Here are my five most hated junctions on my route across south London.
1 Forest Hill:
This one is terrible first thing in the morning. There are two lanes as you approach the junction next to Forest Hill station from Lewisham and they get a lot of use in the mornings. The traffic backs up from Waldram Place, along London Road, until it reaches the south circular. There can be a little impatience sometimes and it pays to keep well and truly focused. There is a turning as you approach the Forest Hill junction and a queue tends to form behind those wanting to turn left. Not all of the cars and lorries in the queue want to turn left, however, and there can sometimes be a few angry lane changes so be careful when negotiating a way through.
2 Streatham Hill:
There are four lanes to get across here and the traffic is very heavy most of the time. Also there is a bus depot with a steady stream of buses going in all directions. This is probably the one that I hate the most to be honest. There is a crossing further down the road but I never use it for some reason. Whether coming from the Wavertree road direction or the Telford Avenue direction it is not a pleasant junction to cross on a bike.
3 Telford Avenue, Streatham Hill:
This one doesn’t at first seem like a particularly dangerous roundabout but it depends on which direction you are approaching it. If you are approaching the roundabout from the west then you have to make sure that the cars coming from the left have seen you. Because the approach is on a hill you are lower than the cars until you are right in front of them. There is a blind spot for the motorists so it is a good idea to stand up and make your-self a bit taller.
4 Shannon Corner, New Malden:
A particularly horrible roundabout no matter which way you approach it. The Kingston by-pass towers overhead and vehicles come on and off the slip roads very fast. Luckily it is traffic light controlled on all but one of the junctions which makes it a little less daunting. There is a cycle path which takes you safely around it if you don’t fancy tackling the road.
5 Fountain Roundabout, New Malden:
This one is just a bit further along from Shannon Corner. It does get very busy and the traffic tends to back up on the roundabout making it difficult to cross sometimes. A crossing off of one of the junctions is the main cause of the back-up and there are a few drivers who are unwilling to yield any space.
These are just the junctions I find to be the most dangerous on my route to and from Kingston. There are far worse ones in London but they all need a little common sense and diligence when using them.
Boris Johnson must really hate Lycra. He must have an extreme dislike for it if he is planning on spending £913 million pounds to “de-Lycrafy cycling” as he puts it. The new plans for a Dutch style cycle network in London, which he unveiled ten days ago, are ambitious not to mention expensive. I welcome any plans to make cycling easier and safer in London and would take full advantage of the new networks when they are completed. My only concern is the amount of money he is spending.
There have been massive public sector cuts and people are losing their jobs. The budget on Wednesday will see just how much more everyone has to pay before this financial mess is over. There have been protests over the bedroom tax and cuts in education. There are proposed cuts in police and fire brigade services in London with some fire stations and front offices of police stations closing. The proposed downgrading of Lewisham hospital will take vital services from the local community and will mean people travelling further for an A and E department.
These are just some of the problems ordinary people are facing in their everyday life. Now I’m not an economist but I think that £913 million is a tad over the top for a cycle route or two. True it will give employment to those who are going to be building this phenomenal plan of which I have no problem. The cycle network in London is not perfect as it is but surely a tenth of that amount would be enough to improve it. Some might say even less.
If they do improve the junctions at Elephant and Castle (a particularly dangerous spot for cycling in my opinion) and Vauxhall then that would be fabulous. I’m all for less traffic on the roads and more cyclists as well. Will this plan really see an army of commuters dressed in suits taking to the highways of London though? The weather is a major factor people take into account when choosing whether to cycle. The reason why some commuters wear Lycra is that it is light weight and dries quickly. I wouldn’t fancy riding a bike in a three piece suit in the pouring rain.
I am sure there are people out there who can think of better ways to spend nearly a billion pounds; education, health and emergency services being just a few of them. How has Mr Johnson come to have such a huge sum of money at his disposal anyway? I thought we were in an economic mess. I love cycling and the freedom it affords me. In the summer it is a great way to get around and it keeps me fit; kind of.
I applaud his decision to make it safer for cyclists in London and to try and get more people out of their cars and onto a bike. Some motorists could do with being a little more patient with people on bikes and not treating them as an inconvenience to their travel. Some people on bikes could do with a bit more common sense out there on the road. A little less arrogance from both sides could be done with at times. It just seems like a lot of money to me is all I’m saying. Still who am I; I’m not even a fully-fledged Lycra wearer anyway.
A few weeks ago, whilst about to cross Westminster Bridge on my bicycle, I was approached by one of those community police types; you know the ones, they look a bit like a police officer but they are not really (I’m kidding, they are very hard working and are doing a job I would not want to do). I had just hopped onto the pavement onto what I thought was a cycle path, it was thankfully, when one of them starting walking towards me and gestured for me to approach him. Police have this wonderful way of stirring a guilty feeling inside me even when I know I have done nothing wrong. I checked the floor again to make sure it was a cycle path, relaxed slightly, and waited to see what he had to say. I wasn’t about to be hauled off to the cells, I was pleased to discover; instead they wanted to tell me about a new scheme that assists in the recovery of stolen bicycles called Bike Register.
