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OPINION

“Cyclists have no place on Battersea Bridge” – an unwelcome glimpse of how some drivers see us

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Minutes after attending protest following the death of a young woman cycling across the bridge, a pub pundit shared his wisdom with us

As jolts go, it was a sudden – not to mention unsolicited and unwelcome – one. Minutes after attending the London Cycling Campaign protest on Battersea Bridge, where a young woman was killed last month while riding her bike, my friend and I stopped at a pub for a quick drink before going our separate ways and got a first-hand glimpse at how some drivers view those of us who choose to get around by bike.

> Mass protest calls for Battersea Bridge to be made safer for cyclists

Coming back from the bar with our drinks, I found my friend in what is best described as a stand-off situation with one of the guys who had been drinking outside when we arrived.

Now, see me? I’m pretty diplomatic when it comes to conversation with people who don’t share my world view, and I am very happy to try and counter ignorance with facts and figures.

It may not work, but I makes me feel better. One-nil to the good guys, backing up opinion with data.

My friend, though? He’s more your red-mist-descends kind of bloke. Been known to whack a D-lock through the window of a taxi when the driver has cut him up sort of thing.

And given I’ve known him for 25 years, I immediately knew something was up.

It turned out that his new-found friend – in the 30 seconds or so I’d gone inside and got our drinks – had told him that cyclists have no place on Battersea Bridge.

That on that Thames crossing, which is maybe 400 metres or so, we should push our bikes across on the footway – have you seen how narrow those are on that particular bridge, by the way? – that we should not be sharing space with lorries, buses, taxis, 4x4s.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m a keen cyclist myself.”

Of course you are.

“But when I’m driving my van, these cyclists weaving in and out … ”

Yes, really.

My mate made the point that, crossing a bridge in London, drivers are not going to be unduly held up by someone on a bike.

But according to the bloke at the pub, we all ride at 28mph (if only), cause chaos, and impede other road users.

And we have no place on Battersea Bridge, because if you are riding a bike over it, you are putting yourself in danger, he claims.

I said earlier that I’m usually quite even-handed when it comes to this type of discussion … I will counter these types of views with real world evidence, and if the person I am speaking with doesn’t want to believe it, well, that’s on them, not me.

So, Mr Reasonable here (yeah, me) pointed out the Hierarchy of Road Users that was added to the Highway Code last year.

Which was met with the guy continuing to insist that cyclists should not be on the main carriageway of the bridge at all, and should instead take to the footway and push their bikes across.

“So,” I said, “what about the poor guy who was killed jogging across Battersea Bridge a couple of years ago? Where should he have gone?”

We’d only gone to that pub because we had been to an event nearby commemorating a young woman killed by a hit-and-run lorry driver last month as she rode her bike across a bridge in the heart of our country’s capital.

I’ve spent 30-odd years riding my bike round London, and in that time I’ve been knocked off my bike a couple of times by drivers, and had countless near misses.

My mate’s an ex-courier, and you can multiply the number of his close calls, or the incidents in which he’s ended up on the floor due to a motorist’s inattention, by at least ten compared to me.

I can understand his anger at this bloke outside the pub, trying to tell us we had no place riding our bikes on the road.

Clearly, there was no way this conversation was going to end in agreement, so I ushered my friend (and our bikes) round the corner, so we could at least have in peace the conversation that was the reason we’d stopped at the pub in the first place.

It’s so depressing though to think that we have to share the road with people like this … who clearly do not want to share the road with anyone not in a motor vehicle in the first place.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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14 comments

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belugabob | 10 months ago
4 likes

"It’s so depressing though to think that we have to share the road planet with people like this … "

FTFY

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saftlad | 10 months ago
7 likes

The irony of 'cyclists go at 28mph' and 'cyclists hold up traffic' seems to be lost on many city drivers

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polainm | 10 months ago
4 likes

Every cyclist on the public highway is an obstacle to 2/3rds of drivers. Every Minister of Transport for every party going back over 50 years is to blame for this toxic attitude. 

A widespread government campaign to undo this damage would make a huge difference to the frothing Daily Fail trolls, but ministers aren't interested in doing what's right or needed, they are only interested in vote gains. 

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Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
16 likes

I ride over Battersea Bridge most evenings south to north, get called a cnut for filtering up the inside of the stationary traffic, get called a cnut for riding up the outside of stationary traffic, get called a cnut for riding in the middle of the lane, so all the above rings very true.

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Brauchsel replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
2 likes

The bridges seem to get worse the further west you go: up until Vauxhall they're generally ok, after that it seems like a free-for-all. It's the same with London traffic in general, as I feel most of my scariest incidents have come on my relatively rare journeys out west. 

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Steve K replied to Brauchsel | 10 months ago
4 likes

I think they get better as you go east until the peak at Blackfriars and then decline again - Southwark and London are ok, but Tower is a bit a nightmare and after that, how the hell do you get across?

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Rendel Harris replied to Steve K | 10 months ago
2 likes

Steve K wrote:

I think they get better as you go east until the peak at Blackfriars and then decline again - Southwark and London are ok, but Tower is a bit a nightmare and after that, how the hell do you get across?

