Just gone midday on July 2 2005 I was in cycling nirvana. En route to Hyde park to review the days proceedings at Live 8 the discovery that Park Lane was blocked off to cars and was for the day shared cycle and pedestrian space had me punching the air as I rode. To add to the surreal super empowering trip I approached a pedestrian recognizable even from behind, arse in the regulation tight stone dried denim.
Top Gear TV presenter and Motoring Columnist Jeremy Clarkson by name.
I could hardly resist it. I stopped.
“Jeremy look, “ I gestured at the car free thoroughfare.
“One day it will be like this ALL THE TIME.”
I cycled off leaving Jeremy gesturing and shouting after me “It won’t you know...”
I wouldn’t say that my meetings with Jeremy are the only reason why I completely gave up driving a car in London a few years ago. Although....
As fate would have it some 10 hours later leaving the Live 8 Golden circle enclosure I found Clarkson once again by my side. I reminded him of our earlier metting and the memory was still fresh for him. “You’re wrong it won’t be like that,” he insisted, displaying admirable loyalty to the car industry that supports him and vice versa.
I wouldn’t say that my meetings with Jeremy are the only reason why I completely gave up driving a car in London a few years ago. But admittedly the prospect of making Clarkson’s nightmare come true is not unattractive.
I travel pretty much everywhere in London and, train carriages permitting, beyond, by bike: its easier to get about, new routes are always being discovered ,areas of the city and its ripped back sides reveal themselves in ways they don’t when travelling by other means. Having an on bike sound system, the now discontinued ihome2go, that affixes on my Trek cross bar and plays the ipod, certainly helps. With music context is everything and I’m a living witness to the fact that when you are powering down a deserted back street route with Iggy’s Raw Power remix full on, it’s fuel more more potent than any top of the grade, planet -raping, petro chem by-product ever could be.
Not that I would pretend that London cycling is all pleasure or that sometimes, sizing up a cross town expedition and associated traffic meltdown possibilities, I don’t simply crumble at the mere thought of the journey, lay back and stay home. Or, worse, take the tube.
I’ve had the £30 quid fine from Ole Bill for running a red on an empty street (a cycle equivalent of pedestrian Jay walking Mister lawman, FFS)
I get a real panicy fear when there’s a roaring car engine closing in on my tail. The impatient driver sounding the horn, the mechanised agression sends a kind of psycho sexual fear right up my cortex..
“Get off the bloody road” they seem to be screaming inside, if not in reality. Often I do that.) And, yes, I’ve had the £30 quid fine from Ole Bill for running a red on an empty street (a cycle equivalent of pedestrian Jay walking Mister lawman, FFS) or cycling on a non shared route pavement.
There are many ways in which TFL could improve travel in London primarily recognizing that, with pedestrians given priority, shared routes are one of The Pathways Of The Future. Albeit one that gives Clarkson waking nightmares. Call me an unreconstructed ecologically inclined old leftie if you like ( when I get down off my saddle I’ll buy you a drink for doing so) but London’s traffic gridlock, with its preponderance of banker-fattened heavy lunchers, being driven round town in largely empty, chaffeur-driven cars just seems wrong to me: ethically, physically, mentally, everyway, wrong.
While the influx of more bikes via the Barclay Boris rental scheme is a welcome addition to cycling strength in numbers, dedicated linked up safe routes - and the ideal of a cycle friendly city to rank with Berlin and Amsterdam - are still a long way off. So on the glorious evening of Friday July 29 the opportunity to take part in a protest of a group somewhere in the region of 1000 cyclists crossing Blackfriars Bridge was too good to miss. Meeting up just after 6pm on the south side of the bridge the journey began: providing compelling proof of how, united in numbers, cyclists have the power to choke the highways every bit effectively as gas guzzlers usually do.
As the bike patrol man tried to wend through the ever thickening fray and the bikes nudged past, forward or around him : it began to look like here was a kettled cop.
