Dreams of Fitzrovia

PotholeI cycled into the city centre today. That was something I would never, ever do when I lived in London, but here in Manchester, on a peaceful Sunday morning, I thought it would be fine. And (except for the icy cold wind) it was. But it could have been so much better and I not been made so downright angry by the absurd ‘provision’ for cyclists made along the route.

The options for cycling to the city centre for me are either along fairly busy suburban streets with no cycle lanes, or along a major A road with an attempt at a cycle lane. I’m lucky enough not to commute into the city centre, or this unappealing choice would have to be made every day. Today I opted for the A road.

This happens to be the busiest bus route in Europe, and is continually pounded by double-deckers ferrying students to and from the huge university campus. Not much has really changed since my student days, with rival bus competing fiercely for passengers, which results in an awful lot of dubious overtaking and red light-skipping. The buses lurch along through huge potholes of their own making, belching out diesel fumes which blacken the kerb and render the buses a uniform grey colour despite once-gaudy paint jobs.

The bus lane is painted red, which to any sane person who happens not to be driving a bus, says very clearly “Keep Out. Danger. Crossing this line is more than your life’s worth”.

So, I wonder as I pedal into town, what kind of utter madness possessed the urban planners when they decided to make this danger zone the desginated cycle route into Manchester? To take some of the most vulnerable road users and pen them in with some of the most powerful? If ever there was an example of cyclists being clearly thought of as second-class citizens (if not actually cannon fodder) this is it.

I was lucky enough to be riding this route at its quietest; bus services are comparatively infrequent on a Sunday morning, and there was barely another vehicle to be seen. But imagine you commute into the city every day – at 8.30am it would be jammed with buses, delivery trucks and taxi, not to mention regular car traffic. How on earth are people to be persuaded to commute by bike if this daily death race is the official option, sanctioned by the authorities?

Fortunately some of my rage was tempered when I got home this evening and read more about the Mayor of London’s plan to revolutionise cycling in London. Now I’m no fan of Mr Johnson’s political affiliations, but I can’t help a letting out a little squeal of glee when I read that he’s said this week:

I want to make it normal, something for everyone, something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes. Our new routes will give people the confidence to get in the saddle…I want to de-Lycrafy cycling. I do not promise perfection, or that London will become Amsterdam any time soon. But what I do say is that this plan marks a profound shift in my ambitions and intentions for the bicycle.”

Music to my ears 🙂

And how about these heartening efforts already being made in Fitrovia, to make a little corner of the capital a better place? A place where you can walk or cycle in peace, where you can have chance encounters with friends and stop to chat, where a community can grow, while also not excluding and demonising the car and car drivers.

Come on Manchester – anything London can do, we can do better, right?

(PS That isn’t actually a picture of one of the potholes I encountered today. I was too busy trying not to end up up a**e over t*t in one of the things, or run over by a bus, to take photos.)

photo credit: sfbike via photopin cc

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