Adventures finding cycle parking in Soho

Bike locking notice in London by police

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.

Cycle parking at H2 Bike Run gym in Soho

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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24 Responses to Adventures finding cycle parking in Soho

  1. Hannah 22/07/2013 at 4:26 pm #

    I read your question on Twitter and could immediately answer “yes” – in bloody Soho. Other areas might not be great, but there are stands. Soho the only place I have found spaces is on the south side of Soho square, down an alleyway, where funnily enough, no one seems to want to park.

    All this is presuming you’ve negotiated the hell that is Westminster to actually get you and your bike where you want to be in the first place. I don’t cycle into Westminster at all any more, opting to run into work and then use public transport on days where i’m out in the evening. It’s a shame – I gave it a couple of years and tried loads of routes, but it just wasn’t working. I would arrive stressed and with the strong feeling that this wasn’t a long term solution.

    • Andreas 22/07/2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Glad i’m not the only one. Putting this post out there I thought people might reply “huh, you are crazy, I’ve never had that issue”!

      One more Soho parking story… left my bike overnight there once after a late one and came back only to find someone had locked their bike to mine. I believe I released a series of expletives as I was hungover and not in a position to deal with life’s little challenges.

      Fortunately, my brain kicked in to gear and I walked in to the nearest shop to ask what was going on. Turns out someone that works there had locked their bike to mine as that was their “usual spot”.

      Ah, London!

      • Ian 22/07/2013 at 5:06 pm #

        Locking their bike to yours was the ultimate dick move if you ask me. Usual spot? Heck, if I worked in an area such as that I’d be making a case to keep my bike on the premises.

        • Andreas 22/07/2013 at 9:30 pm #

          Yes, I wasn’t too pleased to say the least!

        • Jozudave 26/07/2013 at 10:44 am #

          I’m always slightly nervous about this happening to me as I’ve heard it’s sometimes a sneaky way for a thief to basically immobilise your bike so they can come back and steal it at night.

          If you come back to your bike and it’s been locked by someone else what do you think you should you do? Call the police??? I doubt they’ll care. Call a professional lock breaking service of some kind?

          My insurance is with ETA so I suppose I might call them, but I’m not sure what they’d be able to do really.

        • Andreas 26/07/2013 at 2:16 pm #

          Jozudave – In your situation I would talk to the nearby shops, offices and pubs see if someone there has locked their bike to yours. If I couldn’t find them, I’d leave the bike for 24 hours (locked and hoping it would be there when I return) and if it’s still not been removed I’d rent an angle grinder and remove the other bike.

  2. Cas Burke 22/07/2013 at 4:40 pm #

    This is the reason why I prefer a padlock and chain over a D-lock, it gives me so many more parking options. Even if I can’t find a cycle rack, there are always loads of street lamps and signage to tie up to, usually right outside my destination.
    Yes, it means carrying a couple more kilos, but I’m never at a loss for finding a safe parking space.

    • Andreas 22/07/2013 at 4:47 pm #

      True Cas – quite the bike messenger look you must have! Is it as safe as a D-Lock?

      • Cas Burke 22/07/2013 at 7:41 pm #

        It has to be, I’m rather proud of my steed.
        10mm hardened steel. Sold Secure Gold spec, though bought from a hardware shop for half the price.

        • Andreas 22/07/2013 at 9:31 pm #

          Excellent – pleased to hear you are taking the security of your proud steed seriously :)

  3. k8 22/07/2013 at 10:25 pm #

    This is why I have just decided to buy a Brompton and took delivery a week ago. It is a lovely shiny red, and the first bike I ever bought with mudguards!

    I was getting fed up wanting to go out at nights, but too scared to leave my lovely bikes locked up in the streets, no matter how many locks I put on them. So I would get a bus and tube into work – over an hour each way, compared to 35 minutes on a bike. And then the schlep home! Ugh.

    Even better, I like to cycle round my mum’s once or twice a week and she won’t let me bring a normal bike in the house. But after I showed her the “fold” a few times, the Brompton now takes pride of place in her hall.

    • Andreas 25/07/2013 at 7:06 pm #

      I think a Brompton would fit in nicely in the hallway at home :)

  4. Vincent 22/07/2013 at 10:54 pm #

    > 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.

    Indeed. A couple of recent shots from London:
    http://i39.tinypic.com/dormt2.png

    Meanwhile, one car parking space = space for 10 bikes : http://www.cyclehoop.com

  5. Richard 23/07/2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Work in Soho, and usually Boris Bike it in from home (Wapping). There is a big Evans shop north of Oxford street and West ot Rathbone street that offer in-store parking.

    Also if you are cycling into Westminster from the East, the only really viable routes are along embankment and up Charing Cross Road, or via St Pauls/ High Holborn.

