Only 1-2% of trips in London are made by bicycle. In a perverse way, I can find a great deal of hope in those numbers, because it tells me that a large number of people want to cycle, despite the very best efforts of the authorities to stop them.
Here is a sign you can find beside a road in Wandsworth.
Fair enough. £500 is a little steep, you might think – more than five times as much as you might get for killing a cyclist, and leaving the scene of the accident, for instance – but why would you cycle on the pavement when there’s probably a fantastic road to cycle on, right beside the sign?
Welcome to the urban motorway that is the A214, as it passes through Wandsworth. This three-lane road is where you are expected to cycle. Not on the pavement.
In the interests of authenticity (and legality), I did cycle northbound from this sign, on this road, for a little distance – in fact, as far as here, where my testicles retracted into my body cavity –
Here are some videos of what happens if you attempt to cycle through this underpass, from youtube user SkrzypczykBass, who I notice has an enviable turn of speed, and is rather braver than me –
I am sure you will agree that I missed out on a fantastic and life-affirming experience.
Above is the only other cyclist I saw during the ten minutes I spent on this road, who chose to risk a £500 fine (notice he is cycling past an identical warning sign) rather than use the road. I don’t blame him.
I am not sure whether the authority that erected the sign telling cyclists to keep off the pavement here really thinks that they ought to be on this three-lane road, with its sliproads, underpasses, and speeding drivers. Probably not. I expect the thought crossed their mind that very few cyclists would actually be brave enough to use it, and that was probably why enough of them were using the pavement to warrant the sign in the first place. They might have been dimly aware that they were leaving cyclists with nowhere to go. Or they were only concerned with stopping cycling on the pavement. Either way, it is obvious they just didn’t care.
And so cycling has been, and is being, killed as a mode of practical urban transport because of environments like this. I must stress that the location I took these photographs is not in the back of beyond – it’s only about 500 yards from one of Boris’ much trumpeted Cycling Superhighways, CS8, which passes an equally hostile roundabout just to the north of here (which I plan to write about shortly). Equally, it’s only about 3 miles from the Westfield shopping centre, a perfectly possible distance for people to cycle from south London, to have some lunch, and do some shopping. But this is the environment that stands in their way.
If London is ever going to become a “Cycling City” – in reality, rather than just in aspirational hype – then it is going to have to be possible for people to negotiate roads like this on a bicycle. And I mean ordinary people – not people like SkrzypczykBass and me, who will always be a minority.
*My apologies to Amos Oz. I am, of course, in no way drawing any equivalence between the fate of Jews in the 20th century, and cyclists in London – but the phrase, taken in isolation, was too apposite to resist