Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Tales from the saddle

It was a very representative bunch of bicyclists that gathered for the launch of the Cycling Embassy a few days ago. I didn't get the chance to talk to everyone, unfortunately, but those I did speak to told me tales which I think would be familiar to anyone reading this. 

One of the friendly faces I met talked about the urge to pick up your pace when cycling in fast-moving traffic, and that was certainly something I could relate to. Normally I like to potter along at about 12 - 14 mph, but on faster roads I suppose I just feel more secure if I'm travelling quicker. You've got to go with the flow, really, or else you might be all gobbled up. It's only when there is no pressure from behind that you feel relaxed enough to travel at a more leisurely rate, I find.

Not everyone who turned up on the South Bank was happy enough to cycle on roads with fast-moving or heavy traffic, of course - it was, as I say, a very representative bunch - and I was fascinated to hear another friendly face relate how he had plotted the route of some twelve miles' distance, from Twickenham to Lambeth Bridge, that both he and his wife could use. This task is not nearly so time-consuming as it used to be, by the way, thanks mainly due to Cycle Streets, who have even gone to the trouble of allowing users to refer to Google Street View at every turn so that, when they get to those trickier bits, they can get a virtual idea of what they'd need to do on the day. As someone who uses quieter routes more often than not, I understand very well how easy it is to get a bit lost and how difficult it then becomes to work out where exactly you are on the map.

I can see that you wouldn't want to be flustering about in front of the missus an' all, trying to work out where to go next, but isn't it just a little bit strange that this sort of prior preparation and planning is even necessary? Nothing at all against Cycle Streets, of course, who are making the best of the current situation. But just to give you some idea of how things stand at the moment, when I pasted details of the fastest route option of this particular journey into Word, the document ran to nine pages. Comparatively, I could describe the same journey, pretty much, with just a letter and a number (and some proper waymarking, of course). 

One of the more interesting conversations I had was with a chap from Inclusive Cycling, who said in his blog that the Cycling Embassy is 'a group calling for the kind of high quality cycling infrastructure that everyone can use.' Hear, hear to that.

And then there was this other bloke, a family man who worked in Canary Wharf, who just wanted his kids to be able to cycle to school. Yeah, why not?

Whoever they were, and however far they'd come, all of those who turned up presumably shared a desire to see Britain move away from the passé style of urban planning so common in our towns and cities, and exemplified in such schemes as the Blackfriars Development.

Looking again at TfL's 'vision of the future', I am struck by just how jolly uncivilised it is. I am also intrigued by TfL's forecasting. Motor vehicular traffic - excluding buses, taxis and motorbikes - is expected to make up just fifteen per cent of the modal share of journeys through Blackfriars Junction. So why on earth are TfL not designing a streetscape that reflects this? It's absurd.

15% of the modal share should not require 85% of the available space (which it how it looks to me, if you include the traffic 'islands'). Someone is being very unimaginative, it seems to me.