Tuesday 13 September 2011

what puts me off cyling?

An argument has been put forward by some that what puts people off cycling is the image of cycling itself. That is helmet hair, sweat, lycra and irritating smugness. As many quite correctly pointed out the image stems from the fact that most of the people who agree to cycle on our road are the lycra warriors, and that there is no way of changing the image of cycling without changing the environment to such that would be welcoming to people who do not feel the need to be aerodynamic in order to reach 30mph and keep up with traffic.
For me however there are other things that put me off cycling than sweat and helmet hair (an alien concept to a bald person like me). To be honest they will never make me stop cycling, but if I were a different person they would most likely succeed at stopping me from ever picking it up in the first place. These things are a part of my everyday route I take to get my older son to school. I do have a bakfiets so I could practically ferry him there, but that would defeat the purpose of cycling - he's perfectly able to cycle himself and had been off his training wheels well before his 3rd birthday. The distance is less than half a mile - so there's nothing to stop him from getting there under his own steam. Apart from the following:

This is our residential road. Quiet although you can see how many people are using it for parking meaning that it's actually only half the road. Usually people are kind enough to stop and let a 5 year old boy on a bicycle pass. But as we all know it only takes one person that doesn't and I've seen brainless teens and young adults speeding down that road and around blind bend at it's end.

The quiet although problematic road ends to be replaced by a wide and heavily used road (buses cars from all the surrounding estates and traffic from the Woolwich Ferry). Definitely to narrow to fit in a cycle track, no? Yeah, thought so too.

Better still - this is an old bascule bridge, there's hardly room for pedestrian paths, which I prefer to use for the following reason:
Climbing hills with a child while impatient drivers are breathing down my neck is not the most relaxing activity I can think off. The barriers on the bridge are bent by someone reckless about once every 3 months plus there are lorries also coming the other way. My faith in safety in numbers isn't just strong enough.

Excellent - although this is a shared facility it provides the much needed respite. It's wide and it's on both sides of the road. You can join it where the kerb drops, but because of the previous bits it's like an oasis in the desert - you just might not make it unless you get on the pavement well before as I do. Note the NHS vehicle considerately parked next to the bus stop, lunch breaks are important!

Here we learn that we are approaching (or actually on, you never know) the Natioanl Cycle Networ Route number this or that. Right, shame it doesn't go in the direction I am going. Well it sort of does, yet the route is twice as long. If I were in a car it probably wouldn't make a difference, but when cycling with a child I really don't want to add another 15 minutes to the trip. So we go just slightly further...

To join this marvel of traffic engineering, connecting two A roads, of which existance we have been informed by those two redundant signs, their poles placed considerately in the pavement. Now I do believe that cyclists should have the right to ride on the road, but to be honest with a kid in tow and even without one I would really give it up for a bit of a cycle track around that place. Seriously. Well untill that happens we either use the pavement around it and rejoin the road later or if the weather is really good and the traffic doesn't seem to scary we actually use the road, but it's stressful for me more than I would like it to be.

Aha, cyclists are welcome again, and it's an obligatory cycle lane. Shame it's not raised and is interrupted by a Bus Stop. Occasionaly drivers take a short break there so you have to go around them - defeats the puropse, doesn't it.

Customarily the cycle lane ends just as we approach to a roundabout where it would be sort of useful. We are turning right and see straight away that we are again first class citizens - the concrete blocks have been moved away to allow access to another shared facility. Feels kind of a bootleg passage but hey - it's convenient.

As you can see the signage is in good repair. If you gain enough momentum and ride straight in the bushes you will get to Dagenham, probably through a wormhole or something. The path is also strewn with glass and I have been considering taking a brush with me on several occasions. Then the path ends, obviously a bollardophile had been given a chance to practice his/her fetish. The gap between the bollards is just wide enough for a double bicycle trailer (AT3 Adventure).
The last bit or road before the school is of course packed with the only right mode of transport. The parking mayhem reaches it's peak at 4.45 when cars are being parked at both sides. The bike shed at the school is there, thank goodness, yet it's not very optimistic with 8 stands and little lockers, undoubtedly for helmets. 

