Kings Cross update

The second ‘bikes alive’ action at Kings Cross on Monday 23rd January was less lively thanthe first. There may have been as many bike riders but the politically-motivated pedestrian element were fewer, and transient football fans were missing completely. The first version featured plenty of low-rent still and movie photographers, the second, one or two heavier-duty paparazzi, I assume they were hoping for a ruck? The pro-photographers were very conspicuous in camouflage jackets,  ‘Hi-Viz’ tabards would’ve been more discrete.

The second ‘bikes alive’ action at Kings Cross on Monday 23rd January was less lively than the first. There may have been as many bike riders but the politically-motivated pedestrian element were fewer, and transient football fans were missing completely. The first version featured plenty of low-rent still and movie photographers, the second, one or two heavier-duty paparazzi, I assume they were hoping for a ruck? The pro-photographers were very conspicuous in camouflage jackets,  ‘Hi-Viz’ tabards would’ve been more discrete.

A group of one or two hundred riders rotated through the one-way system at a steady walking pace for around forty minutes. I’m pretty sure this kind of behaviour – though it may delay individuals for a few seconds – helps clear the evening rush hour. When one block of motors are held for a minute or two the road ahead is empty, allowing traffic on the adjacent network to flow. I like to ride in the evening and it’s nice to ease the pain of the victims of motor-dependence, but the event felt like a geographically constrained version of ‘Critical Mass’. The attendant Police were calm and unobstructive. They understand that causing trouble will only publicise the event.

Imagine you’re waiting to turn into a main road from a side street. If the traffic on the big road has a maximum speed of 20 kph you can turn into a much smaller gap  than if it’s passing at 60 kph. The bars on this graph represent real space. Reducing the maximum speed of traffic increases the capacity of the network.

See how efficiently space is used in Tehran. Without the need for traffic signals, everyone moves slowly but never really stops. Pedestrians cross without haste, panic or delay. It may seem dangerously chaotic to someone used to regimented patterns but everyone has to be vigilant, considerate and empathetic.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSF6cA-TaI0]

To be safe and comfortable riding a bike on roads shared with other traffic you need to take space to create a buffer-zone around you. Sometimes people in vehicles with a potentially higher maximum speed get upset by this. It’s good to be popular –  for pragmatic and humane reasons –  but if you have to choose between being safe or popular, which one comes first?

Other people on the roads may imagine that you’re their enemy. You don’t have to stop and explain the relationship between the maximum speed of traffic on the network and the network’s capacity to all of them. It’s quite a subtle concept and some of them are not all that clever; but you don’t need to get involved in their delusion that you’re a problem.

 

Spin on this

Only two weeks old and OTR is already making waves in the Pacific, where convicted drugs-cheat Shane Warne has broken his prolonged silence on the all-important ‘who really does own the road?’ issue.

Only two weeks old and OTR is already making waves in the Pacific, where convicted drugs-cheat Shane Warne has broken his prolonged silence on the all-important ‘who really does own the road?’ issue.

The portly leg-spinner made his impassioned contribution  after an alleged  incident in a motor-traffic jam in Melbourne, Oztralia.

Scandal-magnet Warne, one of the very few living persons to be honoured with a biographical stage musical without actually being dead, is a living-legend who once bowled the-ball-of-the-Century sometime in the last Century.

Other news…

  • England go one-nil down with 10 wicket defeat to rampant Pakistan.
  • Cricket is a mystery.

 

What not to wear?

One of the many pleasures of riding around is checking out the others. Some make it look pleasurable and easy, others look miserable? Learn from both. When someone says –  ‘this is how to ride a bike.’ What they almost always mean is – ‘this is how I ride a bike and it works for me.’ They may have useful wisdom but it’s their wisdom. Whatever you do – or don’t –  know about cycling, you are the expert on your own life.

World's most popular shoes for cycling?

One of the many pleasures of riding around is checking out the others. Some make it look pleasurable and easy, others look miserable? Learn from both.

When someone says –  ‘this is how to ride a bike.’ What they almost always mean is – ‘this is how I ride a bike and it works for me.’ They may have useful wisdom but it’s their wisdom. Whatever you do – or don’t –  know about cycling, you are the expert on your own life.

Beware of dogma, manifestos, dopey lists of ‘DO’s and ‘DON’T’s. They change every few years anyway. Riding a bike is much too young to have developed anything like a classical form. There are principles. There are no rules except this one and only.

You may ride in cycling shoes,

tougher than you

in street shoes,

actually she does own the road

in any shoes,

or in no shoes at all.

You may ride in any kind of clothes, or none,.

in normal clothes with office shoes,

could you vote for a man too dumb to use mudguards?

in tan brogues and attire so very normal

tweedtastic

it meets fancy dress coming in the other direction.

You may wear cycling shoes with smart clothes.

think twice before you marry anyone with only one bike, unless it has mudguards

You may wear cycling shoes with any kind of clothes BUT

WARNING: Viewing this image may cause knee pain

if you’re going to dress for efficiency, footwear comes first. Never ride wearing clothes designed for cycling efficiency with anything other than shoes, made for pedalling, on your feet.

