

I visited my parents a few weeks ago (well, I stayed at their house whilst they were away on holiday and drank their gin), and took my bike. They
live on the top of a hill, about a mile outside a town that is on top of another
hill. Growing up, I did indeed have to walk to school uphill both ways.

The sheer amount of freedom it gave me in a town where there are
two trains an hour and two buses a week was incredible. Visiting the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph and being able to cycle there, rather than relying on them being able to pick me up from the station. Being able to go into town and be back within half an hour instead of an hour, not being reliant on Other People or tied to a train timetable. Brilliant.

However, if my employer didn’t provide secure bike parking, showers, towels (so I don’t have to carry my own in), lockers, and breakfast when I arrive completely ravenous having just cycled ten miles in the rain, it
wouldn’t have happened. Either I’d never have bought the bike in the first
place, or I’d have just been a weekend cyclist. No matter how stately a pace
you travel at, after ten miles, you need a shower. Even I draw the line at
cycling in the suit I then have to wear for the next eight hours, and I’m sure
my colleagues thank me, too.

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Why yes, I have lost my mind. Again.

I’ve signed up for the London Nightrider in June 2012, a 100km (62.5 miles, for those who get confused by metric), cycle round London.

It’s not London to Oxford, but it’s a similar distance, although this time it’s a
big circle round London, starting at Alexandra Palace at midnight and climbing Highgate to Whitestone Pond, the highest point in London. The route goes past Kenwood House, through Camden, past London Zoo, Lords, Regent’s Park, Oxford Circus, and on to Covent Garden. It then goes over Waterloo Bridge to the Imperial War Museum, past the Oval, over Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament, along Whitehall, towards Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall and the South Kensington museums, back over the Thames, through Clapham, and a long climb (I don’t like the sound of this) to Crystal Palace.

That is halfway, apparently, where I am fed (or possibly humanely destroyed and my ravaged corpse thrown in the Thames), and put back on the bike, this time heading towards Blackheath. The route then takes in the National Maritime Museum before heading off towards Rotherhithe, crossing back over the Thames at Tower Bridge. On it goes past the Tower of London and into the City, taking in the Lloyds Building, the Bank of England, and St Paul’s Cathedral, before heading off into the east End via Bethnal Green and Stepney, before going round Canary Wharf and heading to Mile End before the final leg to Alexandra Palace past the Emirates Stadium.

Once again, it is in aid of Help the Hospices who do some amazing work supporting hospices around the country. Collectively hospices have to raise an incredible £500million pounds every year to continue providing end of life care and support to loved ones.

Therefore,it is time to do the traditional rifling cheerily through your pockets. Go on, make the pain worthwhile by donating here (tell your friends, too).

I have yet to decide if I’ll be doing it on Zephirine, I’ve been thinking for a
while about buying a bike to keep at my parents’ place (they don’t know this
yet, mind), so doing the training on my big heavy town bike and then the ride on something a bit speedier (and with more gears), has appeal!

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On Cycling in Skirts

I bimbled into town today on Zephirine, on my way to the London Photowalk. I needed to pick up a card reader so I locked my bicycle up, stripped it down to parts (this is one of the things which annoys me about cycling in London – the constant fear that if you leave your bike unattended for more than three seconds, everything removable will be removed in the time it takes you to turn your back) and went into Maplin.

Card reader purchased, I came back out and was unlocking my bike when a Muslim lady in shalwar khameez stopped and said “I didn’t know you could cycle in skirts.”

“Oh,yes, do it all the time.”

“I normally drive everywhere but petrol is so expensive, and I’d like to go out with my husband and the boys, but I tried riding my husband’s bike and got my tunic caught in the back wheel. Isn’t it dangerous?”

So, we had a five minute chat about the practicalities. It is entirely possible. Honest. I’ve been doing it for over a year and I’m not dead yet, and I am the woman who once had to explain a huge bruise on her forehead with a blithe “tripped over the Oxford English Dictionary in the night and smacked my head on the wardrobe.”

