A guest post by Douglas Shaw, Avonmore resident, and a keen cyclist:
Can I make a few points about the CS9 debate? It has been very disheartening to see how quickly positions became entrenched. I won’t lob any more data into the discussion because I suspect that won’t move the dial but I do think some context is helpful.
I first became a cycle commuter in 1994, out of boredom rather than any environmental motive. I now live near Olympia and bike daily to Mayfair. It is just so convenient. I don’t bother with a helmet, I own no Lycra and leave any pious attitude behind when in the saddle. But it wasn’t always like that. Early doors, I biked as fast as I could and frequently held motorists to an impossible standard of conduct even at the expense of my own danger. But then I realised that queuing for the work place shower ate up any time savings and that might really was right when arguing with the traffic. A legalistic approach to riding a bike is a literal dead end. A cyclist’s momentum is valuable so, yes, I have ridden through a red light when no one’s around (that one at the north end of Queensgate, if it is pedestrian-free) and might sneak a left turn on red if the traffic is snarled. Cyclists can also hop off and instantly become pedestrians so, yes, I have recently cycled on a pavement. My bad.
So, I ain’t no saint but a bike is so nimble and so flexible that there is no more point approaching cyclists and cycling with a rule book on your lap than there is complaining about jay-walking pedestrians (who themselves can turn on a six pence). There is even less point saying that, as some have, cyclists should not “undertake” stationary traffic as they filter to the front: bikers are gonna bike just like pebbles will tumble through boulders.
One feature of the debate is a false categorisation. Cyclists own cars, car drivers cycle, pedestrians also drive, bus passengers also walk. It is just folk moving about the city, there’s no homogenous block of people. I drive, renting since I sold my diesel VW, and take Uber and Black Cabs. Another feature if the debate is just plain nimbyism. People don’t mind change provided it is experienced by others and not by themselves. We want less pollution but are unwilling to sell our cars. Before moving to Olympia we lived in Chelsea and I was active in the debate about whether there should a Crossrail2 station on the King’s Road. My neighbours thought a billion quid might be better spent elsewhere lest the wrong sort of person came to the area. I was on the side of progress.
And I remain so with regard to CS9. Of course, change can be temporarily disruptive; might car journeys take a minute longer? Big deal. But might there be fewer cars and less pollution if more folk cycle? But might our kids be more independent and healthier if we let them bike to school? Could our streets be more pleasant and humane if we reweighted the balance between their different users? What has been the experience elsewhere in London? A bike provision was installed on Green Lanes in north London, my original manor. Like Chiswick High Road and Olympia, councillors’ post bags were deeply negative. Residents hated the idea, retailers loathed it. But installed it was and the naysayers not only piped down post construction but actually like it. Now, my esteemed ward councillor advises that the N21 scheme is “very different” to the proposed CS9. To which I politely shrug, because it is clear that being against CS9 “in its current form” actually means opposing it in any form.
For Tories like me, this is a mistake. We should be leading our post bags on this and making the case for more balanced road use and more humane and workable streets. The N21 scheme might differ from proposed CS9 which, in any case, will be improved through the consultation period as any flaws become evident. But bike lanes, like CS9, will be better for our health, better for communities and, as N21 retailers will attest, better for business.