Dave the Taxi Driver's
Guide to London
Cycling in London
‘London is made for Cycling’ ---that was the Spring 2008 slogan intended for those who might be thinking of taking up cycling, but maybe were not convinced by previous advertising campaigns. There are occasions when PR crosses the line of sincerity and into falsehoods when trying to get people to take up a maybe new diet or lifestyle. This is one of those occasions. The above statement is completely untrue at least for the time being, perhaps for some years. To anyone considering taking up cycling in London it gives the impression that there is a hunky dory world on two wheels just waiting for you, if you only would try it.
Since the inception of the office of Mayor of London, there has been an enormous amount of encouragement for people to start cycling around our city. Former Mayor Ken Livingstone was responsible for campaigns to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes. These campaigns have seen great strides forward to make London cycle friendly and therefore a more traffic free and greener city, although London has a long way to go when compared other European cities, such as Amsterdam.
It has to be said once again here that former Mayor Ken Livingstone has never ridden a bicycle nor does he drive a car, so any initiative that Ken put in place that has encouraged cycling has been seen to have penalised or even demonised the motorist. There was always an air of mistrust that sprang from someone inexperienced in road travel.
Boris Johnson, on the other hand, who was elected Mayor of London in 2008 is often seen on his bike inLondon. I met him in July 2009 just by the Bank of England. We had a short chat. We didn’t sort out any world issues, but you just have to talk to Boris when you see him. He was on his bike wearing a wetsuit. It was actually a pinstripe, but had just become a wetsuit because of the rain.
So, considering that the cycling infrastructure was only in itsinfancy and is still in the process of being developed, originally it reminded me of troops being ordered out from the trenches over the top to face unknown danger, albeit in a more civilized scenario that than WW1,but nevertheless dangerous.
There is a big difference between recreational cycling and what seems to be a daily battle when commuters meet on the streets. Drastically different from the generally perceived wholesome act of ‘riding your bike’ to work.
Any criticism that I make is purely as a result of the observation of behaviour from my platform which I drive around in all day, that is from my driving seat looking through the windscreen, as well as many comments made by my passengers. I hope it will give prospective cyclists an idea of what to expect.
On the positive side, there is definitely a case to promote cycling in London.
Apart from the healthy exercise, it can be quicker by bike to get to your destination. There is the knowledge that you are a green form of transport emitting no poisonous fumes, except for the huge amounts of anti-social carbon dioxide from your heavy breathing as you race along the road, which in turn is contributing to climate change, if indeed drastic climate change is taking place at all. It might be just a climatic cycle. Cyclists apparently inhale fewer toxic emissions than car drivers.
On the practical side, many road changes have benefited the cyclist, Bus Taxi and Cycle Lanes plus separate cycle only lanes, green cycle lanes have been painted and marked by the roadside but a lot are still as grey as the road itself, but nevertheless they are there. Bikes are allowed on many Tube and Railway Routes (many only folding bikes and non- folding outside peak times) as well as parking stands at stations. Plans are that these are due to increased by several thousand in due course.
There are the Advanced Stop lines and Boxes at traffic lights to give cyclists their safer space when standing at traffic lights. The installation of the London Cycle Network (900km long by 2010) has brought out whole families riding across London’s Green Spaces at the weekend, through the parks and by the River Thames. In fact the whole of Greater London has miles and miles of rural cycle paths. There are also tax incentives for businesses which provide cycling facilities for their employees.
The London Cycling Campaign offers lots of advice on how to cycle safely with due regard to other road users with a section on the right gear to wear. Their advice quite rightly includes respect for other road users and pedestrians. Cycling Route maps and detailed information about cycling can be obtained from the Tfl.gov.uk website or telephone +44 (0) 20 2221234.
So with all these millions of ££££s having been spent improving the lot of cyclists what is it like on the streets?
