good news

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone. The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone.

The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Last Summer…

Last week…

Back in September when I lifted the ‘before’ picture from Ron Binns’ prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ he wrote…

“15th of October.

By this date these temporary and highly controversial structures built for the Olympics on green open space in the Lea Valley (including, naturally, a tarmac car park), will have been demolished and the entire site will have been returned to green, grassy space where local residents are free to wander. Nothing can possibly go wrong and there is no reason to believe that this deadline will not be met. Trust them – they’re Waltham Forest Council.”

I’ve been waiting for him to announce the good news, with some acid comments about the delay. ‘Bad weather’ is the given excuse, which didn’t seem to stop them getting the party ready on time? It’s always politic to congratulate people for doing what you want. Even when you’ve made them do it when they didn’t want to.

Whenever you make a pushy MDV* wait for your priority always try and thank them. Patronising politeness is so much crueler than anger, and not giving them an outlet for their frustration might just leave them with space and energy to mature into a less selfish and desperate traveller?

Not only does Crap Cycling not seem to do good news he’s also trying to wish away – long established – glad tidings. Way back in 1992 the impish Mayer Hillman’s revolutionary work Cycling Towards Health and Safety

signalled the beginning of the end of the ‘Vanishing Tribe’ era, the first glimmer of dawn for the current epoch of Mixed Messages.

Ron’s uncompromising stance on motor-danger and motor-slaughter is laudable. In an era when most commentators still moan about ‘dangerous roads’ or ‘nightmare traffic’ like they were natural phenomena – avalanche, hurricane, shark attack – Crap Cycling keeps the focus resolutely on human agency. The danger doesn’t  come from cars or trucks or junctions or roads; it comes from people like you and me.

But isn’t it possible to keep stating that obvious fact without denying the known epidemiological truth that people who ride bikes live longer? I’d like to ask Ron myself but he doesn’t take comments.

*MDV = victim of motor dependence

barriers to cycling: 2.0

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a nice amenity. It runs from the snout of the Isle of Dogs – actually a low lying peninsula – to the historic riverside town of Greenwich. It’s a useful link for people travelling by bike. The 250 metre walk between the foot of each shaft avoids a detour to Woolwich, Rotherhithe or Tower Bridge. The lifts at each end used to be staffed by apathetic attendants equipped with tabloid newspapers. The elevators didn’t run during the night so cycle-travellers had to yomp down and up the stairs cyclo-cross style.

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a nice amenity. It runs from the snout of the Isle of Dogs – actually a low lying peninsula – to the historic riverside town of Greenwich.
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The tunnel has a ghostly atmosphere when deserted, chill and other-worldly, stone pavement and white ceramic tiles. It used to look like this:-

It’s a useful link for people travelling by bike. The 250 metre walk between the foot of each shaft avoids a detour to Woolwich, Rotherhithe or Tower Bridge. The lifts at each end used to be staffed by apathetic attendants equipped with tabloid newspapers. The elevators didn’t run during the night so cycle-travellers had to yomp down and up the stairs cyclo-cross style.

Bike riding has never been permitted in the tunnel, although in dead of night there was no problem with pedalling softly through the neon-lit tube. Predictably some knobs insist on trying to ride when the tunnel is populated or even busy with tourists. A hobby of mine is accidentally-on-purpose offering mild – faux-absent-minded – threats of obstruction to enjoy these cowboys’ affronted reactions; active citizenship in action.

The Tunnel is undergoing prolonged restoration. New lifts were installed in advance of the ‘lympics. They’re un-staffed and work 24×7. Not having to consult a timetable when taking a heavy laden bike, or towing a trailer, is progress.

The sad part is that – in reaction to those who try and ride through when traffic-conditions are inappropriate – the elegant corridor has been defaced with two sets of these ugly railings….

The chicanes the barriers create cause congestion when pedestrian flows are high. It’s inconvenient for people in wheelchairs, those pushing baby-carriages or walking tandems or other over-length vehicles. The fences are adorned with the traffic sign; ‘CYCLISTS DISMOUNT’.

This sign means ‘no cycling’.

Blue rectangles give information, not legally enforced commands, so it’s usually possible to interpret a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign as ‘this route is meant for cycle-traffic but so badly designed we advise you to get off or continue only at your own risk.’