In such traffic snarl ups cyclists can either take up their bike, carry it walk and attempt to squeeze through. Cars and mopeds even police motorcyclists, didnt have the same choice on Friday. As we amasssed along the bridge, once over and back there was an odd table turning moment in the history of recent London protest. As the bike patrol man tried to wend through the ever thickening fray and the bikes nudged past, forward or around him : it began to look like here was a kettled cop.
The protest had been planned and published some weeks in advance so the determination of one or two London cabbies, lights on for a fare, to get stuck in or behind the protest, invariably red faced, scowling and snarling was baffling. Whither that Cycle -Black Cab Driver friendship society? I wondered, as Paul and John made the age old assertion, We Can Work It Out. The protest proved to not only brilliantly planned, peaceful and joyful but fortuitously routed. It was a mystery to me where the remaining throng where we were all headed following the slow empowering south north, north south circuit of Blackfriars bridge. Gathered for a riverside rendevous on the South bank we picked up every own Praetorian Guard, the young skateboarders under the bridge.
They stayed out front for the remainder of the cycle, manning traffic lights and junctions as we - still boosting a massive traffic calming throng - set off - a remorseless snake of bewheeled wonder and variety. The great mass of everyday worker /student/about town and Barclay bike renting cyclists. People with the mutual experience of driver aggression, crazy traffic laws , baring bike combat scars of the urban cycle and the ghoulish memory of how cyclists are nicknamed in one LOndon a&e dept “organ donors”.
Unicyclists, Penny Farthing magicians (how do they do that?) and two girls on brilliantly functional ultra lite, totally geared up homemade bikes with varnished Bamboo cane frame.
There was colour aplenty, a guy with a horn pumps on his handlebar making a soundsystem to shame my own, the prone pedalers on those horizontal layback bikes, Unicyclists, Penny Farthing magicians (how do they do that?) and two girls on brilliantly functional ultra lite, totally geared up homemade bikes with varnished Bamboo cane frame. In this throng there was a warm feeling of security seldom felt cycling in the city, no threat from the swerving taxi or bike lane hogging bus driver or the roaring engine from citizen driver usually (illegally )on his mobile phone as he cuts across, forcing loss of balance. Et bloody cetera.
We were a glorious band of bikers in the fading sun, back over the bridge, up to Clerkenwell onto Old Street roundabout . We were indestructible, protecting our brothers and sisters cyclists from the motors which, on this occasion, were just going to have to wait.
Pedestrians looked on amused, bemused, puzzled but mostly smiling at our number and unity. At Old Street music biz impressario manager DJ Dave Dorrell saluted us. On Hackney Road one of our female nuber was chatted up by a making a most of his situation chap in a trapped by cycles Mercedes and a Rasta driver slowed his car down punching the air in support . Down Cambridge Heath along Bethnal Green Road, where drinkers outside the Salmon and Ball stopped for a chat. The route had been a mystery but it had turned into an , ahem, bespoke protest for me as I was nearly back where I started : almost directly outside my front door. But the route had been chosen for a very specific reason. By 9pmish on Hackney Road the motorised traffic was almost nonexistent and The Carpenters Top Of The World made a welcome, timely appearance on the ihometogo. Then a stop at a junction brought a corrective to our buoyant mood.
“Just up there,” our guide pointed out “is the site where the 10th cyclist to die in London this year was hit by a Tipper truck.”
44 year old man Paul McGreal from Walthamstow was the victim of the collision, the driver never stopped, Paul died in hospital 4 days later, leaving his partner and toddler behind. The spontaneous chant of “No More! NoMore!” that rippled through the crowd was empowering I felt my pride in cycling fraternity swell. It reminded me that when I get in the saddle I’m not cycling just to wind up Jeremy Clarkson. Well, not JUST doing it to wind up Jeremy Clarkson, but bonuses are always welcome.
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