“I would put lots of effort to avoid it next time,” said my wife.
No, what she was talking about is likely what many others experienced in getting to and from the traffic-free route this past Saturday.
SETTING OFF FROM PUTNEY
We parked in the (20mph!) residential area of Putney for free, and hoped on our bicycles in what was planned to be a cycle along mainly quiet streets to Parliament, where we could join the FreeCycle ride.
We couldn’t find said quiet streets easily, though and ended up on the busier A308, which had signs for cycling. That is, after having a taxi driver push in front of us as we crossed 3 lanes of traffic.
When we came up alongside the driver at the lights a few metres along, I politely (really!) told him through his open window that the reason for our crossing was to get to the cycle route. He didn’t seem to care and continued to roll his cigarette (really!).
A BIT TOO CLOSE
Thank goodness it was a weekend and not a ‘normal’ working day. We had people passing us – generally with appropriate space – but the occasional person came a bit too close which raised our stress level. If not so much for ourselves then for our two children, both under 10.
It wasn’t long until we heard from our kids about vehicular cycling: ‘When are we getting to the traffic free area, daddy?’
Thankfully, the cycling superhighway, CS8, appeared part-way along our journey. Although it is just a stripe of blue paint, it did give us all a bit of a stress relief.
But that might be one of the cycle superhighways’ problems: there is an implied segregation without the physical segregation. People in cars are still passing just a short distance away from you; and you are forced out and into traffic when approaching a bus stop – which means buses may well cut in front of you to reach them. Up goes the stress again!
HEADING BACK TO PUTNEY
Going in the other direction – back to the car in Putney after a wonderful day of cycling traffic-free in London (read our joy of that HERE) – was actually worse.
It was worse partly because it came after experiencing the freedom to wander all over the road safely, and partly because of the poor signage and motorised traffic (again).
At one point, we joined several others in (shhh!) riding on the pavement, away from the busy road. A self-segregation if you like. Clearly, we and many others did not feel safe riding on the road.
INADEQUATE SIGNAGE FOR NON-MOTORISTS
The signage along the CS8 was good but after a couple mentions of Putney it seemed to forget about the place, leaving us unsure – as out of towners – if we were actually still heading in the correct direction. Then there were some nasty right turns requiring us to cut across traffic; and some shared paths which had poor surfacing and tight blind corners that made for a jolting, vibrating ride.
Clearly CS8 was an afterthought and not designed in. The message was clear: motorised traffic takes priority over our safety on bicycles.
NOT AGAIN FROM THERE
So, in summary, we will go out of our way to not park in Putney next time.
Indeed, if SWTrains had had its act in gear, then we would have gladly taken the train straight into Waterloo in central London. Alas, they seemed to give off the impression that (a) it would be expensive; and (b) unwelcome to bring bicycles. To think, they were one of the better train companies insofar as cycling was concerned – others just banned bicycles outright!
Things can be made better. It will take commitment from our government to design-in safe infrastructure for all road users, not just ones that protect people in metal boxes.
It was good to hear the Mayor of London say this to the BBC during his interview following the Sunday’s 100-mile charity ride: “what we need to do is invest in the roads so everybody can enjoy the benefits of cycling.”