The new barriers in the foot tunnel…

  • don’t address the nuisance of people trying to cycle when it’s inappropriate.
  • create an unnecessary obstruction for people walking

A classic example of not solving a problem just putting a new problem on top of the old one. The blue ‘dismount’ signs probably encourage some of those, too thick to understand that riding when people are walking through is a nuisance, to think that riding is OK? ‘Official’ signs asking them to get off at a couple of points along the corridor suggest that you’re allowed to – even supposed to – be riding the rest.

Motor-free movement space isn’t valued in our current transport-economy. A little light enforcement of the ban on cycling. a few well-publicised penalty tickets – it wouldn’t be hard to trap any runaways and the CCTV pictures will be nicely lit at any time of day – a campaign to embolded brave and public-spirited pedestrians to obstruct anyone trying to ride; are all considered  too much trouble, why not just put up some fences and piss everyone off?

Thirty years ago somebody explained to me a  principle – imported from the ‘bicycling countries’ of Northern Europe – that conflict between pedestrian-traffic and cycle-traffic is usually a symptom that conditions for one or both are inadequate.

The indoor space of an Edwardian tunnel is no exception to this, but – over this short distance – extra capacity can’t be won easily.

The Sint Anna Tunnel under the Schelde from Antwerp to Zwindrecht is a nice facility, where shared-use – between cycle and pedestrian traffic – works well, but the roadway is more than twice as wide and the ratio between vertical and horizontal capacity was specified with cycle traffic in mind.

A second bore of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – to accommodate ‘Look’ pedal-users – isn’t any kind of infrastructure priority but – hey – if we must have Grands Projets to kick-start the economy it would be better value than more pandering to under-priced air travel.

magnanimity in victory

There’s too much bicycle-centred miserablism published these days. Not that people who try and travel by bike in London, England, the UK, Europe, the World, the Solar system, the Galaxy, the Universe, haven’t got stuff to moan about but we are winning

Play sound.

There’s too much bicycle-centred miserablism published these days. Not that people who try and travel by bike in London, England, the UK, Europe, the World, the Solar system, the Galaxy, the Universe, haven’t got stuff to moan about but we are winning.

Never forget that the primary victims of motor-dependence(MDVs) are the bicycle-deficient losers who actually have to struggle to move all those almost-empty mobile-front-rooms around. They may sometimes drag us down toward their own tragic level but the main people who suffer from their lack of imagination are their sorry selves.

Irrational, you-people-are-all-the-same antipathy towards we who travel by bike is based partly on envy. In current conditions people who don’t ride often see those on bikes as winners, and there are few things less attractive than an ungracious, whingeing winner. ‘Not only do they act like they own the road but all they ever do is moan’.

Don’t just moan. That’s what everybody else does. That’s what’s expected.

Last week I was complaining about an unfortunate lack of permeability for cycle-traffic at the junction of Hermitage Road, St. Annes Road and North Grove, London N15. I did offer an alternative practical example but, in the interests of positivity, would like to add this excellent item of street photography, endorsing the concept of filtered permeability. Shot just over the hill in N4, it’s the work of noted bicycle-educator and cricket fanatic David Dansky.

So much more elegant than the speed hump and they can get out of the way if an ambulance needs to pass.

mixed messages (part 1)

I’ve moved, five kilometres and two villages north-northwest; from West Hackney, London, E8 to West Green, London, N17.

West Hackney is a centre of bicycle paradise, where – in certain demographics – cycling is the default non-walking mode. As a former coordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney I naturally like to assume most of the credit for this.

Inner London is the easiest place in Britain to travel by bike. Bicycling makes sense, distances are short and nobody is surprised to find cycle-traffic on the road. There’s a convincing case that Outer London is the worst place in Britain to travel by bike.

My new locale – on the ragged coastline where Inner and Outer London bleed into each other – is an ideal place to savour the current era of mixed messages. A time when people who choose to travel by bike may be treated as heroic role-models for a sustainable future; or as vermin.

Here’s a junction on St. Ann’s Road in South Tottenham. One arm of the mini-roundabout crossroads is obstructed by a galvanised fence. You can get through walking but it’s awkward. On a bike you may dismount and walk or creep awheel, across the pinched foot-way as a guest. If you go for this riding option there’s no obvious way to rejoin the highway.

almost a closed road

A banner is currently hanging beside the barrier.

Leave my what?

