About 18 months ago I moved to London from Vienna, a city where I first started cycling as a means of urban transport. The Austrian capital is so appealing for those on two wheels- it’s small enough to be able to navigate easily by bike, as well as being very flat. There are separated cycle lanes throughout the city so I found things very easy, even as a novice. One thing that struck me was that cyclists in the city were people of all ages, shapes and sizes- it was accessible for everyone. The fact that the city hosted this year’s European Velo-city conference is a testament to its cycling credentials.
Now, living and cycling in London, it’s a very different story. The number of cyclists in London is impressive, but there are very few separated cycle lanes, so space is limited. There are of course cycle lanes painted at the side of the road, but these often become obstructed by parked cars, which can make things more dangerous if anything. This lack of a separate space in the busiest areas often puts cyclists in a precarious position, sandwiched between traffic to the right and throngs of pedestrians to the left.
This coming together has created division on the roads which the BBC rather dramatically called ‘War on Britain’s roads’. On one side of the debate are the cars, buses and pedestrians and on the other side sit the cyclists. Many cyclists bemoan the ‘ignorant pedestrians who don’t look’, the ‘terrible drivers’ and are smug about ‘not having to get the tube every morning’. While some drivers and pedestrians pour scorn on ‘arrogant, red light-running lycra louts’. Whilst it may not be the ‘war’ the media may have us believe, it still surprises me how the subject sparks such heated debate.
I sympathise to some extent with both arguments – as a cyclist you can get defensive with motorists but that can be a result of feeling vulnerable on the road and I find the vast majority of drivers to be very considerate to cyclists. Equally, drivers every right to complain about cyclists who ignore red lights and endanger other road users- after all, they are acting dangerously and illegally!
What I don’t understand is why it has to be so black and white. This division puts many new cyclists off, either because they’re worried it isn’t safe on the roads, or because they’ve already joined the anti-cycling lobby. I love cycling in London- it’s healthy, it can save you a lot of money and it’s good for the environment. But I also love the tube and its rich history, London buses are world-renown as are our famous black cabs. Everyday London life and riding a bike shouldn’t be mutually exclusive! It should be something everyone should feel able to enjoy.
That’s why I’m getting involved in Bike Week 2013, which aims to show how cycling can easily be part of your everyday life. It’s organised in association with CTC, the national cycling charity who are campaigning for cycle-friendly streets for everyone, regardless of age or ability. Steps like these will help make cycling something accessible to everyone that unites us, not divides us.