London Cycling - Commuter Experience

by Colin Peyresourde   October 19, 2013  

I have a feeling that this may not go down well with the tribal cyclist, but having had a few ding-dongs on the comments pages about the need to educate cyclists in road usage over say infrastructure and HGV driving I thought it might be useful to document daily experiences of both crazy road usage by motorised transport and cyclists to give a feel for the average experience in the capital.

I'm going to document a journey (on a bus) from Ludgate to Liverpool Street:

1. Cyclist veers across buses off-side, into path of bu,s after undertaking at St. Paul's crossing, as bus is accelerating. Fortunately the driver took his foot off the gas and cyclist veered back to the left. Cyclist never looked over his shoulder.

2. Bus has slight encroachment on ASL, still enough room for bike.

3. At junction of London Wall, cyclist on left-hand side of bus turns right with no indication.

4. Narrowing of road into Liverpool Street bus station pedestrians stray into path of bus.

5. Bus driver slowing for pedestrians gets undertaken by cyclist, approaching pinch point. Bus driver again, looking to apply gas and forward momentum sees bike at last second and avoids.

I'm not saying that drivers are angels by any means, but this for me was an eventful, but not atypical journey that had the potential for numerous incidents. At no time, beyond an ASL encroachment, did he do anything wrong. I fear, that in the case of the other parties, ignorance/inexperience put them in danger.

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Amen to all of the above. I've been commuting in London for over ten years. Whilst it is great to see the quantity of cyclists on the roads, the quality leaves a lot to be desired. On any typical commute I'll normally see:

- red light jumping at every set of lights
- no lights at night
- undertaking
- hand signals to turn right without actually looking over shoulder
- dangerous filtering
- poor positioning at junctions
- cutting up cars
- not stopping at pedestrian crossing
- carrying shopping bags
- on mobile phone
- not using hand signals
- etc, etc

The list goes on. It's still a minority but its a very visible minority.
What to do? Tests? Licences? Police fines?

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [346 posts]
19th October 2013 - 13:54

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Perhaps an orchestrated TFL/police stop and educate for offenders. 'We're pulling you over today because of the paucity of your road skills and offer you the chance to undertake some 'free' road handling skills' sort-of-thing.

I didn't mention lights, jumping reds or anything else 'minor' on the basis that they are a given, but usually done without real risk to bodily harm. The instances above were ones where I was severely concerned with the individuals safety precisely because of the proximity to danger.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
19th October 2013 - 15:30

12 Likes

Give them a leaflet for their nearest free Bikeability course? Or helpful and constructive comments at the time? (tried being sarky, but none of it came out right).

I end up just riding safely and trying to set a good example, and shaking my head to myself when I see an idiot, whether they be motorist, cyclist or pedestrian.

posted by Argos74 [295 posts]
19th October 2013 - 15:40

12 Likes

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Perhaps an orchestrated TFL/police stop and educate for offenders. 'We're pulling you over today because of the paucity of your road skills and offer you the chance to undertake some 'free' road handling skills' sort-of-thing.

I didn't mention lights, jumping reds or anything else 'minor' on the basis that they are a given, but usually done without real risk to bodily harm. The instances above were ones where I was severely concerned with the individuals safety precisely because of the proximity to danger.

Yep, sounds reasonable to me. If the police use the carrot approach rather than the stick, it's more likely to stick.

I don't commute into London any more but did do so for 15 years and along some of the most congested routes. Another thing that some people used to do that really got up my nose was slipstreaming (or whatever else you want to call it).

Now that's fine on a velodrome or on the Tour or on a club ride out with consenting adults, but on a commute through busy London it is a recipe for disaster, especially when the person giving the tow doesn't know at first he or she has picked up a passenger. This happened to me a few times and I used to get pretty loud and make it pretty clear that I was not going to allow it, especially in the case of one dunce who was on a fixie with no brakes. Some people clearly don't understand what braking distances are.

Fixed wheel bikes with no brakes belong at the velodrome, not on the road.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2205 posts]
19th October 2013 - 15:47

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Yeah. Fixie's are totally 'de jour'. My friend who has probably not ridden a bike since he was 15 talked effusively about fixies. But if they are the proper thing, in the wrong hands, they are a menace. Though I imagine that people, like my friend, would either find such a bike unrideable and wouldn't bother to commute on it.

Kudos to those who can make it work for them, but it's for the few and not the many.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
19th October 2013 - 18:26

11 Likes

yep. same. I commute to Reading and i find most car and long vehicle drivers are professional and polite; only one knob in quite a few commutes. On the roads i see various behaviour from other cyclists - the last horror story being a young, and very quick, chap riding no hands, changing his musical selection whilst wearing headphones!. I don't doubt his ability inly his judgment. Two of my biggest pet peaves are however, texting while riding (!) and ignoring traffic lights.