Well to begin with I can corroborate all the complaints about the objectionable disrespect of the rules of the road which are committed daily by cyclists. London is not made for cycling, at least for the present and near future. London is a dangerous city in which to ride your bike. It is very crowded, very noisy and stressful. These factors of course lead to negative emotions being displayed by all road users.
Before the new dawn of the Velib era (see below) transforms our capital into a cyclists paradise I would like to describe the attitudes that prevail between cyclists and motorists. Every day I seethe anger, arrogance, impatience and even violence emanating from mutually disrespectful “It’s my space get out of the way!” I would like to think that professional drivers such as London Taxi drivers and London Bus drivers behave in a professional manner.
Why is there so much controversy and why is there so much aggression aimed at cyclists and in return to motorists? Why do cyclists seem to over react at even a minor incident? Probably because of the acute vulnerability they feel in the midst of the roaring traffic.
I think it also comes down to the old social interaction of too many people wanting to use the same space. The pressure that abides in Central London affects everyone it seems.
Here are the most common complaints:-
It is very rare to see a cyclist being booked for going through a red light for instance. It is suggested by the officials of the cycling organisations that only ‘some’ cyclists jump red lights. I estimate the true figure to more like over 80%. If you don’t believe me you can spend a day with me in my cab and count them. It will cost you, but I would hope that the exercise would contribute to correct information being issued and therefore action can be taken against the law breakers. Moreover help to create a law abiding attitude. The official figures are incorrect. Probably to show cyclists in a better light.
Most cyclists ignore people crossing on Zebra Crossings and ride across illegally.
This is also true of Pelican Crossings which once again involves cyclists going through red lights.
Many cyclists ride the wrong way down one way streets. The Highway Code was originally written to lay down rules for road safety. Kensington and Chelsea have now indicated they will let cyclists go the wrong way down one way streets and even allowing cyclists turn left through a red light.
What about pedestrians? Who is going to pay when someone is hit when these moves are contrary to long established traffic laws.
It seems that if you break the law for long enough then the weak authorities will accommodate you. I must try that. I could be rich.
The Advanced Stop Boxes at traffic lights are rarely used by cyclists, more likely by motorcyclists. Cyclists usually go through the red light immediately or hover just beyond the lights, standing on the pedals, in order to go through when the lights on the other road have changed to red. This gives them a head start but they are still going through red lights.
Cycle lanes and Bus/Taxi/ Cycle lanes are used all the time but there is also a lot of weaving in and out of traffic which of course is dangerous.
Cyclists are often seen or rather not seen riding at night without lights. It is difficult to see a bike with lights on sometimes against the glare of street lights and headlights, so riding without lights is a stupid thing to do. How can you complain if you are hit by a car?
Cyclists ride up the pavements all too often and across pedestrian areas. The offenders are usually cycle couriers.
Cyclists ride too close and too fast near pedestrians.
Cyclists using pedestrian crossings on their bikes.
Cyclists often have no bell or horn to warn pedestrians of their approach.
There have been over two hundred accidents including deaths through cyclists doing the above yet they cry out for respect and consideration. What riles people is that cyclists are seen to get away with constantly breaking the rules. You earn respect as a result of your own respectful attitude.
The above disregard for the traffic laws are part of the reason why cyclists are abused, spat at, assaulted and I hear, even being knocked off their bikes on purpose if the driver can get away with it. That is a bad, bad state of affairs!
All these complaints give cycling a bad name.
But what about motor vehicles? They go through red lights and break the rules as well.
If during such a conversation as on a radio programme someone from the cycling fraternity is being grilled to explain why cyclists go through red lights the usual retort is that motorists also do it. Well two wrongs don’t make a right do they? Cyclists do it much more frequently but because the bikes have no registration number they are not photographed by the cameras and get away with it most of the time.
What do cyclists have to put up with from motorists?
Cars riding too close to them.
Cars inside the Advanced Stop Boxes. This is an offence -3 penalty points plus a fine if police act on it.
