Forum Topic

Some random thoughts about cycling in Chiswick (and beyond)

Simon Hayes had a good post on the bike theft thread, and since continuing on that one felt a bit like derailing the topic I thought of opening up a new one. After all, it's Chiswick's most popular past time, isn't it?Here are some random thoughts from myself about how to make the coexistence between human-powered and engine-powered vehicles a bit easier in town. I should point out that my point of view is of an adult man who cycles for pleasure and to/from work, averaging 200km/week. So my needs and requirements aren't the same as, say, a young teenager who cycles to and from school, or a person just nipping to the shops. Cyclists, much like motorists, come in different shapes and sizes.I think life is a matter of giving and taking; there are rights and duties, so I'll split my thoughts on cyclists' 'duties' and 'rights', taking some of Simon's ideas along the way if that's OK.DUTIESLike Simon, I think registration plates for bikes is a solution in search of a problem. Say you implement them... then what? You put in speed cameras for bikes? Well, how does the speed camera tells a bike from a car... or where do you fit the registration? Insurance is a good one. I get why the occasional user might not need it, but if one uses a bike to commute, or for work, then insurance is definitely a must. Not only bikes can be expensive (especially those for deliveries or to stuff kids into on the way to school), but it's also in the rider's interest. I'm fully covered in case of accidents, because it's all but guaranteed that if I'm hit by anything I'll have the worst. A test on how to ride wouldn't be bad; sometimes I see some behaviours that are just puzzling. Simon also talks about a licence, but as far as I'm aware drivers aren't required to carry theirs (I might be wrong?) so why the double standard. I'm not sure an MOT-like activity is required. A bike, in its simplest form, has very few moving parts and in the event of a malfunction what happens is that you become stationary. Lights and helmet, though, are a must in London, and I think they should be on at all times. It's just too bloody dangerous here. It just is. I think there must be a need for some more enforcing of the rules too.  I'd be inclined to say that little Polly, aged 5 and a half, should be able to ride on the pavement, and that in some cases an argument can be made about red lights - how many pedestrians jump the red, or jaywalk, when no one's around?. And, obviously, filtering through a queue of cars is totally legal. If you're stuck in a jam in your car and you see a cyclist pass by on your right then you shouldn't throw a cigarette butt at him (as one lovely gentleman did) but perhaps you could copy said cyclist. But there must be better enforcement and fines against a lot of the most egregious scenes I often see - like crossing through busy junctions with a red, overtaking from the left, mounting on the pavement at speed, and more. RIGHTSHere's a loose list observations of behaviours I constantly see in Chiswick and upper parts of Brentford. I cycle to the Heathrow area and it'll be surprising to many that a lot of the problems I encounter in Chiswick do not, with a few exceptions, get replicated in Hounslow or Isleworth.Overtaking: please give some space. It's rather terrifying to be almost-clipped, it really is, especially when a driver attempts the maneuver before a traffic island and then realises there's no space. Over time I found that lorry drivers, bus drivers, van drivers and Uber/Bolt drivers are amongst the most considerate road users. Black cab drivers, instead, almost clip me with incredible regularity, even when there's no need, and I've had to have a word with some more than once. I'm not an angry cyclist, I tend to live and let live, but it feels as if they're doing it on purpose. In Chiswick, I find that big SUV or Audi drivers tend to almost scrape me.Giving right of way: be it at a roundabout, or when turning into a road, it feels as if I'm either invisible or irrelevant. I've had cars pull in front of me, missing me by a metre, and yesterday on CHR at the corner with the Clayton Hotel I was almost hit by a man with a black Mercedes who said "I have the right of way" as he cut me to join the queue of cars trying to reach Chiswick Roundabout. Bottom line: I know you don't want to have to overtake the cyclist, but by cutting through in front of him/her you risk killing that person. This applies to turning into a street, or a roundabout, or at a junction... I might have less wheels than you and a 0.5hp engine, but I'm still a vehicle!Not checking when crossing the road/stepping into the bike lane. This is a normal occurrence on C9 on the A205. There's a school nearby, I think, plus the footfall from the train station; it's normal for people not to cross on the zebra crossing, or to casually saunter into the bike lane without checking. Please watch. Or, if not, listen. I know some have complained, on this forum, about cyclists shouting at them: I do it too, and it's for a simple reason. No one, literally NO ONE, reacts to a bell and, secondly, if I'm using the bell I don't have both hands on the breaks. I'd rather shout 'watch out', break and stop than ring a stupid bell like it's Liberation Day and hit you.That's it, hopefully this triggers some positive conversation.