‘Turn over a new leaf, leave your car at home.’ Nearly half the households in Haringey – my new home borough – do not own a car so this dopey message ignores the majority of the local population. Do it’s authors want me to buy a car so I can leave it at home, or would they be satisfied if I just joined a car club?

Meanwhile, down on Southgate Road, London N1, where Northchurch road crosses from the LB Hackney into LB Islington there’s a crossroads with a similar layout except instead of a galvanised fence there’s a modal filter. And no banner pleading lamely for behavioural change.

modal filter

regeneration?

As London was basking in the first weeks of the Wiggins era, following… on Wednesday the very evening of Wiggin’s coronation at Hampton Court – over at Olympopolis on the Lower Lea,  a man driving a bus ran over, and slaughtered a man riding a bike

As London was basking in the first weeks of the Wiggins era, following…

  • …Friday’s star turn in the opening ceremony

 

  • …Saturday’s demonstration of  loyalty and fallibility – like a circus performer falling off the tightrope on purpose to remind the audience that she only makes it look easy

 

  • …on Wednesday the very evening of Wiggin’s coronation at Hampton Court – over at Olympopolis on the Lower Lea,  a man driving a bus ran over, and slaughtered a man riding a bike.

 

Suburban land-use encourages and enables motor-dependance. It also encourages careless and reckless driving. Reports state that the bus – an ‘Olympic bus’ – was ferrying journalists between venues. I expect the passengers were delayed and distracted by their involvement in this terrible systems failure? Maybe it would have been more practical, more reliable to encourage and enable them to travel by bike?

as easy as riding a bike

While people who used bicycles for travel were a vanishing tribe – stubbornly refusing to vanish – practical cycling was an unusual subject for mainstream media. On the rare occasions that it featured on a TV magazine show, a common convention was to give a naive reporter a bike and ask them to use it for commuting. When they ran into threshold problems the conclusion drawn was not, that the poor neophyte was in need of help, but rather that travelling by bike is impossibly difficult.

While people who used bicycles for travel were a vanishing tribe – stubbornly refusing to vanish – practical cycling was an unusual subject for mainstream media. On the rare occasions that it featured on a TV magazine show, a common convention was to give a naive reporter a bike and ask them to use it for commuting. When they ran into threshold problems the conclusion drawn was not, that the poor neophyte was in need of help, but rather that travelling by bike is impossibly difficult.

The exercise was analogous to putting a person who’s never skied on a lift up a mountainside, giving them a pair of Herman Munster boots clipped to a pair of two metre laminated planks, asking them to slide back to the valley and concluding from the embarrassing results that alpine skiing is not a bracing recreation but really, really difficult and somewhat perilous.

My own contribution to this clichéd sub-genre was in 1995 when hired to appear in an item about urban cycling by the production company of ‘Ride-On’ – a motoring show for Channel 4. The film crew had me riding round the Elephant and Castle, a busy double roundabout that forms the hub of South London’s road network. They shot me from various locations on the kerb, from the roof of a shopping centre, they clamped a clockwork camera the size of a brick – miniature for those times – on the handlebars and framed my face from below, they clamped it on the forks and shot forward into the moving traffic.

Keen to set a good example to the viewers and taking professional care of my temporary employer’s equipment I rode purposefully but with deliberate care, using the lane markings on the roadway, the patterns made by the files of motor-traffic and a bike rider’s ability to demand the attention of others, to hold an empty zone around my machine.

After each run the director and senior colleagues retired to their mobile home to view the latest sequence and confer in hushed voices. They did their best to seem optimistic – making moving pictures is a bit like going to war, morale is very important – but clearly weren’t happy with what had been recorded.

They were running out of options. It began to seem that darkness might fall without them capturing the pictures they wanted. Finally the director took me aside and in a conspiratorial tone asked:- “Can’t you make it look more difficult?”

In the end the segment – which mostly showed cycling to be a sensible way to get around London – went out with a staged coda in which the show’s presenter – an aristocratic ex-race driver – decided to try cycling; rode away and was knocked to the floor by a carelessly swung car door. It was meant to be funny.

In those days the seemingly contradictory notions…

  • Cycling is an infantile accomplishment unworthy of study.
  • Cycling is so difficult, dangerous and demanding that no sane person can contemplate it.

…reinforced each other by taking cycle-travel out of the realm of possible adult behaviour. Cycling was for children or for super-heroes, not for normal folk.

