Monthly Archives: January 2013

Cyclists, you have an image problem

Note: This piece is about how cycle campaigners present themselves, and therefore cycling, to the media and the public. Maybe that’s not clear, or maybe people comment without reading the article, but I don’t want to hear about your daily commute in the dark from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Also, there are comments from people behind Pedal on Parliament and LCC’s Big Ride, and David Brennan (AKA Magnatom, and one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament) has written a post with his thoughts on this, all of which are well worth reading. I was never having a go at these events themselves as they’re both great things – PoP is especially impressive, 3000 people on their first ever rally – I was merely using them as examples. See my second footnote for more.

The vast majority of British people never touch a bike from one year to the next. They know nothing about riding a bike except what they hear from the mass media, and the general anti-cycling background noise of the UK.

So what do you think goes through their mind when they see coverage of bike campaign rallies such as Pedal on Parliament or London Cycling Campaign’s Big Ride?

London Cycling Campaign's 2012 rally, called the Big Ride. Thousands of people on bikes are attending, but very many are wearing helmets, high-visibility clothing, and lycra.

Love London, Go dress like a builder? (Photo: Mark Ames)

Pedal on Parliament rally, 2012 in Edinburgh. Thousands of riders, many of them wearing sporting clothing or high-visibility clothing.

Pedal on peloton? (Photo: Neil McManus)

Both rallies were a sea of helmets, high-vis, and Lycra. (Are those men wearing special cycling sunglasses too? Those do exist, right?)

Why would anybody choose to wear these garments while riding slowly along a closed route which is free of motor traffic? It sends out completely the wrong message. It says that if you’re thinking about joining The Cyclist Gang then you need to go and buy special equipment from a specialist shop. It says that you always need to carry a helmet and a tabard around with you, and maybe some special gloves and funny glasses. It says sweat and fear. It just smells wrong.

Look at the bottom photo, from Pedal on Parliament. The guy holding the camera in the middle of the photo stands out like a sore thumb, a lone bike user in a crowd of cyclists. (Lookin’ good, whoever you are!)

Events like these are a great opportunity to show the public what casual, stress-free bike riding for all could look like, but instead they perpetuate the stereotype of cycling as requiring special equipment and preparation. Maybe UK cyclists are just so conditioned to the dreadful conditions on our roads that they forget they’re wearing a helmet and hi-vis, even while taking part in a traffic-free rally calling for a system which would make these items unnecessary.

If we’re trying to send out the message that riding a bike is for anybody and everybody, this isn’t the way to do it. All that special equipment just reinforces the common view of “the cyclists” – a homogenous out-group, a cliquey club for wormelow tumps, a strange day-glo religious sect. By dressing this way cycling campaigners are falling into the trap of the stereotype, and the newspaper reader thinks “look, here’s some of that crazy Cyclist Gang, now they want more money for their weird hobby!”

Wearing these clothes also backs up the belief that they are essential, and anyone riding a bike without all this safety equipment is wrong to do so. Every time there’s an article in a newspaper about cycling it will be accompanied by a photo of people with hi-vis and helmets, and this becomes normal and expected. Therefore anybody riding a bike without a helmet and while dressed in their normal clothes becomes unusual and questionable, and in the event of a collision “they’ll only have themselves to blame.”

Mark Treasure riding on a motor-free cycle path alongside a beach, in bright clear weather. He is riding in casual clothes and wearing a trilby.

Look at this reckless maniac! (Photo: Joe Dunckley)

I’m not saying that everyone should dress like they’re attending a job interview, but do cycling campaigners really have to dress so outlandishly? Can’t we just wear our normal clothes to demonstrate that riding a bike doesn’t have to be a dangerous chore or an extreme sport?

For me, one of the beautiful things about the bike is that you can just unlock it, hop on it, and off you go. But all this special gear suggests that riding a bike is an inherently dangerous activity for which you’ll have to spend time getting dressed up for. Using a bike should be an easy transport option for everyone, and if it involves all this extra hassle then people will choose to jump in the car instead, without stopping to don any special safety-wear.