Francis Sheehan ● 85d57 Comments

Hi Davey, thanks for your comment.Hi Philippa, appreciate that everyone's different. My decision of getting rid of the bell came a few months ago, for a number of reasons:1) Nobody cares. I don't ride on the pavement, and I don't ride in parks like Acton Green, so it's either road or cycle lanes. There are some 'hotspots' where pedestrians either cross the road without looking, or where they just stray in the lane without checking. I'm not talking about zebra crossings, in those eventualities I think it's my duty to stop and that's it, but I'm thinking of places like outside Morrison's in Brentford, or the South Circular bit of C9, or Wellesley road where pedestrians pop out of nowhere. It's a lot worse in the City, though. If I ring a bell, it seems that nobody cares, especially as many are using a phone while walking... 2) On a drop-bar bike like mine there's no way to use a bell without moving hands away from the gear lever and, crucially, brakes. So, what do I do? If the pedestrian is up to two car lengths from me, I slow down - disk brakes are BRILLIANT! - but if somebody is kamikazing in front of me I slow down and shout. Normally something like 'Watch out', 'Behind you'... it works a lot better. I see biking clubs using that method in the rare occasions I venture in Regent's park and they're out there doing loops of the park. When they overtake me, which they always do as they're a lot faster, they very often use messages like "behind you", "on your right". The tone of voice is loud, not a scream, and I find it particularly useful. I try to mirror that on the roads.

Francis Sheehan ● 83d

You really are clutching at straws. You called one contributor here the village idiot.Define unnecessary journey. The usual line trotted out is someone driving to buy a pint of milk, yet there’s zero evidence to support that contention. It’s just one example of the the irrational arguments put forward by anti car activists.The Silvertown tunnel has been on the table for 20 years. Ken Livingstone gave it the green light. Boris Johnson (now there’s the archetypal irrational cycling zealot) wouldn’t commit to it despite saying he would. His genius idea was to build a cable car instead, that nobody wanted.Now it’s going ahead the  active travel brigade are up in arms about a betrayal. Of course, what you and others don’t recognise is that most economic activity in London involves road transport of some kind, things for which a bicycle is wholly inadequate. The Silvertown link will actually reduce congestion snd pollution by easing pressure on the Blackwall tunnel. Even Sadiq Khan has admitted that. So, there you have it, improving road networks reduces congestion.Your figures for the transport infrastructure projects mentioned are indeed big. Much bigger than they should be or were originally budgeted. That’s par for the course in this country. What you don’t address is that those projects will be used by far more people than a cycle lane will be. The per capita spend over time will be far less than on something like C9. Public transport spending should be the first priority for London as it’s the most common method we use to get around.‘Years of neglect’ of cycling infrastructure? You mean there was really no demand for it. There’s still no real demand for it apart from the clamouring of a small, noisy minority. You’ve got your bike lanes but that’s not enough. You want publicly funded roads closed off for your benefit. Spurious arguments about ‘traffic evaporation’ were proven to be wrong. Claims about ‘rat running’ using dodgy data also priced to be false. Yet those myths are still peddled by the true believers. The measures introduced have increased congestion and pollution.Of course, you aren’t going to change your views on this, but your arguments are not persuasive. Simply trotting our the usual tropes (how I laughed when you wrote ‘benefitting those who still need to use their vehicles’) doesn’t make them correct.

