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Local knowledge – how good (or bad) is your nearby provision for cycling?

There’s no substitute for lived experience when writing about cycling infrastructure

It's a feature of writing about active travel that often, you’ll be talking about infrastructure (or lack thereof) where you are relying on second-hand knowledge – concerns raised by local campaigners, for example, local authority planning documents, or that old fallback, Google Street View – rather than on-the-ground experience.

To give some examples, I’d written numerous articles on the Bristol & Bath Railway Path before I got the chance to ride it myself a couple of years ago on a bike-packing trip from Bristol to Reading, and if anything I found it even better than I’d imagined.

The transformation of Paris under Mayor Anna Hidalgo also resonates, with the white-knuckle trips I made across the city by Vélib’ 10 or 15 years ago a distant memory and more recent jaunts on car-free streets thronged with people on bikes or e-scooters highlighting the astonishing transformation of the French capital in recent years.

And while I have visited Edinburgh dozens of times over the years, and written about initiatives such as the annual Pedal on Parliament ride on numerous occasions, I’m ashamed to say that my last experience of being in the saddle in the country I was born in was probably when I was a five year old on a trike, so while I can visualise the streets I’m writing about, I lack the lived experience of actually cycling there.

So when a series of emails about what passes for cycling infrastructure on Acton High Street in West London recently arrived in the inbox from a reader named Raymond about his problems getting Ealing Council to enforce parking restrictions on a cycle lane there, as someone who has lived locally for several years know I could immediately pinpoint exactly the problems he was encountering – been there, ridden it, got the ‘crap infra’ t-shirt.

In his letter to the council, which referred him onto its parking services department, with no resolution yet in sight, Raymond wrote:

Another failure and not enforced by Ealing Council which is the 'solid white bicycle lane' eastbound along A4020 at Acton High Street section directional opposite McDonald's, which is constantly blocked with parked vehicles thus endangering cyclist travelling along there. Its time to install these safety bollards which will prevent these illegal and dangerous parking.

The central lane markings also need to be remarked to take into consideration that no one should be entering or going into the solid lane markings which is also what drivers are doing thus endangering cyclist there too.

This is poorly maintained and enforced section of a A road.

Acton High Street forms part of a key route for cyclists heading into the city centre from Ealing and beyond, but it can be intimidating enough for an experienced rider, let alone someone new to cycling who may have decided to try commuting to work – but, in the absence of safe alternatives, may quickly give it up.

Acton King Street 5

Part of the reason for that is that infrastructure on the route, where it exists, is disjointed and haphazard, and in some cases makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, there are alternative routes to the north and south – I like the C34 off-road cycleway along the A40, and Cycleway 9 is fantastic, but each is around a mile away if you’re in the centre of Acton.

Putting aside issues elsewhere on the east-west axis that includes Acton High Street – the wands, introduced during the pandemic, by Hammersmith & Fulham Council in Shepherds Bush, for example, with entrance to the protected lanes almost regularly blocked by parked cars, or the heart-in-mouth journey through Holland Park Avenue where Kensington & Chelsea blocked plans for a segregated cycle lane, let’s take a close look at this specific location.

First off, there’s a lot of motor traffic – and not much space for it to flow freely in either direction. Several bus routes run along the high street, and it also sees a lot of HGVs – whether delivering to local shops (looking at you, Savers, with your lorry parked up in the evening) or heading to the dairy depot a little further east.

When a bus stops to take on and offload passengers at westbound stop for the Old Town Hall, it is by no means unusual for traffic to queue up behind it, with oncoming vehicles meaning that it is impossible for drivers to overtake safely. That stretch of the high street heading towards Ealing has no provision for cycling whatsoever – and moreover, can be a bit of a slog given a reasonably gentle, but still lengthy, upwards gradient.

Meanwhile, eastbound, for those heading towards Shepherds Bush and beyond that the city centre, there is a short mandatory cycle lane – marked out by a solid strip of white paint – the one that Richard’s specific complaint to the council relates to.

 It’s all but unusable, however, not only because of the lack of physical but also drivers ignoring parking restrictions.

