I have been very fortunate over the years to have been able to cycle in various cities throughout the world including Paris, Singapore, Vancouver and yes even the Mecca’s of cycling Amsterdam and Copenhagen. However in all the years of commuting to work in London I never once contemplated taking my bike into London. The very thought of dealing with the heavy traffic, aggressive driving and lack of cycling facilities just put me off.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I decided this week to cycle through the very heart of London and let me tell you folks it was an amazingly heartening experience. Not only has there been a revolution in attitudes toward cycling in London, but the new infrastructure put in place to support Boris’s Bikes is fantastic. Of course it isn’t perfect but my goodness how satisfying to see actual bike paths in place with dedicated traffic lights and special lanes for bridge crossings. I am sure all the planning for this was put in place long before Boris became Mayor but hats off to him and his team for seeing it through. I am sure there was lots of resistance.
The odyssey starts when you first log onto the Transport for London website www.tfl.gov.uk On this page there is a getting around London section for cycling. Click on this and there is at your disposal a wealth of information on cycling. My first stop was to order a couple of the cycling maps for Central London and the East End of London which is where I needed to go. Remarkably these turned up at my doorstep the following day free of charge. Very clear, great maps showing various routes, but really useful even if you aren’t cycling.
The next stop was the “journey planner”. I needed to go from Waterloo Station to the Excel Building out in the East End. By simply putting in the start and finish point, low and behold a map of the best cycling route pops up. You can then simply print off the route and the day is yours.
However this wasn’t the only revelation. I noticed a little button on the top right which said “upload to GPS”. Following the directions I saved the route into the Memory Map software (www.memory-map.co.uk) on my PC and then successfully saved it onto my Adventurer 2800 GPS (www.memory-map.co.uk/adventurerGPS/index.php/adventurer2800.html ) A small glitch was the GPS route didn’t exactly match the mapped route, but who was I to complain, this was amazing.
So armed with some maps and my GPS I took my bike onto the train in Winchester and offloaded at Waterloo, still a little tentative as to what was in store for me.
When you first come out of the station you immediately see the many bikes in storage and the racks for the Boris bikes. It was reasonably early in the morning and so the rush hour had emptied most of the Boris Bikes. I switched on the GPS and started following the route. Getting out of the station is always a bit busy, however once off the main roads the route took me through what were relatively calm streets. Up ahead was the new Shard building that looms out of the tower blocks like some science fiction marvel. I was so surprised and pleased to see a cycle way has been built into the Southwark Bridge because crossing the river was one of my main concerns.
I followed the route up through Soho and into the City, all the time amazed and pleased at how relatively quiet the back streets were. After the Tower Bridge I joined what is termed the “cycling Superhighway”. This is a marked out blue cycle lane either separate from the road or marked onto the road. This really was a revelation and I whizzed up through Central London with only the occasional car or truck to worry me. At one point I came across a swing bridge in action, which was a pleasant little stop. The GPS route did take me onto the busy A road rather than continue up the superhighway, so all I can think is that it hasn’t been updated.
Up ahead loomed Canary Wharf and with all the Olympic construction in the area, getting across to the Excel Building proved a little testing. It wasn’t until I was riding back that I found the bike lane that takes you over the locks into the Excel site.
The total distance was about 12kms and without trying it took me about 1 hour (including the occasional turn around where I took the wrong turning).
What a great way to see the city of London and so many historical points of interest. What could be more pleasant than a cycle ride with the Thames as a backdrop. For the trip back I was now a little more confident and so putting the GPS onto the return route went back down the Superhighway, through the City and into the very heart of Oxford Street and Marlybone. Here again there was another cross town cycle path that I joined and merrily cycled past all of the traffic jams and disgruntled drivers.
Heading back to Waterloo I passed through Piccadilly, the Horse Guards Parade and Downing St. What a selection of amazing sights, unparalled in any other city in the world. When visiting London and using the tube, you get no sensation at all of where anything is in London and when travelling by bike you get a much better sense of location and the proximity of so many attractions.
All in all, I was completely bowled over with the experience and the transformation in the city. I would even suggest taking guests up to London now with bikes, knowing that there are safe alternatives to cycle. I will most definitely be taking my bike up for the Olympics next year, which will make touring between the various venues a doddle.
Hats off the London councillors and private investors who have made all this possible. I have no idea who they are (except perhaps Barclays), but well done. It is time to stop moaning, get on your bike and use these great facilities.