London’s Brave New Cycling World. Will I Like It?

Dutch-style cycle infrastructure is on the way to London. It’ll be half-arsed at first but we’ll get there in the end. Making cycling a viable transport option’s got a kind of political inevitability, like smoking bans and compulsory “traffic light” badges on food, because cycling has developed a lobby, which is growing in power. (As I am talking about politics, whether it’s RIGHT is utterly irrelevant). I can see politicians being brow-beaten into jumping on the cycling band-wagon, and this is good. This post by “As easy as riding a bike” shows how the new infrastructure works. Bikes cross junctions on their own phase, without control, then when they’re out of the way, the Cars go. It’s all very Ernest, but one comment…

This may, of course, be more problematic with higher pedestrian movements, or with rather less civilised cycling behaviour…

… got me thinking. Herein lies the problem: The Current British cycling culture. I left London 6 years ago, when cycling for transport was very much a minority pursuit. As a result, I am conditiononed to be hyper-aware, and hyper-aggressive in traffic, because that’s what you needed to stay alive back then. Red Lights – pah! Much more important to get out the way. Cars – the enemy, who will be smashed for the slightest transgression. Helmets – for the weak. High Viz – symbol of supplication to the God car, and evil. In short, on the road, I have developed a War-zone mentality.

Will I use the new infrastructure when it’s built? I don’t use the cycle lane between Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road, though it’s the only near-Dutch standard infrastructure around. Why not? Because I know the road and it’s users and much as I fear a car, I can predict a car’s movements in a way you can’t predict the movement of an immigrant on a Halford’s cheapo, or tourist on a Boris Bike. Years of conditioning have got me bum up, head down, sprinting to keep up with the cars, I become as one, and I rather like it. I imagine new cyclists will start in on the bike lane, and some of the fastest and strongest will join me on the road. As I get older and slower and buy a Pashley, I may find myself pootling down the bike lane, as I do when I find myself on a Boris bike (which I suspect are made of the same stuff found in the core of impacted stars). But as it is, the smell of diesel fumes brings out the competitive, aggressive road warrior in me. It’s not just me, the Mayor is another paid-up member of the “muscular commuter” tribe, who regarded the daily dicing with death as merely adding spice to life. How did he describe navigating Euston circus underpass, or Elephant & castle roundabout?

“OK if you’re confident…”

Of course, it’s people like me & Boris who have put of the old and the young, the women, the parent off cycling. You have to be young, strong, fit and confident to be a “vehicular cyclist”. We’ve enabled road engineers to ignore cyclists by finding a way through the streets. We give the APPEARANCE to politicians, that cycling is an option to people aged 8 to 80, when it isn’t. Things which appear to the uninitiated as reckless were merely survival techniques as we navigated roads designed without a thought to the cycle, but this enabled to blame the victim when cyclists get killed (90% of fatalities are the Motorist’s fault). For example, I actively sought out the most congested routes on the basis that a stationary car can’t kill you.

Lots of new cyclists have joined the ranks since then, hordes of us now swarm up and down Old Street every day. And the future is clear – London, will become a cycling city and the rest of the country will follow (and be much better off for it). The newbies politely stop at red lights and pootle along, in the door-zone cycle lane thoughtfully provided by a road engineer who’s probably never ridden a bike in 30 years. These new cyclists, trusting in the magic blue or red paint are oblivious to the danger of going inside a lorry, up the carelessly placed filter lane, to the Advanced Stop Line, where you wait, to be passed by a driver at his most careless and stressed. I feel safer in the traffic, occupying a primary position (known as “in the way” to a motorist) and where possible a long way down the road when the lights change. However London, broadly lets the new cyclist get away with stuff I’d never dreamed of doing when I lived there, because transport cycling is becoming mainstream and even idiot occupiers of angst-boxes are looking out for people on bikes. Most of the time.

Are we vehicular cyclists going to be an anachronism? An de-mobbed, away from the cars, and into the cycle lane. We’ll be safe, but will we be missing the action & danger. Will I cope in the bright, shiny, new, safer, more polite world, for which we cycling activists have been agitating for decades, but which will mean, in practice, waiting patiently behind someone dawdling along on an upright? Is it hyperbole to think of General MacArthur’s “Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away“.

21 replies
  1. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    No. What's is satisfying is when fat people get out of their fatmobiles and try to "wrap a pedestrian-scaring cyclist's ludicrous antediluvian contraption round his neck" and GET THIER FUCKING HEADS KICKED IN.

    Seriously. I'm big and angry. Motorists who get out of their cars usually get straight back in again.

  2. Peter S
    Peter S says:

    Well, I drive and cycle ina city where the traffic is far, far worse than in London. But I also walk so I only ask one thing of cyclists: STAY OFF THE FUCKING PAVEMENTS.

  3. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    I agree. If I see a chav (over about 15 y-o) on a bike on a pavement on which I'm walking, I'll drop my shoulder into it.

    However you must accpet pavement riding is a reaction to the sheer hostility of roads to cyclists for all but the most fit and aggressive.

