Friday, 7 August 2009

'Quiet routes'

The London Borough of Waltham Forest boasts many miles of 'quiet routes' for cyclists. What it boils down to is miles of back streets with blue signs attached to lighting columns. Look carefully and you'll see that the lighting column on the left bears a London Cycle Network sign.

On virtually all of these quiet routes there are parked cars on both sides of the road. This particular street is Belgrave Road E10. It's a one-way street with rubber speed cushions. On this street the cushions are entirely pointless since drivers can straddle them without slowing down. However, they are an obstruction for cyclists, unless you want to cycle close to a parked vehicle and risk a door being swung open as you pass. Some cars you can see have no one in them. Cars with darkened glass and vans, you can't.

The real problem on streets like these is what happens when a vehicle catches up with you. There just isn't room for a car to pass a cyclist in safety. These streets are heavily parked and there is often no space to pull over.

Careful drivers hang back and adjust themselves to the cyclist's speed. The majority of drivers are impatient and make their presence felt by driving to within an inch of your back tyre and staying there. You can almost feel the rage and the impatience.

A minority - usually minicab drivers and young male drivers - angrily blow their horn. It is never clear to me what such drivers expect a cyclist to do. Presumably one should instantly dismount, drag your offensive bicycle to the side of the road, and tip your cloth cap as they pass by.

When you don't get out of their way, they overtake, usually leaving half an inch of space between their vehicle and your right handlebar.

Quiet routes are fine if you have them completely to yourself. But as soon as I hear an engine approaching from the rear my pulse quickens and my stress level starts to rise.