Simon Hayes ● 84d

SH: "Gosh, you really are an angry man."RC: No, not at all. Though it may be that reasoned arguments with which you don't agree, cuase you to be angry. Or at least charmless.SH: "It’s nothing to do with the value of its arguments. It’s got everything to do with the TfL board and local authorities being stuffed with LCC members. You claim no political influence. That’s nonsense."RC: So the cycling lobby has been successful in persuading Government to provide a relatively (emphasise) tiny sum on cycle provision after years of neglect.You might set that against the enormous sums being spent on motoring eg one road tunnel at Silvetown - £1.2m to build (latest estimate), plus another £1bn to operate and maintain over 25 years.Or on public transport in London - eg £20bn+ on the Elizabeth Line.Or national rail - eg HS2 independently estimated in 2021 to cost as muxch as £107bn(!), unless curtailed.Which is not to say that those sums cannot be justified, rather that they put cycling budgets into perspective.SH: "Many of the arguments put forward by the LCC are not based on perceived benefits but rather in re-educating ‘evil’ car drivers, as if the population of London will all suddenly take to two wheels. It’s simply fantasy to think that’s going to happen en masse."RC: No, nobody is arguing that "the population of London will suddenly takes to two wheels, en masse", or anything like it. Nobody.Rather that by persuading more people to abandon their cars for unecessary journeys where feasible,  will produce many benefits eg health, pollution and congestion, with this last also benefitting those many drivers who will still need to use their vehicles.If thats not all too anger-inducing for you.

Richard Cathcart ● 84d

Pretty good thoughts.I think a test is vital tbh. Too often I've seen wince-inducing cycling, thinking a variation on "that one is trying to get themselves killed" Likewise, anyone riding one of those sodding e-scooters should have to take a test. I don't see it as unreasonable that demonstrating a certain level of proficiency is reached before letting anyone loose on the roads.Helmets and lights are a must. Speaking as someone knocked off their bike & seriously injured by a moped, I simply don't understand the thought process behind not wearing a helmet. I would strongly support the mandating of high viz as well.Whilst cyclists on the pavement are a major irritant, particularly where cycling infrastructure exists - I make about 90% of my journeys on foot & having to dodge cyclists is massively annoying, there needs to be a reasonable exception made for children - I think 10 years old always used to be the accepted upper limit?Enforcement needs teeth as well - it's all very well people saying but cyclists don't kill many pedestrians, but that's not the point, it's that they endanger themselves by red light jumping & can seriously injure any pedestrians they hit. And spare a thought for the poor sod whose wheels they could end up under after blasting through a junction against the lights.On the flip side of that, cyclists have an absolute right to be treated with respect and courtesy on the roads.Whilst, personally, I think the 1.5m close pass rule is too wide and, in my opinion 1m, is fine for a competent cyclist & more reasonable for a good number of London roads, strict punishments should be given for those passing closer than that, particularly in heavier vehicles. South Korea (I think) have started making bus drivers be subjected to close passes whilst on an exercise bike to make them aware of what it is like for the cyclist - more of that sort of training would be useful in the UK and probably foster better understanding and relations.Giving way - follow the HC and everyone should be golden. I know that's a bit of a pipedream, but still... Speaking as a driver, it is sometimes possible to lose a cyclist against the streetscape (& obvs at night if no lights), but high viz dramatically reduces those chances and should make it the very rare exception.The pedestrian issue is an interesting one. On the one hand, everyone is responsible for their own safety & stepping off the pavements without looking is, frankly, dumb. On the other, the hierarchy of responsibility would seem to put cyclists in the chair for making sure that they don't hit a pedestrian, regardless of how Darwin Award-esque their behaviour might be.Ultimately though, I think your central point of rights being balanced off with responsibilities is bang on.