 

There’s a segment in the latest ‘Sunday Politics’ a show on BBC 1, on the feasibility of London ‘Going Dutch’. Featuring a discussion between the urbane and articulate Mustafa Arif – a Director of the London Cycling Campaign – a couple of politicians and – bizarrely – Sir Stirling Moss – the Lewis Hamilton of the 1950’s – who retired while I was still in the infants*.

Sir Stirling doesn’t have much to contribute beyond his legendary presence and a lame plea for helmet compulsion, which Mustafa flicks to the boundary with a finely judged mix of deference and contempt.

The interesting part for me is the film which introduces the discussion , and contrasts traffic conditions in Groningen, in the Netherlands, with those in London. It doesn’t dwell on the problems of cycling in our motor-centric capital. Now that most young and thrusting media-types travel by bike this line is no longer really tenable.

Here the metaphorical non-skier up the mountain is boy reporter Andrew Cryan trying to drive a car around central Groningen and finding it more than somewhat problematic.

The message is still that cycling can’t happen but the sensational premise is no longer…

‘Cycling to work? Are you mad?’

…but rather…

‘Where streets are cycle-friendly motoring is close to impossible.’

The young fellow does his best to make it look dangerous, talking to camera, with both hands off the wheel, while the vehicle is moving, but his flustered attempts tell us nothing about the practicality of moving a car in and out of the filtered permeability of Groningen’s centre, just that little Andrew was only there for six hours.

Even then his hyperbolic…

“Unless you were making a delivery or you’re a taxi[sic] you’d be absolutely mad to try and drive here.”

…has to be balanced with the observation that…

“In the suburbs [motor-]traffic flows incredibly well.”

Making car journeys more awkward also makes travelling by car easier. Who’d have thought it eh?

As we get into the discussion it’s hard to imagine that Sir Stirlingwho once jousted with Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn – was first choice as token apologist for motor-dependence?

They might have preferred Jeremy Clarkson who recently opined that…

“…in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along.”

This simile can’t really bear much analysis.

Q: What kind of dog wakes up in the morning and wonders: – ‘Shall I be a dog or a cat today?’

Q; If a dog and a cat have sexual congress will they produce…

Of course Jeremy Clarkson is a semi-fictional comic character – more Alan Partridge than Alain Prost – and the last thing he would want is to engage in reasoned debate about the baffling, reflexive fluidity of real-life.

  • Q: Who comes out of the skirting board at 220 miles per hour?
  • A: Stirling Mouse.

trouble in toyland

The man Hugo Chavez likened to “a polar bear that’s had an electric shock”  won the election for London Mayor – by a half a wheel or less – which has led to a new coinage(thanks to Max) – what an emborrissment. Last weeks rambling on the different preferences of Boris Johnson and Nicole Cooke, leading to the assertion that the choice between riding on the highway, and using any parallel infrastructure for cycle-traffic, is best left with the individual, attracted name-checks and green-ink denouncements on a site called ‘as easy as riding a bike’.

The man Hugo Chavez likened to “a polar bear that’s had an electric shock”  won the election for London Mayor – by a half a wheel or less – which has led to a new coinage(thanks to Max) – what an emborrissment.
Last weeks rambling on the different preferences of Boris Johnson and Nicole Cooke, leading to the assertion that the choice between riding on the highway, and using any parallel infrastructure for cycle-traffic, is best left with the individual, attracted name-checks and green-ink denouncements on a site called ‘as easy as riding a bike’.

If you fancy seven and a half thousand words (my guess is that ‘aseasyasridingabike’ is a man?) on what ‘Love London Go Dutch’ REALLY means its here, here, here and here.

The thrust of the argument is that progress toward bicycle paradise demands ‘roads for bikes’ and that anyone using a pedal-cycle must be compelled to use them, and barred from any parallel street, which shall be reserved for motor-traffic because anyone who wants to ride on the road is a ‘fast’ cyclist, so leaving the choice with the individual will mean that the new network for cycle-traffic will be designed only for ‘slow’ cyclists.

Perhaps I’m being over-optimistic but I feel strangely confident that an authoritarian political programme relying on the assumption  that I am a ‘fast’ cyclist is doomed to failure.