If there’s a way of injuring myself, especially if it will then lead to embarrassing, comedy, or unlikely explanations (“cracked a bone in my foot slipping over on a tart’s calling card,”) you can be fairly sure that I’ll do it. Breaking my arm after I fall off my bike, having caught my skirts in the back wheel? Totally within the bounds of possibility.

You just need the right bike and some hair slides (the metal ones that snap closed).

So, Miryam, this post is for you, and for every other woman who, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to wear trousers, but does want to ride a bike. Or, even, doesn’t want to keep a whole wardrobe of cycling clothes and just wants to jump on her bike regardless of what she’s wearing, but doesn’t want to show the neighbours her pants (because we must have some standards or we’ll be leaving the crusts on the cucumber sandwiches before you know it).

The right bike:

A step-through frame: hoiking your skirt-clad leg over a top tube without flashing your neighbours is not easy. Also the fabric bunches over the top tube and gets in the way.

Hub brakes: getting a skirt caught in a calliper brake is an … experience…, and not one I recommend, it leaves nasty black marks on your skirt and wrecks the brake. Also, hub brakes are more reliable in the rain.

A skirt-guard: These are fitted as standard on Pashleys, and are a shaped piece of plastic (they can be made out of other things as well, I’ve seen leather ones), that go over the top half of the back wheel and cover the spokes.

So, that’s the bike. Your basic Dutch/Miss Marple job – basket and bell optional, but useful if you want to become the ultimate middle-class stereotype and pedal off to the farmers’ market on a Saturday morning.

When it comes to clothing, I follow a basic rule of thumb, and that rule is “nobody needs to see my bum in Lycra.” Yes, I wear padded cycling shorts (or Corinne Dennis padded undies), but I wear them under a skirt. My journey to work is ten miles there and another ten back. Padded shorts are a blessing and a necessity.

If I’m wearing the padded undies I wear a pair of leggings over the top (another rule of thumb which has served me well for many years: “Don’t Flash the Neighbours”) and put a skirt over that. I’ve found that the best fabrics are something reasonably heavy-weight with a bit of a texture – something like moleskin, fine cord or denim is ideal. I usually wear an A-line skirt, and find that the style and the weight of the fabric is enough to stop it flying up.

I made my skirts, and have only a passing acquaintance with that thing called fashion, so you may be cycling in something a bit less substantial than an A-line moleskin skirt. That’s where the hair grips come in. You need one of those metal clips that snap together – grab the hem of the skirt between your legs, snap the clip closed with the fabric held in the clip. Job done.

But I really don’t recommend cycling with a trailing scarf round your neck.

If you’re a beginner cyclist in London, and worried about traffic, you can get free cycle training through your council and Transport for London, I did it and it was excellent for boosting confidence and making me feel safer on the road.

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A difficult post to write, this one…

No, not a confession to not doing the London to Oxford, I did it, albeit not on Zephirine (a story for another post).

But how does one say that, having gone out for the weekend on Zephirine for a training ride, with toothpaste and pyjamas and clean knickers in her panniers, I was sexually assaulted whilst sat at a set of traffic lights in broad daylight in the City of London?

Quite.

On the Saturday of the Royal wedding/May Day bank holiday, I grabbed my map of the London to Oxford Sustrans route, threw toothpaste, pyjamas, and clean knickers (because my mum brung me up proper, so she did), in the panniers, and off we went. Rosamundi Towers to Staines, some 45 miles, stop overnight with a friend, Staines to Reading, then train back to London. And it was great fun, and I really enjoyed it, and I got a sunburned nose. I always get a sunburned nose.

And I was quietly minding my own business at the junction of London Wall and Moorgate, probably thinking about the most well-earned gin and tonic of my life and wondering if they come in pints, when I became aware of a presence behind me. Not just behind me, but rubbing against me, and, to be perfectly frank, copping a feel.

