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Hi @mayoroflondon. So you’re a cyclist! I’m a cyclist too. But I’ve stopped cycling. Why? Because I don’t feel safe on London roads anymore. I think I’m quite good at cycling. That’s not a brag – it’s what I’ve deduced from the facts. In my old job, I’d cycle 30 miles a day, on busy roads. I didn’t find it a trial, though some areas weren’t great. On the whole, it was a good experience. But I got a new job and moved into a new flat on the other side of South London. Now cycling’s horrible. To get to work, I have to cycle over Elephant & Castle which is frankly terrifying. My pedestrian friends find the concept obscene, and my cyclist friends would rather push their bikes through the subways. We shouldn’t have to do that. Then I travel over Blackfriars Bridge. Since you ignored cyclists’ campaigning for a 20mph speed limit, it’s become a rat run. I work shifts, you see. So the Tories’ claim that cars wouldn’t travel over 20mph only works if you travel solely at rush hour. Then I have to battle through to King’s Cross, swerving to avoid taxis constantly. And at King’s Cross, there’s the most awful junction I’ve ever seen, that turns from two to five lanes of traffic. Five lanes of traffic? In the middle of a city? It’s rare that all vehicles know what they’re doing, so I have to constantly be on my guard for cars turning sharply where they shouldn’t. Once the lights go green at the turning for York Way it’s a free for all. I haven’t got enough fingers to count the illegal turns I’ve seen. Four cyclists in five years have been killed there. One would be too many. Four is ridiculous. When I finish work, and think of long slog home in the dark, with the dangerous turns, junctions and bridges, I never feel pleased I’ve cycled.

So I’ve stopped cycling. My incredibly experienced flatmate has too. It’s just so much easier to sit on a train, than it is to risk my life day in day out. It might sound melodramatic, but it really isn’t. I ended up in an ambulance, inhaling gas and air and having my jeans cut off two months ago, after a van that was parked in one of your Cycle Superhighways hit me in Clapham. I really like cycling, but your reluctance to make it safe or enjoyable has ruined that. It’s not enough for you to be photographed looking jolly on a bike. You also need to give a toss about cyclists’ safety. You said in one of your books (you write an awful lot of books. Amazing you have time, what with being a full-time Mayor, and having a column in the Telegraph) that “Every successful bicycle journey should be counted as a triumph over [death]“. It certainly feels as though that’s the case in London.

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31 thoughts on “As Easy As Riding a Bike

  1. Wonder if the Mayor will simply dismiss as unreasonably simplistic view. Only 5 deaths, well that’s sad. The economy of London matters you know! I wonder, will his office listen? More importantly will it do anything?

    • Was thinking that the other day. Although they won’t say so it’s probably something that has gone through their heads. To another point, the privatized train companies would seriously lose out should cycling becoming much easier and safer. Much easier to paint a blue line on the road which I can’t even use on a Sunday with my kids as there are cars parked all over the place.

  2. Its sad u quit cycling. But true cyclists never do. I cycle everyday for 20kms to my work on catastrophic filled streets in india. Got hit several times from behind by cars, trucks, motorbikes. I still cycle. Just cycle in any of the metro cities in india.. U will feel a lot better about london..

    Cheers :)

    • What a self-regarding arrogant reply (from Fellow Cyclist) – self-defined as a ‘true cyclist’. As for flying to India to cycle in one of its ‘metro cities’ – no regard for the environment or others’ circumstances either.

  3. Fellow Cyclist, whilst I admire your dedication, you set the bar a little high for we mere mortals. I don’t ride in London, admittedly, but I’ve had enough close calls & actual offs caused by motor traffic to know how unpleasant it is.

    “True Cyclists”, by your metric, are doomed to be a tiny minority that like riding so much that the unpleasantness of their commutes does not outweigh their enthusiasm.

    I’d sooner look not to India, and think “This isn’t so bad” than look to France, Belgium, Holland and think “This could be SO much better”.