To slo to live, to slo to die! ::-}

posted by OldnSlo [125 posts]
19th October 2013 - 20:12

8 Likes

On my usually uneventful commute that I normally share with bats and the odd owl. I heard a car being driven towards me at high speed, I slowed down and pulled over to the left. A few seconds later a car came round the corner lights on full beam, wrong side of the road. Not sure how close he came 'cos I could not see a thing. Later I crossed a road at a cycle/pedestrian crossing, I noticed a car slowing down for the red light. He stopped but well beyond the white line meaning an arse clenching moment for me! I was then nearly 'twatted' on the cycle lane by a cyclist at speed not looking where he was going. On the way home as I entered a roundabout a car slowed as if to give me my right of way but even though he was looking straight at me he just carried on causing another arse clenching moment!
Whilst at work I witnessed a two cars driving with no lights in the dark and quite a few cars jumping a red light and blocking a box junction....
It is not just cyclists is it?
And drivers need a licence etc so its not a training/enforcement issue.
The vast majority of road users treat the road and other users with utmost respect but there are some dick heads out there. How do we deal with them?
At the moment everyone seems to blame everything and everyone else...
Meanwhile around 2000 people a year die

posted by SideBurn [808 posts]
21st October 2013 - 10:52

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SideBurn wrote:
?
At the moment everyone seems to blame everything and everyone else...
Meanwhile around 2000 people a year die

DfT data shows that 1752 people were killed on British roads in 2012. That compares with the 2222 killed on British roads in 2009 for instance. The numbers of people killed on Britain's road network continues to fall, a long term trend oberved over a number of years. The same is true for virtuallly every western developed nation. Fewer people now die on British roads than in 1950, when vehicle numbers were a fraction of what they are now.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2205 posts]
21st October 2013 - 11:00

10 Likes

OldRidgeback wrote:
SideBurn wrote:
?
At the moment everyone seems to blame everything and everyone else...
Meanwhile around 2000 people a year die

DfT data shows that 1752 people were killed on British roads in 2012. That compares with the 2222 killed on British roads in 2009 for instance. The numbers of people killed on Britain's road network continues to fall, a long term trend oberved over a number of years. The same is true for virtuallly every western developed nation. Fewer people now die on British roads than in 1950, when vehicle numbers were a fraction of what they are now.


Accepted; but is this because cars are being made much better able to protect the occupants?

posted by SideBurn [808 posts]
21st October 2013 - 11:21

8 Likes

SideBurn wrote:

And drivers need a licence etc so its not a training/enforcement issue.
The vast majority of road users treat the road and other users with utmost respect but there are some dick heads out there. How do we deal with them?
At the moment everyone seems to blame everything and everyone else...
Meanwhile around 2000 people a year die

Interesting journey. It sounds like the incidents do not have a particular link, so I take your point about training/enforcement, only to the point that it doesn't sound like you are cycling in London if you have bats and owls. Potential road kill in London is limited to pedestrians and cyclists.....

The last statistic I read about London was that road deaths were down too. But that doesn't mean to say that there aren't people out there putting themselves in danger by their own actions. Something I see all the time.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:06

7 Likes

In fact I see you are in North Devon - Which part of Greater London is that?

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:07

7 Likes

SideBurn wrote:
OldRidgeback wrote:
SideBurn wrote:
?
At the moment everyone seems to blame everything and everyone else...
Meanwhile around 2000 people a year die

DfT data shows that 1752 people were killed on British roads in 2012. That compares with the 2222 killed on British roads in 2009 for instance. The numbers of people killed on Britain's road network continues to fall, a long term trend oberved over a number of years. The same is true for virtuallly every western developed nation. Fewer people now die on British roads than in 1950, when vehicle numbers were a fraction of what they are now.


Accepted; but is this because cars are being made much better able to protect the occupants?

The fatality rates are dropping in the developed world for a number of reasons. Better protection of car occupants is one factor, as is better braking with ABS technology and this last has been of benefit to pedestrians and vulnerable road users like cyclists and motorcyclists as well.

The massive reduction in drink driving has probably has the biggest effect in reducing road casualty rates since the peak of the late 70s and early 80s.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2205 posts]
21st October 2013 - 14:15

11 Likes

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
In fact I see you are in North Devon - Which part of Greater London is that?

Maybe you should have made it clear that only Londoners can have an opinion on this topic

posted by SideBurn [808 posts]
21st October 2013 - 16:05

12 Likes

SideBurn wrote:
Colin Peyresourde wrote:
In fact I see you are in North Devon - Which part of Greater London is that?

Maybe you should have made it clear that only Londoners can have an opinion on this topic

It is in the title. It is really to explain what it is like in London. I find myself battling against guys like you who face rather different cycling issues. People scream about HGVs and other vehicles, but the issues in London really are about educating people.

Admittedly I could have made this clearer.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
21st October 2013 - 17:05

7 Likes

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
SideBurn wrote:
Colin Peyresourde wrote:
In fact I see you are in North Devon - Which part of Greater London is that?

Maybe you should have made it clear that only Londoners can have an opinion on this topic

It is in the title. It is really to explain what it is like in London. I find myself battling against guys like you who face rather different cycling issues. People scream about HGVs and other vehicles, but the issues in London really are about educating people.

Admittedly I could have made this clearer.