Acton High Street 01

The narrowness of the road means it’s impossible for two large vehicles, such as buses, to pass each other here without the one heading east encroaching on the  eastbound cycle lane, and that’s not helped by cars – often owned by people working in some of the independent shops and other venues lining the street – parking there, as Raymond highlighted to the council.

That gives cyclists three options – one, ride primary on that stretch, which isn’t ideal given there’s supposed to a cycle lane there, two, ride on the footway, which is what many less experienced riders choose to do thereby risking conflict with pedestrians, or three, avoid the area altogether. It’s not an ideal situation.

Acton High Street 02

So far as other cycling infrastructure in the area is concerned, a short way further east there is a small section of cycle lane protected by wands, starting outside The Belvedere pub – but that peters out at the next bus stop, and is only reinstated further on.

Heading west, there’s a short section – less than 100 metres – of bollard-protected cycle lane opposite the police station, but that finishes short of the junction outside the Red Lion & Pineapple pub, a location crying out for safe infrastructure, with the majority of cyclists continuing their journey towards Ealing along Uxbridge Road, but risking being right-hooked by drivers turning left into  Gunnersbury Lane.

The strange thing is, on King Street – which heads off the High Street towards the South Acton Estate – you’ll find a fine example of kerb-and-bollard-protected cycle lane, which has been there since before I started visiting the area in 2017, but which because it doesn’t lie on a main cycle route is little-used. I scratch my head every time I go past it, and wonder how much it must have cost.

Acton King Street 2

Despite local issues such as the availability of read space, it’s surely not beyond the realms of possibility that improvements can be made to cycling provision in the area, to encourage more people to ride by given them safe space to do so?

Right now, Ealing Council is inviting feedback on such initiatives in a consultation that closes on 17 May, although given everything I’ve had to say about just one location in the borough, I may need to set aside a couple of days early next week to fully cover all the points I’d wish to raise about cycling in the local area.

Still, it means there is a chance to flag those issues up to the council, and hopefully get some form of action.

Turning to neighbouring boroughs, while I sometimes use Acton High Street when heading into town, I’m more likely to head south towards Cycleway 9 along Chiswick High Road and King Street in Hammersmith, perhaps then heading along the river if time isn’t pressing so I can avoid Kensington High Street.

But in another illustration of the value of local knowledge, while many cyclists elsewhere may, with justification, envy the protected cycleway running from Hammersmith Broadway to Kew Bridge and currently being extended towards Brentford, those of us who use it regularly will be well aware that it is not without its faults.

Just last week, I spotted an Uber driver executing a right turn from Turnham Green Terrace onto the protected bike lane rather than the main carriageway on Chiswick High Road – a common mistake made by drivers when it first opened in late 2020 and thankfully less common these days, but on occasion it still happens – luckily, the driver immediately realised his mistake and reversed out of the bike lane and onto the main road.

To be fair, Transport for London, in  partnership with Hounslow and Hammersmith & Fulham Councils, has listened to concerns about some elements of the route – for instance, there has been some remodelling of sections where it crosses side roads to try and minimise conflict with drivers coming onto the main road.

Again, that’s the result of people who actually ride the route identifying problems, raising them, and getting them acted upon, and it’s a positive thing that in this case, the relevant people listened.

Finally, while the geographical base of’s staffers and other contributors has expanded over the years – Bath, after all, is not the centre of the cycling universe, whatever the impression the site may have given in its infancy – and we now have people in all parts of the UK, we simply can’t pick up every story that merits attention, whether that be related to infrastructure (good and bad), cycle parking, local bans on riding bikes … the list goes on.

So as ever, we’d encourage you to take a leaf out of Raymond’s book and share your stories with us – and, when we do cover a story from your backyard, feel free to chip in with a comment if we’ve maybe missed some nuance, or you have something you want to add from your own experience riding there.

Also, please let us know in the comments below your own local situation, for better or worse, when it comes to space for cycling, and how good or bad your local council is in addressing such issues.

Simon joined 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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Cugel | 1 year ago

Here in West Wales (Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire border) there is excellent provision for cycling.  It's called "the roads" which go everywhere and are surprisingly well maintained.

Of course roads elsewhere are, physically, a perfect cycling infrastructure since they go just about anywhere a cyclist would want to go, unlike most so-called cycle paths, which seem to double as leisure strolling routes for walkers and dogs (a purpose they are much better suited to, suggesting cyclists should be banned from them).