Mark Warburton ● 84d

Francis, please don't be discouraged. Debates on this subject tend to be dominated by the two extremes whether it be expletive ridden responses to a mild challenge to their views or bizarre ramblings about Turkish women on bikes.I would agree with about 90% of what you said. If you followed the social media accounts of Jeremy Vine you would believe that there is a constant state of war between motorists and cyclists on the streets of London. Although occasionally he does come across some examples of very bad and dangerous driving, I feel that many of the incidents he records have partly been provoked by him as he needs conflict to boost his clicks.This, in my view, is very counterproductive for the growth of cycling. Creating the impression that our roads are a highly dangerous and confrontational place is going to discourage a lot of people who might otherwise take up cycling.I cycle much less than Jeremy Vine, but I would say that 99% of my interactions are positive and I make much more use of my thumb to indicate approval for considerate driving than my middle digit to signify the opposite. You are quite right that professional drivers e.g. lorry drivers, bus drivers and van drivers tend to be considerate. I would make one exception to that and say that I am wary of delivery drivers but we perhaps should make allowances there  as many of them are paid on a piece work basis and under pressure to meet their quota of drop-offs.Agree also that larger cars tend to present the most risk. This seems to me partly down to a lack of spacial awareness on the part of the driver. If I encounter them on a narrrow road I make no allowance for their size and force them to slow before letting them pass. Although close passes are not uncommon I think at lower urban speeds their risk should not be overstated. I tend not to hold a completely straight line (particular on our local potholed roads) and this gives drivers seeking to overtake pause for thought.One point where I do disagree with you is the use of a bell. I find that pedestrians do respond to it. Of course you are right that many do just wander into the road without looking. Using the bell in anticipation that any pedestrian by the side of the road might do this avoids trouble. Of course this means that if you are cycling along the High Road you are almost constantly ringing your bell. Mine is positioned so I can flick it with my thumb and keep my hand on the brake.The important point to make is that cycling in Chiswick is a pleasant and safe experience, most people are considerate, conflict is rare and you will hardly ever, if at all, get abuse shouted at you. The vitreol that exists between 'cyclists' and 'motorists' is a cyberspace construct which is amplified for some for professional advantage and others because they enjoy a dispute and are incapable of understanding that issues can be nuanced and complex. There are 'bad people on both sides' but hopefully contributions like yours will increase the general understanding of the issue among people who don't already have entrenched views.