This is it. I would be hard pressed to advise someone cycling with their kids and look them in the eyes at the same time. This is why I think that image is the least of the long list of problems facing cycling in UK. Deal with the important ones and the little ones will go away too, when people will not feel the need of carrying helmet cams to battle dangerous drivers. Once using bicycle becomes easy and obvious we will see less and less lycra and more and more school uniforms on bikes. 
Some will say that I am being unreasonable and that the route is perfectly fine in fact most Londoners have it worse. This would most likely come from an experienced cyclist. Which is exactly why I agree that we must not base policies on the opinion of committed cyclists. Only when I hear that and average person is happy with cycling conditions will I admit that cycling campaigns have done a good job.
Until then I will be one of the very few cycling with my kids to school.

PS. The pics were taken on my way to collect him. 
Update from today
This is another reason why I use the pavement when going up this bridge. Happened today. I wonder who pays for the damage - the driver obviously left, however he left his front bumper and licence plate behind. 


  1. "solely on the opinion of..." and I'd be in complete agreement.

    I think there's a part for the "committed" to play in pointing out where things go wrong currently, and in planned infrastructure, personally, as well as in helping make sure that facilities can serve the interests of new cyclists as they (hopefully) become experienced cyclists.

  2. Great post.

    There's definitely a part for the "committed", they are undoubtedly far more knowledgeable about current conditions than anyone else, it just needs to be remembered at all stages that if your 5 year old kid or 80 year old gran can't/won't use it, it's not good enough.

  3. What I think is meant by that is base the general policy on the needs of the majority but ask experts and advanced users when it comes to details. So segregated infrastructure would be what the majority of would be cyclists want - specific design details and tips would come from experienced cyclists. The truth is however I would ask Dutch cyclists and traffic engineers rather than those from UK.

  4. "The truth is however I would ask Dutch cyclists and traffic engineers rather than those from UK."

    And if they fail to anticipate the impatience, lack of respect and inattention of the British motorist? The problem here isn't that the traffic engineers are listening to "committed cyclists", or other people trying to get them to put in safe, or even useful infrastructure.

    Overwhelmingly it's that they ARE told what we'd like, pointed at best practice, and ignore it because the guidelines are precisely that. Of all the things the new wave of campaigners could do, getting some decent standards enshrined in law would be a huge plus.

  5. @John That might indeed be true. I think this is exactly what the CEoGB set out to do - compile the best practices all over the world.
    I mentioned the Dutch simply because here in UK we do not have to reinvent the wheel - the Dutch have tried and tested a great deal of designs and know which work where (I am sure you realise it's never as simple as "Right let's put a cycle track everywhere!" in the Netherlands). I sense that it is because of British pride that makes it hard for some to admit that we might need to learn from someone else and that UK is in fact not that unique in some terms.

  6. Current cyclist know the risks, the indications of danger and where the problems are from first hand experience. If you ask 'Where would a less confident rider or a child be most at risk?' you will get coherent answers.

    Where Highways Engineers need to be wary is of asking experienced cyclists to put forward solutions – because there is a presumption of vehicular cycling which excludes about 98% of the population.

  7. @Azor_rider You are right by saying that current cyclists know where the dangers are. The thing is this is not how I would imagine things to work. First you draw a desire line (get the info from cyclists and non cyclists) than build coherent tracks of continuous quality from start to destination.

  8. The daily signs of drivers losing control are really scary and I believe becoming increasingly common. Crashing through fences, street-furniture, walls and railings etc. One wonders what was the cause, whether it was defective vehicle, driving under the influence of drink or drugs, tiredness or most likely, excessive speed and insufficient skill.

    Those damaged railings loo nasty, especially at night.

  9. There is a theory that the driver was looking at a Dauntless Class Navy cruiser that has been mooring in the Royal Docks and didn't pay enough attention because of that. Either way - if happened to choose to ride on the road that day at that time I'd be dead right now.

  10. I have to disagree with you about just about the only bit of your journey that you like! That shared track is awful, nowhere near wide enough for pedestrians AND cyclists, and why is there a bus shelter and a sign post in the middle of it?