The irony

Growing up in London in the eighties and nineties I witnessed a proliferation of blocked-off roads in residential areas.

Bollards, barriers and kerbs were all installed to stop cars from rat-running through peaceful streets. Invariably, gaps were provided for bicycles to get through. Sometimes little cycle lanes were painted on the roads to emphasize that bikes were welcome. In many cases, long stretches of quiet streets were specially provisioned for cycling, as part of a wider ‘London Cycle Network’ that was developed over several decades.

The effect of all this traffic engineering – the desired and desirable effect, indeed – was to shift motor traffic onto the main roads. Those roads became busier, but it was a price worth paying for the backstreets to become more civilised.

It is ironic, then, to say the least, that most cycle campaigners are now calling for ‘space for cycling’ on the very same busy main roads that were previously created by cycle-friendly traffic-engineering.

Based on an ideology of reclaiming the streets and exercising a right to use the ‘fastest’ roads (which aren’t, in fact, the fastest for bicycles) the most hardened cyclists insist on, and encourage, cycling on main roads.

For 100 Reasons, I think this is a perverse, harmful, indulgent, ignorant, unrealistic and irresponsible approach.

After going to all that effort to shift cars onto the biggest roads - the roads most suitable for cars - why on earth would anyone insist on cycling on those roads and complaining about it? It is like complaining that a rubbish dump isn’t a suitable place for human habitation: the whole point of rubbish dumps is to make other spaces more suitable for human habitation.

The most sympathetic thing that can be said about people cycling on extremely busy main roads in London it that is hard to navigate on the backstreets. A Tube-style London Cycle Map together with corresponding signage and road-markings would solve that problem.

But that would be far, far too sensible an idea for our radicalised modern times.  

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