It seems not a week goes by without some grand pronouncement on the future of cycling in London. Mayor Boris is always pledging this or that amount of money (pledging is the operative word) in future spending on cycling infrastructure. Others get in on the act as well: Norman Foster recently unveiled a plan for completely unnecessary aerial cycling infrastructure.
Sadly, it seems that every few weeks, there’s also news of a cyclist being killed in London. If news media present a rather mixed picture of the situation of cyclists in London, that’s because there are a lot of good and bad things to be said about it. Here are a few:
Cycling in the horde. Paradoxically, one of the safest times to cycle in London is during rush hour. That’s when there are so many cyclists on the road, that it is impossible for motorists not to see us. There’s safety in numbers, and the numbers are steadily increasing.
Friendly bike shops. I don’t think I’ve been in any other city where all the bike shops are so helpful…and not just helpful in telling you what you should buy! Many shops have a pump outside that they offer to passing cyclists who need to inflate their tyres, and some shops I frequented would even let me use their tools free of charge to fix my bike.
Boris Bikes. At first, I actually found these for-hire bicycles rather obnoxious. They seemed to be used mostly by tourists or men in suits who swerved as they tried to figure out where they wanted to go (in the case of the former) or talked on their phones (in the case of the ladder). But then I used the Boris bikes, and learned to love them. Given my point above — that having more cyclists on the road makes all of us safer — I think the biggest benefit to the Boris bikes is that they allow more people to cycle, who otherwise wouldn’t. The fact that they’re cheaper than cycle hire schemes in other cities helps as well.
On many major streets in London, there is no dedicated bike lane. But the genius urban planners at TfL came up with a solution: Have a lane that’s shared between bikes and buses. Because if there’s one vehicle you want to ride next to when you’re on your bike, it’s a two-storey one with multiple blind spots.
Last November was a particularly bloody one on London’s streets, as six cyclists were killed. Faced with such a dire predicament, London police knew they had to do something.
So they started handing out more fines to cyclists.
This response shouldn’t have been too surprising. Mayor Boris Johnson, for all his photo-ops on his bike, has a history of blaming cyclists for their own deaths, even when the stats clearly contradict such claims. The mentality among the powers that be in London seems to be that, even though lorries were involved in 64% of the accidents that killed cyclists last year, and cyclists were involved in ZERO crashes that killed lorry drivers, cyclists are the dangerous ones who require more policing.
I remember being shocked when I went to Oxford and saw idle bicycles unchained to racks or railings; the only security measures their owners had taken was locking the back wheel to the frame, leaving the front wheel completely exposed!
I realised then that I had become quite hardened by London, where everyone either a) has had a bike stolen, b) has had something stolen off their bike (maybe a wheel, maybe a lamp) or c) is a bike thief.
Luckily, during my time in London, the only bike I had stolen was one I wasn’t using at the time, and I actually felt a sense of relief as it was a bike that was going to require a lot of time/money to fix up. Ne’ertheless, it was a reminder that bike thieves really are everywhere in London.