This failure to accommodate the demand for leisure and commuting cycling space adequately in the UK limits the take-up of cycling, when we should be doing everything we can to encourage people to be more active. It is a crazy situation that comes down to the existence of inadequate political structures for delivering and funding desirable changes to our environment. To be attempting to develop a national stratgic infrastructure through a charity rather than government agency is crazy: and to say that is in no way to do down the great and noble efforts that Sustrans employees and volunteers make to at least deliver something.
|This isn't working: trying to squeeze both pedestrians and NCN 2 on to the prom at Worthing|
|Jim Davis seemingly going apoplectic over inadequate infrastructure. The pink pavement and the grey beyond it is all supposed to be shared by pedestrians and two directions of cycle traffic|
|Money cannot really be spent and space cannot really be found for cycling on the Sussex coast, so this is the self-defeating result in too many places|
|Silly width restriction and crummy quality generally of NCN 2 at Lancing|
|The existing bridge across Shoreham Harbour on the left, and the beginnings of the new bridge on the right|
|Some bikes look like this: another reason you need enough width on cycle paths and bridges|
|More dismounting and waiting, and waiting, at Shoreham docks.|
|What's needed at Shoreham docks is something like this wheeling-channel bridge provided for when a lifting bridge is up in Groningen, Netherlands.|
|Toytown engineering on NCN 2 in Brighton|
|NCN 2 at Brighton|
|The beginning of the northbound cycle track on Grand Avenue|
There are still problems with these facilities and they are not up to Dutch standards consistently. There is no help for cyclists turning from the track on The Drive to the track on Old Shoreham Road at the traffic lights, the right-turn here being executed in the normal UK fashion, with a cyclist needing to pull out across the lanes of general traffic. However there is enough here that is pioneering (for the UK), and effective, for these facilities to be given high marks.
|Old Shoreham Road|
|Wide zebra crossing on Old Shoreham Road|
These night-time cyclists are the ghosts of the city. They are not generally your type of dedicated, highly-equipped commuter cyclist. They will largely disappear when the traffic returns on Monday morning. Most people won't cycle when there are large volumes of motor traffic present. But for a while on a hot, relatively car-free Saturday night in East London these cyclists seemed spontaneously to have taken over the streets.
The lack of motor traffic did not mean conditions were very safe. I experienced a conflict with an aggressively-driven car at a pinch-point on a road by London Fields, where the driver did not seem to be able to predict, as I could, that we would both arrive at the pinch-point at exactly the same time, and that therefore he would not be able to pass me. And I witnessed plenty of danger due to fast driving on main roads at junctions. Getting large numbers of cyclists on to the streets and reducing motor congestion does not improve the behaviour of drivers of itself; there is no "safety in numbers" for cyclists in this sense, as the rising casualty rate for cyclists at the same time as a rise in cycling rates illustrates. The apparently better behaviour of Dutch drivers is not due to the large numbers of cyclists in the Netherlands, it is forced on them by better infrastructure design (for example, narrower carriageways and tighter and better-controlled junctions).
Despite the under-resourcing of cycling infrastructure, the problems of the political structures, and the absurd policies of London's Mayor (his latest brainwave being not fixing the roads but providing cycle paths alongside railway lines – and do we have surface railway lines crossing central London? – no we don't), there are some limited grounds for optimism about the future of cycling in Britain. There are one or two examples about of satisfactory infrastructure which could be copied and extended. There is a massive popular desire for safe cycling space, particularly from families, which could start to translate into noticeable political pressure. There is the general feeling arising from the Olympic summer that it is the duty of government to provide for people being physically active. There is a more coherent world-view and platform from the various cycling organisations, as was apparent in the debate on cycling held in the London Assembly last month, part of their enquiry into the subject. And when unusual circumstances occur, the emergence of bikes in the inner London boroughs (but not yet in the outer ones) can be quite striking – possibly the austerity of recession also has something to do with this. But which way it will all go is still hard to predict.