Picture the scene. It’s a little after 11pm; you’ve spent the evening with friends down on the South Bank and now you’re on your way home. You follow, as you normally do when you’re heading home from central London, the cycle path that skirts past Angel. It’s unusually busy for this time of the night, but it’s been a warm evening so it’s perhaps not surprising that so many people are still out on their bikes.
As you approach the next set of lights, where the path crosses Goswell Road, you realise there’s something very familiar about one of your fellow cyclists. That mop of unruly blond hair, sticking out at all angles from underneath the rider’s helmet…it’s not…is it? You pull level with them, and glance to your right. Your suspicions are confirmed. It’s Boris Johnson.
You have perhaps 30 seconds before the lights change. What do you do?
This is not just a hypothetical question. This is exactly what happened to me this past Thursday evening. Alas, thinking on the spot is never one of my strong points, so my mind went completely blank. Apart from a mumbled greeting I could think of nothing to say. The lights changed, we set off and my opportunity had gone.
Of course, once I’d got a little further down the road it occurred to me I could have talked to him about the cycle superhighways – specifically CS2, the scene of yet another cyclist death last week and the focus of a protest ride organised by the London Cycling Campaign for the following day.
The ride was designed to raise awareness of cyclist safety, and to call on Boris to provide dedicated, safe space for cyclists on London’s roads. Around 1,500 cyclists – including me – rode the short route from Tower Hill along CS2 to Aldgate, past the scene of last week’s fatal collision. I’d never cycled along CS2 before – I’ve never had reason to – so this protest was my first experience of it. And unless something radical is done to change things, it’s going to be my last. It’s really not a route I’d feel happy cycling along. It’s a wide road, with multiple lanes of traffic that, on a normal evening, would be chockablock with buses, HGVs, taxis, vans, cars and motorbikes. At best, the cycle lane is simply a strip of blue paint down the side of the road. At worst, it’s not even that – just a square of blue paint in the middle of one of the lanes.
If you’re an experienced, confident cyclist who’s used to London traffic then you probably know how to deal with it. Many people do. But what if you’re not? If I were an inexperienced cyclist or unfamiliar with London’s streets, I’d probably choose to stick to a marked cycle route like the CS2. I might even think that doing so would keep me safe. That may well have been what Philippine de Gerin-Ricard was thinking before she was killed last week.
Compare that to the site of my encounter with Boris. The cycle path in question, or at least the part I use, is the one that goes from Rosebery Avenue, behind Sadler’s Wells, across St John Street, Goswell Road and City Road, and along Colebrooke Row before spitting you back out onto Essex Road.
Cycling along this path is a completely different experience from the CS2. It skirts past a busy junction, rather than going through it. It doesn’t expect cyclists to mix with heavy traffic. It’s safe (the only time I’ve ever felt threatened was by an irate pedestrian who had a go at me for cycling on what she believed to be the pavement. Even when I pointed out the bike sign she was having none of it) and it gives cyclists something the CS2 doesn’t – a space of our own.
I don’t know how long this particular cycle path has been in place, nor the history behind it. But it seems like a lot more thought, planning and considerations of cyclists’ needs went into it than went into the CS2.
I’m not suggesting this path is perfect, but it’s certainly better than the CS2. Clearly Boris thinks so too, otherwise he wouldn’t be using it. Why, then, doesn’t he fight for more like it? If he’s serious about wanting to get more people on their bikes in London, he has to make it safe for them to do so. A strip of blue paint does not a safe cycle path make.
For more on the campaign and the protest, see: