3 Dec 2013

Cycling in Britain's cities – mad and dangerous

Let’s be candid: it’s hell out there. I know. I blog a bit about cycling, and I’m afraid I feel another one coming on.

I normally cycle the same route into work every morning, from north London. But this morning I had to get to south London to get some curious house keys cut and thence back to work. It was hell.

Between 8.00am and 9.00am, there are today literally tens of thousands of bikes carrying their riders to work in the capital city. On the far end of the Vauxhall Bridge I was in a phalanx of 47. I counted them. By Waterloo there were 54 in my direction and roughly 40 at the adjoining lights. At the bus jam at the northern end of the bridge 50 bikes were battling with buses, cars, and trucks, for road space.

Coming up Kingsway, the buses were so jammed on the cycling lane that we fanned out across two lanes of traffic, motorbikes threading their way through, pedestrians dashing across. Why aren’t yet more people killed?

On Holborn I was overtaken by a mad 30mph freak in lycra, pink earphones in his ears. Idiot! You need all your senses about you on a bike.


I never made eye contact with a single other cyclist, though I tried. Every one of us was for herself or himself. Every one of us was constantly within 20 centimetres of a truck wheel which, were it to get us, would mash us in a second.

This is mad. And it’s not just happening in London. It’s evident in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpoool, Coventry and beyond.

You cannot inflict sporting greatness on a country and its people through Olympic cycling exceptionalism, and expect the normal not to emulate and get on their bikes. It’s good for obesity, good for the heart rate, good for congestion, good for bike shops, and good for the environment… It’s rotten for the potential cycling death statistics. That more have not been killed by this onrush of cycling is down to sheer luck and not judgement.

An urban planning revolution is needed right now, for the good of the pedestrian, the cyclist, the driver and the travelling public. Separated cycle ways; reduced inner city street parking; a ban on all HGV vehicles in the two rush hours – and that’s a beginning.

The political leader, who confronts the urban traffic disaster and beats it, is the political leader who will change society and win votes. Not one of them dares.

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