Maybe cyclists enjoy the smell of a nylon tabard? Maybe there’s a sexy thrill to pulling on that skin-tight lycra? Maybe the helmet gives them special superhuman powers? I’ve no idea, as I’ve never worn any of those items.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a go at the good people behind PoP or the Big Ride. These events show the wide level of support and push the agenda to those people in power. (Whether they work or not is another matter…) I know that the organisers can’t dictate what attendees wear, but maybe they could request people to wear their normal clothes? Maybe promote it as a themed rally – the theme being to dress like a non-cyclist! [Update: It turns out that LCC did – see Mike Cavenett's comment below]

This is what Going Dutch looks like – people riding bikes for transport while wearing everyday clothing:

Rush hour in central Utrecht, Netherlands. Many people of all ages riding bikes in their normal clothes, without the safety equipment deemed necessary in the UK.

Why not dress up as one of these people?

So the next time you go to a bike rally, even if you’ve ridden 30 miles in your Cyclist Gang costume to get there, do us all a favour and put the high-vis and the helmet in your bag before the cameras start rolling.

(And to those of you who attend these events in your everyday clothes, I salute you!)


Footnote, added 21:14, 23rd January 2013: I’m pretty sceptical about the ‘bad weather’ excuse for all the hi-vis on the Big Ride. I suspect that even had it been warm and sunny, there would have been just as many people in safety-wear.

Have a look at these images from the LCC’s Blackfriars Bridge flashride in October 2011

It’s dry and mild – plenty of people in shirts and jumpers – and according to this weather site the temperature was in the teens.

The second photo – five adults not even riding bikes, just standing there – has three helmets, one tabard, and 1.5 pairs of fluorescent cycle clips. (Although it looks like Caroline Pidgeon may have stashed a tabard in the basket, and kudos to the mother with toddlers in the bakfiets!)

I know the LCC tried to counter this image on the Big Ride, so this isn’t criticism of LCC or any other campaigns, but of cycle campaigners generally.

Everybody is free to wear whatever they want. It’s no skin off my nose if you dress up like a Christmas tree, but you’ll have to accept that it’s a very unappealing image to the eyes of the majority, non-cycling public.


Footnote, added 01:56, 25th January 2013: Also, for clarification, I was using the Big Ride and PoP as examples of a wider phenomena.

Here’s a random selection found by searching Google and newspaper websites for “cycle campaign” and the like: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

Perhaps I should have included these in the article.

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Turning traffic against itself

Here’s another post which I wrote months ago, but wasn’t sure of the quality. I still think the idea is sound (focus on how Dutch-style cycling infrastructure would benefit the vast majority of people, who don’t currently use a bike) so here it is anyway:

I’ve been having a think about one of the great dilemmas which faces anyone campaigning for better streets, which is this: Millions of people drive, and many of them can’t even imagine life without a car — so how do we reduce reliance on driving without alienating people who drive?

And I have an idea: turn the drivers against each other. Actually, that makes it sound like something bad, when really we just need to tell the truth.

All that’s needed is to focus on all the ways in which Dutch-style street design can improve conditions for driving (rather than the usual cycle campaign tactic of wagging our finger at them, talking about rights, and telling them that cycling is safer than gardening). People are generally self-interested, so why not use that to create safer streets for all?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic” and yet the general consensus remains that it’s the other drivers who are causing all the problems. And this is the key: the other drivers.

So car drivers shouldn’t be blamed for causing congestion – it’s the other drivers who are at fault.

We shouldn’t tell people how great it would be if they themselves used a bike, we tell them how great it would be if the other drivers were riding bikes instead.

And so the driver would think, “it’s the other drivers who are selfishly making short single-person journeys by car – they should be riding a bike or walking, instead of getting in the way of my journey which couldn’t possibly be made by any other means. Their journey would probably only take ten minutes by bike. If only the government would provide facilities to make cycling safe and pleasant for those people who are in my way, then they could ride a bike instead, and that would make my very important car journey so much quicker and easier!”

