I can’t tell you how many times people have said that to me, or words to that effect. Tens. Hundreds, maybe.
I used to get mildly annoyed when someone tried to tell me I was a hero for doing something as ordinary as riding a bike. I used to think if they could stop being such scaredy cats, they’d see it was really quite simple: you just get on the bike and pedal. OK, you have to pay attention to the traffic around you, but you learn to do that quickly enough. I mean, if I can do it, then anyone can.
These days, though, I’m starting to think they may have a point. After reading about the inquests this week into the deaths of two cyclists, I’d forgive anyone for thinking they’d have to be mad to cycle in London.
Brian Dorling was killed in 2011, crushed to death by a lorry at Bow roundabout. Philippine De Gerin-Ricard died earlier this year, similarly crushed by a lorry but this time outside Aldgate East tube station.
(CCTV footage of her death was shown during the inquest. Just reading about it fills me with horror – I can only imagine how her family felt after seeing it.)
Both these deaths happened on CS2, one of Boris’s flagship cycle superhighways. These are designed to “improve cycling conditions for people who already commute by bike and to encourage those who don’t to take to pedal power.” Yet, through both inquests, the cycle superhighways came in for heavy criticism from the police, the coroner and the victims’ families.
I’ve never actually cycled on CS2 or any of the other cycle superhighways, but I have used plenty of other cycle lanes – and experience has taught me to be extremely wary of them.
Over the years, I’ve learned never to assume that drivers will treat a cycle lane in the same way as any other lane of traffic. They’re often ignored – used for parking, to enable drivers to undertake other drivers, or to create a second lane of traffic.
I’ve also learned that cycle lanes are often badly designed, thought up by people who aren’t cyclists themselves. So I’ve learned to use my judgement over whether to use a cycle lane or go with the main flow of traffic.
But if I were to use one of the cycle superhighways, I would expect things to be different. I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to expect a well-planned cycle route, which gives me the space I need to cycle safely – space that is respected by other road users. Or, even better, space that’s physically separated from the rest of the traffic.
Alas, as Brian Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard’s deaths show, this is all far from being the case.
It’s not just that they’re dangerous – it’s that they lull cyclists into a false sense of security. I mean, it’s a cycle superhighway, after all. It must be safe. TFL says they are. Why would cyclists be encouraged to use it if it wasn’t safe?
I sincerely hope that, following these inquests, TFL will take a serious look at the cycle superhighways – particularly CS2 – and redesign them so they are genuinely safe.
Of all the places in London, the cycle superhighways ought to be the routes where you don’t have to be brave to cycle in them.