Saturday, 2 May 2009

The perils of cycling

And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists?
- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

I recently became a cyclist, in the sense that I bought a bike and now ride it to work. Work is six miles from home, so in the last week I've cycled at least 60 miles, which I reckon is pretty good going, and certainly makes me feel healthier. Truth be told though, while I don't miss the stale warm air of the tube, or the crush when trying to get on the southbound Northern line at Kings Cross, or closed stations necessitating annoying detours, I've actually swapped one set of frustrations for another.

Even though there are some great, quiet routes through some bits of London, and even bits of genuine cycle path (ie those not just hastily painted on the side of the road that finish in less-than-useful places) to help you avoid death traps like the Elephant and Castle roundabout, you can't avoid busy roads sometimes. And here one encounters the intimidating rumble of heavy goods vehicles. Buses aren't great either, but to be fair, most bus drivers are very considerate to cyclists, even if their fumes and and sheer size are not what you want to encounter on your journey to work.

But with the advantage of being able to cycle in bus lanes you can often seem reasonably safe, even on a busy road. Unless its full of potholes that is. Some roads in London have terrible surfaces, a combination of regularly being dug up and multiple manhole covers. The latter can be particularly frustrating when they litter those painted-on cycle lanes - with heavy traffic to your right, its difficult to cycle round them, and the worst threaten to knock you off course and into an accident. Farringdon Road is a particular danger for this, as its often necessary to keep up a reasonable speed to avoid getting in the way of other vehicles.

The Green Party, wherever it gets a local council seat, is keen on pushing 20mph speed limits. This would definitely make for safer roads, though on the road I live on, getting people to stick to 30mph would be a start. Slower cars will encourage cycling and make London safer for cyclists. But what we also need are decent road surfaces, so cyclists can travel on equal terms with drivers.

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