15 September 2010

Les Bicyclettes de Londres

Back from 'the Smoke' with a tale or two to tell. I wish that I had better photos to document but my camera was constantly malfunctioning. I landed right at the peak of last week's 24-hour Tube strike and set about making my way to the city. Upon alighting the Heathrow Express at Paddington Station, plans called for me to catch a bus to meet the friend I was staying with and collect the keys to her apartment.
Once I reached the street, the chaos of a million disrupted commutes became apparent, as I encountered a mob of hundreds waiting for buses. When mine came up and I realized it was already packed to capacity, and that cabs were in short supply and high demand, I decided that suitcase or no I'd have an easier time of hoofing it to Belgravia. Along the way I passed a rather picked-over cycle hire station, as well as a couple of Londoners with yet another transport alternative:

Unfortunately, the bikes were not an option for me, as you currently need to purchase an annual subscription to the service to use them:

As the empty racks can attest, the bikes were in great demand. From my observation perch on the upper deck of a London bus, it would seem that the highest demand is coming from business guys in suits. They were hardly the only bikes on the streets though, and watching people weave through London traffic gave me an entirely new perspective on just how much street width is needed for a proper bike route. Most London streets have just a few inches clearance between the traffic lane and the curb and yet cyclists were out using those inches in force.

The photo at right gives you an idea of the general alignment, though here in Hyde Park there is a wider-than-average traffic lane and a separated cycletrack alongside. Most streets do not have such a luxurious expanse off to the side, just picture a bike following those yellow stripes. The exception is on streets with bus lanes, which are open not only to cyclists but motorcycles as well, and in some instances, black cabs.

By the following day, the strike had ended and most Tube lines were running pretty much as normal. The shared bikes were still in high use however, and seemingly still mostly by these dashing Savile Row types. I took time to do a mental inventory on the types of private bikes being ridden about the city and it was a little surprising; while most riders tended to be on hybrids, there was a rather large contingency of home-grown Pashleys and similar upright models, a huge number of folding bikes, and the number of fixed-gears I encountered could be counted on one hand.

All in all, it would appear that cycling is thriving in old London town. I arrived just a couple of days after the Mayor of London's Sky Ride, which drew upwards of 85,000 participants this year. As I stood on the sidewalk...er, pavement, on Essex Road in Islington during the evening rush hour, the number of two-wheeled commuters passing me by was astounding. It makes perfect sense to me, in a city where it can take fifteen minutes to move two blocks by motorized vehicle (no joke).

I have a few more posts to wring out of this trip, on Dublin's growing bike infrastructure and on how my learning of Daley's impending retirement colored how I looked at things. Oh, it's good(?) to be back.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the London update.

    I was just thinking that no matter how fast New Yorkers speed in their cars, they still won't make it on time. It's a huge place and there's tons of traffic (of all modes and vehicles).

    NYC also had a huge number of folding bikes (I estimate 15% of all bikes). The second most popular bike was an e-bike, driven by delivery guys. Extremely few fixies.

    Welcome back to Chicago.