  4. I cycled happily in London for 10 years, but that’s because I had a pretty safe cycle route (Dalston to British Library, usually). Then I moved to Leeds, where there are fewer cyclists, and now I’m scared. The official cycle route passes through the Headrow, main artery through the city, which is restricted access, so only buses and taxis. BUT there are not enough cyclists for them to be used to them, and the road narrows in several places to only just fit in a bus. On my first day cycling here a van turned left in front of me, though I was right next to him and visible. My point is, it’s not just Boris. Great post though, and I understand your fear.

  5. Oh that’s a shame. Particularly as I’ve enjoyed (and been appalled by) all your wanker encounters. I also go via Elephant, but use the cyclist bypass which is a little slower but much safer. If you don’t mind a longer route, I could also suggest a way for getting to King’s Cross that would avoid the other two nasty spots – Waterloo bridge and on towards Russell Square and then back streets to King’s Cross. Shout if you want more details.

      • Very sorry to hear you’ve stopped cycling, but very understandable. Have you considered cycling across Southwark bridge? I’ve used it a few times recently and it’s OK, it has physically separate cycle lanes going north and south and leads straight into quite good bike routes through the City. It has very few motor vehicles on it as it doesn’t allow them to continue north. Only one bridge east from Blackfriars and worth considering?

  6. I used to cycle into soho, but same story – moved house and now cycling to Euston… The ride is way more dangerous. So I’ve stopped.

  7. Me too Dawn – so I know how you feel I think.

    I bloody LOVE cycling. Used to do 22 miles, 5 days a week. But since having children I can’t justify the risk. Its been ten years now and I’m still very angry about it and very miss my bike.

  8. My husband commutes a 20 mile round trip daily by bike to Canary Wharf, and there isn’t a single day I’m not apprehensive about his getting there and home safely. His route doesn’t even pass through any of the real blackspots like KX, yet I still worry. I can completely understand your decision, and absolutely support your anger. I could commute to work by bike, but I walk instead. I hope Boris takes note, but the cynic in me doesn’t think he or his office will.

  9. I’ve been hit by cars twice, luckily walked away both times. I don’t cycle anymore for precisely these reasons. I’ve been snarled at even as a pedestrian for crossing the road when I’m doing it at the correct place and crossing correctly.

    I don’t know what makes people get so incredibly selfish when they get behind the wheel of a car. Trying to shave off an extra 5 seconds here or there at the expense of cyclists and pedestirans is pathetic.

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  11. Great post, Dawn.

    Such a shame you stopped, cycling, but I can understand why. So much for Boris prattling about getting Londoners onto bikes. I had 30 years commuting 11 miles each way “against the flow” and that was bad enough.

  12. I live (for the time being!) and cycle in Edinburgh. Cycled for transport for 30+ years. Things are getting worse on the roads not better. Lots of painted stripes that they call cycle lanes but are just death traps. In a moment I have to get on my bike and risk my life again. I find myself walking more and more frequently.

    Let’s face it. There are very few cycle facilities in places people want or have to go. They pinch space from pedestrians by putting cycle lanes in parks but never from motorists. The motorist is never inconvenienced.

  13. Great article, I have been a cycle instructor in Bristol (I also drive a car) and currently commute in London, gotta sat that If I hadn’t had my training before cycling in london every week would be very different, the best advice I can give is whenever possible see all potential dangers before they happen, and the best advice of all has been to look over your shoulder every 10 seconds,look right into every junction and road you go past and look motorists in the eye when you can and acknowledge them with a nod or wave, I have noticed as well how many bad cyclists there are in London (no lights,jumping traffic lights,riding on pavements etc) who give the good cyclist a bad reputation, and make riding on the road harder for everyone. Attitude is so important on the road!

