Hands up, hands up for Bike Lanes…

One of the things that struck me when I was in London the other week, was the number of cyclists there were in the centre – on a fine day, admittedly, but impressive all the same. The other thing that struck me was that – even though they were on all shapes and sizes of bikes, and dressed on the whole spectrum from full-blown cycle-chic to helmeted road warrior – they were all quite similar looking: mostly young, generally pretty fit, and every single one of them wearing a look of utterly fierce concentration on their faces. You need this to cycle in London. Even on the fairly nice piece of separated bike lane along Torrington Place, I saw one cyclist nearly get killed when a car backed out into him, and another get almost left-hooked. In both cases, it was only the alertness of the cyclists that saved them from a nasty smash.

I know that feeling. The unacknowledged truth is that there’s actually something exhilarating about being out on a bike in among traffic, all five senses alert, just waiting for a vehicle to do something stupid at an unexpected angle. You are the ninja cyclist, and you never quite feel as alive as when you’ve just anticipated a bendy bus swinging into your path and escaped certain death by inches.* Deep down at the bottom of all the arguments about separated infrastructure versus vehicular cycling, and even H*****-wearing versus non-H*****-wearing I’m sure there’s this sneaking feeling that if you don’t have the cojones to go play in traffic, you’re just not really good enough of a person to deserve to be on a bike. And besides, we’ve had to suffer alongside the lorries and the taxis and the white-van-men, so why shouldn’t everybody else.

But, but, but. Ninja cycling is all very well, but it’s self limiting. Pretty soon all of the young fit fast people with nerves of steel will be on bikes, but that will leave everybody else. You probably can’t get more of 10% of mode share that way, however many nice posters you put up, or campaigns you run. Britain’s towns and cities at the moment are not fit places for beginners to ride, or children, or people who are a bit slow or a bit dreamy or who don’t want to spend their mornings and evenings doing battle on the roads. For the rest of us (and I freely admit my own ninja days are over), we need decent bike lanes

Which is why you should go and sign this. For some reason, they’ve decided bike lanes are a woman thing, but I’m sure if you chaps ask nicely, we’ll let you use them too. Although undoubtedly they will be painted pink, so maybe you won’t want to. In which case have fun, and look out for that lorry.

* Unless of course you didn’t, in which case you’ve probably never felt less alive.

12 Responses to Hands up, hands up for Bike Lanes…

  1. magicroundabout says:

    Excellent. I’ve signed. I love the phrase “Ninja Cycling”. I don’t care what colour cycle lanes there are – the more the better! Like that BikeBelles site too – will bookmark that for the women in my life.

  2. disgruntled says:

    It’s all right, isn’t it? I was wary because too many of these women-specific sites are very patronising but (apart from the obligatory pink colour scheme) it managed not to get up my nose too much

  3. Kim says:

    Are you really sure townmouse? Just have a look at the cycle lane provision that Sustrans and other well meaning traffic bodies have already given us, just take a look at Cycle Facility of the Month and you will see what I mean.

    What we really need is a proper cycling policies and in towns is a blanket 20 mph speed limit which is enforced.

    • disgruntled says:

      Sorry – this one got caught in the spam trap, I wasn’t trying to filter it out…

      I am sure – I’ve made this point on Copenhagenize, but I’ll reiterate it here. Just because there are bad bike lanes (and I’ve pointed out many myself) doesn’t mean all bike lanes are bad. 20mph speed limits are great, but they don’t go far enough – not everyone can confine their cycling to residential roads. For the rest of the roads, decent segregated lanes really are important in bringing cycling up to Dutch or Danish levels. Whatever people think of Sustrans as a body, if we don’t sign petitions like this, politicians will claim there’s no demand, and no bike lanes will be built at all, good or bad. However, if it really bothers you, then the London CTC have a rather more specific petition petition here. As I’m no longer based in London, I haven’t signed it but if I was I definitely would.

  4. Desmond says:

    Good article, and well done for pointing this out on the Guardian site too. I have emailed CTC re my disappointment at the glee they displayed on Radio 4 when interviewed about this. it was left to the presenter to mention what about non ninja’s (not in those words) – I can’t recall the waffle the CTC person came out with but it was very unimpressive, and sadly indicates their real interests are not in the environmental and health benefits that will only accrue when ordinary people can get on their bikes safely….

  5. disgruntled says:

    Desmond – thanks. The car lobby must be rubbing their hands with glee at the way the various cycling organisations fall out over this issue. If I were a conspiracy theorist…

  6. […] on two-abreast group riders. Town Mouse suggests that more bike lanes could keep us from having to become ninja cyclists. Finally, not bike related, but one the greatest Americans passed away in L.A. last […]

  7. R:B says:

    I would sign it but, despite having the pinkest unisex bicycle in the family, I’m apparently sporting the wrong sort of saddlecosy.

    Good luck to you motile women, though…

    Personally, I’ve grown tired of the vehicular cycling argument. It simply can’t and doesn’t work with today’s volumes of motor traffic. I always feel like screaming when I see empty, wide pavements…I people won’t get out of their cars and walk on them, why can’t the bicyclists have them?

  8. Sarah says:

    But I don’t want to be segregated. I want bus drivers to be taught how long their bloody buses are.

  9. disgruntled says:

    Sarah – fair point, and I certainly wouldn’t want them to be compulsory, or crap, but I think there are a lot of people who would cycle if there were decent routes for them to cycle on.
    R::B – what switched me off the vehicular cycling argument was looking at the situation of people like my sister – she can cycle her littlest to nursery because she’s small enough to go on the back, but the bigger one is too big for a bike seat and too young to cycle even escorted on the road so she gets driven (part way) to school – even though she’d be perfectly capable of covering the distance, just not in London traffic.

  10. 2whls3spds says:

    I am in agreement with R::B, that has been my main complaint with vehicular cycling, it does not work well for the newest cyclists nor the oldest.

    Another elephant in the room (at least in the US) is the increasing number of elderly drivers and no mechanism in place to truly test them for their continued ability to drive. Currently they are second only to the teens in accident involvement. In many cases the first indication of a problem will be a series of small accidents, and no one is willing to take the keys away from them.


  11. disgruntled says:

    I can see why people are reluctant – it would be very hard to live in the US without a car, outside of places like New York. But on the other hand, it really can be a problem for road safety. But then I’ve just had lunch with c.30 cyclists, most of them well into their 60s and 70s, all happily able to cover miles on their bikes (on our very quiet roads).

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