London cycle routes

I’m a professional driver, but I don’t have my own car. My last car was an A-registered (that is, 1982-3) Nissan Cherry (produced just after Datsun was acquired, with the Datsun name still on it), which was adequate, but couldn’t do 60 comfortably unless on a downhill stretch. I had to stop using it in 2002 when, due to unwise spending decisions, I found myself unable to insure it. We finally had it towed away by the local council a few months back. My main means of transport is my bicycle.

Today I decided to ride off to the nearest place where you can get a decent cheap halal meal for my dinner rather than my usual fish and jacket potato. The nearest is in South Wimbledon, which is about 4 miles away. The place I really wanted to go to was Masaledar in Tooting, which has a £3 meal deal with rice, bread, curry, salad and a samosa. But the Karahi Mahal in Wimbledon does a nice, filling £4 biryani (or curry house biryani - it’s not what Amma-ji cooks at home). There is actually a cycle route leading from here to Wimbledon. But if you ride it, you’ll find that the cycle route consists mostly of cycle route signs - and even they are inadequate.

True, they’ve started making concessions to cyclists, such as opening up paths previously reserved for pedestrians. This includes a certain subway under a major road near where I live, but motorcyclists have also taken advantage of this concession, which in fact doesn’t include them. It’s really dangerous. But in some places, they haven’t even bothered to replace the twin barriers, which were meant to keep out cyclists, with bollards to let us through.

Further along, the path leads along a dirt track next to a park in Raynes Park. Fair enough. But when you have to cross the next main road (Martin’s Way, from Morden to Raynes Park), the cyclist is directed along a special path in order to cross Martin’s Way, at which he has to get off his bike. He could just as easily follow the road and cycle straight across Martin’s Way the way a car driver would. And that’s one of the most annoying things about these so-called cycle routes - they require you to get off your bike. We’re the only road users who are regularly required to do this.

That situation has got better since I first started cycling; cycle route 75, which runs across South London from Kingston to Croydon and beyond, runs through a large park near Sutton, along a wide track with easily enough room for pedestrians to share it with cyclists. When I cycled as a teenager from my parents’ house in Croydon to my grandad’s in New Malden, cyclists were banned, but now route 75 goes straight through and the “No Cycling” signs are gone. Elsewhere in Sutton, though, route 75 goes along back alleys where we still have to get off. And in other places, the signs hardly advertise route 75 at all. We just have to guess.

But these routes haven’t meant the construction of many dedicated cycle routes, or even the opening up of many existing tracks. The Wimbledon route still runs through a lot of residential streets, which are not always as safe for cyclists as people think. I’ve seen motorists cut corners on some of the right-angle junctions in that area, and a few months ago was hit by an old man who moved into a roundabout near my home as I was turning right. (I wasn’t hurt, ma sha Allah, but the bike was damaged.) On the main New Malden to Wimbledon road, I’ve had a car door opened right in my path, something which could just as easily happen on a side road.

As you can imagine, I’ve been rather more cautious about using my bike since the accident on the roundabout - that was a really close call. I really do resent motorists who belly-ache about cyclists getting ahead of them by jumping red lights, as if anyone gets hurt, and people who complain about cyclists on pavements. At the end of the day, a cyclist can suffer far worse injuries from a motor vehicle whose driver has decided to cut a few seconds off his journey by cutting a corner than a pedestrian can from a cyclist riding slowly along a pavement. Yes, we can wear helmets, but they only protect your head, not the rest of your body. If the government wants to get people out of their cars, there needs to be better than this half-hearted provision.

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