Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cycling in London: it's about time to do something!

With the congestion charge now at £8, Transport for London clearly signalled that only rich people can afford commuting by car to London. Shame if you happen to be working in a profession with night shifts, like for instance hospital nurses... (the charge operates from 0700 till 1830).

So, if you want to avoid both this new hidden tax and overcrowded and unreliable AND expensive public transport, cycling to work seems a good idea. Other options include buying a minibus (or a Land Rover Defender LWB) or an eletric car (I wonder what Sir Clive Sinclair has to say about this?).

The snag is that a cycling culture doesn't seem to be part of the British personality: "proficiency" levels are low and the network is terrible:

  • The network is small and presents a lot of discontinuities (the paths stops and starts again after each bus stop, etc...)
  • The segregation with motor vehicules and pedestrians is either poor (cycling path being just a terracotta-coloured path onto the street with no delimiters) or non-existent (shared tow paths with pedestrians for instance)
  • Road surface is often bumpy and abrasive/high-friction (meaning increased effort from the biker and more damage in case of fall), quite often the cycle path is on the pavement and snakes around lamp posts and other obstacles. I'd like to speak to some borough planning officers...
  • The cycle paths rarely have their own traffic lights for junctions, roundabouts are often just ignored
  • Schools do not have secure bike sheds (surely cycling to school reduces congestion and helps kids excercising, but for instance at Darrell, our local school, there's no option for leaving bikes while kids are in class).
  • Train stations do not either have secure locations where to store bikes, and taking bikes onto trains is restricted and badly signed (we came across one idiotic train SouthWest Trains conductor from Windsor to Richmond that forced us to move up the train into the so-called bike carriage where there was no space as two families with buggies were there). In contrast, every major train station in The Netherlands offers secure storage, bike rental and even a repair shop.
  • Little use is made of the vast expanse of green real estate that the Royal Parks offer us: again, paths are shared and the parks are not linked into a network.
  • There are little contraflows