Boris Johnson has backed opening up the Royal Parks to more cycling. Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) of the London Assembly Transport Committee has also supported the move.
Cycling is a leisure activity. Exactly the kind of thing parks are there for. However, the Royal Parks Agency, rather than taking a sensible view of cycling, seem determined to treat it like the British establishment used to treat homosexuality. They know it exists, they know that banning it is unrealistic, some of them even indulge in it themselves, but they think legitimizing it would get some people very upset. So they talk about it in hushed tones:
"A shared-use pedestrian and cycle route trial on Studio Walk is currently being carried out from 2 August 2010 to 31 January 2012, in order to test its suitability as a permanent shared-use route."
Oh, for goodness sake. Cycle routes through parks exist up and down the country. There's nothing unique about Kensington Gardens. What are they going to learn from a trial that lasts a year and a half? Yet every new cycle facility in every park seems to require years of planning, consultation and trials. (Mind you, to be fair, the Royal Parks Agency look progressive compared to some UK organizations like the Wimbledon Common Conservators.)
Where the Royal Parks Agency really falls down is by failing to question the hegemony of motorised transport in and around the Parks. Why is it that to feel safe from traffic, cyclists have to go through a park? London doesn't have enough green space. That fact is self-evident if you go to St James's Park on any sunny day; it's absolutely solid with people. Yet there's a motorway (The Mall) going through the middle of it. To the south of the Park, Birdcage Walk is a highway with two lanes separated by a wide central reservation. Why can't the space be reconfigured to include a segregated cycle path? To the east of St James's Park, Horse Guards Road is massively wide: plenty of space for a segregated path there. To the north, The Mall is 6 lanes wide in places - surely space for a cycle path there? In fact there is one on the north side, but it's well hidden, weaves in and out of car parks and ends before Admiralty Arch, forcing all cyclists onto the road. The fact is there is plenty of unused roadspace on the periphery of St James's Park that could be converted into decent segregated cycle paths.
Then there's Green Park. A reaonable segregated path goes alongside Constitution Hill, but that's the only cycle route that Green Park and St James Park boast between them. You have to ride very carefully along it as tourists tend to stray into it. There's no path parallel to Piccadilly, which has a central reservation that is coincidentally the width of a decent cycle path. The central reservation is punctuated by the sheep-pen crossings that pedestrians hate. I suspect there are quite a few cyclists whose desire line lies along Piccadilly, but don't fancy taking on a multi-lane dual carriageway whose designers had no thought for non-motorised road users.
The effect of all this is that the Royal Parks, hemmed in as they are by streets that are absolutely hostile to anyone outside of a motor vehicle, are the only refuge from the danger, noise and pollution. If I were in charge of the Royal Parks, I'd be making the point that the Parks don't exist in isolation from the surrounding environment: the Parks should not be the only decent cycle routes in London, they should be part of a network. That way, cyclists wouldn't have to divert from their desire lines to get away from the traffic danger, and this would relieve pressure on the Parks.
Of course, considerate cycling should be allowed in all parks. But as well as that, Boris Johnson should be telling his Tory friends in Westminster to make it possible for people to cycle with confidence on the roads.