Nick Ferrari, LBC show host with 1.3 million daily listeners, argues that London’s cycle lanes are not fit for purpose and will only cause aggravation, massive delays and unnecessary loss of life.
Picture the scene: a dark, government issue Land Rover Discovery, bristling with state of the art technology that would enable the occupant in the back to watch live a drone strike on a terrorist camp in Raqqa, or make a totally secure call to anywhere in the world. The driver is trained in both the art of rapid convoy travel and high speed defensive driving that could see him reverse at speeds up to 90 miles an hour before performing a perfect U-turn by judicious use of the hand brake. Beside him sits a detective armed with a police issue Glock 17 revolver.
Meanwhile, in the back sits a distinctive figure. But beneath his world-famous and characteristic unruly blond mop, his face is growing redder by the second. Think of one of those big Spanish tomatoes with some icing on the top and you’ve got the picture. The reddening countenance belongs to our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and he’s as frustrated as a spotty teenaged virgin unable to get even a snog at the high school dance. His anger and annoyance have been caused by just one thing, and he’s far from alone. They’ve been blamed for businesses collapsing, moving or even closing down. Medical appointments have been missed, interviews for jobs have never taken place and countless relationships put in mortal jeopardy as partners and lovers have turned up so hideously late for dates that not even a bunch of flowers the size of a Great Dane or a bottle of the finest red have ameliorated the rightful fury.
“They” are the ghastly cycle lanes that have caused more damage to this city than anything imagined in the wildest dreams or expectations of a Luftwaffe pilot back in the days of the Second World War. They have also helped to take the speed with which traffic can get across London back to a pace unseen since the late 1800s. Yes, that’s right. One of the busiest and greatest cities in Europe, if not the world, now has its business journeys being conducted at the speed of a horse and cart.
All this as residential and commercial building in London kicks in at a scale unseen since the times of Queen Victoria and the number of vans delivering for Amazon and all the other delivery services continues to soar at an unprecedented rate. Factor in the unceasing explosion in the number of Über cars with drivers flooding onto London’s streets from just about every corner of the planet, and you can see that you’ve got a perfect storm being played out on a daily basis on the city’s streets.
So, just how did London, enjoying an economic boom many times larger than any of its European counterparts find itself jammed like a third world city, meaning the likelihood of being able to get to appointments on time is about the same as that of John Prescott becoming principal male lead for the Bolshoi Ballet. And if Katie Melua is looking for a follow up to her hit ‘There Are Nine Million Bicycles In Beijing,’ why doesn’t she start counting in London? We surely can’t be that far behind.
As with many things concerning government, whether central or local, the intentions behind it were entirely sound but it was the execution that has been flawed. Faced with a tragic increase in the number of cyclists being fatally injured on London’s streets, which was also being outstripped by the additional rapid increase in the number of cyclists being seriously injured, urgent action was required. Carving off some of the road and painting it a different colour and with white lines serving as borders wasn’t working. While we’re on the subject of the painting of the road, why on earth did
they choose to paint it blue? For as any motorist knows, blue signifies motorways which, in turn, signifies hitting speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. It might be a subliminal thing, but where was the logic in splashing around a colour that denotes the fast lane of the M1?
Clearly something far more radical was required and a physical demarcation of the space for cyclists was deemed necessary, so the idea of cycle lanes was born. Then, the scheme moved to the construction side and planners had to figure out precisely where to place them.
This would prove to be the undoing of the £900 million cycle superhighway scheme. Because successive boroughs refused to allow the side roads under their jurisdiction to be used, then London Mayor Johnson and his team of cycling zealots were left with just the roads under their control: the once fast flowing highways responsible for keeping the city moving.
Cycling advocates delight in citing examples of the superb provision and planning of facilities for cyclists in a raft of other cities. They talk of Amsterdam and indeed most of the Netherlands as a free-wheeling nirvana, totally ignoring that even at its busiest, the average Dutch city is about as busy as Dawlish on a Sunday afternoon. They marvel at Manhattan, without pausing to remind themselves of the extraordinary width of the avenues and streets. Or they “ooh” and “aah” at a city such as Copenhagen, where, again, the boulevards are wider. If they love it so much, why don’t they just bloody well move there!
London is an awkward, narrow, sprawling, ancient city whose roads have been built in piecemeal fashion. Make your way out to the west on the road towards Heathrow airport and you thunder alongside the river on roads that vary from two to three lanes of traffic. Suddenly, as you head close to Chelsea harbour you come across a tight, one lane, right-hander that wouldn’t disgrace the Monaco Grand Prix. Buses, trucks, vans, taxis, cars, motorbikes and bicycles have to merge into one lane. And with the arrival of the east-west cycle superhighway cycle lane that runs along the Victoria Embankment from the City of London to parliament, this murderous merging can be seen ever more frequently.
Shortly before Johnson left the Mayoralty in the spring of 2016, he inaugurated the hugely significant route, running as it does alongside the Thames, past such historic landmarks as the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster and close to the Monument. As Johnson, a keen cyclist, pedalled along the new highway, he saw at first hand the wildly mixed emotions cycle lanes have the power to bring out of road users. Fellow cyclists whooped and hollered, while taxi and van drivers yelled abuse and gave him the sort of hand signals you’d be hard pushed to find in the Highway Code.
As more and more road space was given over to cycle lanes, an unexpected and dangerous psychological mindset developed among cyclists. Suddenly they felt empowered, as if the road belonged to them. Let’s get this straight: the road belongs to everyone from a pedestrian on a crossing to the driver of the biggest juggernaut in the land. No one has, or should expect, preferential treatment. There must be mutual respect.
But these special lanes breed an unhealthy sense among many (note, not all) cyclists that they are a special breed. Suddenly, some of the city’s major highways started to resemble sections of the Tour de France as cyclists competed ruthlessly to try to beat each other. They downloaded apps that allowed them to compare each daily ride so they could try to shave seconds off their “record times.”
As I write this, in the middle of February, it’s been my grim duty to tell listeners to my daily LBC breakfast show that no fewer than three cyclists have been killed on London’s roads in the last four days. This horrific statistic supports the argument that city planners are trying to squeeze too many cyclists on to too little road space. Put simply, there is not enough room.
At the same time, it is reported the City Hall coffers will be left £90 million short because not enough people are using the buses and tubes. With regular fare rises, it’s little wonder that commuters have taken to two wheels, but the promises of future fare freezes now seem like pie crust promises: easy to make and easy to break.
This mix is as toxic as the poisonous London air. We’re encouraging more and more people to take part in a potentially fatal experiment that has neither been fully thought through nor properly implemented. On some cycle lanes, the protection simply comes to an end and the cyclist is thrown back onto the regular road.
Back to that protected Land Rover and its occupant who looks out at those speeding past him in the cycle lanes he created and wishes he could be one of them, but knows he is not allowed due to the government position he holds. Soon something else will dawn on him. That his legacy as Mayor will be a network of cycle lanes which at the least choke our city, at the worst cause ceaseless harm.