And there’s more:

“Plus, not only would Dutch street design mean fewer traffic jams, it would stop those other drivers from using our street as a rat-run! All those other drivers drive so fast down our street, it’s dangerous. Stopping rat-running here would be great.”

And eventually:

“The government is taking so much money what with road tax and fuel tax – they’re forcing everyone to sit in traffic jams just so they can make more money from us poor motorists! I think I’ll walk to the local shop, or maybe get the bike out of the garage…”

And so on.

Surely that’s an easy concept to push? Everyone hates sitting in traffic, finding a parking space at the shops, the school run, etc. — but we have the solution! We know what needs to be done to massively reduce traffic jams, inactivity-related health problems and road deaths, while improving air-quality, neighbourhood friendliness and house prices (yes I know rising house prices aren’t necessarily good, but you know it sure seems to sell a lot of newspapers). Plus, we have an entire country as evidence.

And all the government has to do is create some DfT guidelines so that good quality cycle infrastructure must be installed whenever roads are resurfaced or redesigned. In ten years we’d have so much!

“The main reason traffic congestion is so bad is because there aren’t any decent bike paths. We drivers have got to get those other drivers off the road!

Could it work? Could the UK’s car drivers come to see the benefit of – and even start to call for – better infrastructure for bikes?

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Britain can do it!

My last post — the one about bus stops — turned out to be very popular for some reason. Thanks to all who shared it, and hello, new readers!

One thing that I discovered as a result of that post is that bus stop cycle bypasses already exist in the UK — they’re not a new thing, they’re just very rare. (Do they even have a more concise name? I think I’ll call them BSCBs.)

Here’s a new example in Brighton:

A bus-stop cycle bypass in Brighton. The bus stop is on a pedestrian island between the cycle path and the road.

New BSCB on Lewes Road in Brighton. (Photo courtesy of Mark Strong)

Three cheers for Brighton & Hove City Council for installing this, and for the cycling advocates (including Mark Strong) who pushed for it!

There’s another photo here. I don’t know what the rest of the road looks like for bikes, but this is much better than the old design, which can still be seen on Google Maps:

A photo of the same bus stop before the cycle bypass was installed. Buses crossed the cycle lane to pull in, and people riding bikes were expected to pass stopped buses on the outside.

If you prefer this then you’re insane. (Photo: Google Maps)

The old design really is awful. Buses have to cross the cycle lane to get to the bus stop, and bike users have to overtake a rumbling bus (which will almost certainly not be stopped perfectly within the bus stop, but sticking out across the cycle lane). That’s not going to convince people to start using a bike for transport.

I also received word (thanks to Ambrose White) of a BSCB in Sheffield:

A bus-stop cycle bypass in Sheffield.

A BSCB in Sheffield. (Photo: Google Maps)

It’s rather odd that this exists at all, as the road it’s on is very wide and yet there’s only a poxy advisory cycle lane for the rest of its length. (At least, that’s what it looks like on Streetview, maybe it has changed since.)

But this BSCB does the job pretty well. I like that the cycle path is red, which alerts pedestrians. And the priority is unclear but well marked, too – there are bike icons (as well as the red surface) which tell pedestrians that they’re crossing a cycle-path, but there’s also a give way which warns bike users to be careful of pedestrians. It looks fairly decent to me.

Either way, I know that one place which is never pleasant to be is on the right-hand side of a rumbling bus.

(Stop press! I found another BSCB example on CycleStreets.)

Cycles and buses and lights, oh my!

While I’m on the subject of Dutch cycle infrastructure which can be done in the UK but rarely is, here’s a traffic signal bypass:

A rare example of infrastructure which enables a bike rider to continue while motor vehicles are held at a red light. This is possible because the cycle path runs to the side of the lights, and a bike user is not interacting with the conflicting flow of traffic.

“Bloody cyclists, always riding through red lights! Oh…”

As Mark Wagenbuur explains, bike users heading straight on at a T-junction aren’t actually interacting with the junction so there’s no reason to hold them at the red light. (They should give way to, and merge with, bikes coming from the right, however.)