There is one problem albeit almost absent in this part of West Wales where traffic density is very low and manners are generally good: motorised transport driven by aggresive and incompetant loons. But, were a few quids to be spent on policing and judging these loons away (it may even turn out to be a profitable pusruit to the council coffers, if the fines are set aright) anywhere and everywhere would see the roads return to being a perfect cycling infrastructure.

Moreover - policing and judging away the car, van and lorry-loons would also save, from all manner of harms, hundereds of pedestrians, passengers and even the driving-loons themselves!

My ideal job, that would have been: traffic copper with unlimited powers of arrest. Or Judge Dread of The Traffic Offenses Court.  1

CyclingGardener | 1 year ago
1 like

St Albans: not brilliant. We have a nice railway path, but otherwise very patchy. A few bits of shared path. A route across the park. The so-called Green Ring which is so badly signed it took me 3-4 goes to follow it correctly. Paths alongside main roads - where they exist - narrow, overgrown and with hidden hazards at night. Eg Harpenden Road, I prefer to cycle on road rather than path even in dark and pouring rain. Head-on collision with another cyclist on A405 because so overgrown basically single-track. Basically, a few nice bits for leisure purposes, but not much that joins up for useful commuting etc. Immediately obvious difference when cross boundary into Watford or Welwyn, where they are at least trying. Not surprising that most days I see few other cyclists . . .

Tom_77 | 1 year ago
1 like

Eastleigh is mostly shared use paths with all the issues you would expect. They're just about usable outside of peak times, if you're prepared to ride slowly. It's better than nothing.

Also a few piss poor "murder strips", which are probably worse than nothing.

chrisonabike | 1 year ago

As you're no doubt aware Simon, Edinburgh is a very mixed bag.  There are some "very good - for the UK" parts.  Many of these are accidents of history combined with some very determined hard work - over decades - by volunteers.  The council until recently have been content to "rest on their laurels" on that basis.  Change can take a lot of time though...

The good - the path network - also see the "inner tube map".  This is "industrial capital" e.g. old train routes and charities / volunteers did a lot of it.  However the council does maintain this and even did a round of improving drainage.  Unfortunately they have their eye on taking some of this back for the trams.  In the bigger picture that may make sense - but without a vast city-wide improvement to cycling and walking infra it would be a serious setback for active travel.  (We'd lose "network" and "fast efficient routes").  It would also remove yet more pleasant "natural space".

The hopeful - new "network level" routes built on main roads.  Leith walk, Leith Connections, East-West route (CCWEL), the path extension to the canal.  Great in that this tackles a major issue - "routes" along main arteries .  Also "looks like Dutch" e.g. in some places there are real cycle paths separate from drivers AND pedestrians.  The devil is in the detail and there's plenty of cock up / compromise.  Edinburgh CC still struggles to distinguish cyclists and pedestrians and junctions wouldn't be recognised by those from NL...

The bad - Edinburgh - bizarrely, for a pretty compact place with a major focus on tourism - is still seriously addicted to motor traffic.  We are still building developments both outside the city and within it which are designed around and depend on the private motor vehicle.  In the wider area we're still doing "predict and provide" for traffic.

Whatever your opinion of the tram idea it has cost a vast amount of money (never mind public good-will) to deliver what is still a single line.  It doesn't even really replace the buses.

Attitudes - there are some councillors "on-side" but there are some very loud and determined antis.  People in general are less supportive than the council!  As the emergency Covid-era provision brought to light even things as simple and apparently uncontroversial as some minor restrictions to traffic outside of schools are only supported by a slender minority, in some places.  We're perhaps only getting to the start of the beginning.

Oh - we've got great signs for bikes though, there always seems to be money for that...

OnYerBike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago

Slightly kinder to Edinburgh than I would have been. I would agree the "path network" is nice to use when you're on it - but even in its current state, it is far from a comprehensive network. It has other issues - some parts of it, at certain times of day, can be very busy with pedestrians/dog walkers (and concurrent mess); some parts of it are poorly lit and/or becoming overgrown; as former railway lines, it's not well integrated with the road network, with entry/exit points often up/down a steep embankment.