  14. Pingback: Cycling in London – Assorted Links10/01/2012 « Cycling Intelligence

  15. It’s very sad that you decided to stop cycling although I fully understand why. Boris has tied a noose around his neck with the supposed cycling revolution-more and more people will call his bluff when they get a taste of his super highways. Also it clearly shows the folly of hoping that we’ll ever going to get mass cycling without

  16. I’m in the process of fixing up a neglected and little-used bike for my neighbour. She’s early 20′s, a PhD student, too timid to cycle on main roads. I’m really conflicted – on the one hand, I’m doing a favour for a friend and getting one more person out there on a bike, and on the other hand she absolutely fits the profile for the majority of victims of TfL’s road network. This should not be the case.

    Very well written piece, Dawn – wouldn’t it be great to think that in some parallel universe there’s a Boris actually noticing, rather than just telling you to have your wits about you?

      • Yes, thanks – I will do that. In fact I’ll also send her a link to this blog too – get her aware of the dangers and maybe also get her campaigning too.
        Cheers

      • I’d agree with that. We have similar issues here in Chicago. I’ve spent a lot of time riding on main roads over the years, including bike commuting into downtown, which is not for the faint of heart. In many situations, I find that *not showing fear* makes all the difference. I often have to ride among city buses, taxis and large trucks. Understanding their driving patterns, blind spots and other quirks is enormously helpful in sharing the road with them and coming through unscathed.

        Over 15 years and 15,000+ miles (mostly in Chicago and nearby suburbs), I’ve only had 3 accidents requiring medical attention, two of them involving vehicles doing illegal and stupid things. The other accident involved a deep pothole in shadow on a quiet suburban street.

        I’ve been riding for most of my life, and I’m a believer in regular maintenance to keep the bike reliable, so I feel totally confident on my bike. Feeling like I am one with my bike helps in scary traffic situations. I have no doubts about my ability to physically maneuver or stop if drivers do something crazy around me. I just have to devise a correct path to avoid collisions in emergency situations, and let my body and my bike do the rest. I know a few other female cyclists with similar experiences and riding patterns. I’d like to see a lot more.

        If one is not at a level of oneness with the bike, taking an assertive cycle training class and immediately putting those skills to use could help enormously in improving one’s self confidence and ability to safely handle difficult city cycling situations.

  17. If you are worried about certain areas there is always a quieter,safer route close by in my opinion. Just sit and have a little peep at an A2Z before you leave. Most of the trouble spots mentioned here can be avoided very easily. I am always looking for new ways to spice it up a bit.

    • LOL – I wonder if you could suggest a route for me across Edinburgh. I live at the South end of Marchmont Road and work at the Botanic Gardens (20a Inverleith Row).

      Here is a Google map showing the two points.

      http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=
      200300584027363434698.0004b68f5b8a03ac61410

      Here is a map of cycle paths showing no/none/zero/ziltch paths in the centre of the city. Perhaps it will help.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/edinburgh/2011/feb/25/edinburgh-cycling-innertube-map-bike-station

      Remember the steep hills and cobbled streets need taking into account. Going straight on whilst climbing a 10% incline in three lanes of traffic where the left lane is left turn only and filtered before the other traffic is not only dangerous it is also very unpleasant.

      I’d also like to cycle to work and not push the bike > 10% of the journey distance. If not I may as well walk the whole way or take a bus.

      I believe the trouble with cycle provision in our cities is that no one actually does an analysis of where people live and where they work/play and put routes between them. All that happens is an opportunist provisioning of parks, old railways and canal tow paths. This is a symptom of decision makers mainly thinking of cycling as a leisure pursuit – how many of them cycle.

      OK – rant over. Hope you aren’t a troll and if you are thanks for letting me vent my spleen.

  18. Great post Dawn – echoing what others have said here.

    Just moved from Cardiff which looks like a cycling dream compared to here – and I have a rather leafy commute through north London too.

    Hope that something can change so you can get back on your bike and feel safe again.

    Never forget a comment I read on the Guardian’s bike blog – a couple who are cyclists living in London – last thing they say to each other in the morning is ‘cycle safe’ – and both leave the house with the look of dread that one of them won’t come home. Every morning.

  19. I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I came across this during my search for something regarding this.

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