A more gentle time?

London was the longest time I have spent living anywhere – in fact when I try to work out how long – I can’t exactly!

Let’s just say I arrived in the early nineties and left in 2006, so at least fifteen years. I don’t go back that much really, and when I do in the last few years I’ve really noticed a difference in the numbers of people on the streets. Like, loads. Loads and loads and loads of people. So much so, that it makes me not want to go to London.

I thought I would look into this a bit further, in case it was my perception that has changed, but the figures show that London’s population is – to use a media term – exploding. Between the two censuses in 2001 and 2011, London’s population grew by one million people. And it’s those who are getting in my way now…

But it’s a serious point I am getting to: that of cycling. When I drove through London the other week, and I came straight through the middle, the number of cyclists was alarming. Not because cyclists are alarming per se – cycling is a gentle pursuit and one I fully endorse – but because of the lethal mix of cyclists and traffic on the London roads.

I write as someone who used to cycle from Stoke Newington to Notting Hill for work in the nineties and there were, back then, very few of us, let alone many cycle lanes. It seemed safer though. Now, there are Boris Bikes, and tourists and so forth blithely wobbling around, weaving in and out and of traffic, often without lights or indeed helmets. As I drove through Islington last month, as dusk fell, I realised that I would be unlikely to ever cycle in the capital again, as things stand, because the roads are just not set up to be safely shared spaces.

There have been a number of cyclist deaths in London this week – some at very busy interchanges where sometimes cyclists just don’t get seen. Drivers can be concentrating so hard on one thing, that they don’t even see someone on a bike. Equally, I shudder when I see cyclists squeezing along the narrow gaps between high-sided vehicles and the kerb. I rarely did that when I was on two wheels, understanding that you risked death. Sometimes, the driver just can’t see the bike. I see the Mayor plans more super highways for cyclists, where the two-wheeled travellers are physically separated from the four-wheeled traffic. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be enough. As London’s population continues to rise, and the transport costs alongside, cycling is going to continue to be popular mode of transport and deaths are going to continue. It may be time to consider a complete overhaul of how we work, live and travel to the capital because it seems to me that the place is about to burst.

Click here for a link to a petition to make the roads of London safer for cyclists.

One of London’s ghost bike memorials (from The Times)

If you want to design a whole new garden city (and who woudn’t?) why not enter this year’s Wolfson’s Economic Prize by answering this question “How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?” There is the small matter of ten thousand words, pesky projections and financial models, building plans and working out where to put the whole confection, but for a £250,000 prize, I’m thinking… Christmas project…

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Posted on November 14, 2013, in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You’d think a city cyclist would suck up much more pollution than the drivers and passengers in the vehicles chucking out the noxious gases. Not so, according to a study carried out by Imperial College London. Researchers found that passengers in buses, taxis and cars inhaled substantially more pollution than cyclists and pedestrians.

  2. Yes, we need safer roads. Yes, we need safer trucks. Yes, we need more road riding training for cyclists – especially un-interested non-Lycra purely-functional cyclists. Perhaps, and I hate to say it, the only way to stop these things happening is to force cyclists to undergo some sort of training, and have a card that must be carried proving they’ve done it (probably just for built-up areas like inside the M25).

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