The tube-drivers of Britain’s capital are currently on strike again. The immutable law of cause and effect means this inevitably gives rise to the following:
1) Daily Mail headlines predicting “misery” and “chaos” across the city, as if the zombie apocalypse is nigh.
2) Tory politicians claiming that the strikes are having “no effect”, despite the enormous queues at every underground station.
3) Labour politicians making “no comment” and shuffling their feet awkwardly, as Bob Crowe (RIP) turns in his grave.
4) The rest of the country saying “meh” and wondering what all the fuss is about. And…
5) London’s cyclists (of which I confess I am one) having a shit time.
What? London’s cyclists having a shit time? Surely (I hear you say) we’re the only people in the city who aren’t affected by the strikes?
Surely we should be feeling even more smug about choosing a “superior” mode of transport than we normally do?
Well no. And here’s why.
1) Every Man And His Dog Deciding To Drive
The number of cars on the roads in the past couple of days has literally doubled. It’s like the congestion charge never happened.
Not only are the streets hellishly busy, but they’re full of all sorts of folk who wouldn’t usually dream of driving in London: The dickheads in Audis made for cruising the motorway; the old women peering through the wheel of their Nissan Micras; girls using their mirror for the make-up they’d usually do on the tube.
All these people are making the streets way more dangerous than normal.
2) Mountain Bikers Taking to the Streets
I’ve seen more mountain bikes on the streets of London in the past two days than I have in the past six months, as people who don’t usually cycle to work wheel out their weekend whips for the duration of the strike.
This would be fine, but think about it: A soft-tail bike with 6 inches of suspension travel might be great on the downhill trails of Wales, but when you’re wobbling away from traffic lights and smashing wing mirrors off with your 75cm handlebars?
You’re just getting in the way I’m afraid.
3) Extra Busses on The Roads
More often than not, cyclists in London have to share the side of the road with bus lanes. Only bus drivers don’t see it this way. Their cabs are on the right, so they can’t really see anything on their left-hand side anyway. Plus they’re a lot bigger than you and the roads say “Bus Lane” on them, so surely they get priority?
Combine this attitude with the fact that long vehicles turning left are the highest cause of cycling deaths and you can see why cyclists don’t like busses much. Extra busses to carry passengers stranded by the tube strike just means extra danger.
As soon as the underground stops, so does the reason for having a Brompton. Isn’t the whole point of these folding bikes that you can carry them part of the way on public transport?
And yet more of them than ever appear to be out on the roads at the minute. Admittedly watching red-faced middle-aged men trying to do a whole commute on one is less annoying than amusing, but surely there’s a better way.
5) People Texting While They Walk
I’d usually welcome more people walking to work – you get outside, get a bit of exercise and all the rest of it.
The problem arises when people used to taking the underground assume they can do what they’d usually do on the tube. I’m afraid crossing a road isn’t like stepping onto a train, you need to take your eyes off your phone. At least for a second.
6) Part Time Boris Bikers
Boris Bikes are great. They’ve done a lot for opening up access to cycling in the city. And for allowing pissed-up tourists to get home without having to face the horrors of the nightbus.
But when the underground’s on strike, they also allow a load of people who don’t usually cycle to fling themselves headlong into the rush-hour traffic with reckless abandon.
This would be fine if London’s motorists and regular cyclists were prepared to be tolerant of these newcomers, but commuters in this wonderful city don’t tend to do ‘considerate’. In the past two days I’ve seen uncertain Boris Bike riders abused by drivers and fellow cyclists alike, and at least one get knocked off.
There should be an induction course on “how to ride obnoxiously” before you’re allowed on a Boris Bike in rush hour.
7) Black Cabs Are Everywhere
As every cyclist in London knows, black cabs are the work of the devil. They pull into the curb and open their doors without warning.
They also try to squeeze through gaps that even cyclists would think twice about, and if you get too close to them it’s always your fault because 1) they’re safer in their armoured cars than you are and 2) they’re almost always better at swearing loudly and inventively.
Years of experience has taught me that the best thing to do with black cabs is to give them a wide berth. But avoiding them becomes pretty much impossible when there’s a tube strike on and every young professional with an expenses account decides to take one to work.
Honestly, black cabs are everywhere at the moment, and that’s not good news for anyone on two wheels.
8) London Just Isn’t Built For Bikes
While all of these things have made cycling that bit trickier in the city over the past few days, the main reason tube strikes are shit for cyclists is that London just isn’t built for bikes.
The narrow streets and lack of separate bike lanes means that even when transport is running smoothly, cyclists are all too often squashed to the side of the street with not enough room to manoeuvre safely.
As soon as you add any extra traffic – be it busses, taxis, cars, pedestrians or even fellow cyclists – to this already overcrowded overground network, it starts to feel dangerous.
I would actually love to see more cyclists take to the roads in London. Even if they all decided to ride Bromptons. But until the city decides to build more bike lanes and cater properly for cyclists, I for one will be glad when the strike is over and everyone disappears back underground.