The other person in the cross-hairs of this ideological purge is professional bollard-farmer Richard Lewis who comes from Hackney, rides a funny bike and has drafted some sample designs for the ‘Go Dutch’ project based on the evident premise that Londoners on bikes behave in diverse, individualistic ways. I’m not that fussed about infrastructure and am confident Richard can deal with the technical criticism. Richard describes his approach thus:- “I (personally) am not after a “Dutch” design! I am after “good” design, which recognises and responds to the opportunities and constraints of the particular locations.” Whatever the fundamentalists say about ‘Dutch principles’ this practical approach ought to convince anyone who likes cycling, who wants to spread bicycle madness, that the ‘Go Dutch’ front is worthy of support.

I am a fat, lazy, granddad who often hauls 100kg of tools; while being described as a ‘fast cyclist’ falls somewhere between laughable flattery and gross misrepresentation there’s one item on the charge-sheet that I’m proud to plead guilty to…

“The first problem I have diagnosed, and which I will discuss in this initial post, is perhaps the most serious. It’s an incipient (or perhaps innate) notion that there are two distinct categories of cyclist; those that are happy cycling on the road, and who would continue to cycle on the road once ‘provision’ has been put in, and another category of cyclist, made up of those who are more nervous, or who don’t currently cycle but who would like to, for whom the infrastructure is being provided. Further, and problematically, this categorisation extends to the notion that these two distinct types of cyclist will require two different approaches to their cycling needs.”

 

…not only will I plead guilty to holding the heresy that there are two categories of cyclist I will go further. I not only hold that notion, I actually believe there are unnumbered categories of cyclist including plenty we are not yet able to imagine. Hell I’m five or six categories on my own.

How many categories of cyclist are there?

Ennio Morricone thinks there are just three but Diana Ross believes there are twelve kinds of cyclist and she loves them all.

never mind the bollards

Saturday’s big ride event has been widely reported as ‘a protest’ but it’s naive to imagine that much notice will be taken off a bunch of happy bike riders, being obedient, on a Saturday? The event was a success, but not because it made governments tremble. Rulers are always more likely to focus on the apathetic millions who didn’t turn out.

Saturday’s big ride event has been widely reported as ‘a protest’ but it’s naive to imagine that much notice will be taken off a bunch of happy bike riders, being obedient, on a Saturday? The event was a success, but not because it made governments tremble. Rulers are always more likely to focus on the apathetic millions who didn’t turn out. It was a success mostly because those who took part felt validated, part of something big, powerful, progressive and  exciting.

picture from LCC

“WE WANT SAFER CYCLING STREETS” is an odd slogan.  The event itself was taking place on the streets of London and – despite the odd touch of wheels and some temporary ear damage  – was devoid of mortal danger. No serious injuries were reported. “WE WANT SAFER STREETS” would be evasive enough. “WE WANT SAFER CYCLING STREETS” is just confusing. Aren’t all streets for cycling?

Danger doesn’t come from streets it comes from people. The layout of the streets has an important influence on how people behave but worrying only about the streets, ignoring the actual source of the trouble – people – is displacement activity; focusing on something relatively simple, because the actual problem is too complicated, too daunting.

When J.S.Dean – chairman of the Pedestrian’s Association – identified ‘road safety’ as a brutal ideology, formulated by the German National Socialists, and enthusiastically adopted by the British Motor-Lobby, he didn’t feel any need to explain why special tracks for cyclists were evil.

“Here then are some of the Nazis’ “road safety” methods: fines for “careless walking,” collectable on the spot; “endangering traffic” and crossing against the amber made punishable offences; special tracks for cyclists….”

J. S. Dean, Murder Most Foul,

a study of the road road deaths problem

1947

[my emphasis]

Laying a cycle-track beside a street is an unambiguous statement that the people using the roadway are expected to be brutalised and brutal, to put their need to hurry – or more precisely, in an urban context, to put their desire to feel as though they are in a hurry – above the well-being of others.

Under the crushing cultural and economic inertia of motorisation J.S.Dean became a voice in the wilderness. Questioning the costs of hyper-mobility is only just emerging into the mainstream after half a century during which drawing attention to its toll put one beyond the frontiers of sanity.

In Central and Inner London a critique of motor-dependence now makes obvious sense. As this local consensus grows stronger we need not be as dogmatic as the heroic hold-outs of history. It’s as foolish to reject cycle-tracks because the Nazis liked them as it would be to denounce training for cyclists because self-advertising dinosaur John Griffin thinks it a good idea.