Aside from those paths, provision is pretty dismal. There are some "pop up" wand protected cycle lanes that appeared in the pandemic and have been retained, but without exception they only exist where they are least helpful, and simply vanish where they would be needed most - at junctions, where the road gets a bit narrower, at bus stops or parking bays etc. And again, far from comprehensive - I don't think you can cycle more than ~50m without some kind of "gap" in the segregation for one of the reasons given above, and probably only a couple of hundred meters in anything even semi-continuous.

And whilst the Council like to "talk the talk" in terms of putting in proper infrastructure, the reality on the ground speaks for itself. There's a twitter account (not mine!) that tracks progress since last year's local elections, and it's pretty abysmal ( And even when "proper" infrastructure is built, it's far below par - see e.g. Leith Walk and Leith Street (I still have no idea how I'm "meant" to join the Leith Street cycle track when heading North - this is the top of it, although note the "No right turn" before suggesting I join via Calton Road). Which brings me on to another point - because there's no comprehensive network and because it's hugely inconsistent in terms of layout etc., you need a huge amount of local knowledge to use what there is (or to know which bits to avoid!) 

the little onion | 1 year ago

West Yorkshire - summarised as the odd pocket of decent infrastructure, in an ocean of money wasting and murderstrips.


There are some genuinely decent segregated cycle lanes in Leeds, almost Dutch style, which have been created in recent years. And the Canal Road segregated cycle lane in Bradford is, in some stretches, similarly high quality (the sections without baffling chicanes, parked cars, wheel-trapping tactile pavement, etc). 


The £27 million Leeds-Bradford cycle 'super'highway, as reported here, is fundamentally flawed due to lack of political will around the danger points of junctions etc. 

There are other pockets of genuinely laughable 'segregated' infrastructure (the legendary cycle path with a bus stop in it on Kirkstall Road). 

The 'upgrade' to the canal towpathss, creating muddy, unlit, shared paths with cobbled speedbumps in a narrow space bounded by water, and populated by loose dogs, muggers and rapists.

Anything else is painted murder strip.


In sum, it is simply impossible to make any kind of meaningful journey where you can rely on decent infrastructure for the marjoity of the route. Even with the best local knowledge, it is impossible to make a safe journey.

hawkinspeter | 1 year ago

Whilst the Bristol-Bath cycle path is great, it suffers from its own success and suffers from congestion at busy times. It's fun to try riding along it on a sunny bank holiday and be constantly stopping and starting due to all the walkers enjoying it.

However, the rest of Bristol has some poorly thought out stretches of infrastructure that are disjointed and plagued by beg buttons to get across roads.

Stevearafprice | 1 year ago

Walsall has some cycling infrastructure , the best is the excellent use of a disused railway north of the town, widely used for leisure [dog walking and Sunday cycle pottering ] and a bit of commuting. This will eventually connect to Lichfield.

The not so good is the rather pointless bit along the bypass/Wolverhampton road which is get off every 100 yds... also a bit of the NC5 that should work but signs are faded and some bits are overgrown with hedges etc...

The bad is the rest of it, miles of cycle lane inc NCN5 that is used as a carpark and the council refuse point blank to do anything about it. The attitude is along the line of "people in Walsall drive and have to park somewhere"... I have a recent email from them that makes this point [ in regards to verge parking in this case ] quite clearly.

There is a long section, possibly 2 miles or more, through estates past a big school, joining Walsall [ Pleck/Palfrey/Caldmore]  to the canal network and West Brom/Sandwell that has a cycle lane that is actually a carpark most of the day, the school use it for staff parking... residents use it for parking excess cars ... It is bloody awful here....

The council is Tory run and they are actively promoting car ownership in their policies [ more charging points being installed ]  and attitude to active travel. Being a pedestrian is not an option, limited safe crossings, no enforcement of parking rules [ parking on crossings, pavements, outside schools ] . Plenty of examples of this attitude.... despite many people not owning cars, the option is taxis, there are many, many taxis in Walsall, and quite a few brave cyclists.... its a poor town where car use is your only option....

Rome73 | 1 year ago

London Borough of Camden has done an excellent job over the past few years. 

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