Monday, 11 March 2013

Letter to Westminster City Council

Many cyclists who have ridden in Camden, Islington or Hackney will have noticed that these places are enjoyable places to cycle. This is because these 3 enlightened boroughs have taken measures to encourage and facilitate cycling and discourage motor cars. They provide quiet car free back streets, contraflows on one way streets, and segregated cycle paths.

However, in the Borough of Westminster, the motor car is king and cycling is highly marginalised - the very worst example being Oxford Street, which is a continuous traffic jam, an extremely unpleasant place from the point of view of noise and air pollution.

I therefore wrote the following polite letter to Westminster City Council

Will I get an answer? probably not, but I hope at  least they will read it and take my points on board. It might just sway them in the future.


Dear Westminster City Council,

I am writing about cycling in Westminster.

London would be better off with less motorised traffic, as this causes much air pollution, carbon emissions, noise and congestion.

More and more Londoners are car-free and do not want to see their city clogged up by motor traffic.

Conversely, cycling should be encouraged as it is a clean, efficient, carbon neutral, healthy, inclusive and sociable means of transport.

Mass cycling by all members of the population will only occur however when we facilitate it by sound town planning. There is a huge latent demand for cycling in London, but people are put off by our congested, busy streets.

Major cities across the world have come to the same conclusion, such as New York, Paris, Berlin, or Copenhagen, where 35% of people commute already by bike, with a 50% target.

Some simple, but highly effective, measures that you could take are:

  • Blocking off small side streets to motorised traffic, to prevent rat runs, whilst allowing cycles through
  • Providing bicycle contraflows on one-way streets
  • Provision of bicycle parking facilities instead of car parking bays
  • Removal of pedestrian traffic lights and provision of raised zebra crossings instead
  • Making alleys/paths shared for both bicycle and pedestrians
  • Installation of separated cycle paths where practicable

The Fitzrovia area of Camden would be a good example to follow.

Together we can make a more liveable, enjoyable, attractive city for everyone.

I look forward to hearing from you.

A Londoner, who rides a bike, takes the Underground, and walks in London

Thursday, 28 February 2013

CS7 ? No thanks! I prefer quiet back roads!

My post a few months ago was about a new route I found to get from South West London into central London.

This route is far quieter, less noisy, less congested, and enjoyable.

Why is it so quiet? Well, the local councils have made the area difficult to drive around in - one way streets,  streets blocked for cars, cycle paths, etc. It's a great example of good urban planning. In some streets on the route I even have to convince myself that I'm still in London.

I even look forward to cycling home on it. Yes, you read me correctly, I look forward to cycling in London!
OK - it's a bit longer than CS7. But when you've done this route once, you will see that it is worth it!

Now, I'm not dissing CS7. It was a good initiative by TfL. It was the first super highway they built. And to be fair to TfL, they only control the major streets in London (Transport for London Road Network (TLRN)) - so they couldn't have built CS7 any where else.  But I can't help but wonder if the cycle superhighway wouldn't have been a lot better had it been located on these quiet back streets.

One thing's for sure - I will never go back to cycling on CS7.

Go on, give this alternative route a try, you won't regret it.

Note: there is a very short section (75m) on this route where you have to, technically speaking, walk.
Also, note that the route goes round Vauxhall giratory This is achieved on a cycle way separated from the traffic.

Double Click on images to enlarge them. All images courtesy of Google.

Monday, 17 December 2012

'New' Types of Bikes

New types of bikes


I've always been keen on bikes ever since my Dad got me my first racer from Halfords many years ago.
I've owned a BMX, several mountain bikes, and a tourers throughout my years.

It struck me the other day, that there are 2 marvellous kinds of bikes that I've negelected until now.

Cargo bikes

The first is the cargo or freight bike. They are becoming increasingly popular in continental Europe and in the US for both delivery firms and individuals and families. They are really useful, easy to park and can carry loads of up to several hundred kg for some models. Some are in the form of trikes, some are elongated bikes with a large cargo bay. You can carry all kinds of stuff, even your kids in the 3 wheelers! 

It struck me that these bikes are really cool, and as soon as we are able to finance it, and have enough space to keep it, we will definitely look into buying one.

Cargo Bike is an English firm which makes some real crackers -  visit

Below is their Lugger model.

Electric bikes

If there's one invention that's bound to get people on their bikes, it's got to be the electrically assisted bike/ These bikes have a large rechargeable battery, e.g. under the rear luggage rack. They make starting at lights or going up a hill a breeze. No need to get to work sweaty any more.

