29 July 2011

The Road to leafy Islington

007 by cocosolis
007, a photo by cocosolis on Flickr.
After a month commuting to London from Rugby, cycling to the train station at the Rugby end on my Father-in-Law’s 1970’s compact bike, and trying to use the Boris bike in London, I am now enjoying a month in leafy Islington, a mere 2 miles from my workplace, thanks to the generosity of some friends.  To put the icing on the cake, the flat comes complete with a Ridgeback Attaché fold-up bike.

Setting it up took me longer than I’d expected – it’s not that it was difficult, but it has to be done in the right order and instructions aren’t always as crystal-clear as the manufacturers tell you. And I don’t read instructions anyway. It’s all about where you put the things that perhaps are not meant to fit nicely – the pedals, the handlebars, the saddle.

My friend explained they hadn’t used the bike for years – bought it, then a couple of accidents they heard about put them off the idea – and the tyres were totally flat. I pumped them up, then left it for 24 hours, the idea being to make sure the flat tyres were just lack of use and not a puncture of some sort. Meanwhile, I would walk to work and plan my route a bit – I’ve come to the conclussion that in London you should cycle on quiet roads whenever possible. My route seemed pleasant yet very effective – it took 25’ on foot, crossing a canal over a pedestrian/cycling bridge. No major roads were involved.

The next day I got up early and set off to work on my bike. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to replicate the route I’d taken while on foot. A wrong turn somewhere and presto! I was lost. Eventually I got to work but via Hoxton Square – I had gone a bit too far north.

Getting back was, however, even worse. This time I got lost from the start, and compounded the mistake so that, after 25’ of cycling (by then I could have done it on foot faster) I realised I was going in the wrong direction altogether – literally, back to work. A check of the map enabled me to retrace my steps and eventually get home – an hour after setting off.

Now, a word of caution about cycling in London: you can cycle on quiet roads, but have to do a lot of navigation; or you can stick to main roads, brave the traffic but make navigation much easier. In my view, you can’t do both – not unless you have the brain of a homing-pigeon, but bigger. Like a London cabbie.

13 July 2011

Much more bread to slice....

It's a Peruvian expression - meaning there is still a long way to go - no room for complacency.   Which, I wonder, may be a danger in London when it comes to promoting and enabling safer cycling.  In a nutshell, London seems to think that it, alone in the UK, has 'cracked' cycling - no need to go envy your fellow Europeans, cycling in London has doubled - and who ever cared about the rest of the UK anyway?

The reality is that, while there's been progress and numbers have certainly grown dramatically in the capital, there remains much to do, and some of the things being done could be better. This chimes with views expressed by David Henbrow about cycling in London.

Take this as an example.  These very short clips show a dedicated cycle lane near King's Cross/St Pancras.  It is a segregated cycle lane - cor blimey, isn't that enough?  What more do cyclists want?

Now, look at the picture again.  I am prepared to accept the cycle lanes, even though they are very narrow - some sort of passing scrape or collision can only be a matter of time.  You can see how the change of direction so imposed baffles most people - one fellow just ignores it and carries on, others weave back into the traffic, almost recklessly.

Then you have this absurd design, in which suddenly all bike traffic going one way is directed to cross the path of bikes coming in the opposite direction and, a bit more abruptly than anyone wanting to live to cycle another day would like, rejoin the main carriageway and go back to competing against motor vehicles.

It's just not good enough.  I can't quite see why this is an OK arrangement.  It isn't.  And don't even get me started on the Boris Bikes.