Cars, buses, taxis and lorries cutting them up by turning at traffic lights.
It is said that because fewer women cyclists jump red lights that they are in more danger by being to the left of a turning lorry and need to be to the right in the middle of the road.
Cars drivers not seeing them.
Car drivers ignoring them or stopping them manoeuvring.
Cars suddenly encroaching into cycle lanes and parking in them.
Lack of enough cycle stands. There was even a threat by councils to confiscate bikes chained to railings or lamp posts. That is typical of the councils’ attitude. Having encouraged cycling they then threaten confiscation when they themselves have not provided the parking spaces.
Abuse, both physical and verbal by bloody- minded motorists. I once saw a woman having her backside grabbed by a passenger in a car on Bayswater road. The girl responded with a one finger salute. But that is not on is it? Sexual assault in fact. My friend Sophia says she was sworn at every day when she rode her bike to work.
The poor state of many of London’s roads, full of potholes and dangerous especially when a sudden swerve might be necessary to avoid one.
We and bus drivers are trained as professional drivers, but as with other motorists emotion can overshadow and take over the logic and respect that should be mutual. Do you feel better after a tense confrontation which usually is never resolved, or after a polite action? Or are you one of those who needs to get the better of other road users to satisfy your empty ego?
All in all this is not the picture Tfl would like to portray. But that is what it is like. I tell it as I see it.
It will get better. When the roads are structured as much as possible to accommodate cyclists and keep them as separate from the rest of the traffic as much as they can. When everyone accepts that we all have equal right to use the roads.
It has already been suggested by the London Cycling Campaign that much further thought and money needs to be invested in the redesign of road systems to accommodate the growing number who cycle everyday.(83% increase since 2001).This will certainly need to be brought about before the Velib arrives on our streets.
My suggestions to create a more tolerable world on the streets are:
1. Index Numbers on every bicycle.
That is not much to ask considering the amount of our money that has been spent and will be spent on the promotion of cycling(£55 million in 2008)
Even though there are already bikes for rent in London including a few already at small bike stands there is vast change on the way. It has been announced that the Velib Bike Rental System of Paris is to be replicated in London.
In Paris the Velib rental scheme has been very successful. I think that when this adventurous initiative is set up in London, cycling will gain the official recognition which will elevate cyclists from being regarded as infidels for having the audacity to use our roads when we are trying to go to work. I think it will change the mentality of all road users. 6000 bikes will be available from docking stations throughout London. I think the introduction of the Velib, or its London equivalent will be the catalyst that will change motorists’ attitude to cyclists and cycling forever.
I noticed that in Paris there seem to be a lot of bus and cycle lanes completely separate from the rest of the road, the division being a line of concrete which cars cannot enter, but then there is the question of space in London. Having seen the Velib in action in Paris I think that this adventurous scheme is primarily aimed not at the helmeted, lycra -clad, razor- legged would be Olympic medallists, who race along Chelsea Embankment every morning, but towards those who might enjoy a ride now and again, who might enjoy it so much that it will replace their car journeys. To maybe prompt the habitual short journey car drivers into thinking about how far they are going and maybe nudge them into considering going by bike.
The design of the Velib does not seem to me to lend itself to trendy cycle gear. However there might be more people than I realise secretly harbouring desires to wear lycra in public, who are not aspiring to be world champions or to win the Tour de France. Those who subscribe to something like ‘ World of Lycra’ may well be joyful at the prospect of ‘coming out’ onto the streets and participating in the brave new world of cycling.
To end on a lighter note London Bike week is held every June. If you really want to make a statement why not join in the London Naked Bike Ride? There is also the London Freewheel event which during which you can take in many of London’s famous sights.
Here is my new slogan to encourage cycling, (which, by the way, I hereby state is my copyright and is available for rent or sale for a considerable fee from this website)
“Have even more fun wearing Lycra--Ride your bike”
Any questions? E-mail me