And it turns out there’s lots of other Dutch touches around the UK, too. Here’s an example of a “free left” in Cambridge, combined with separate signals for bikes heading straight on:

Traffic lights in Cambridge, with a bypass for bikes turning left so they don't stop. Bikes going straight on are held at a red signal while motor vehicles turning left have green to go, and vice-versa.

It’s a bit too British, but Dutch enough. (Photo: Google Maps)

So bike users turning left aren’t held at the signals (but they must give way to traffic coming from the right, ideally the bike lane/path would continue around the corner), while bike users going straight on have their own traffic lights. When the bike lights are green, motor traffic in the left-turn lane is held at a red signal. When the left-turning motor traffic gets a green light, straight-on bike traffic is held at a red. So no conflict – they’re segregated in time.

Again, it’s odd that such good infrastructure exists here at all (though it could be better). There’s nothing behind the camera but to regular vehicle lanes, and the only way to turn right is to get into the right-hand lane (one thing which I’m sure puts off many would-be bike users). But it’s still an improvement over the usual UK habit of ignoring bike users altogether.

So it seems that almost everything we desire is already legally possible in the UK, but there’s often just not the knowledge or the will to do it. If the DfT produced clear national guidelines on how to provide these facilities – and made them mandatory, too – we would start to see them appearing all over the place.


 

Sorry, Northern Ireland — this post should have been called “The UK can do it!” I’d change it, but once WordPress has sent out the feed to other blogs, Twitter, etc., it causes all sorts of problems. At least I didn’t just say “England” though, eh?

 

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How to suppress bike riding #2: Bus stops (and also, the solution)

I wrote much of this post ages ago, but never got around to finishing it. Events have somewhat overtaken me in the meantime, with TfL announcing plans to implement this very solution! (Update, ten months later: Sadly, they botched it.)

This type of design have also been recently covered at As Easy As Riding A Bike, and David Hembrow has previously discussed this Dutch bike-friendly bus stop design too. I recommend following those two links to see excellent Dutch designs.

If you require physical, concrete proof that the authorities don’t care about cycling, take a look at a bus stop. The design will almost certainly give priority to private motor vehicles, with public transport a poor second and bikes a very distant third.

Consider this fairly standard bus stop design (although it’s lacking the yellow ‘bus stop box’ markings).

What will happen when the bus pulls in?

A bus about to pull into and therefore block the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely

A bus about to block the bike lane so that cars can pass freely. (Source: Google Maps)

The bus pulls in and blocks the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely.

A photo of a bus pulled into a bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane but keeps general traffic lane clear.

The bus has pulled in to the bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane, enabling those very important cars to pass freely.

Any bike riders must wait behind…

A photo of a bus from behind. The bus is stopped on the road, blocking the cycle lane but keeping the motor traffic flowing.

Come on children, take the lane! Do it for the Cycling Revolution™!

…or pull out to pass the bus. (Note to any VC evangelists reading this: NORMAL PEOPLE FIND THIS TERRIFYING AND WON’T DO IT, HOWEVER MUCH YOU TELL THEM IT’S SAFE.)

A photo of bus blocking a cycle lane, and a bike rider overtaking the bus which is about to pull out.

People riding bikes must either wait behind the bus, or pull out to overtake it. (Overtaking a bus while riding a bike is something most people don’t ever want to do.)

This is the contempt with which the UK authorities see cycling — and buses are given second-rate status too. For not only do people riding bikes have to pull out to pass the bus (a terrifying place to be for most people) but when the bus is ready to set off it has to wait until there is a gap in traffic before it can pull out itself!

There, in one pithy design, is proof that the private car comes above all else. And it’s the standard design for bus stops in the UK, and it’s one reason why ‘normal’ people don’t ride bikes for transport. The constant leapfrogging between bikes and buses is a terrible way to organise traffic flow.

Go Dutch, go behind the bus stop

Returning back to the top photo, here’s a better alternative:

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are being suggested by TfL. The bus stops in the carriageway next to a 'bus stop island' allowing bike users to continue without having to overtake the bus.

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are now being suggested by TfL.

