My chains fell off…

One of the themes in the run up to these Games has been people looking to London’s hosting of the Olympics and Paralympics to solve many long seated problems within the city or wider UK. In some cases seemingly intractable problems have moved towards solutions but in other areas this is a step too far.

I recently cycled round Games-time London to see how feasible and popular this was, particularly in light of a recent tragic incident. I’m a fairly keen cyclist but have never cycled in central London before so this seemed a good test. Having had problems activating my key and using a credit card for the cycle hire scheme, I borrowed a colleague’s bike and took to the road.

The roads were busy as expected and I needed my wits about me to negotiate the complex web of obstacles and road provision for cyclists. There are cycle paths and super highways, albeit frequently blocked by delivery vehicles (even official Games suppliers!), and numerous buses, private hire vehicles and cars to contend with. I did learn a new “trick” from one vehicle – you pull up on a double yellow line, open your bonnet as if you have a problem, get your passenger out then nip off to run a few errands. Terrible! Navigating unfamiliar streets was also challenging but in Central London at least the legible London signs allowed me to check occasionally to ensure I was on track.

It was good to see so many people out cycling around London – and so many using the cycle hire scheme. Cycling or walking around the city also enables you to find things you would otherwise have missed. I went past two places where the Mayor of London Presents series had people performing gigs in public places.

I also cycled over to Hyde Park to find lots of people with bikes around the triathlon route. There are three secure cycling parking places at Hyde Park but unfortunately many people seemed unaware of these and had chained their bikes to any railings they could find. The cycle parking was still busy, but I’m told it was quiet when the Live Site was active – it seems the communication could have been a lot better there. I’ve seen the secure cycle parking at other venues being well used, for example over 400 on one day at the White Water Canoeing.

Towards the end of my trip, disaster struck as the chain on my bike broke leaving me with a bloodied knee and stranded in Central London. Unable to take a defunct bike on public transport, fortunately a visit to a cycle shop within walking distance got me going again.

So secure cycle provision is good, if not always as well communicated as it could be to casual visitors. Cycling around London continues to grow in popularity but it’s likely to take decades of good planning to overcome the challenges of London’s crowded streets and historic motorised-vehicle-focussed planning.

Finally, the risk of a chain coming off is ever present for even the best prepared of cyclists…but even the most ardent critic couldn’t blame London 2012 for that one!

Jonathan Turner

August 2012

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