Wednesday, 14 October 2015

In which there are not just 2 kinds of cyclist

Intimidated or lost

How travelling in London normally works

You wend slowly through your home area until you reach the main road / bus / tube, which you can then take until you reach your destination area, at which point a little further wiggling is required.

How cycling works

When travelling by bike, however, you instead have 2 options:

1) Follow the route you would take if you were in a car. This will be direct and well-signposted. It will also be one of the most unpleasant experiences of your day.

2) Attempt to follow a parallel route on quiet back streets. This will be almost double the distance, have no useful signposts, and require stopping every couple of minutes (for junctions, pinch points, checking a map, squeezing through barriers, retracing your steps...). You will definitely be late.


Because in this country, cyclists must fall into two categories: "confident" and "timid". And infrastructure is designed accordingly.

Here's a breakdown of the usual caricatures:

confident timid
experienced inexperienced
male female
young old
adult with children / child
in a rush time to spare
likes traffic hates traffic
wants a direct route  doesn't mind an indirect route
Enthusiast cycles for leisure

London has, so far, explicitly designed for these two groups, with "Superhighways" for the confident, and "Quietways" for the timid.

Reading down each list, you form clear mental pictures: the young man in his Lycra, on his fast bike, pedalling furiously past all the cars on his way to work. The older woman on her bike, with her grandchild pedalling along next to her, off down the canal towpath for a bit of fresh air.

Unfortunately, there are some equally compelling pictures missing entirely:

The teenage girl, flying along because she's late for school again, too busy thinking about her unfinished homework to think about lorries.
The man dropping off his son at nursery who has a meeting to get to straight after that.
The woman who has just started a new job, with an unfamiliar commute, and needs to arrive on time but not stressed from dealing with traffic.
The grandfather nipping down to the shops on the high street quickly before his family arrives for lunch.

Us, going about our normal lives.

There are not two categories of cyclists, there are hundreds and thousands. And since we can't build one route for each, we'd better build one for everyone instead.

1 comment:

  1. So who can possibly be all things to all men be everywhere at once agree with everyone yet always be right and warm loving kind helpful companion?
    Thats asking a lot
    Christ on a bike as the Americans like to say