1980’s v 2000’s in London (introduction #6)

So then. I cycled in London in the early eighties and I’ve recently started cycling again, but now live in Bristol. I actually tried to get back into urban cycling when I was still living in London, but it turned out to be a false start. This was round about the time the congestion charge came in, so I’m in a position to make a sharp comparison between the eighties and noughties London cycling experience. How do these compare?

When I first cycled in London there was loads of traffic and not many cyclists. There were no ASLs, no cycle lanes, no Sheffield stands, no mountain bikes, no helmets, no hi-viz tabards, no flashing bikelights.

Over the years I had vaguely noticed, on my many walking trips, that gradually more and more painted cycle lanes were appearing, and more and more cyclists. I expected that, when I got myself another bike, things would really be so much better – because, from my view on the pavement, they really did look better.

But I was disappointed. Of course some of it was me. I was older and less aggressive. I was also less motivated – by now I was used to doing all my trips on foot, so what was the point of going through the whole hassle of getting my bottle back? Because, yes there were more bikes but there were also a lot more motor traffic. Roads were completely silted up with parked vehicles. The cars were bigger. And I could swear there were more lorries.

I felt betrayed by the cycle lanes. They promised a straightforward trip but did not deliver. They offered no help with difficult junctions and big roundabouts. Lanes would dump me somewhere on the left hand side of a road with no way to get to the right hand side where I needed to be to be for the next bit of laneage. Twenty years previously I would have known how to get myself positioned properly to do this but now it felt like there was no use for my hard-won skill. I’m a rather law-abiding sort of person so if I rode out of the lane I felt like I was somehow ungrateful. The new infrastructure didn’t feel safer or easier.

In summary, it seems as if the actual experience of cycling was no better or worse from the eighties, just different.

What put the cherry on the cake was the attitude. When did people start hating cyclists? I really don’t remember this at all. How can anyone hate bicycles? Surely they’re like fluffy bunnies?


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