This design enables people riding bikes to pass buses without having to ride around the outside of the bus in the flow of traffic. (Remember, dear Cyclists: normal people aren’t willing to do that. Like the woman calmly riding while drinking a coffee there.)

Note the shallow, angled kerbs. I’m a big fan of these. If you’re using a wheelchair or pushing a pram, they’re easier to roll across. If you’re riding a bike, running into them will cause you no harm. They’re often called ‘forgiving kerbs’ (and known as ‘splay kerbs’ to those in the trade) and they’re a tiny change which makes a big difference. (One of the major flaws of the Torrington cyclepath in central London is the high, straight kerbs which mean that you must ride well away from the edge. Making these into shallow, 45º kerbs would enable the full width of the path to be used… but that’s another post!)

But that’s just version one. The bus stop island is too narrow for my liking, but because we’ve moved the bus stop and ticket machine onto the island there’s now space on the pavement available to move the cyclepath across, so we can make the bus island wider:

A version of the previous 'bus stop island' design with a wider bus island

Plenty of space for people to get on and off the bus

There’s no loss of space to pedestrians, as the cyclepath would run over where the bus stop is currently located (i.e. you can’t walk there anyway due to the bus stop, ticket machine and bin). In fact, add the footpath and the bus stop island together and there’s actually more space for people on foot because the part of the road which was previously covered in stripes of paint is now the bus island!

TfL sees the light

I never thought I would praise TfL, but that is what we must do, for they have finally seen the light and realised that nearly everyone doesn’t like riding bikes amongst motor traffic. (Seems fairly obvious to me, but there you go.) Congratulations to whoever got this new design through!

More specifically to this article, they’ve realised that people don’t like overtaking buses while riding a bike. (Except for these selfish bastards, of course, but they’re extreme sports fanatics and adrenaline junkies, so we really shouldn’t base transport policy on their desires any more than we should design roads for boy racers.)

So it’s great that TfL are now planning this kind of design for the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, and it’s the kind of thing which is normal in the Netherlands, and it works very well. Once you’re already dealing with a separate cyclepath it makes sense to put the bus stops on islands between the cyclepath and the road.

Here’s TfL’s artist’s impression of a bus bypass:

TfL's artist's impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass

TfL’s artist’s impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass. Note their fast Cyclist, no doubt about to collide with those innocent pedestrians.

It’s good but not quite right for me. Note the 90º kerbs and typical London Cyclist (capital-C intentional) complete with helmet, dropped handlebars, lurid jacket and probably gritted teeth (though he’s facing away so we can’t see that). (The Cyclist looks a bit too big to me too, but never mind.)

Here’s my slightly modified version:

My amended version of TfL's design featuring forgiving kerbs and female casual bike user!

My amended version of TfL’s design. I also changed the cyclist to a lovely middle-aged woman who isn’t going to run anyone over. “Please, go ahead.” “No, after you!” “Why, thank-you!” “You’re welcome. Have a nice day!” Etc. etc.

Nicer kerbs for starters – really, these are essential in any modern cyclepath design. I’ve also got rid of TfL’s Cyclist and replaced him with a middle-aged female who is merely using a bike for transport. (She doesn’t know anything about bikes, nor has she ever watched the Tour de France. She’s just going down the pub.)

I’m still not keen with how the cyclepath crosses the footpath – who has priority here? For me, this could be clearer.

If pedestrians have priority then can’t we add zebra-stripes to the cyclepath, or at least a ‘pedestrian’ icon on the surface? If bike users have priority then the surface should remain blue throughout the crossing area, which will make it clear to pedestrians that they’re crossing a cyclepath. (Also, maybe the footpath should lower to the cyclepath level rather than the cyclepath rising to footpath level as in the images above.)

While you’re here…

While I’m on the subject, here’s what the Cycle Superhighway looks like at the southern end of Southwark Bridge in London:

The bike lane at the end of Southwark Bridge in London stops suddenly and turns into a bus stop. Bikes are meant to pull out into the road to overtake.

