“I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour…”
“…sometimes I just go round Elephant & Castle because it’s fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.”
I admire Nicole Cooke and am embarrassed to say that – on this issue – I have more in common with the fat, middle-aged, scruffy Englishman than the World’s greatest living Welsh person. In my defence I must add that, though I’m entertained, to ride around the Elephant – even in prevailing sub-optimal conditions – I’m not dumb enough to generalise from my own experience to everyone else’s.
For adults personal risk-assessment is best left to the individual.
I’m not that worried about infrastructure. I like travel and if you want to get to anywhere interesting you need to be ready to ride in a range of conditions. Watch our for rabid dogs and sunburn, but the danger almost always comes from people, so it’s best to concentrate on the human element. Having said that when it comes to bollardism I do have a favourite street in Greater London….
Argall Way is an affront to all those Twentieth Century traffic-engineers who used to use the excuse:- “We just don’t know what you cyclists want? The robust types want to ride on the road, while others are crying out for their own tracks.”
Funny how they still managed to cater for motor-traffic even though some sofa-jockeys just wanted to potter to the corner-shop to get fags and a pint of milk, and others blasted from Plymouth to Inverness without even stopping for a Yorkie bar.
Nestled in the Lower Lea, where Inner and Outer London grind like tectonic plates, Argall Way is theoretically perfect because it has cycle-tracks on either side offering respite from any status problems people on bikes might feel about taking space on the carriageway while at the junctions there are – now somewhat faded – advance stop boxes, which signal clearly that cycle traffic is also welcome on the highway.
I took these pictures on Easter Sunday 2012 when a tragic wreck on the highway meant police had closed the Lea Bridge Road to all but walking traffic for the whole day. A boy on a motor-cycle had been hit by a man in a car and then smashed by another. The metal plague has taken so many.
Even then Argall Way was uncongested. Low-density development in its environs mean you never find a traffic jam there. There’s nothing much to visit.
Argall Way is built on ex-railway lands and it isn’t hard to imagine a more civilised use of the area. The space demanded by clumsy vehicles with high maximum speeds ends up increasing the distances people have to travel. Like weapons of death and drugs of addiction, motorised travel creates more demand than it satisfies.
Where motor-traffic is allowed to dominate to the point where – as well as a path for walking – a cycle-track is also necessary, this adds to the land-take. A cycle-track built in reaction to motor-traffic may be helpful as part of an exit strategy from motor-dependence but it’s also more land wasted enabling hyper-mobility. Cutting up space and dedicating each fraction to a particular mode spreads the inefficiency of the land-hungry to those that are otherwise able to share and adapt more easily.
Given access to the whole road, when tidal flow is heavy – for example bicyclists coming out of Hackney towards the City of London around 08:30 on a Wednesday – people on bikes can take a whole traffic lane. If they’re confined to a dedicated track they have to queue in a tighter space.
There are many things in the Netherlands to admire and emulate; but we can improve on their practice in one significant measure. In the Netherlands and Germany it’s illegal to ride on the road where there’s a parallel cycle-track and this is – in my experience – rigorously enforced even where following the side-path may be a less attractive option than riding on the road.
There’s no practical problem with a full-hearted endorsement of the important principle that the choice between riding on the highway, and using any parallel cycle-infrastructure, is best left with the individual? An unequivocal endorsement of this principle – as a caveat to advocacy for ‘three network’ street design – defuses simple-minded, knee-jerk, ideological criticism and enables the widest possible support for a ‘Go Dutch’ agenda. Sectarianism is a gift to our enemies. The principle also provides a passive quality-control mechanism. If facilities are good enough everyone will use them anyway.
In the medium-term the answer is not struggling to fit a third network into the Elephant and Castle so Nicole can pass without fear, or insisting on toughness and vigilance from bike riders so they can circulate with Boris and the motor-traffic. The priority is explaining gently and firmly – at every opportunity – to John Griffin and his fossilised followers that people on bicycles own the road and the motor-dependent must be grateful that we’re willing to graciously share it with them. Note for John:- Don’t pretend you’re in hurry. Everyone knows that if you were really in a hurry you’d be on a push bike.
Infrastructure changes that make – for example – the Elephant and Castle look more like an Inner-City hub and less like a suburban gyratory will reinforce this simple idea and release land for…
- nature reserves
- opera houses
- skating rinks
- swimming pools
…you get the idea?