This is kind of weird when your bike has panniers and it’s really hard to straddle the back wheel.

I swear, my immediate thought was “mistaken identity?” so I turned round with my best enquiring face on.

I didn’t recognise him, he didn’t immediately leap backwards off the bike offering fulsome apologies and gin, so I assumed it was something creepy rather than weird, elbowed him in the chest and yelled at him to fuck off.

He didn’t like this much.

Apparently, no-one tells him to fuck off, and if you do, he lashes out and breaks your bike’s back light, then gets back in the car from which he came, which then drove off.

Meanwhile, I got onto the pavement with Zephirine and burst into tears like the wet hen I am.

Several people came over to help, but none of them got his number (this turned out to be unfortunate), and they all advised me to go to the police, which I duly did.

The City of London Police are truly lovely, even if they do serve tea in polystyrene cups, and everyone was genuinely nice and at no point was I made to feel like I was wasting anyone’s time or anything.

But unfortunately if they don’t have a registration plate and the CCTV is pointing the wrong way (City of London) or not recording (WTF, Transport for London, thanks for that, I love you too), they’re sort of on a hiding to nothing.

The police did say that if you go round groping women at traffic lights, you do tend to come to the attention of the authorities at some point, so if it wasn’t an example of long bank holiday weekend, car full of blokey mates, alcohol-fuelled bravado, they’ll catch him.

So, there we are. Make sure you do your shoulder checks at traffic lights because you never know when someone’s going to assault you. And if someone does try it on, get the registration plate.

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Training 9th February 2011

Today was the day of my buddy ride from home to work – an escorted ride with an experienced cyclist.

He came up with a route that I’d never have thought of, that cut out most of the Mile End Road (yay), and took me along Bethnal Green Road, Old Street, Clerkenwell Road, Theobold Road and along Oxford Street.

It avoids the canal, which I don’t like cycling along in the dark, and is a bit quicker than the route I’d been taking.

There and back again, 18 miles.

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Training 7th February 2011

was, to be absolutely frank, a bit of a fail.

Nice gentle pootle to Liverpool Street station, I thought, after the 20 miles yesterday. A bit windy, but I don’t want to get in the habit of “oooh, it’s a bit windy/rainy/sunny/I’ve broken a nail, I’ll not go out today,” and I needed some stuff from Lush, and the nearest Lush is at Liverpool St. So I heaved Zephirine out the shed and off we went.

Straight into the teeth of a howling gale that at one point was blowing us backwards down the Mile End Road. Oddly, this did not strike me as a life-enhancing activity, so there was rather more “getting off and walking whilst uttering rude words,” than I’d hoped for, so I think I’ll only count the route back.

Liverpool St Station to home, 6 miles according to Bikehike.

Given that I’m mostly off the booze, does anyone have any suggestions for replacements for a glass of wine in the evening that aren’t full of caffeine or so sweet they make my teeth stand on end?

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Training 5th February 2011

I had my last bikeability cycle training lesson today, so I cycled off to Bikeworks. Cycling into the wind was officially Not Fun.

We went down Old Ford Road, Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green Road, along Great Eastern Street, all the way round the Old Street roundabout, and back the way we came.

I signed up to a buddy ride to work on Wednesday (your trainer comes with you to work, pointing out the best route and any hazards).

I then went round Victoria Park, cycled along the canal as far as Danbury Street in Islington, but we were fighting against the wind all the way and my knees were queueing up to complain, so I turned around and headed home, via lunch at The Empress of India. Lovely place, very tolerant of hot, thirsty cyclists who turn up in their nice restaurant without a booking on a Saturday lunchtime!

I’ve not set my GPS up yet (I know, a GPS unit on a Pashley, but paper maps are a pain in the neck), but I think I did about 20 miles today, according to Google Maps.

Tomorrow will be a gentle trundle down to church and the supermarket, I think.

Oh, and car occupiers – do us all a favour and look before you open your car doors. Not stopping in the middle of the road might be nice, too.

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