Staying Alive in London on a Bike

While I wouldn’t say I was a cycling activist, I am definitely a cycling advocate.

I love to talk about all forms of cycling, and have always enjoyed being out on a bike. I’ll dispense advice, rave about how wonderful Bromptons are, spend hours watching cycling on Eurosport, go out and take photos of cyclists, and suggest what kind of bike a hitherto non-cyclist might like. I even explain how the Bike Hire scheme works to people (Seriously: the credit card system is a bit nuts).

And I’ll always tell people that cycling in London isn’t that scary.

But, I’m not sure with my hand on my heart, that last statement is true.

I don’t cycle far in London. It’s a 13 mile journey door to door, which is a bit beyond comfortable to me, especially when you factor in a chunky hill in the middle, and a change of clothes at the other end. So instead, I commute by train and do the last bit on the aforementioned Brompton. There I’m lucky enough to be able to follow quiet roads or segregated cycle paths most of the journey. I don’t have to gird my loins to get around Elephant & Castle; I don’t cycle along the Euston Road; and I give lorries, and tipper trucks in particular, an awful lot of space.

But recently I’ve had a couple of near misses. There was the woman – a nurse – who just didn’t stop at the give way sign ahead of the cycle route. She braked at the very last second. I’d have been side-swiped otherwise.

Then yesterday morning I found myself swearing at a driver who just didn’t see me in the middle of the road signalling to traffic that I was trying to turn right. The reason he didn’t see me was because he had one hand on a mobile phone and that’s what he was looking at (Apologies if you had small children with you when I was effing and blinding at that driver. But he had nearly killed me.).

One in a hundred drivers was seen illegally using a handheld phone in their hands recently. One per cent might not seem a lot, but there are a lot of vehicles on the road (and overall vehicle usage is up). Seat belts were made compulsory in the UK back in 1983. They basically save the driver’s life. Using a mobile phone in your car with side-impact bars and airbag is much more likely to cause significant injury to others that the driver. Are we due a road safety campaign as big as “clunk click on every trip”?

Use a phone in your hand in a car? Lose your licence. That’s my view right now.

I don’t want it to be a “them” v “us” situation in London. I know that most cyclists are probably car drivers as well.

And despite years of cycling in London, I’ve never actually come a cropper. I’ve not hit the tarmac. And I have a bell for pedestrians (a real issue in Soho, and along cycle routes where people don’t imagine there’ll actually be bikes). I also suspect that places like Cambridge aside, cycling in London is a lot better than in many cities.

But I’ve had near misses.

And recently I have found myself Googling to see which video cameras I might attach to my bike. Just so I can shame some of the useless and downright dangerous driving I see. I’m not sure I want to be another of those cycling video commuters. But I feel the time has come for me to do so.

I do want more facilities for cyclists, and welcome the Mayor’s plans for London.

I live in a London Borough, Enfield, who have recently won a £30m grant to develop cycling facilities. I went along to one of their meetings the other week to see what they had in mind. It looks terrific. Cycling infrastructure is really quite bad in the outer London boroughs where there is more car ownership. So it was sad to see so many people worried that any of this might impact – even the tiniest little bit – on their driving way of life. Or the idea that a town like Enfield Town is massively reliant on people parking right in front of the shops to do their shopping (We have several multi-story carparks which people actually use when they come to Enfield Town to shop).

I’m not about to join the “militant wing” of the London Cycling Campaign (They don’t have one, but I am a regular LCC member).

I just want safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians. And please don’t text while you drive. You might kill me.