Jeremy Parkinson ● 85d

"Hint of a correlation between xenophobia and cyclophobia?"Indeed! This seems like an opportune moment to link again to an excellent essay published by Chiswick legend Karen Liebreich on the othering of cyclists. There are a few honourable mentions for local forumers, although I think the rhetoric has escalated since those innocent days of Dec 2020. Othering of CyclistsEveryone loves a good scapegoat. When your business is faltering because of Covid, or your shop is losing trade because of the internet, or when you simply can’t turn left outside your house as you have done for the last twenty years to drive to your local shops — blame cyclists. When you’re stuck in traffic and someone sweeps past without a care in the world (and without paying for road tax or insurance) — blame cyclists.Lockdown saw a sudden surge in the popularity of cycling. It was easy to socially distance, the roads were empty, it counted as exercise, you could take the kids. But now traffic levels are overtaking pre-Covid rates as we shun public transport. Central government in the UK responded by seizing the chance to announce “a green transport revolution.”The othering of people on bicycles was already a well-known phenomenon. For some years people on bikes have been perceived as members of a different, lesser species, not deserving of the basic consideration or courtesy one would usually extend to an equal. An article in Transportation Research last year revealed that more than half of car drivers think cyclists are not completely human. Seventy per cent of cyclists have experienced some form of aggression. Recently the phenomenon has become critical. A Labour councillor hit by a car recently reported on twitter: “A man … hit the front of my bike… he carried on driving to push me out of the way. I wasn’t a human, I was [an] obstacle.” Last week as I pottered inoffensively along, not blocking any roadspace, a man in a sports car shouted at me ‘You piece of shit, get back in the cycle lane’ (which was closed); face to face he would never think of screaming this at a passing woman. If cyclists were a race, this reaction would be racist. But safe behind their metal walls car drivers are inviolate, and smaller beings are simply reduced to objects in their way.Somehow the car protects the driver not only from physical damage but also from the norms of civilisation. The car is larger than the bike, therefore the driver must be more important and take priority. When I worked in the Mercedes factory as a student we joked that the car came with ‘inbuilt right of way.’A crash caused by a person on a bike will attract many times the attention of the five-a-day crashes caused by car and lorry drivers. Many will remember Charlie Alliston cycling on his fixie who got an 18-month sentence for colliding with pedestrian Kim Briggs who stepped out in front of him (she was fatally injured). Who remembers the three women who all lost a leg around the same period in the nearby streets — NHS midwife Julie Dinsdale, aged 54 (driver given 5 points and fined £625 for careless driving); Victoria Lebrec, aged 28, hit by a skip lorry; or Sarah Doone, aged 38, hit by a cement lorry barely a month after a 38-year old cyclist had been killed less than a mile away. The only case we recall is that of the cyclist Charlie Alliston.This othering has become a more widespread phenomenon in recent months, ever since social distancing became the norm and councils started actively to create extra space for pedestrians and cyclists, encouraged and prodded by financial incentives from central government. Suddenly cyclists feel optimistic, and car drivers feel threatened. Throughout the country, councils which were tinkering at the edges trying to introduce a few token cycle lanes have suddenly been emboldened by government policy — and indeed forced by threats of defunding — to dust off their more radical plans and rush them into action under Emergency Traffic Orders. These require no consultation before implementation, and are supposed to be tweaked and consulted on once they have been installed.A Low Traffic Neighbourhood might mean that a person in a car can no longer drive the direct route they have always driven to the local shop to pick up some milk; suddenly, instead of an opportunity to reclaim the streets for children, pedestrians and cyclists, this becomes a major infringement on a car driver’s human rights. Across the country the bikelash erupted. In Ealing a local councillor led a street demo of hundreds to demand the return of their High Traffic Neighbourhood. In Wandsworth a tepid council bowed to pressure after a week (even though traffic changes would usually take a few weeks or even months for sat navs and habits to begin to respond). The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the last dinosaur on the block that had been dubbed the Royal Borough of Killing Children, unveiled a temporary cycle lane only to remove it hastily after a few weeks just as it began to gain traction. Councils are inundated with letters of complaint, often orchestrated by groups dubbed One — as in OneIslington, OneLevenshulme, OneChiswick — often claiming to represent the rights of those living on main roads, or the disabled. Soon other organisations, such as those representing cab drivers and libertarians, gravitate to these protests and the demonstrations become more physical with planters vandalised, irate street demonstrations and physical threats to those supporting the calming measures. In Islington ex-UKIP, now Heritage Party, London Mayoral candidate David Kurten addressed a small anti-LTN rally, praising them for ‘standing up for London, standing up for freedom… cars can’t travel around… and democracy is being destroyed.’ In Hounslow a councillor led a group of residents to prevent installation of a traffic filter wearing a V for Vendetta mask; pro-LTN residents complained, police attended and within an hour the United Cabbies Group were galvanising their membership in support. A few weeks later there were threats on social media to shoot councillors supporting cycle-friendly traffic changes.The othering of the cyclist has several causes. For some it can be ascribed to the guilt of the driver. They are not climate change deniers (usually), they know that driving damages the environment, they know there is a public health crisis related to obesity (indeed they frequently drive to the gym), they know the air is polluted. But oh the convenience! That old saying, about ‘traffic is other people’ holds true. Add to that the undeniable smugness of many cyclists, who gloat that they are doing their bit to save the planet — and putting themselves in danger at the same time. Much of it is simply down to pure jealousy — cyclists can go everywhere, they are unburdened by traffic gridlock, they need no training, no licence, no insurance, no road tax. It simply isn’t fair! As John Baker put it on twitter: ‘In our dominant ideology, cycling is an aberration. It ignores technological progress, modern patterns of credit and consumption, the virtues of speed and power, and the idea of a car as a status symbol.’Meanwhile drivers are burdened by taxation and increased legislation. Whilst drunken driving is now seen as beyond the pale, speeding or driving while on the phone are still considered acceptable, and being caught for these offences is an example of the gross unfairness of the modern police state. On our local forum a lady, known for her opposition to LTNs and castigation of light-jumping cyclists, bewails ‘My husband who is one of the most careful drivers I know has just received a nasty letter threatening him with prosecution’ — for speeding.Yet calling for the complete abolition of cycling sounds too extreme, even to the ears of the most fervent opponents. The socially acceptable response is to say that of course they support safe cycling, but not here, always over there. Sometimes they claim to use a bike themselves, starting their comments with ‘As a cyclist myself… ‘ or ‘I’m all in favour of cycling but not on this road…’ The routes they propose instead are invariably along highly polluted A roads, or via long diversions through winding back roads. Not only do people on bikes expend tangible energy, and the direct route to a destination will always be the most appealing to them, but there is little point putting a cycle lane far from the local amenities that people wish to visit.Cyclists are not blameless. They are less able to take their hand off the bars while turning corners to thank drivers, and they are likely to respond aggressively, especially if they’ve just escaped serious injury by careless driving; the body automatically releases adrenaline when it has had a fright, leading to a fight or flight reaction. I’ve said things I wouldn’t normally say after being inches from possible injury or death by some impatient and terrifying piece of poor driving. Even ringing a bike bell has become a dilemma; some pedestrians see it as aggressive, some as fair warning, most have their earphones on and don’t even hear it.There is a widespread tendency to anthropomorphise the vehicle. A typical piece of reporting from our local website reads: “A cyclist was knocked off his bike by a door being opened on a car shortly before 8.05pm.” The cyclist is not really a person, and the door was not opened by a person. The injuries caused by the thoughtless action however could result in months of rehab or worse for the person on the receiving end.Another rich avenue of abuse lies in the clothing which many cyclists wear. Lycra is widely stigmatised; a standard comment would be that he was ‘a typically ignorant and selfish cycling lycra lout.’ Are runners criticised for wearing trainers? Swimmers for wearing swimsuits? Dog walkers for wearing raincoats in the rain?People on bikes are often accused of association with crime. Not only do they regularly run the lights and terrorise pedestrians, but (according to the Conservative councillors’ official submission to a TfL consultation on bike lanes in West London) they ‘increase local crime [by using] cycles for snatch thefts and for planned heists from high-value retailers such as jewellers.’ In south London cycle lanes could enable terrorists to attack London’s water supply, and in West London the local Catholic priest wrote that these ‘state-sponsored, tax-payer-funded plans [for a cycle lane] would do our community more harm … than the Luftwaffe managed with its wartime bombs.’At the very least they threaten the village atmosphere of urban enclaves; John Major may have mused nostalgically about ‘old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist’ but providing cycle lanes for today’s spinsters in London leads inexorably not only to the death of Christianity (according to Catholic priest Richard Dunne), but to the death of the village itself as GLA member Tony Arbour claimed in a much-derided interview where he was drowned out by the sound of passing traffic from large urban SUVs and trucks in a London ‘village.’Change is difficult. We’ve all been brought up on the concept of cars equalling freedom. Motoring adverts show empty roads winding their way through mountain or desert landscapes with not a traffic light in sight. Who hasn’t been tempted by the idea of simply driving off into the sunset and freedom like Thelma and Louise? Of getting your own greased lightnin’ that’ll not only ‘make the chicks cream’ as John Travolta sang in Grease, but more mundanely free us of the necessity of waiting for buses and trains, or of carrying heavy shopping.The reality is that as a society we can no longer afford to use our cars thoughtlessly in urban areas for short trips. The hierarchy of the road needs to change; we all need to become more fluid in our transport identities and more tolerant of the other modes. Even as it becomes more prevalent, the othering of cyclists is increasingly outdated.Maybe it’s time to stop maligning the two-wheeled other and get on our bikes?

Paul Campbell ● 85d