Currently there are plenty of roads, where there are space for cycle-tracks and cycle-tracks would be very useful. You don’t need to ride far out from Central London on any radius to find highways where current conditions demand a very tough-minded attitude, where people on bikes are rare enough that younger motorists, or those who grew up overseas, imagine that cycle-travel on them is actually prohibited.

There’s now a fashion for commentary – accompanied by pictures of everyday cycling in the cities of Northern Continental Europe – that looks eagerly forwards to the day when London ‘will look like this’. Meanwhile in the London Borough of Hackney bicycling is – in certain demographics – becoming the default non-walking mode, and an appetite for practical cycle travel is bleeding into all the other fragments that populate this nascent velo-paradise. There are historical and geographical reasons for this but it’s happening without recourse to Hitlerite infrastructure.

Stevenage has cycle-tracks everywhere and far fewer riders than the London Borough of Hackney or Ferrara in Italy, where thirty per-cent of journeys are made by bike. I’ve been told Ferrara has no cycle-tracks.

Cycle-tracks are an important element in a transitional programme, but not an objective in their own right for anyone but apologists for motor-dependence. Check – for example – sorry advert for sedentary living Adam Rayner…

…and his endorsement of Dutch infrastructure at 3.14. He wants cycle-tracks, doubtless in principle and forever. But is he an aspirational role-model?

free to choose

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.

If there’ a fight I’m on her side

“I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour…”

Nicole Cooke

Olympic Champion

Yikes I’ve lost the cyclist vote by riding without mg’s

“…sometimes I just go round Elephant & Castle because it’s fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.”

Boris Johnson

Mudguard-deficient buffoon

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.

Leyton Cycle-chic

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…

  • shops
  • bars
  • restaurants
  • offices
  • workshops
  • factories
  • studios
  • homes
  • hotels
  • clinics
  • nursuries
  • schools
  • colleges
  • playgrounds
  • nature reserves
  • gardens
  • theatres
  • cinemas
  • opera houses
  • skating rinks
  • gymnasia
  • swimming pools
  • fountains
  • parks

…you get the idea?

Future shop

You must have noticed that many categories of solid shop – book-shops, record-shops – are almost obsolete. Virtual shopping does have drawbacks. Here’s the queue to collect undelivered parcels at Emma Street post-office two weeks before Christmas 2011…

Westfield Stratford City is a suburban salient pushing old-fashioned, low-density development towards the centre of London. This kind of land-use, that accommodates and promotes motor-dependence, is not what we want.

You must have noticed that many categories of solid shop – book-shops, record-shops – are almost obsolete. Virtual shopping does have drawbacks. Here’s the queue to collect undelivered parcels at Emma Street post-office two weeks before Christmas 2011…

…and it was another forty minutes from the door to the counter. You can tell this a genuine cross-section of Hackney and Bethnal Green folk as it includes…

  • …man/boy sporting a cycle crash-hat/running shoe combination
  • …very ugly dog

Westfield features a number of big shops selling small things. Why do you need a cavernous gallery to sell watches or mobile phones? The future of shopping is souks crammed with kiosks where the person behind the counter picks out the item you ask for with a long pair of reaching tongs.

The overheads are low and customers can walk to a dozen different stores in the distance from the door to the till and back of an over-designed Westfield boutique.

Westfield Stratford may be all wrong but even it’s dreary, privatised, faux streets betray clear signs of a new reality.

The automobile marque ‘Mini’ – produced by the Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (not to be confused with BMW) – has a pop-up shop.

“The MINI store, which will be open for 12 months only, showcases the two newest MINI models, the MINI Coupé and the MINI Countryman and also sells a full range of MINI lifestyle merchandise.”

Lifestyle merchandise?

What would Henry Ford or Juan Manuel Fangio say about that?

Once cars were useful tools, that allowed doctors to visit sick people, isolated farmers to get to market, to church or a dance on Saturday night. In 1914 it was already cheaper to run a small car than a pony and trap. Now they’re fantasy items hung on shop fronts to sell over-priced plimsolls, and handbags with too much branding.

If you’re walking from Stratford Station to the Olympic Park watch out for this pretentious and threatening landmark…

What modern, practical tool of liberation has pride of place in the MINI shop window?

If you don’t want to know the answer look away now.