I popped around the corner where a (real) policeman painted my bike with some invisible ink, took note of my frame number, and told me a bit more about the scheme. If, please no, my bike does get stolen and is recovered by the police, then they can scan the invisible number, check it against their records and hopefully get it back to me. Of course it is a big if that it is recovered, there are more than one blue Trek bikes in the world, but if it is recovered then I have a better chance of getting it back than without the scheme. Oh, did I mention that it was free, or at least the nice police man did not charge me anything.
This is all very good but you do not want to return to where you had left your bike a few hours earlier to find it is gone. This is very annoying and can be a major pain in the whatsit if you happen to be a long way from home. It is recommended that you always use a good sturdy bike lock. In fact it is recommended that you use two good sturdy bike locks. I have two different types of D-locks and one of those plastic coated flex cables for looping through the front and back wheels. Even this is probably not enough if someone is determined to take my bike but why make it any easier for them than is necessary. The little man who sold me my bike suggested that I spend at least 10% of the value of my bike on a lock and I have no reason not to believe him as he didn’t try to sell me one. Kryptonite locks seem to be the most popular and the most reliable in my experience but if anyone has any better suggestions then I would be happy to hear them (whilst researching locks I did come across a YouTube video on how to pick a kryptonite lock with a Bic pen, but it appears that this is old news and not possible with new Kryptonite locks; I hope).
Having only had one bike stolen in my lifetime I would say that I am luckier than a lot of cyclists out there who use their bikes regularly. I do remember how I felt when I returned to find my bike missing and do not want to repeat the feeling any time soon but we are not in complete control of these things unfortunately. I do get nervous leaving it somewhere that I am unfamiliar with and will often try to keep it within eyesight if I can. This is not always possible and you just have to trust your security arrangements or risk ruining your day out. Invest in a decent lock, register your bike with the police and get some insurance are some preventative measures.
According to the London Cycling Campaign website (this is a good website and well worth a look at), 21,770 bike thefts were reported to the Met Police in 2012. This is an enormous figure and just goes to show just how many bikes there are out there and just how many are capable of being stolen. This information just makes me more determined than ever to keep little bike that I have. I think my locks are in need of an upgrade though; much like myself.
I do love riding up a steep hill; in fact, the steeper the better. There was a time, not too many years-ago, where I would have done all that I could to avoid riding up a hill. Not today though; today I actively seek out hills to ride up. In the city that is. I am not one of those crazy types who ride up and down mountains at great speed using a mountain bike for its proper use (although it does look like fun, I am just too much of a coward). No, I seek out urban hills to climb.
The reason for this is simple; I am trying to get fit. I have said before how much I despise running and I do cycle long distances, but I am not the healthiest person in the world when it comes to food and drink (oh and smoking). So I’ve always got that little bit of extra padding around my middle which I tell myself every day I will lose. Of course it’s all about staying healthy and absolutely nothing to do with vanity; really. Well, the smoking is being handled, the beer has been given its marching orders and I am forcing myself to not eat crap all the time; hence the hill searching. I figured that if I cycled up a few hills on the side then the fitness would come a rolling in. There are (funnily enough) quite a few hills in Forest Hill and they are humdingers to say the least.
An article in Men’s Health magazine puts the argument for cycling versus running in a very succinct way. Cycling is a low impact sport and running can bugger up your knees. This is not exactly what it says but it is the gist of it. As cycling is a low impact sport it is possible to go longer and further than when running. Unfortunately for me and my spare tyre it says that because cycling is done sitting down you don’t burn off as many calories as when you are running. Ten minutes of cycling will help to shift 97 calories whereas 14.2 minutes of running will see you shift a hefty 200 calories. It takes 27 minutes of cycling to shift that amount.
Of course vanity is one thing but all of this cycling and fitness seeking could be used for more charitable purposes. The British Heart Foundations London to Brighton bike ride is a possibility and for a very good cause. The event takes place on Sunday 16 June 2013, is a 54 mile ride, and you can register here to take part. If that seems like a lot to take on in one ride then you could go for ‘Around the West in 80 Miles’. This is a bike ride for the charity Temwa which is based in Bristol and raises funds to implement community-based projects in Malawi. The ride is broken up into two days of cycling and is at a leisurely pace. The point is that you can keep fit and do your bit for a good cause at the same time should you so wish. There are more charity bike rides out there to suit the beginner or the hard-core Lycra cyclist should you want to take part in one.
I’m going to keep on keeping my heart beating and looking for those hills to ride up for a while. My spare tyre has a limited life span even if it doesn’t know it yet.