Last month, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced what could be very ambitious changes to London’s cycle infrastructure, pledging nearly £1 billion worth of funding to the scheme.
His plans which includes a Crossrail style cycle route that would run at least 15 miles from West London to East London; a ‘tube network’ for the bike in which cycle lanes would run parallel to tube lines, quiet back streets and dangerous junctions would be improved.
Ambitious as they are, the new plans have been criticized on various points. One issue that has been highlighted in the press is the controversy surrounding painting a proposed cycle lane blue on the Victoria Embankment, which some feel will upset the areas ‘heritage’ feel. Another is that, as Transport for London (TFL) only owns 5% of the London roads, the viability of most of the plans will come down to whether the relevant Boroughs approve them or not.
As a cyclist myself, I congratulate Boris on scaling up his transport ambitions and recognising the benefits of making London a cycle friendly city; if just some of his plans go through, they will be a great victory for cycling in London. The plans however face many obstacles…
I feel that the main stumbling block that is holding people back from hopping on their bikes in the same numbers as our European peers, is the issue of safety on our streets. The threat you face when jumping on your bike for a London commute is immense; it is a chaotic city to fare in whether you’re a cyclist or a motorist, with dangerous conditions caused by poorly constructed, out of date infrastructure and numerous dangerous junctions. Both motorists and cyclists take daily risks, frustrated by each others behaviour. ‘Backwards’ town planning bears the main responsibility for this; it will be really positive to see some forward thinking road planning take place.
Pressure on our roads
Another major issue is the lack of respect that all commuters show for the rules of vehicle ‘cohabitation’ on our busy streets. I agree that it is a major problem that cyclists are forever jumping red lights, but cars, vans and busses do the same thing. Badly sequenced traffic lights, a shortage of road space and the sheer pressure of the number of different vehicles on our roads creates a very tense commuting environment. Creating more and wider segregated cycling paths, separated out from the rest of the traffic by paving or other divisions, is key to tackling this issue. I am absolutely convinced that cycling in the capital would noticeably increase in line with more segregated cycling paths; people would feel safer.
Unequal playing field
A third essential consideration, which which Boris Johnson has not even mentioned, is that in the battle of vehicle hierarchy on London’s roads, cyclists are invariably the lowest common denominator; the opposite to the situation in Amsterdam and Copenhagen where cyclists rights are actually considered higher than those of motorists. In London, if a motorist drives in, parks in or in any other way obstructs a cycle lane causing cyclists to have to take evasive action, the car driver would hardly ever be penalised for their behaviour; the majority of London cycle lanes are near on invisible to most other traffic, they might as well not be there. If a car goes anywhere near a bus lane however, heavy fines generally ensue. Surely the same rules should apply everywhere?
Ultimately, if you park in a dangerous place, obstructing the safe passage of other vehicles, you should be penalised; if you jump a red light, you should be penalised regardless of your chosen mode of transport; if you senselessly run onto roads as a pedestrian, you must be penalised. Over time, heavy and consistent fines for rule breaking would without a doubt improve road safety and ease congestion, for everyone.
More accessible high streets
My final plea to the Mayor, is to pedestrianise more high streets in the city and increase 20mph driving zones. Pedestrianised urban shopping areas are common place on the Continent, however have yet to become prevalent in the UK, possibly due to our challenging urban infrastructures. But in this age of debate about the need to re-invent our high streets, perhaps creating a network of car free pedestrianised and cycle zones could be part of the solution to creating more dynamic and accessible shopping areas. There are already several examples of successful semi-pedestrianised areas in the city, one example is Exmouth Market in Farringdon; this vibrant pedestrianised street boasts cafes, restaurants and small independent shops, which during lunch times turns into a mini food market, enjoyed by people of all ages. There is plenty of scope for more such areas in this large city.
My final point is that motorists are not the enemy in this debate, I simply wish to stress the point that could see considerable economic benefits to making our streets more cycle friendly if we do things properly.
How far will Mr Johnson go
Boris Johnson says that we need to reduce congestion in London by getting more people out of their cars and onto their bikes. For this to happen, there needs to be a reason for people to do take that step; a mass investment in the cycling infrastructure would certainly help, but we also need to develop a system whereby it becomes uneconomical, impractical and inefficient to actually use a car. A very radical thought for many. It remains to be seen exactly how far Mr Johnson is willing to take his vision for Londoners.
London Cycling Campaign aims to highlight and bring to action safer cycling conditions for those in the boroughs of London.
Today, as part of theirSafer Lorries Campaign, they’ve launched a hard-hitting video demonstrating the catastrophic affect a collision between a lorry and a cyclist can have.
Highlighting the significantly high incident rate compared to the small number of lorries that make up the traffic on London’s roads, London Cycling Campaign are calling for cyclists (as well as pedestrians and motorcyclists) to write to their local councils to action ‘safer lorries and safer drivers‘.