  4. Luke
    Luke says:

    Pavement-cycling. Shouldn't be done, or kids only/with discretion etc. I agree. But am I the only person who rarely encounters pavement cyclists, and those are usually kids and or doing about 5 mph? Or are lots of those complaining about pavement cycling swivel eyed loons loons? (I live in central london, walk or cycle most days, drive about once a week.)

    • Luke
      Luke says:

      I was hoping to get a sweary rant from one of your petrol head commenters posing as the protector of innocent children. And what do I get? Sweet reason. What is this blog coming too?

  5. Peter S
    Peter S says:

    Ok, I – reluctantly – do accept that the roads are worse for cyclists than they were but it's a weak excuse for pavement riding, especially in the UK.

  6. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    "What's is satisfying is when fat people … GET THIER FUCKING HEADS KICKED IN. … Motorists who get out of their cars usually get straight back in again."

    Presumably, these are people who still have their keys in the ignition.

    How often have you actually done this? You may be bigger and stronger than the fat man behind the wheel, but are you bigger and stronger than his fatmobile?

  7. PeterE
    PeterE says:

    I find it very strange how, when you post such intelligent, sensible opinions on most economic issues, you fall victim to the Left's anti-consumption, anti-technology dogma when it comes to transport.

    I doubt whether you would advocate doing your washing with a mangle, or mowing your lawn with a scythe. By all means, if people want to do these things (or want to commute by pushbike) they should be allowed to, but it really shouldn't be public policy to encourage it.

  8. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Last week, when I pointed out a piece of stupid driving, the guy started screaming and shouting at me. I pointed out this was all on video, he continued to be aggressive. I asked for an apology, he reluctantly gave one when he had calmed down. I walked away. At this point his wife started screaming at me, I may have said "shut up, you fat, disgusting sow" (she was properly minging). He got out of his car, chased me 20 yards up the road. I leant my bike up against a wall, and turned round. He was staring at my solar plexus. I said "what now, pipsqueak?".

    "I don't want any aggression" he said. "Quite…" I replied. "Go back to your vile pile of blubber over there, you pathetic little beta and fuck off".

    Meanwhile fat sow was calling the police, to whom I showed the video. I politely declined the offer of pressing assault charges.

    Aggression almost NEVER comes from the cyclist, even an obnoxious cunt like me. When it does, cyclists are usually fit and already have fight or flight hormones coursing so motorists GET THEIR FUCKING HEADS KICKED IN.

    An aware cyclist can hear an aggressively driven car from the engine note, and evasive action has saved my life more than once. Now I have a helmet cam to secure prosecutions of the utter wankers on the road, I find I don't need to take drastic action.

  9. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Pete E. I am not anti consumption, I am not even anti car. I am anti car-for-everything.

    It's the wrong tool for urban transport, and I think towns should not be designed around its use. If you design a town around the car, you get milton keynes or Los Angeles.


    All we are asking is that roads be designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, not just cars. That means more public transport and less room for cars, for which in a town-centre there simply isn't room.

    At present the roads are hostile to anyone who wants to consider any other form of tansport. Every bike is one fewer car in your way.

  10. PeterE
    PeterE says:

    Milton Keynes consistently scores highly in quality of life surveys, so can't be all that bad.

    "That means more public transport and less room for cars"

    Exactly the kind of statist dirigisme you reject in other spheres.

    If you make town centres too unfriendly for cars, car owners will not take to pushbikes, they will vote with their wheels and go elsewhere. As you can see from all the failing High Streets up and down the country.

  11. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    1) Urban road space is a zero-sum game, unlike other spheres.
    2) Milton Keynes is the same distance from London as Cambridge, but the latter costs twice as much for a house. Do you want to live in Milton Keynes? The market has spoken.
    3) Public transport can be and is provided on a for-profit basis by private companies.
    4) Cars, and particularly parking, which represents a significant privatisation of public space, are heavily subsidised.
    5) I can debate this all you like, but I suspect you consider all forms of transport apart from cars and walking (the ones you use) to be a communist plot. Car drivers cannot be persuaded consider the externalities of car use.
    6) You don't believe the "externalities" argument. Have a look at 2 identical houses one on a main road, the other on a cul-de-sac and check the house prices. The market has spoken.
    7) once you accept the externalities of car use, you accept the basis of pigouvian taxation, and facilitating alternatives.
    8) I don't want the car banned, just discouraged from urban centres and encouraging alternatives; hence park n' ride, cycling, public transport, and so forth. Motoring isn't going to go away, and nor should it.

    My arguments are rooted in free-market economics. Yours in naked self-interest.

  12. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Well it depends. Currently the roads budget comes out of general taxation. Of which 99.99% is spent on motorists & their needs. the £25m Cameron earmarked for cyclists, is just 1% of the bill for widening 22miles of the M25.

    All we're asking is that a tiny fraction of the roads budget is spent on urban junctions that aren't fucking lethal to cyclists.

    That's all.

    And maybe a few protected cycle lanes on the busyest routes.

    Motorists don't want this, because they believe it will affect the car's absurdly priveleged legal and fiscal postition.

    Motorists actually believe they over-pay! (Clue, The sum's not VED+Fuel-Roads) If motorists paid anything market rates for their parking space, it would be different.

    Let's start designing towns & society around people, not machines.


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