    Yeah but Soho sucks for any kind of bike parking. That includes boris bike bays at 9:15 am.

    • Andreas 25/07/2013 at 7:07 pm #

      That’s a good tip for the Evans store – wasn’t aware that one has in-store parking.

  6. congokid 23/07/2013 at 2:22 pm #

    When I worked in Soho I used to leave my bike in Poland Street car park. Until some tw*nt nicked the Brooks saddle and seatpost. The CCTV cameras covered most parts of the car park, apart from the bike park section.

    Judging by the Q-Park website, it no longer appears to offer this service.

  7. Adam Bowie 23/07/2013 at 3:45 pm #

    A good option in Soho is Golden Square just beyond the top of Carnaby Street (where I work). There are a few cycle racks, and it’s strangely quiet at weekends. Even though it’s between Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street, it has a strangely little through traffic and therefore is a bit of an oasis of calm – certainly in comparison with Soho Square.

    And yes, don’t expect to park a Boris bike anywhere around here after 9am. Indeed if it’s a particularly nice day, much earlier.

    • Andreas 25/07/2013 at 7:09 pm #

      Interesting, I’ve pedalled around there and not usually found many racks free. Perhaps I’m missing them!

      • Adam Bowie 26/07/2013 at 2:40 pm #

        There are a few just opposite the new bike shop – Kinoko – that’s opened on the square. In this Google Maps Street View image, the shop is still called Footes.

        Some of the other street furniture around the square also has those hoops that let you lock bikes to it.

        Unusually for Soho, the pavements in Golden Square are quite wide, and facilitate bikes chained up like this.

        Personally, I’d like to see some Sheffield stands go up alongside every Boris Bike docking station. I’ve seen plenty of people think that they might be able to chain their bikes up at these stations.

  8. Henri 25/07/2013 at 10:46 am #

    It’s not just Soho that has a lack of bike parking.

    Here in Manchester city centre, the council is made up of useless nitpickers.

    There used to be several sheffield stands in 2 popular and busy locations, one being right next to the town hall in Albert Square.

    Construction/renovation work was undertaken in these 2 places and the stands were removed because they were in the way. in one location, the work is over but the stands have never been replaced. They could have moved the stands somewhere nearby but didn’t bother either.

    The other construction is the renovation of the library next to the town hall. It started in 2010 and is still going on. They removed the bike stands in the way and didn’t provide any stands in an alternative location.

    The bike stands in these 2 locations used to be very busy with bikes throughout the day. Now that the stands have gone, there is no place to lock a bike. Other stands nearby are full.

    There is a lot of talk about protecting the environment, reducing car emissions, traffic, encouraging cycling, good for health, etc but all this is a load of hot air. It’s easy to say words but when it comes to action, Manchester City council can’t be bothered to do anything and in fact make life harder for cyclists.

    Any new urban redevelopment should increase the number of bike stands or at least leave them intact, not reduce them.

    I emailed the council about this issue. They acknowledged my email but never bothered to answer despite repeated update requests.

    I will continue to spam them.

    The state of the roads here is another issue but not relevant to this article.

  9. Jozudave 26/07/2013 at 10:48 am #

    I’ve thought many a time that they should just get on and make the majority of Soho a car free zone. I know the taxi drivers would kick up a huge fuss, but tough luck guys because this needs to happen and in many other more forward thinking cities it already would have.

    It’s chock full of drunk people staggering around anyway so it’s not like traffic gets through there fast. Just block it off and make it an exhaust-free, cycle-parking-heavy, safe haven for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

  10. russell 26/07/2013 at 11:27 am #

    Andreas
    Great post and i have been thinking the very same for a long time. Infact as I start to approach soho i am usually already thinkng how far i will have to walk to find a place. If you are very early then outside the Palace theatre is a possibility or off of Berwick Street I found a bank of bike stands that sometimes prove fruitful. I met a mate recently for breakfast in Mayfair and audibily yelped with joy at finding one sole bike stand that was free in the area! Due for these rare discoveries, cycling in London is still a source of my greatest joy. Thanks again Andreas

    • Andreas 26/07/2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Cheers Russell – I can really picture the yelp of joy and it is something I’ve done myself on occasion!

  11. Dimitris 07/08/2013 at 12:25 pm #

    The LCC has a campaign as to where people want more parking. But finding where parking stands actually are, is more difficult:

    Westminster’s council map is particularly well hidden, and with a rather cumbersome interface, but it is accurate:

    http://www3.westminster.gov.uk/maps/fmn-form.cfm?maplayers=216

    the following link however, is a joy, once you drag the map to London and zoom! More colours mean more stands. I think it is reasonably accurate for Central London, less so for the Docklands.

    http://www.spokeseastkent.org.uk/maps/cycle-parking-heat-map/

    Or of course, the Brompton will do away with any such worries.

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