Believe it or not we do have cities, heavy traffic and hgv's down here in Devon! We don't all lean on gates chomping on straw and chase sheep whilst living in a thatched cottage.
Having cycled around London (and Paris, Turin, Milan...) I did not get the feeling that I was in an area of 'special conditions'

posted by SideBurn [808 posts]
21st October 2013 - 19:59

14 Likes

SideBurn wrote:
Believe it or not we do have cities, heavy traffic and hgv's down here in Devon! We don't all lean on gates chomping on straw and chase sheep whilst living in a thatched cottage.
Having cycled around London (and Paris, Turin, Milan...) I did not get the feeling that I was in an area of 'special conditions'

I have cycled down in your part of the world too. But the point of me posting this is really for people to talk about their commute in London, with a view of people like you understanding some of the issues here.

At rush hour London is a rush of people like few others. Certainly nothing that Devon can hold a stick at. This is sort of my point. Whatever is happening in the rest of England, Scotland and Wales is likely to be different. No where in the UK do we have a melting point quite like London. The transport system is creaking which is why cycling has become 'fashionable' (in reality cheap, reliable, healthy and with little opportunity cost in respect to other forms of transport). I doubt the cities of Devon have quite the same pressure on them.

Your viewpoint is no less valid to wider cycling issues, but in respect of understanding London's problems, you have to be there and in the mix. You may feel well at ease on any road in the world and kudos to you, but I see many that are not. And London is perhaps a less forgiving place than my old home town. I'm glad I got to learn to ride on roads 'out in the sticks' and I'm glad I got to learn to drive before I went to university. There are many other in London that haven't, they get on their bike for the first time and have no idea about driving a car, a bike is their economical salvation to living in one of the most population dense areas in the world.

In the context of what you have said of your experience, I wouldn't say that cycling education was a priority, but round here it definitely is.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1142 posts]
21st October 2013 - 23:42

6 Likes

the biggest assholes on the roads of London are:

Pedestrians > Bicycles > Cars

I commute from SE9 to central and back everyday.

pants's picture

posted by pants [76 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 8:37

8 Likes

You may have cycled down here but I used to live in Staines.... And yes I used to cycle commute... It is just same shit different place

posted by SideBurn [808 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 11:08

8 Likes

Colin Peyresourde wrote:

At rush hour London is a rush of people like few others. Certainly nothing that Devon can hold a stick at. This is sort of my point. Whatever is happening in the rest of England, Scotland and Wales is likely to be different. No where in the UK do we have a melting point quite like London.

On a pedantic note you left out Northern Ireland there. Would have let it go but you went and mentioned UK just sayin Nerd Wink

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1054 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 11:55

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Great post and great replies too. I've only done 3x different routes all from Harrow to Hayes (via Northolt), to Gunnersbury (via Hanger lane) and now to Dollis Hill. No central London cycling. Commute times ranged depending on workshifts, from 6am-10am to 4pm-9pm all seasons.

I wear sunglasses, even at night, no lights most of the time unless its raining, and listening to music/audiobooks, jump on and off pavements and still jump some reds on some junctions or if its only a pedestrian crossing. I just look around and use common sense as excuse Smile

Having said that I seen so many worse examples, me stopping at a red, and other cyclist 3sec later running to the mid of the junction, or weaving in the middle of the road (not drunk, just not steady and straight line at all), going into the junction with phone in hand. (me too sometimes, but on pavement with noone there). Not giving advantage or space to let being overtaken, and getting into the path of vehicles coming from behind as well as oncoming ones.

Agree with Colin, in London, cycling education for both cars and cyclists should be priority.
Also agree with that most bus/HGV drivers are well cyclist aware. One of the first thing all cyclist here should learn is how and when to overtake busses/HGV's in traffic/reds. Sometimes you just have to stop and let them go.

What I seem to notice (either am right or wrong), that car drivers awareness of cyclists is almost non existent till they see one in their mirrors or have to pass one. Whether drivers are stuck in traffic or there's just a long wait at a red, drivers almost never and almost everywhere make no effort to accommodate us with space on either side of them. Neasden roundabout area for example, with up to 3x lanes. With enough space even in 2x lanes for a wide motorbike to pass in each lane. But no. They just stop there in such stupid ways that you have to left-right, right/left pass them just to get forward. Simply carelessness.

For the record, had no major, and only one minor injury. Been knocked over the first time earlier this year (was clearly her fault).

My favorite near miss (almost one happens per day) happened last week. Coming slightly downhill into the junction and turning left as every morning, traffic all over in Wembley, just lined up on what was once a green cycle lane, that stupid biatch turned left of a sudden onto that quiet road, thinking to jump the queue. No indication. Nothing. With me right next to her and a white pickup coming the other lane. Managed to keep turning left without her hitting me and pickup stopped early, so I just turned right back onto "my" road. No adrenalin rush at all. I did not even swear (I used to for smaller offences, sry).

London isn't the ideal place for cycling, but it has got everything that cyclist need to be aware of and learn to handle.

posted by gr3g0ree [41 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 21:51

9 Likes