TfL’s current solution: pull out into the stream of cars and vans to overtake the buses! (Photo: Alan Perryman)

That’s really dreadful, isn’t it? Expecting people to pull out into a lane of traffic which will be overtaking the bus? And we wonder why cycling is dominated by fit young men! (And I’m not going to talk about the awful pinch point in the distance there…)

So what would be better? Something like this:

A redesigned Southwark Bridge, where the bike-path continues and the bus stop is on an island between the bike-path and the road.

A better way to handle buses and bikes at Southwark Bridge.

The bikepath runs along where the bus shelter was, and the bus shelter has been moved to where the bus stopping area was. The bus stop markings are now in the main carriageway, which means – shock, horror – that cars have to wait behind stopped buses while people on bikes can ride past.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about bus stops for now.


 

If you like the sound of this you should respond to TfL’s consultation telling them how much you love this design.

 

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I know an old lady who swallowed a fly

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.

 

I know of a country which painted a line.
I do know why they painted the line!

It was an attempt at getting infrastructure on the cheap. Bike lanes are simply painted lines at the edge of the road, creating a lane for bike riders which is very often narrow and dangerous. One of the problems with these lanes is that they funnel bikes down the near-side of motor vehicles, meaning any bikes going straight on are in conflict with motor vehicles turning left.

People have died.

 

I know of a country which painted a box.
What a pox, this ‘safety’ box!

To solve the problem of bike lanes at junctions, we could have given bikes proper physical separation and a separate traffic light phase. But that would slow down car journeys by several seconds! So, continuing the cheap pseudo-engineering which the UK now excels at, we devised ASLs – advanced stop lines (or “bike boxes” to some of you).

They painted a box which sent bike riders
right into the blind-spot of HGV drivers.

People have died.

 

I know of a country which thought that a mirror
would be the solution to carnage and horror.

I know that it’s better than nothing given the current appalling design, but let’s face it – it’s a kludge. Are we hoping that every single lorry driver will remember to check yet another mirror at every single junction? Given human nature, and indeed, human biology, we must conclude that this mirror does not, and cannot, make a junction safe.

They added the mirror to fix the box
(which mixed up bike riders and HGV drivers)
they added the box to fix the line
they painted the line to keep it cheap…

…more people will die.

 

So what’s next, when we discover that the “Trixi” mirrors aren’t stopping deaths or making bike riding safer? (As the Dutch already know. Via Vole O’Speed.)

It’s a kludge on a kludge on a kludge, like the lady swallowing a succession of animals, each designed to fix the problem created by the previous one, when the real solution is to cough up the fly.

When will the UK stop throwing good money after bad to fix a broken system? As far as I can tell, our street design was created in the 1950s during the dawning of the age of the motorcar, and has only been tinkered with gently ever since.

What we need is a major overhaul of our road design guidelines to make walking and bike riding safe, easy and attractive for everyone.

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How to suppress bike riding #1: Hyde Park

Update: It seems that Hyde Park has been ridiculous for years, and I’m far from the first blogger to cover it. See this 2011 article on Vole O’Speed, and this 2012 article on As Easy As Riding A Bike.

On New Year’s Day 2013 we went for a bike ride in Hyde Park.

Actually, we first went for a walk. Crossing Westminster Bridge we saw four wide vehicle lanes almost devoid of traffic, but thousands of people on foot crammed onto the footpaths.

At Parliament Square most of the road was blocked off to motor vehicles due to some parade or other, which gave us a clear view of just how much space is taken up by the huge expanse of tarmac we call ‘the road’.

The end of Westminster Bridge beside Big Ben in London – masses of space given to motor vehicles, people crammed onto footpaths

I should have taken a camera, but you get the gist. Does this look like a sensible distribution of space to you? (From Google Maps.)

As The Mall and Constitution Hill were closed to motor traffic, we hired bikes and rode along the ridiculously wide roads to Hyde Park Corner, where we squeezed in to share the tiny two-stage toucan crossing with the crowds of people riding bikes and walking.

So far, our journey was a demonstration of how much space is available through much of London, and how much of that space is given to motor vehicles even when they’re massively outnumbered by people walking.

