Wednesday 22 July 2009

Three minutes of crap cycling in London

To my mind controlled mass bike rides (which I shan't be going on because I'm not prepared to wear an infant's bib advertising Sky TV) and gimmicks are no substitute for a radically transformed cycling infrastructure and a radical engagement with the everyday risks that London cyclists are constantly exposed to. There's nothing wrong with targets and aspirations but here I'm a sceptic. The hard reality (as I see it) is that there is absolutely no evidence that the London cycling infrastructure is going to be meaningfully transformed in the near future, and cycling in London, which should be relaxing, enjoyable, convenient and a very desirable way of travelling, is all too often an unpleasant experience, as a marginalised road user on vehicle-choked streets with substandard cycling facilities. I agree entirely with Chris Hutt when he writes (apropos the new Bristol bike hire scheme) that

it's not the cost of bicycles that deters people from cycling, it's the behaviour of motorists

That behaviour could be changed but there's no sign of any political will to do so. Every cycling blog I read contains anecdotal evidence of repeated bad experiences. And the letters pages of local newspapers supply regular stories of bellicose drivers who resent cyclists using the road.

Here's my contribution to the anecdotal.

There I was, yesterday afternoon, on the recommended London Cycle Network ‘Quiet route to Hackney’, going east, along Cranbrook Mews E17. Back in April 2008 I showed that the entry sign to this route had been twisted round but naturally no one involved in cycling in Waltham Forest gives a toss. Fifteen months later the sign is still twisted round in such a way as to make it unreadable. The blatant neglect of cycle signing is itself a small, eloquent symbol of how little importance Waltham Forest council really attaches to cycling.

As I pedalled along Cranbrook Mews I spotted this ahead of me. A shattered manhole cover.

Just beyond it there was this (below). A pile of sand and gravel, which has spilled out across the carriageway. It has been here so long that grass is growing on it. But no one from Waltham Forest council, and none of the three High Street councillors has noticed. This is a narrow two-way route which cyclists have to share with double-decker buses accessing a bus terminus and commercial vehicles servicing back entrances to High Street stores.

And then I reached the junction of Cranbrook Mews with South Grove. I didn’t bother to photograph the ASL, occupied, as usual, by a motorist. Thousands of offences are committed at this junction in all three ASLs every day, to the total indifference of Waltham Forest’s police commander Mark Benbow. The Met’s statistics on crime are worthless because they omit unrecorded crime, and no one is interested in recording the stupefying number of crimes committed day after day across Greater London by the capital's most anti-social, lawless and violent group, i.e. drivers. The Met is institutionally car supremacist and signally failing in its duty of care to vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. No surprise, when the Met’s new Commissioner Paul Stephenson is identified as one of the good guys in the Association of British Drivers’ inventory of good cops/bad cops (go to ‘Quotes on speed cameras’ here). This is just one small aspect of a much wider problem.

The lights turned to green, and I let the flow of cars on South Grove pass, before slotting in behind the last of them, Y40 LEG, white male driver chatting into a handheld mobile phone. He turned left in front of me into Willow Walk without signalling.

I continued straight on, towards Selborne Road. Two car drivers turning right on to Willow Walk from Selborne Road drove across in front of me, cutting me up. I then narrowly avoided a collision with a third driver who was following the first two in the sheep-like fashion of drivers. He slammed on his brakes and I braked too, then wobbled on.

I suppose I should have a helmet cam for this kind of experience but I feel that way madness lies. I’d be spending too much time downloading footage to YouTube.

Just beyond the junction I spotted the black male driver of this HGV reg. MX07 AHN, chatting on a handheld mobile as he drove down Selborne Road. So I stopped and took this pic from the rear. And notice incidentally how close that approaching car (a Mercedes, I think) is to the cycle lane. Further evidence for the argument that cycle lanes which fall below the recommended two metres width encourage drivers to come closer to cyclists than they would do if there was no lane there.

I’d like to live in a civilised society where men like the car and HGV drivers on their mobile phones immediately lost their licences. But the Brown government is far more concerned with ingratiating itself with the mobile phone industry, the road haulage industry and the car lobby, than it is with the safety of vulnerable road users. Even if those drivers were caught they would only get 3 penalty points and a £60 fine. A lethally dangerous activity is regarded with indulgence by the government, and there's no reason to believe things will change under a Cameron government.

The amount of time which elapsed between me encountering two surface hazards on a poorly maintained section of the London Cycle Network, drivers entering ASLs at red, a car driver using a handheld mobile phone, two drivers cutting me up and a third narrowly avoiding hitting me, and an HGV driver using a handheld mobile, was about three minutes, at around 3.50 pm.