There are two reasons to wear cycling clothes. The first is to enable faster and/or lazier progress. Reinforcing your feet is the most important part of this. The second is because you want to resemble a cyclist. Anyone who cares will look first at the vital interface where biological power turns mechanical.

Consider evolution, only a theory but let’s run with it anyway. Once upon a time your feet – articulate structures of multiple bones and joints – were flippers for swimming in the sea. Then they adapted for grasping branches and peeling fruit in the forest canopy. Finally they became delicate systems of balance, enabling bounding progress across the savannah.

On a bike you’re making brutal industrial power with the biggest muscles in your body, this is delivered repetitively, with no need of finesse, through the soft and subtle medium of your feet. Reinforcing your feet into rigid levers strengthens the weakest element of the system, which makes the whole transmission more effective.

Running shoes are designed to absorb energy. On a bike there’s no impact. Cycling shoes transmit energy. If you ride hard in shoes not designed for cycling you will soon destroy them. Cycling shoes save money.

Riding a sports bike with soft shoes on is equivalent to playing table-tennis in boxing gloves, it’s difficult and makes you look foolish.

Just say – ‘No’.

There are no other rules.

What do we want? update

Bikesalive have called a repeat of the action featured last week. It will be at Kings Cross, at 18:00, next Monday, January 23rd.

Last month Transport for London were waiting for the current trouble – over the assumptions underlying the way the streets they administer are laid-out – to blow-over. They’ve now cracked and propose to redesign their crass ‘cycle-super-highway’ modifications at Bow Flyover. They’re asking for our input.

Announcing a change to works completed less than a year ago can only be interpreted as an admission that their last attempt was badly wrong. Bow Flyover is at a critical location, on the boundary of Inner East London – where cycle-traffic is booming – and Outer London, where conditions for cycle-travel are at least as difficult as anywhere else in the whole country. The outcome of the conflicts this discontinuity produces will have national resonance. Proximity to the imminent festival of running and jumping only increases the significance.

What do we want?

It’s Plough Monday, 18:30, Kings Cross, an irregular parade – maybe 150 people with bikes, 100 without – have obstinately stopped on the intersection of Pentonville Road and York Way. They’re chanting in unison, making motor-traffic, from all directions wait longer than usual, while the dumb semaphore of the traffic signals repeat amber, red, red’n’amber, green.

“What do we want?
Safer streets.

When do we want  them?

NOW.”

It’s Plough Monday, 18:30, Kings Cross, an irregular parade – maybe 150 people with bikes, 100 without – have obstinately stopped on the intersection of Pentonville Road and York Way. They’re chanting in unison, making motor-traffic, from all directions wait longer than usual, while the dumb semaphore of the traffic signals repeat amber, red, red’n’amber, green.

I’m not here by accident – a volunteer – but  ambivalent  about the event, which might reinforce three erroneous, negative  stereotypes…

  • people on bikes are outsiders
  • people on bikes are a nuisance
  • people on bikes are victims.

Creating motor-traffic jams in Central London is not much of an ambition, nor much of an achievement. They happen on their own.

I turned out anyway. There’s trouble brewing over the assumptions underlying the way London’s streets are laid-out and actions like this one – called by bikesalive, a group of whom I know nothing – keep the pressure on. I calculate that the success of this action is more important than quibbling over tactics or aims.

Arriving at 18:00, the appointed roll-out time, rather than join the crowd waiting on the footway outside Kings Cross Station and risk getting cold or kettled.  I ride reconnaissance circuits around the area’s one-way streets. The antiquated 20th Century system – engineered to give the impression that heavy traffic is moving freely – makes it easier to ride round and round than actually go anywhere.

The theatre of the street rarely disappoints. The railway terminus is disgorging Leeds United supporters bound for a cup-tie with The Arsenal. Police reinforcements lurking in a side street may be for the angry activists or the optimistic visitors.

Outside the ‘Du a Ri’ Bar in the Caledonian Road a clump of raucous men with white, blue, yellow scarfs are swilling beer and singing “We’re Leeds an’ we’ll fook you oop. We’re Leeds an’ we’ll fook you oop.” Ironically – as it turns out – to the melody ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’; trying to be scary, delighting in their own idiocy. Displays of folk-culture, now that’s what streets are for.

Meanwhile pedestrians among the activist are warned by police that walking on the road will not be tolerated. Some peds with mobility impairments express reluctance to even cross the street.

They’re here because Transport for London is currently carrying out a programme of pedestrian crossing removal, under the Mayor’s commitment to ‘smoothing traffic flow’. The Mayor has also shortened some pedestrian crossing times across London, despite evidence that this compromises older people’s safety.

All the while heavy flows of riders stooge past. These days any Inner London, rush-hour, bicycle action needs a healthy turnout just to differentiate itself from normal traffic.

The flyer for the event demands…

Major changes at busy, dangerous junctions are essential. There must be cycle lanes and cycle priority at places like Kings Cross,…  Traffic lights must be re-phased to have longer gaps between conflicting green phases, so that slow-moving traffic such as bikes, and pedestrians, are well clear of the junction before the next vehicles get a green light.”

