This is an open submission to the London Assembly’s “2012 Transport Legacy” consultation. It focusses on my experience during the Olympics, and how it transformed (for the worse) afterwards.
During the Olympics I commuted from home in Croydon to work in Soho every day, arriving at Victoria station and taking a cycle hire bike. Before the Olympics I took the 38 bus from Victoria to Piccadilly Circus instead. After the Olympics I continued using a cycle hire bike for a few weeks.
Abandoning the ‘Boris Bike’
My main reason for switching back to the bus after the Olympics was that I no longer felt safe piloting such a heavy, slow and unresponsive bicycle in the rush hour post-Olympics. The primary reason for this was the return of large vehicles – predominantly delivery lorries. During the Olympics my route – down Victoria Street, round Parliament Square, up Whitehall and then along Pall Mall was devoid of large vehicles, with the closure of Whitehall being especially welcome as it was mainly filled with cyclists. Post-Olympics the Mall (the safest route from Victoria) was still closed, however the large vehicles and heavy traffic returned to Victoria St and Whitehall. I found myself dodging roaring lorries for most of the trip, which made it deeply unpleasant.
Even now, there is no truly safe route from Victoria station to the Mall, whether arriving with a bike on the train or collecting one from a nearby docking point. The surrounding roads are full of fast-moving, large vehicles before the more sedate routes around Buckingham Palace can be accessed.
Whitehall – a safe haven
The closure of Whitehall demonstrated what a difference the removal of motor traffic can make. During the Olympics it was filled with cyclists every morning, and I found it a fast, safe route to get from the river to west end. Tackling Trafalgar Square (turning left onto Pall Mall) was far more pleasant with only bikes and the odd ‘Games Family’ vehicle to be concerned about.
Since the ban on non-Olympic motor traffic was lifted, it is back to a permanently congested routed clogged with lorries and taxis. Cyclists are still there, but have to filter, weave and dodge to get to the ASL at the roundabout, which is often filled with motorbikes or other motor traffic.
Roadworks – management, signage, consideration
The information supplied during the games on temporary road closures (with maps!) was fantastic as it allowed routing round them in advance. The system for distributing information about closures post-Olympics is appalling. Roads seem to be closed for roadworks at random times, with little warning. Indeed, it feels like a large portion of the city has now been dug up.
Many road closures pay no attention to cyclists, closing roads entirely when there’s space for cycle to safely traverse the closed area.
Keeping the Cycle Hire Bikes Running
A small point to note, but which caused me a number of problems during the busiest time of the Olympics is the condition of the cycle hire bikes. There was a noticeable increase in the number of broken bikes – broken gears, flat tyres etc. I assume this was a result of the record numbers using them, many of whom would be new riders so more likely to break them. With the expansion of the system, I feel this is an area which needs to be looked at to ensure docking stations aren’t full of broken bikes.
In the last month I’ve started cycling from Croydon to Soho several days a week on a new road bike. This isn’t because the roads have become safer, but because I’m fitter and the road bike is fast enough to get me out of most trouble. I’ve also adopted an aggressive riding style to keep large vehicles behind me, as I’m able to maintain a similar speed. This isn’t true of most cyclists in the city, and is nearly impossible with the cycle hire bikes unless travelling down hill. We should be encouraging safe cycling to reduce pollution and congestion in the city, not expecting existing cyclists to get fast enough to accelerate out of trouble.
I feel the major points to take away are:
- Extra capacity for cycling is available on London’s streets. Whitehall was closed to general motor traffic but was still full with bicycles most mornings during the Olympics. There wasn’t gridlock in the area. This demonstrates both the volume of cycle traffic and the ability of motorists to navigate around the city without this route.
- Large vehicles make the roads feel unsafe. London was a much more pleasant city when they weren’t around during the day. I’m a confident cyclist but still felt uneasy when they returned to the roads during rush hour.
- Better up to date maps of road closures across London could help reduce congestion.
- Road closures should consider whether there should be an exemption for cycles, particularly if the diversion is via busy routes or long. This is usually possible.
- The cycle hire bikes need more maintenance as they used more, particularly if those extra users are inexperienced. This is fairly obvious, but was missed during the Olympics.
- I only cycle because I think I’m fast enough and fit enough to accelerate out of trouble. While that’s fine for me, it isn’t the cycling experience Londoners should expect.