Before escaping the consumer crush of Christmas and going to Lanzarote to play in the sun I made a visit to London to catch up with developments there. Regions report if you like, as we know London leads and this post will be about where is the U.K going providing cycling route building. Time was when riding a bike wasn’t politicised, being an aficionado twenty or thirty years ago meant being an outlier on the road which I rather liked. It didn’t matter what you wore or looked like making journeys and was easier to disappear into the background in all sorts of situations. These days the populace know all know the reasons they could benefit from making bike journeys, so when you pedal the roads now due to the amount of recent media attention you’ve inadvertently become a ‘cyclist’ with whatever connotations that has for the eyes of the beholder. Strangely enough so called ‘unicorns of justice’ riding around with helmet cams and even more now, drivers with dash cams polarise the perceived difference between people. Truth is that here in the U.K you’re just as likely to have a driver next to you who rides bikes at the weekend, or a rider who’s reached enlightenment and leaves the car in the drive for local journeys. Many say that we wont get Blighty on bikes until the country has been rebuilt- meaning cycle routes separate from roads like Holland. I’ve said before I’m not segregationist- happily make my trips on whichever routes I like which include miles of ordinary road, and even after a near death incident 3 years ago still have no trouble integrating with motor vehicles on these journeys due to way I cycle. In fact I would say that overall my interactions with motors are now more harmonious than they were years ago, Dorset people are lucky enough to live in the most beautiful area of the country and in the main tend to be relaxed on the roads. When drivers see you riding well and assertively, taking and giving space they respond well, obviously there’s occasional exceptions like in every situation. As mentioned the awareness of the benefits of cycling reaches all levels of society, Boris Johnson is about the only person acting on experience of riding in London regularly and by extension about the only serious politician demonstrating leadership and political will to improve the built environment.
London. In 2009 I took a group of schoolchildren I had been working with to a conference at Q.E 2 centre on Parliament square, to show a film we had made of their cycling lives and the benefits it brought them, heres the film Remember so clearly that the current transport minister attended and when it came to questions for him, he didn’t have time to stay long as he was due over the square at Parliament and he needed to be chauffeured over the street immediately- ridiculous that he had to be driven across the street. That stayed with me and in context of this post shows what runs right through the Governmental and Council wide culture- that cycling isn’t seen as a serious mode of transport.
More recently weve been discussing route changes in Bournemouth and the designated cycle route from the Square to the pier (Sustrans Route 25) is about to become very important as the West Central building reaches completion. I’ve been underwhelmed by Councillors forum response to raising this as an important link on our network that needs prioritisation. Lower gardens are quite rightly designated ‘no cycling’ as its the tourist epicentre of Bournemouth, so a parallel track should be left to be clear for fast transit, when riders have rolled over the square at walking speed they should have the ability to spin downhill fast to the pier to continue the journey. My route choices like this enable me to know exactly how long a journey will take at any point in the day. This is important for two reasons- if there is no visible priority given to cycles here, pedestrians will be accessing West Central facilities over 3 track crossings and unnecessary conflict could ensue, and, this is the beginning of the Bourne Valley Greenway which should become acknowledged as one of the areas’ best cycle route choices and given credence by Authorities as an alternate transport choice.
Lets have a look at whats changed in London. Arriving at Clapham Junction I rode over to meet an instructor mate for the spin around and some more local knowledge, I was keen to see the long awaited Cycle Superhighways with segregated tracks, new light systems and more. Heading up to central town we made stops along the Oval to Elephant and Castle route where I lived whilst in London. You can see in the photos theres Transport for London Red lines for no parking, kerbs, and good surfaced widths separating from running lanes. Oval and Vauxhall theres traffic light sequencing and new lights that includes bike routes in the whole road network picture.
Moving up the Kennington road to Elephant theres huge changes going on including re-directing traffic around the roundabout, travelling from the south up to Westminster there is an easy mainly seperate route that heads up St Georges road. Heres a wide road that was always unidirectional and vastly improved by a separate track coming back into Elephant, again with sequenced bike traffic lights. If youve come from the south though, very odd to have to cross lanes to get in the new route, its the ongoing difficulty of providing continuity within a close urban environment. Up towards Vauxhall the huge area has heaps of road markings, lights and some seperate routes, although its directionally very confusing to try and navigate around designated routes when the signs point in the opposite direction to where you know places are.
Within London the Tavistock place and University College London area theres been lots of attention on the ‘Orca’ road separators, seemingly better than the Armadillos that never appeared in Bournemouth, maybe we will get some one day but these things are under issue by Department for Transport and may never reach the regions. This whole area has both segregated routes and shared space style areas which looks and makes it feel like a European capital. Photo shows a friend I bumped into on the road who was making her way across London to the north via train- active travel in action. Embankment to Westminster is not yet officially open although in use by hundreds of people daily, a great way to change the river route of ‘Waterloo sunset’ and Im sure this will be used and enjoyed by many locals and tourists alike. Boris Johnson has taken major flak for pushing through these changes, may his successor as Mayor of London continue this work. Riding around I expected to be able to make smooth connected journeys such was the pace of development Id heard about however there was again a great sense that continuity is the difficulty in Urban Environment changes, its simply difficult change and made even harder by the tightly spaced city streets. Im sure that some of these changes will be gladly welcomed by riders in London, maybe even encourage some new users although theres a long way to go yet before we look at anywhere in U.K being cycling cities. Summing up this has been a significant era of development for London, lets hope this keeps on changing and being used as a model for the regions to follow where they can.