For all its radical rhetoric it reads like a programme to accommodate current conditions not a fresh start  from humane principles.

View Larger Map

The first step to civilising the the Kings Cross streetscape – and something to build a popular campaign on – is getting rid of the one-way systems, returning local streets to their default setting. This benefits everyone. The roads will be easier to cross on foot, bus passengers will know where their stops are, cyclists can go direct without involuntary detours and unnecessary turning manoeuvres. It even helps local motor traffic.

Any modification of the layout that doesn’t begin by scrapping the one-way systems entrenches them and their only purpose, which is to give the impression that motor-traffic is moving faster than horses pulling carts.

What do we want? Considerate people. How do we get that? Design the streets for everyone not just the motorised minority.

As a chant? It needs work.

The action ended  at 19:00 with shouts of “see you next week” which sounded a bit over-ambitious, a ‘war’ of attrition?  Repetition is easily dealt with by power, novelty and imagination can be more effective. But you never know, fashion is mysterious,  maybe 2,500 will mobilise next time?

 

Role-models of distinction, update.

Last week’s post featured street photography. If you imagine owntheroad is going to be some low-wattage addition to that genre please look away now. There’s no dignity in stalker behaviour.

That’s not to criticise brilliant specialists. The cycle chic craze is delightful, not least because it’s vindicated a million middle-aged men who wouldn’t know ‘chic’ if it gave them a full body wax. They can now call looking at dynamic pictures of well-groomed, long-legged young women…

… ‘research on urban planning’.

Just to prove that almost all the good ideas have been had already and originality is a Twentieth Century perversion, Claire Petersky sent me this.

It’s also been suggested that last weeks pictures were somehow set-up, even that it was me under the headscarf. If the pictures had been staged then I would have definitely demanded a more obviously horsey model.

Even the authenticity of the pigeon has been questioned: “If it was really Sloane Square how come it was eating a bun not a brioche?”

 

Role-models of distinction

In the last days of 2011 I made an expedition to the Inner South-western suburbs, in search of the aristocratic English women once common riding the avenues and squares of London SW1, SW3 and SW7. Happy to be out on my bike but also anxious that they may be extinct, priced-out by tax-exile oligarchs or replaced by descendants, with less confidence in public, who restrict their riding to static cycles in potplant-decked gymnasia?

In the last days of 2011 I made an expedition to the Inner South-western suburbs, in search of the aristocratic English women once common riding the avenues and squares of London SW1, SW3 and SW7. Happy to be out on my bike but also anxious that they may be extinct, priced-out by tax-exile oligarchs or replaced by descendants, with less confidence in public, who restrict their riding to static cycles in potplant-decked gymnasia?
I’m interested in these women as role-models for traffic-riding. They aren’t necessarily accomplished bike handlers, maybe not experts on the Highway Code, probably not students of dry text books, but they don’t have any problem negotiating with pushy motor-traffic of Victoria, Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea because they have a very clear idea who they are. Confidence in their own status enables them to claim a share of the common land we call streets. They know they own the road. Their cheerful conduct is easy for others to interpret and react to.

In England most social interaction involves class-politics; but this is no barrier to humbler folk, equipped with a bicycle, taking control of the space around them. We can trigger deference in others by cultivating the resolute and friendly style of the land-owning classes.

Before you can share something, you need to possess it. When you travel by bike owning the road is what allows you to be generous to those less fortunate or imaginative than yourself.

Sloane Square is dominated by motor-traffic but now betrays interesting signs of the new era of street design. The entrance to Holbein Place, which is clearly engineered for the random patterns of pedestrians. The slick surface and lack of kerbs are exactly the kind of disconcerting design that forces consideration not compliance.

The concept of shared space was covered yesterday on the Home Service of the the BBC a sure sign it’s coasting into the mainstream.

To emphasise the quality of the streetscape a solo steel-pannist played seasonal tunes behind a long white beard, just the kind of unforeseeable weirdness that make the streets of London so engaging. You can get the idea by opening this link in a new tab then reading the rest with the sound playing, ideally by a wet road with passing cars.

Trinidad/Lapland fusion music?

All this is – however – a distraction from our ethnological mission.

Checking the parked bikes outside Sloane Square tube station, in the corner of my eye a headscarf, signature headgear.

Now I can’t say for certain that this woman knows what her ancestors did in the crusades, to be honest I would expect a more country-in-town style of dress, but her behaviour was characteristic.

She didn’t try any counter-productive riding among the pedestrians, but strode with elegant deportment through the mêlée to the Sloane Square gyratory and took a bold position, away from the kerb, down in the roadway where anyone circulating could clearly see her.

She made a shuffling start, one foot on a six o’clock pedal, the other pushing back against the roadway in the manner of a Stoke Newington infant on a  Draisienne. With that much social presence you can carry-off louche bike control technique. Her red tights matched the shoals of buses.

She didn’t need as much space as a bus – weaving through them and away into the mid-winter dusk – but she commanded at least as much respect.

We OWN THE ROAD.