Cycling London: Our Responsibility
For the last few months I’ve been shortening my life expectancy by cycling to work, in London; if the busses don’t get you- the nitrogen will. I’m no stranger to commuting by bike- however city cycling, and capital cycling especially, is a different beast. It doesn’t take an engineering degree and a stint in the highways department to know that, despite our comical mayor, London just isn’t setup for cyclists.
That all that’s left is for me to control the hazard is, to me- at least, is a real CDM failure for TfL.
This is a problem that is beginning to result in an impressive death toll, and one where civil engineers take some responsibility for the start, and often the end of the chain; if we are the custodians of infrastructure than the omission is our fault– and construction traffic has claimed more than its fair share of lives. Knowing this, I took the opportunity to appraise my own commute and see what I was facing.
First of the bat, we have to address the question of why am I cycling. I cycle on a Brompton, so it’s fair to say I’m not doing it for the pleasure of the thing (although Bromptons are well engineered piece of kit; more on that another time). I cycle because I cannot (ever) afford to live close to where I work, so the combined walking time either side of the train journey is circa 45-60 minutes. Unexpectedly, simply “solving” the housing crisis in London would, literally, save a good few lives.
I could, of course, get the tube/bus. However- this would set me back something in the region of £1000 every year, be slower, and involve playing an intimate game of sardines twice a day. Once again improving alternative infrastructure would make a difference. However, I’m going to make the point that cycling is arguably better for the environment, and (if you don’t get hit by something) a good form of exercise.
To often these lanes are “shared” with busses; they bring you in closer proximity to some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road,
So, let’s get on my bike. Waterloo starts with a brilliant combined ‘pedestrian and cyclist‘ -way. At this point it’s me who’s the aggressor; joining the multitude of cyclists swerving between the surprisingly nonplussed pedestrians. Paradoxically, however, I’ve never seen/heard of an accident here- I suppose it’s because everyone on that walkway knows to keep their wits about them.
The next feature happens immediately after; a “zebra” crossing to allow pedestrians to cross the cycle path. This is a lazy transference of a road paradigm onto cyclists; and doesn’t really work. You see- bikes are thin, and their propulsion is directly linked to effort; It is easier not to stop on bike. The result is an odd junction where cyclists are rewarded for bravely cutting close around pedestrians.
The majority of my journey is along plagued by transient cycle lanes. These green widths make semi-random, short lived, appearances; terminating abruptly and abandoning their followers back onto the road. As a consequence, they are ignored; arguably creating a bigger danger by giving people new to the route a false sense of security.
To make it worse, these lanes are often “shared” with busses; which means that even if they were continuous- they bring you in closer proximity to some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road, and require you to constantly change lanes- or face frequent waits behind each bus stop. The result is a network of coloured paving, and not much else.
Without a cycle lane, cyclists become second class citizens; vehicles rarely leave any space for them to pass through, or give way to allow lanes to be crossed. Combined with London’s slow moving traffic, this results in a parkour-like free-run, with cyclists being forced to flow and filter through the ever changing tiny gaps. It’s obvious to anyone that this is a recipe for disaster.
A lot of the dangers faced by cyclists in London are actually due to their behaviors- This means my health and safety is entirely linked to my ability to control the hazards I’m subject to.
This effect comes to a head when there are road works (engineers, once again) and the already fragile transport flow begins to break down; buses aggressively pushing into tiny openings- taxis vying for reduced carriageway and in the middle of it; cyclists being squeezed into smaller and smaller gaps. Unfortunately, roadworks in London are pretty much the rule, rather than the exception- so what should, at least, be a temporary risk is more of a permanent one.
Finally- my journey involves an odd one-way loop; where my return home requires me to cycle the wrong way down a road (on an apparent, but undivided, ‘cycle lane’) and then dumps me onto the pavement. The combined counter flow and temptation to push along the footpath just continues the theme of putting me into risky situations, which I am forced to manage.
You see, a lot of the dangers faced by cyclists in London are actually due to their behaviors- if I was content to hold my position in the center of the carriageway and pretend to be a car, my commute would be significantly safer. It’d also be much slower, and would cause complete mayhem is everyone started doing it. This means my health and safety is entirely linked to my ability to control the hazards I’m subject to.
And as an engineer you should spot the concern. ERIC: Eliminate, Reduce, Isolate and Control; London’s cycle infrastructure is almost entirely at the worse level of risk management. Where are the exclusive cycleways to eliminate, the segregation to reduce or the alternative routes to isolate the problem?
If all that’s left is for me to control the hazards; that is a real CDM failure for TfL