The Mall in London. Hugely wide roads, massive verges, almost invisible cycle path.

No room for cycle paths here, of course… The 2m-wide cycle “facility” is behind the fence on the right. (Image from Google Maps.)

Hyde Park itself should be a mecca for all forms of non-motorised transport. It’s a huge park so it should be great for walking, of course. But a park on this scale deserves to be great for riding a bike, rollerskating and jogging, too.

But it’s not. Even here, the anti-bike planning is clear. On the baffling North Carriage Drive and South Carriage Drive there’s little more than a painted line to protect bike riders from taxis. On the equally baffling West Carriage Drive there is an off-carriageway cycle path on each side of the road – about 1m wide, painted on the footpath. It’s crap, but for me it’s still better than an adrenaline-filled ride along the busy road itself.

I describe the Carriage Drives as baffling because I can’t work out why they’re there at all – there’s no need for a large road bisecting the park, and there are perfectly good roads outside the park so why are there parallel roads within it? Even if these roads are absolutely essential, why is the cycling provision on them so poor given the vast amount of space available?

But what really annoys me is that so little space is given over to people riding bikes, and even walking is given short shrift when it crosses motor traffic. I mean, it’s meant to be a park, isn’t it? For people? Why is there a two-way unrestricted road running through the middle of it?

Even the most ardent ‘little Londoners’ would find it hard to argue that there is a lack of space here – after all, the whole park is ‘space’ – yet people riding bikes are pushed into conflict with people walking, as both groups are crammed onto narrow strips of path with a white line down it. It’s confusing and unpleasant.

Conversely, huge swathes of land are given over to horse riding! I have nothing against horse riding, but the number of people riding horses is miniscule when compared to people riding bikes or walking. The horse path which runs alongside Rotten Row is about 20m wide – compared to the two-way cycle-path which is perhaps 3m wide, and the footpath alongside which is about 4m wide. (My own visual estimates, may be wrong.)

Satellie photo of Rotten Row in Hyde Park, London. Very little space given to walking and riding bikes, tons of space for horses.

This is just crazy. So much space, so little sense. (Satellite photo from Bing Maps.)

Not that I want to turn this into a horses-vs-bikes debate – there is plenty of space for everyone in Hyde Park, it’s just very badly apportioned. Why are the foot- and cycle-paths so narrow? There’s nothing stopping them from being widened, and this would result in a much more pleasant park for everyone.

The experience of riding along Rotten Row can live up to its name at times. People walking on the narrow cycle path, hardcore Cyclists glaring at other people riding bikes for not doing it properly, the holier-than-thou look on the face of the Daily Express readers which says “I know you’re thinking about killing a child with that bike…”

And yet it’s immensely popular. When I was there on Tuesday it was chock-full of tourists riding hire bikes, lights blinking in the dusk.

The Royal Parks, who manage Hyde Park, claim that this is a “fantastic green route“. Have they actually tried to ride a bike there? Or is this an example of “Hype Park”?

Then there’s this PDF document, which says

“Taking cycle routes through the centre of the green space creates the potential for more conflict between park users.  It has been shown in studies and by experience that most conflict occurs at junctions, therefore taking paths through the centre using an existing footpath increases the likelihood of conflict. This has a detrimental effect for park users and their safety.”

Oh how considerate! One minute, people walking and cycling are crammed together on a narrow footpath, now all of a sudden they’re concerned about safety. Do they really think that there’s no solution other than to make bike routes longer and less desirable?

At the moment, the cycle paths are dangerous, but only because they’re too narrow, and crammed onto the edge of a footpath. They’re an afterthought, installed on the cheap.

Really, Hyde Park should (and could) be a great traffic-free place for walking and riding a bike, but due to the usual UK anti-bike planning, it’s not. (It’s better than almost everywhere else in London, but that’s faint praise indeed.) It should be great for leisure riding as well as for through-travel.

For an example of what Hyde Park could be, see this article on ‘As Easy As Riding A Bike’ about Amsterdam’s Hyde Park equivalent, the Vondelpark.

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