Cyclist-awareness training for all lorry drivers
Training involves lorry drivers riding bicycles on the road so they can better understand the vulnerability of people who cycle. This training is low cost and available all over London.
All lorries to have the latest safety equipment This means a full set of safety mirrors and sensors/cameras that help the driver be more aware of vulnerable road users near their vehicle. These cost a few hundred pounds per vehicle.
Their map of the London Boroughs also highlights the different standards in cycling safety across London; showing only 2 of the 34 boroughs are currently participating in trying to make a difference.
Do you want to make a difference to cycling safety in your area? Submit your support to your local council through their easy to use form.
Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping! Website: www.hjdonline.co.uk
As the name suggests, this is described by the Italian manufacturer as a unisex helmet suitable for both road bike and mountain bike use, and has some features that would appeal to commuters too, but is it a case of ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’ ?
I have owned this helmet for 6 months, and wear it on my daily commute and on my longer weekend rides.
Light weight, it is the lightest helmet I have owned so far, weighing only 262 grams for the universal size (52-59cm). (MET state that the helmet weighs 270g)
Good ventilation, when riding on frosty/cold mornings I have to wear a warm cap underneath, I have never had to do this with any of my previous helmets.
Longevity, the box states that it comes with a three year warranty, and unusually its lifespan is between 8-10 years!
The advice given by most manufacturers is to replace a helmet after 2-3 years of use, depending on its exposure to UV and the damage that comes from handling. But MET have an initiative called Low Impact On Nature (L.I.O.N) that not only prolongs the life of the product but also reduces its ‘carbon footprint’ and waste during production. Surprisingly the helmet does not retail at a higher price compared with other shorter-life lids of a similar spec, so you save money too! (Also, last years models, as this is, are currently discounted in many outlets, for sale for only £29.99 instead of MRP £39.99, making it an even better deal).
MET offer a helmet crash replacement policy, which means that if your helmet is seriously damaged (due to a crash or serious fall) within three years of the purchase date they can offer an equivalent helmet at a discounted rate, providing you can supply proof of purchase, and the broken helmet.
Minimal exposed polystyrene, the outer shell which is moulded and bonded to the inner during manufacture (as most do nowadays, except for the very cheapest ones) covers the back of the helmet too. This feature adds to the look and feel of quality and must help to protect the inner from knocks and UV light.
From the picture above you will also see the integrated rear LED light, this contains four red LEDs and is operated by pressing the whole assembly, it has a flashing and constant mode.
This is also the ratchet tensioner which adjusts the frame that sits around the head:
From this internal view you can see the washable pads and see the insect net that is moulded into the helmets front vents, you will also notice that the whole helmet is an oval shape, so may not be completely comfortable with someone with a more rounded head shape, for me though it fits perfectly.
The straps and quick release clip are easily adjustable; in fact I had my fit set up within seconds, as I hardly had to adjust anything straight from the box. The straps don’t rely on a thin rubber band to hold the excess in place, which can easily snap and leave a long piece of strap flapping in the breeze, the strap is a loop and is retained by a sturdy moulded piece of rectangular rubber, a much better design, also the strap itself is not so long as to have any free to stick out, it is also finished by a plastic end that is easy to pull even when your fingers are cold or when wearing gloves.
In the past I have often had trouble in getting the straps behind the ears to sit close to my head, but with this helmet these are tensioned properly, matching the front ones, so making it a secure fit.
Styling: This is of course a personal opinion, but the overall style is more generic than other helmet brands on the market, nothing about it stands out as being uniquely MET, unlike some others who seem to add peculiar shapes and designs in order to stand out, I like the look of the pointed rear protrusions as they look very strong and therefore more protective than bare polystyrene. I chose this colour combination because the turquoise is very reminiscent of the famous ‘Celeste’ used by Bianchi, as I have one of their bikes, thinking that the Italian made helmet might be purposely designed to match the Italian marquee. (All MET helmets are designed, developed and manufactured in Italy, at Talamona, in the heart of the Italian Alps).
My only (minor) criticism is that the switch on the light often needs pressing several times to either switch it on or off, especially when the temperature is low, I have noticed that in this years model it looks as if the light has been moulded in a red plastic rather than my clear one, so this issue may have been resolved already.
While browsing the latest submissions on KickStarter.com I came across this slightly Close Encounters meets Tron with a dash of E.T. bicycle lighting solution. The Revolights attach to your wheel rim with tiny clips that you place on your spokes (yes it only works with spokes). Take a look at the video below.
You can get involved by becoming a financial backer for the project via the KickStarter.com website, the design project has proved to be very popular so far with the minimum funding goal already being reached. Backers get their own set of lights once they go into production and before they go on general release to the public. It certainly will be interesting to see if they would be considered road legal in most countries, or indeed if the light is sufficient and casts far enough on very dark roads. It’s a very innovative idea and certainly means you’d have less bulk on your bike, it puts me in mind of my childhood and Spokey Dokeys! I can’t wait to see try them out!