The bicycle is human scale

A short piece I wrote for the LCC website as part of their International Women’s Day collection. It and a range of other pieces are here.

I’ve ridden a bike in London now for around 12 years. My commute runs from Hackney to Westminster, and while some of it is downright unpleasant, much is enjoyable. I love how it varies by season. London Fields Park changes colour week by week. In Summer, I spot the house in Islington where the roses precisely match the front door paint. In Winter I enjoy riding past Camden’s 1930s built Welsh Centre and peeking in through the lit windows to the oak panelled interior.

Each year I notice new things, or am reminded of the past by seeing things that bring back old memories. I appreciate opportunities to interact with people, like smiling at pedestrians when I stop at zebra crossings. The bicycle is human scale, unlike a car where the driver is cocooned in a ton of metal and steel. This for me is a key reason why we should encourage cycling: it can help create sociable and welcoming cities. But cities must choose to welcome cycling, and in London many of our politicians and officials still seem unsure.

For me, space for cycling is about freedom from fear; creating cycling environments that are positively pleasant, where interactions with motor vehicles are kept to a minimum. On many main roads, this means wide, direct, and prioritised cycle tracks. On much of our street network, it means removing or dramatically reducing through motor traffic, changing the balance of power on the streets. Where cyclists interact with motor vehicles, this should be on cycling’s (and walking’s) terms; motor vehicles should be slowed down, diverted and held back to allow cyclists and pedestrians safe and speedy passage.

This approach allows cycling to become truly equitable and liberating. Cycling is inherently democratic. For some people, it’s easier than walking, and it’s certainly easier than driving. Yet cycling in the UK seems only something for the skilled and the super-confident. It’s an incredible reversal. Something by nature easy and safe becomes difficult and unpleasant, while driving – by nature complex and scary – seems easy and even expected. The growing recognition of this injustice was what prompted me to get involved with LCC.

Space for cycling means space for people. Re-allocating space from motor vehicles to cycling is a win-win. My street is no longer a short-cut for motor traffic thanks to ‘modal filtering’ (some carefully placed bollards and trees stopping up a rat-run). The street’s nicer for everyone and local people now organise a regular ‘play street’ for kids. Similarly good quality cycle tracks on main roads, using space taken from motor traffic lanes, can create a pleasant, quieter, and less polluted atmosphere for walking. My office fronts Marylebone Road. Walking along it would be much nicer if there was a cycle track next to the pavement rather than a motor traffic lane.

We need space for cycling not just for (current) cyclists, but for the city and all its people. I believe that London’s at the crossroads, and that space for cycling needs to be seen as part of a vision of a humanised city which is better for everyone.

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4 Responses to The bicycle is human scale

  1. Charles Barraball says:

    Beautiful writing. Eloquence. Conciseness. Focus.
    Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Getting on a bike is just the best thing. | Richmond Cycling Campaign

  3. Simon Parker says:

    I agree with you – and yet not completely.

  4. Simon Parker says:

    I am sorry – I shouldn’t have written that. I am not in a good place at the moment. Charles is right: it is beautiful writing. And beautiful thoughts as well.

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