Life

London could be a bike friendly city, but macho cyclists need to tone it down

BY Jill Rutter   /  8 May 2019

At least this time he said sorry.

That was the cyclist who knocked me off my bike as we were crossing a road junction near work.  A notable contrast to the cyclist who knocked me off from behind when I braked to let a wheelchair cross on the bike path in Hyde Park last September.  He thought it was my fault for braking – not his for cycling too close, and too fast, where there is no room to swerve.

Compared to almost any other cyclist I have a dream commute – across the network of bike lanes in the Royal Parks, down a stretch of the new cycle superhighway to Buckingham Palace and then along the top side of the Mall.  Unfortunately, that also makes it a race track for men (this really is a guy thing) on their overpriced road bikes who unleash their inner Bradley Wiggins on their daily trip to work.

That means a low level of tolerance for anyone who cycles a bit more slowly than they do and does not joust for pole position at every crossing.  But it also means that London is failing to fully capitalise on the many benefits of extending cycling – health, environmental and just more reliable travel – beyond those who revel in cycling as their daily adrenaline or Strava fix.

There are things Transport for London can do to reduce pinchpoints.  Some junctions between bike lanes are designed to throw one group of cyclists into direct conflict against another.  Traffic light phasing means big groups of cyclists build up – and set off at the same time – because the phases haven’t taken account of the numbers cycling.  Bike lanes have been designed on the assumption of relative underuse and don’t have the capacity they need.

But none of these deal with the underlying point. Because London is in transition from a daredevil to a mainstream cycling culture, the assumption still is that every ride is a battle for survival. Aggressive habits transfer from the road to the bike path (or in too many cases the pavement).  That is compounded by the time trial mentality.  Together they create a North Sea sized gulf between the culture of cycling in London or Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Safety for cyclists comes in numbers.  Cycling in London has grown markedly over the past decade.  But it needs to spread further. That will only happen when more people like me cycle – cautious, slightly scared cyclists who just think it’s a great way of getting to work on time, with a bit of exercise thrown in. Transforming London into the bike (and pedestrian) friendly city it could be needs buy-in from older workers, retirees, parents with children  and others who currently don’t see cycling as an option.

That won’t happen if we are – literally – knocked off the road.

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