Cycle-loving Mayor of London Boris Johnson has commented: ‘With no other means of transport, except possibly skiing, can you determine so exactly the path you intend to follow and arrive there so quickly.’ Well, all I can say is that he’s never tried to cycle across Wandsworth Common – or indeed any of the other commons in my leafy part of South West London.
It works like this. You decide where you want to get to. You then look at the paths available. Let’s say you want to cross the common diagonally from the upper part of Trinity Road across to Bellevue Road. All well and good – at the traffic lights on Trinity Road there’s the start of a cycle path, actually the original path cut in two down the middle with space for pedestrians on the left-hand half and cyclists on the right.
You freewheel along, admiring the blossom and the ducks on the ponds until –hang on – you’re at the railway bridge when you need to have turned right. Only problem is you can’t turn right, or you can if you are prepared to get off your bike and walk it down various paths with ‘no cycling’ written on them. So much for former Mayor Ken Livingstone’s assertion that his proposed £500m investment in cycling in London will mean that ‘thousands more Londoners can cycle in confidence on routes that take them quickly and safely where they want to go.’
This wholly defeats the object. If we get off our bikes and walk down the prohibited routes then we may as well have walked in the first place – and taken twice as long to get to our destination. Pedestrians aren’t penalised in this way, so why are cyclists? One reason for cycling is that it’s quicker than walking.
Add in the fact that it’s now nigh on impossible to take a bike on a train and the utopian two-wheel vision from our politicians begins to look like rose-tinted vision. And ask anyone who takes their life in their hands – or should that be on their handlebars? – to cycle to work. Apart from the fact that pollution is dreadful, the dearth of cycle lanes is death to your average cyclist: who fancies dicing with death when you’re barely awake and have only just had breakfast? Of course, cycle lanes do exist but the authorities seem to have focused on leisure lanes: the Thames cycle path, which is lovely for a weekend outing with the kids in tow, doesn’t exactly provide you with a handy route to work unless you live in Putney and work in Richmond.
Generally, our commons are wonderful areas to cycle in. You can even begin to believe you’re in the countryside. Until, that is, a local dog-owning resident decides to walk herself and pooch in the cycle lane. Or someone allows their wayward canine to run across your path, testing your brakes to the max and jolting you out of mentally compiling your ‘to do’ list. Of course they never apologise and regard cyclists with the utmost disdain – definitely a case in my part of Wandsworth of ‘four legs good, two wheels bad’. You can’t blame the dogs: it’s the owners who have no manners.
Yet again, London has to look to Europe for the right way to do things. Cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and now even Paris with its rent-a-bike scheme, have outshone us. So come on cyclists: it’s time to pump up the volume and get our politicians to give us what we want – safe, easy, hassle-free cycling for all.
Image by Tony the Misfit courtesy of Flickr