Walk through Greenwich or Woolwich foot tunnels (or ride if empty) or get a free ride on the Woolwich ferry. None of them ideal, I admit (it's also legal to ride through Rotherhithe tunnel but you'll need an oxygen tank and/or a death wish).

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Steve K replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
1 like

Rendel Harris wrote:

Steve K wrote:

I think they get better as you go east until the peak at Blackfriars and then decline again - Southwark and London are ok, but Tower is a bit a nightmare and after that, how the hell do you get across?

Walk through Greenwich or Woolwich foot tunnels (or ride if empty) or get a free ride on the Woolwich ferry. None of them ideal, I admit (it's also legal to ride through Rotherhithe tunnel but you'll need an oxygen tank and/or a death wish).

It was a rhetorical question smiley

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Rendel Harris replied to Steve K | 10 months ago
1 like

Sorry, forgot you are a local!

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Steve K replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
1 like
Rendel Harris wrote:

Sorry, forgot you are a local!

No worries, I was only joshing. To be fair, Tower Bridge is about as far East as I get south of the rover on my bike

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General Zod replied to Steve K | 10 months ago
1 like

I agree. I ride the bridges a lot (one of my rides in town is to go over every bridge in turn and then do the same in the way back. 
 

Tower Bridge is awful in every way.

London Bridge itself is fine, but the junction at the southern end is dangerous if you don't know it well. 
 

Southwark Bridge is absolutely fine, as is Blackfriars.

Waterloo Bridge has a protected cycle lane, but it simply merges into the bus lane at the southern and and then you end up on the roundabout, where you need to have your wits about you.

On Westminster Bridge, you just have to accept that it will always be crammed with tourists.

Lambeth Bridge is good. It's short and safe.

Vauxhall Bridge is OK. It has a separate cycle lane and a complex cycle lane system at the southern end.

Chelsea and Albert Bridges are both fine (nice to ride South on Chelsea Bridge, then go the long way through Battersea Park and back North on Albert Bridge.

Battersea Bridge is best avoided.

Wandsworth Bridge (currently closed) is awful, even if you don't brave the roundabout.

Putney Bridge is dangerous, with merging lanes of traffic.

Hammersmith Bridge looks like it will be closed forever, but you can wheel your bike across. 

Chiswick Bridge is part of a busy, fast road. It's fine, but you need to be confident riding with the traffic.

Kew Bridge is OK, but there's a major junction at the North End.

Richmond Bridge is fine (ignoring the big bridge on the road to Twickenham).

 

 

 

 

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Rendel Harris replied to Brauchsel | 10 months ago
2 likes

Chelsea Bridge now has a bollarded cycle lane one side and a bus lane the other (watch out for maniac motorcyclists). Albert's not bad as it has width and weight restrictions which slow cars almost to a standstill on entry, if you're reasonably quick you can get across car free. Wandsworth is quite good now as it has cycle lanes that extend round the roundabout on the southern side (previously a death trap). Putney's a mare, especially if you want to get over to the middle to turn right. Hammersmith's brilliant at the moment as closed to motors, Chiswick has shared pavements (and they're wide enough for it), so does Kew, Twickenham has a cycle path one side and a shared pavement the other, Kingston has excellent segregated lanes both sides, Hampton Court has shared pavements.

A lot of these improvements have only come in quite recently so you may not have seen them, essentially only Battersea and Putney are really hostile environments for bikes now.

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momove replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
2 likes

I think (and am happy to change my mind if someone suggests another reason) the reason Chelsea, Albert and Battersea bridges are bad is because they all involve Kensington and Chelsea council, who have been openly hostile to cycling.

I rarely go over Albert, as I prefer to ride through the park and cross over Chelsea Bridge, as the cycleway doesn't start on the north side of the river until the Westminter council boundary, after Kensington and Chelsea.

Chelsea Bridge itself is a bit shit, the wand cycle lane southbound is all right, except for no safe ability to turn right into the park. The approach to the north junction and the safety of it depends on what stage the lights are at, which can be hard to assume at times, although traffic backed up halfway across the bridge usually means they'll go green soon, so filter into the right lane rather than the up the left hand side.

As we've had demonstrated time and again, Battersea Bridge is a deathtrap. Even going across the southern end to stay on the Thames path is a bit risky, piling up on the "refuge" in the middle of the road to cross over to the other side.

I think Kensington and Chelsea's ambivalence and/or hostility to cycling as transport is the reason for these failings. We hear a lot about Kensington High Street - this is the same local authority.

I might start giving Albert Bridge a go, based on what you've said, but having done the slow part between Battersea and Albert bridges, including the current building work restrictions, it should be more sensible to just cross over Battersea Bridge. If it wasn't a deathtrap.

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Rendel Harris replied to momove | 10 months ago
0 likes

Agree with all you say. The south side of all three bridges (in Wandsworth) has at least some attempts to provide cyclist safety, the northern side has nothing. The only slight mitigation I would say for K&C (through gritted teeth) is that Battersea Bridge and Chelsea Embankment are TfL-controlled roads.

That "refuge" crossing at the southern end of Battersea Bridge is a joke - they couldn't afford the paint for a proper zebra?!

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