Quiet, clean, easy to park, no licence to use. Great!

Lack of Cycling Facilities in North Surrey

Lack of Cycling Facilities in North Surrey

Last Sunday my wife and I took the train to Byfleet and New Haw station (Surrey) and then cycled along Byfleet Rd to Crockford Pick Your Own Farm in Addlestone to buy our Christmas tree.
The farm is about 2 miles North of Byfleet and New Haw station. We did get some funny looks. I guess we stood out becuase we'd cycled the 2 miles to the farm, and no one had ever seen anyone cycle with a small bundled Christmas tree under their arm, weighing maybe 10kg. It was totally manageable however.
It struck us both that the provisions for cycling could be vastly improved and congestion significantly reduced if more people had been cycling rather than driving that Sunday afternoon. It wasn't cold, it wasn't raining, no one was in a rush, we were in a semi rural part of Surrey, so why on Earth were we the only ones riding a bike in the whole time we were in Surrey (bar one other person)? Why does every time I get on my bike (bar commuting), I feel like I'm practically the only one but when I drive somewhere I feel normal again? Why is it that at our local Tesco the other day, there were only 4 bikes in the bike park, 2 of them ours, yet probably over 1,000 cars?
In Byfleet Road, just North of the station, cyclists are able to share the pavement with pedestrians, which we greatly appreciated given how narrow and busy the road was. However, this pavement is very narrow and has lots of uneven surfaces.

There is at one point a crossing point for cyclists as cyclists are instructed to cross to the other side of the road.
I have compared this road in Surrey to similar roads in the Netherlands.
All photos are courtesy of Google Earth Street View.

In the Netherlands, a large percentage (28%) of all journeys are done by bike, but this is just 2% in the UK. Why have we let cycling in Britain becomne such a niche way of getting around
The high degree of cycling in Holland is without a doubt due to the excellent infrastructure in the Netherlands. It's not because the Dutch have a special cycling gene or it's just because 'they are Dutch, that's what they do'. The Dutch have invested very large sums in cycling facilities since the 1970s  following a public outcry over unacceptable cycling fatalities in the 1970s.
We could - and should -  reduce the congestion on our overly crowded roads by getting people onto their bikes for short journeys. Cycling (the non competitive lycra racing kind) is healthy and fun and sociable. 
 We need to build  the high quality, well-engineered and well-designed infrastructure that the Dutch have. No amount of bicycle training or advertising will change the public's opinion that cycling is a far too risky in Britain in 2012 as things stand.
I submitted my thoughts to the Transport Dep of Surrey County Council, and I have yet to hear from them, but I will keep you posted, if I hear back from them that is.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My Proposal for Parkside Rd (Wimbledon Common)

Proposed Cycle Path Improvements on Parkside Rd (Wimbledon Common)

My wife and myself often cycle to SouthWest London Vineyard church in Southfields on Sundays, and our route takes us along the Parkside Rd in Wimbledon.

This route is quite scary for a novice cylist like my wife and requires quite a bit a courage to cycle on. It's a wide road with a large painted central reservation. Cars overtake quite close and they struggle to keep to 30 mph as a lot of the traffic seems to not stop much along it between Wimbledon and Putney, as it borders Wimbledon Common. Oddly enough, there is no provision for cyclists at all along this essential route in South West London.

I therefore redesigned the road with  Google Sketchup and I shall be submitting this to both Merton and Wandsworth councils (theyt jointly share Parkside Rd). My plans include 2 wide cyle paths, segregated by a 500mm wide barrier, in brick paving, a pedestrian walkways, narrower car lanes, width restricters in the car lanes, and a cycle/pedestrian crossing point with a 1m wide, 50mm high speed hump on either side.

I have submitted my proposals to Merton Council on 15/11/12. 

First experience of Boris Bikes

First experience of Boris Bikes

The other day my wife and I tried the Barclays Cycle Hire bikes for the first time. Although a keen cyclist I had never actually hired one of these ubiquitous hire bikes, which are the highlight of Boris Johnson's flagship scheme to get London on 2 wheels and kick start a cycling revolution.

We had thought it would be a great idea to visit a few museums across London with the help of Boris bikes.
The price is very reasonable £1 per 24 hours for casual one off users. In that time frame you can hire a bike as many times as you want, but you have to return your bike after 30 minutes to a docking station or you will incur an extra fee. All you need to use the scheme is a debit card - you can just rock up and hire and off you go. No need to register beforehand.

