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Cycle promotion: putting the cart before the horse

June 24, 2009 by David Arditti

It's striking how much cycle promotion there is around London these days. You can't get on a tube or bus without seeing posters exhorting you to cycle.

And lots of people do want to cycle. But then come the practicalities. A question we just received on our Yahoo! group was: "What is a good way to cycle from Dollis Hill to Stanmore?" This cyclist has been on the TfL journey planner, and selected "bike only", and got the suggestion to go up the A5 and over the 50mph (in practice 70mph) Staples Corner flyover with it's terrifying motorway-style slip roads. And one has to answer his question, sorry, but it isn't actually possible to cycle from Dollis Hill to Stanmore by an acceptably direct route without going through feasome motorway-style junctions, or breaking the law and riding on pedestrian bridges and pavements. Brent south of the A406 North Circular road is completely cut off from north Brent and the outer suburbs, that is the way it is, and no-one in government seems to have a clue how to address that problem, or even to understand what a problem it is.

So, there's a fundamental problem with cycle promotion in this country. It's all upside-down, cart before horse. Government keeps telling people to cycle before the facilities are put in place to make it feasable, safe, and attractive - and, in fact, without there ever being a serious intention to make it so. We keep having cycling festivals and this and that cuddly thing, without ever having done the hard stuff, without having actually built the routes. The so-called soft and hard measures are in the wrong order, which will never work. Logically, it is completely crazy. Translated to another form of transport, it is as if we were railway promoters spending all our budget on advertising our wonderful railway, telling people to use it, but we don't build it, it just doesn't exist. It's just nuts.

Well, maybe as a nation we can't afford to buid proper cycle routes. But it seems we can afford to do the promotion. And advertising doesn't come cheap. Advertising budgets are measured in millions. The cost of, say, a cycle bridge across the North Circular would be millions too. But that would be millions well-spent, it would be a permanent piece of cycle promotion which would not disappear when the poster boards are resurfaced. And if it worked, it would continue working indefinitely - what an investment.

The sad truth is that the cynical, but realistic reply to the qustion about cycling from Dollis Hill to Stanmore is that the best way to do that is to take a folding bike on the tube and cycle the last bit from the station, or, leave a cheap bike permanently at the far end. The tube and railways are how most sensible Londoners without cars cross the North Circular barrier. Just imagine if the tube lines stopped at the North Circular, how divided London would be. That's what we have in cycling terms. We don't have the network, and we are wasting money telling people to use a mode of transport that is not practical.

Eventually that message must sink in, and either the authorities will give up on cycle promotion, or get serious about cycling. I don't see much sign of that happening during Boris Johnson's tenure as Mayor of London.


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More carthorses needed

June 25, 2009 by ian, 7 years 35 weeks ago
Comment: 12

ian's picture

A gloomy analysis, indeed. But I think there is more hope than you allow in this post. I wouldn't contradict the description you give, but it does seem that cycling is growing - certainly in London. Our job is to get more people cycling, so that the pressure on politicians to change things becomes unignorable. We need to support people who are cycling, so that they don't give up, and we need to get new people cycling so that we have a louder voice. Despite all the obstacles, cycling is still possible around Brent. We can show people how to make it easier, and ensure that visible changes happen. It shouldn't be necessary to put your bike on the train to get from Dollis Hill to Stanmore, and we should both encourage righteous anger that it seems that way, and enable short and long-term measures to ensure that it isn't.

No U Turns

June 25, 2009 by paul, 7 years 35 weeks ago
Comment: 13

paul's picture

The A5 flyover at Staples Corner is a 30mph speed limit zone with quite often police speed traps at either end as I travel to and from work daily. A straight clear piece of road which is a rare site these days so motorists more often than not travel at 40+ not noticing the 3ft sq yellow signs with black writing stating - watch your speed 30 mph limit.

You should also watch out for motorists not wanting to sit in the north bound slip road traffic, flying over the flyover and doing a u turn at the other end of the armco barriers then down the free south bound slip road to the roundabout. There used to be a no u turn sign at the end of these barriers which has been knocked over then removed which I have contact TFL to replace and Barnet police to enforce. It is very rare a u turn done here can be completed in one go causing conflict with other road users coming down from Cool Oak Lane lights as they complete their three point turn.
Another U Turn favourite to watch out for is motorists heading south up the A5 from the flyover then turning right into the Murco petrol station opposite Geron Way, a quick round the forecourt and then pop straight back out again onto the A5 to go north.  At certain times of the day you would be surprised how many vehicles do this and something the petrol station seems not able to stop.
Our north/south divide in Brent due to the North Circular Road will take a brave soul with vision to remedy, we can only hope one day someone will step up to the bar and end this motorway style road through our community. I was born in Neasden and do remember a time before these underpasses and flyovers existed.
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