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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10 responses to “How to suppress bike riding #1: Hyde Park

  1. 8 x more space given over to vehicular roads than to housing according to architect peeps.

  2. PS: your pics are a fabulous way of showing the vastness of those spaces.

  3. I cycled along that route on Christmas day and most of the time the ‘cycle lane’ was full of pedestrians. One of whom refused to move out of the way saying that he had right of way. The current layout is ridiculous. Especially as both the wide road and horse path are almost always empty.

  4. Indeed. I covered this about a year ago here.
    The reason the foot and cycle paths are so narrow is that nothing has ever been built for cycling in the Royal Parks. Not just paths, the same goes for the gates, that don’t work for cycling, and the bridges at Regent’s Park. LCC has campaigned for decades for cycle provision in these parks, but all that has ever happened is that existing footpaths have been re-designated or had white lines drawn on them. And to get even this has been a huge battle. And we are supposed to be grateful for what we have been given. It is pathetic.

    • Thanks for the link David, I thought I’d read your entire back catalogue but I seem to have missed that one!

      It’s both tragic and funny that the Royal Parks grudgingly paint some white lines on the footpath, then describe it as “fantastic”. Actually, on second thoughts, it’s just tragic.

  5. I think the problem you’ve got here is the nearby Hyde Park Barracks. The Household Cavalry uses Rotten Row on a daily basis for training, drills, exercising etc.

    Royal anachronisms in a Royal park will always trump common sense.

    • I suspected as much. The equestrian facilities between Horse Guards Parade and Hyde Park are far superior to the cycling facilities alongside.

      The thing is, the horse facilities aren’t getting in the way of anything, as there’s plenty of space for everything – horses, bikes, walkers, runners, skaters, etc…

      All the paths in Hyde Park could be much wider, and cycling could then be allowed on pretty much all of them. At the moment, all but a few routes have stern “NO CYCLING” warnings painted at their entrances (although the tourists just ignore these).

      At busy times, even on foot and without a bike in sight, the paths can get uncomfortably congested. I can’t figure out why they’re built so narrowly. (East Carriage Drive is a much more comfortable width.)

  6. Matt

    The problem is that you will end up with about eight different lanes which will need to cross each other creating annoyance. In a park most of the area should just be shared. Be safe by not being an asshole. It would be good to have a separate track dedicated to going fast. But you can’t expect to be able to go fast all the time any more than a car should expect to go fast in a crowded city.

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