We started off at Waterloo bridge after having viewed a photo exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall,  cycled across to Parliament Square (scary for my wife) and onwards through St James Park to Leicester square where we found a docking station with no problems. Our 30 minutes were up. We then hired another couple of bikes and cycled to the Natural History Museum. Again no problems finding a docking station nor free docks for the bikes. Finally at South Kensington we hire another 2 bikes and cycled back towards Victoria.

So what was the verdict? 

  • Definitely very cheap (the whole day costs us £2)  10/10
  • The Canadian-made bikes are very sturdy with great brakes and have working flashing LED lights, and very low gears to compensate for their heavy weight  8/10
  • However the payment station on-screen instructions are not the most intuitive - TfL need to review their instructions and make them easier to understand for people who have never used the system before
  • Also 3 times the release code issuing system at the docking stations at 3 different locations told us that it couldn't process our request with no other information than that and after spending 20 minutes trying to get it to work we eventually had to call TfL to resolve the situation. So that gets a 4/10
  •  Cycling in London on a Boris bike? Pedestrians are  happy to see you on a bike as long as you go slowly through pedestrianised streets. Still a lack of quality cycle paths but lots of improvements recently. We could do with more pedestrian-only paths converted to joint pedestrian/cycle access, also 1 way streets for cars should be made 2 way streets for bikes.We didn't get any dagger looks. Cars in London are still somewhat aggressive, and my wife was scared going round Parliament Square but I guess it's just a matter of drivers getting used to see slow moving, chilled Boris bikers on the roads, but on the whole the cars and buses gave us space. 6/10
  • Overall : 7/10 good positive experience overall, but we could do with better release code issuing system and yet more cycle paths. I would encourage you to try the Boris Bike out for yourself, it's a great way to visit London.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

CS7 for commuting from South West London ? No thanks ! There's a far better route!

A new route for my commute

Until a few days ago, I had been commuting the 9  miles to my university every day on my bike along the newly built Cycle Superhighway 7 which links Wimbledon to central London. This piece of cycle infrastructure was built in 2010 by TfL (Transport for London) as the London Mayor and TfL attempt to get Londoners out of their cars and public transport and onto 2 wheels. Only 2% of journeys in London are done by bike. Compare that with 37% in Amsterdam or 28% in Cambridge!The aim is to increase cycling levels by 400% in comparison to 2000 cycling levels by 2026. I think we could increase the cycling levels much faster than that if more money was ploughed into building wide, car free cycle lanes accross the city and we moved away from a car-centric attitude to a bike-centric planning way of thinking. It appears we have a long way to go before that happens in London and England in general. If there is a country to emulate, it is Holland. Their bike infrastructure is fully integrated into the transport network, and is not an afterthought or an add-on as is the case in London so often. The cycle superhighways being built are nonetheless a welcome step in the right direction.

Anyways, as I was saying, until a few days ago, I had been commuting the 9  miles to my uni along Cycle Superhighway 7. This has the convenience of being fast and direct but it  follows a heavily congested road which is busy at all times. I discovered that going through Wandsworth Common, Broomwood Rd,  Wandsworth Common and then London Cycle Network Route7 is a far quieter, laidback route, almost traffic-free route, albeit slightly longer than CS7. Could this be SW London's best kept secret !?

Route 3 of the London Cycle Network, a much quieter route than CS7 which runs parallel to it

There are a many improvements that can be made all along my commuting route. Today I will focus on Wansworth Common and I will be sending these suggestions to Wandsworth Council who will hopefully review them. The main issue is the cycle paths in Wandsworth Common are connected by a humpback bridge in order to cross the railway line which divides the common in two. Cyclists have to dismount to cross the bridge, which is rather daft in my view. A 'proceed with caution' sign would make much more sense. Also, where the cycle path crosses Trinity Rd, one has to wait for quite a long time to cross this always busy road. A raised passage way where bikes would always have right of way accross this road would really help the flow of the cyles through the Common. It's this kind of bicycle centric approach that will really get people out on their bikes in vast numbers in my view. Finally, a new path should connnect Broomswood Rd to the existing cycle path as Broomswood Rd is a great commuter road towards Clapham Common.

One thing's for sure, I won't be missing CS7!! I much prefer the quiet backwaters of SW London.

A cycle path ought to  join Broomswood Rd with the current cycle path.

The cycle path thru Wandsworth Common crosses Trinity Rd. A raised passageway with priority for cyclists should be put in place in my view as you have to wait ages to cross.

The pleasant cycle path through Wandsworth Common.

The bridge in Wandsworth Common where cyclists have to dismount to cross the railway line