You are on route to meet your friends at your favourite Japanese restaurant in Soho, as you happily pedal to your destination, you suddenly remember that cycle parking in Soho is a nightmare.
It shouldn’t be really. This is the heart of London and the kind of place people should be encouraged to cycle to. There should be cycle parking provision everywhere.
However, it’s not pedestrians and cyclists that rule the roost here, it’s car drivers, taxi drivers and lorry drivers. The narrow streets have tiny pavements and cars are moving around everywhere. Amazingly, despite the disproportionate amount of space it uses up and this being some of the most expensive real estate in the country, small amounts of car parking can still be found. The wisdom of Westminster council in action.
There are some notable exceptions. The ever popular Carnaby Street is a rare safe heaven for pedestrians from the surrounding madness. It’s hard to imagine why more of Soho hasn’t been pedestrianised.
As I approach Soho I have a decision to make – do I grab one of the bicycle parking stands further away and walk the rest of the distance or do I risk it and keep pedalling?
Today, I decide to risk it.
I reach the traffic lights at Oxford Circus. Circus is an appropriate name. There are people and cars everywhere. This could be the cover photo for life in a busy city.
I once reached these traffic lights and suddenly realised I’d left both my bike locks at home. I can only image the look on my friends face when she received the text “I forgot my lock, cycling back, see you in 40 mins!”. The memory still makes me blush.
As the lights turn green and the last few tourists risk crossing, only to be greeted by the sounds of car horns by anxious taxi drivers, I wonder what impression of London they’ll relay to friends back home.
After a short but fast pedal, I hop off my bike on Glasshouse St. The cycle parking adventure begins.
I’m greeted by signs saying “Bikes left here will be removed”. I can’t imagine the authors of this sign would act on their anonymous threat but I don’t want to risk it. The image of a burly man with his bolt cutters, walking away with my beautiful bike doesn’t sit well with me.
Still no luck finding a spot, the words from TfL’s website are ringing in my head:
“You’ll find safe, convenient bike parking all over London, on streets, at stations and at work places.”
Not here. Soho is a black spot for cycle parking. An abyss of cycle parking. A place where the words cycle parking don’t feature on a developers expensive plans.
No wonder the H2 Bike Run gym is proving so popular with its rare and ample cycle parking.
I wheel my bike around some more along the narrow pavements. As my unfruitful search continues, I wonder what my friend must be thinking waiting for me at the restaurant. If this was a date, she’d have left by now.
I lament my decision to risk it and look for cycle parking nearby. Damn my optimism!
I pass by a few full parking stands. The lucky cyclists before me have grabbed a spot. I even pass by a stand with an abandoned bike. I start to wonder whether I can squeeze my bike in on a stand meant for two bikes.
Longingly, I gaze upon the lampposts, but deep down I know my Kryptonite lock won’t fit around the post.
Eventually, I find a spot and lock my bike. Mechanically, I slide my Kryptonite lock through the frame and rear wheel and my faithful chain lock that I’ve had since school around the front wheel and frame.
I remove my bike lights and start my brisk walk to the Japanese restaurant, preparing my apologies for my friend.
TfL are currently running a survey on cycle parking provision in London. I recommend you take part.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.