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.
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.