Monday, September 6, 2010

Skyride 2010

My first skyride (previously known as Freewheel). Because it’s such a long way from Merton, in previous years I’d  been nervous about my kids’ ability to cycle 25 miles in a day – 10 miles up to town, 5 miles on the traffic-free roads, and another 10 miles back. The other factor against cycling to Skyride was the lack of a route to central London safe enough to take kids. The alternative – taking the train – seemed risky as there seemed likely to be too many other punters trying the same thing, and limited capacity on trains to take bikes.

This year, we decided to brave it.

Impressions? A nice experience to be around so many cyclists. It took ages to get around the loop, though.  Me and ‘the lad’ tried to weave past the slower cyclists, but pretty soon figured out this was putting us and other people in considerable danger. It was a lot like being in a traffic jam, only in a regular traffic jam on a bike you can normally filter around it or duck down a side-street. With this one, there was no escape!

We saw the aftermath of a couple of accidents. Just cuts, grazes and bruises I would think, and the unavoidable consequence of having so many young and/or inexperienced cyclists in such a small space. 

We stood through a 10-minute Sky advertorial, in the ‘3D cinema’. There was only a couple of minutes of 3D footage, including the Sky logo. I was hoping for a 3D rider’s eye view, hurtling down an Alpine pass, misjudging a hairpin and somersaulting over the Armco barrier, but it was rather tamer than that. Oh well.

My most vivid memory was a little boy on a tiny, tiny bike with tiny, tiny wheels. His feet were pedalling like fury, 5000RPM or so, like Mark Cavendish on amphetamines, and he reached 13MPH according to my clock. Meanwhile he was shouting “MUM! SLOW DOWN!”

Skyride is unlikely to persuade many new people to cycle. It was clearly unrepresentative of real cycling conditions. On the one hand it was too congested, and on the other hand, to get to the closed loop in the first place you have to cycle through some of the least pleasant traffic conditions London has to offer.  Then again, maybe it takes something like this to get peoples’ bikes out of the shed and get the idea of cycling into their heads. I know a few people who talk about cycling to work, but never quite get round to it.

I’d trade this once-yearly extravaganza for year-round better, safer conditions for cycling. Effectively, the whole of central London was closed off on Sunday. That’s a lot of disruption, with knock-on effects out of the central area. Why is it that 364 days of the year, every single car journey is treated as if it were an emergency by TfL, with maximisation of traffic flow being continually prioritised over cyclists’ safety, and yet on Skyride day, for cyclists old Scrooge turns into Santa Claus?
Surely, for the same net amount of disruption it would be more useful to make some year-round changes: close off some residential roads to through motor traffic, institute 24-hour bus and cycle lanes, make more cycle lanes mandatory and wider than the advised minimum, disallow parking in most cycle lanes, allow cycling through most parks and commons, and some segregated lanes.

A last thought. For the most part, the road space was two lanes wide. A single lane of motorway can accomodate 2100 cars/hour. So this road could have accomodated 4200 cars/hour, perhaps a bit more at slower speeds. Skyride had 85,000 participants, so the peak flows would have been what, 20,000 maybe 30,000 bikes/hour? That should give you an insight into how inefficiently we use roadspace in central London, when we allow almost total domination by motor vehicles thereby scaring would-be cyclists off the road.

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