The photo above, posted yesterday on Facebook by the London Cycling Campaign, really struck a chord with me. I used to cycle though this junction – at the intersection between Gray’s Inn Road and Theobald’s Road in central London – on my way to and from work for over three years. It’s a junction I know very, very well.
If you think there are a lot of cyclists in this photo (taken at 6pm), you should see the same junction in the morning going the other way. I used to wile away the time waiting for the lights to change by counting the numbers of cyclists around me. It was often well above the 27 pictured above. It’s been four years since I stopped commuting this way, so I can only imagine how much worse it’s got since then.
It was – and probably still is – a nightmare. All those cyclists, jockeying for space, each setting off at different speeds when the lights change. The Highway Code says we shouldn’t ride more than two abreast, yet at this junction cyclists regularly take up the whole width of the road. The faster ones head to the right to get clear of the slower ones, before pulling back over to the left. Meanwhile, frustrated motorists, unable to get past the cavalcade, get annoyed; I had more than one altercation with a motorist who resented being held up, even for a few seconds, by a pack of cyclists.
According to City Hall statistics, this road is the busiest street for cycling anywhere in London. Bikes make up a massive 64 per cent of vehicles along it during the morning rush hour. Yet how much provision is given to cyclists? A paltry little advance stop box, that’s all.
(At least there aren’t any cars stopped in it – probably because there isn’t even enough room for all the cyclists.)
Imagine if all those 27 cyclists in the picture above were driving cars. Imagine how much more space they would take up on the road. Probably a lot more than a decent cycle path.
Whenever there’s any discussion about cycling in London, it always descends into a rant about cyclists running red lights and gets stuck there. Yes, some cyclists run red lights. But so do some motorists. Some motorists also talk on their mobile phones while driving, break the speed limit and do all kinds of other things that are not only against the law but also quite dangerous.
And yes, I hate it as much as any one else does when I see cyclists barging through a red light, expecting pedestrians to get out of their way. But I also hate it when pedestrians step out into the road in front of me without looking – particularly if they then swear at me as if it’s somehow my fault.
Getting stuck on this obsession with cyclists’ behaviour isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t helping all those cyclists squeezed into that advance stop box, nor is it helping the motorists who get caught behind them or the pedestrians who unwittingly step in front of them.
It’s about time we had a sensible discussion about cycling in London that doesn’t descend into point scoring and finger pointing. It’s about time we had a proper debate about the kind of infrastructure that should be built to meet the needs of the ever growing numbers of cyclists in London. And it’s about time we had the investment to match it – not just for our benefit, but also for everyone else’s.