One day, cycling around Soho, a Rolls Royce with blackened windows was stuck behind me. With cars parked on the left, the road was too narrow for the driver to pass. It felt a little intimidating to be holding up this big hunk of metal.
Eventually, the road widened and the car overtook me. Pulling up in front of me, Simon Cowell, the brains behind talent TV shows such as X-factor, stepped out from the back and walked in to an office.
Simon Cowell’s decision to drive, negative impacts the people around him. The car causes pollution that others have to breathe in. It requires space to park, which could be occupied by 8 bicycle parking spots, or space for pedestrians. His decision to drive, means that others will decide not to take their bikes to work. It means shops won’t benefit from more pedestrians. It means visitors in London will leave with memories and stories of noisy, congested streets. Office workers won’t be able to open their window without being greeted by the sound of cars.
Am I angry at Simon Cowell?
Not at all.
It’s not Simon Cowell’s fault. He is a smart businessman that I look up to.
It’s the fault of Westminster council.
Westminster Council, led by cabinet member for transport Cllr Algar has decided that everyone should have the unchallenged right to own, drive and park a car in central London.
Do I expect Simon Cowell to walk, cycle or take the bus to his office?
Not really, but I also don’t believe any special provision should be made for him at the disproportionate expense of everyone else.
However, that’s exactly what Westminster council is doing.
For the few people in central London who insist on using a car, the rest of us have to suffer.
Cycling should be thriving in Westminster and we should all be reaping the benefits. The only reason it isn’t is because Westminster council has decided against it.
Here’s how they plan on keeping the cyclists and pedestrians out, and the cars in:
Public space should be allocated for people to park their car
If you’ve ever cycled, walked or driven around Soho, you’ll recognise there isn’t much space. The pavements are tiny, there’s nowhere to leave your bike and driving here is a nightmare.
Why then is it, that with such limited space available, it is agreed that it is a fundamental right for the residents here to use public space to park their car?
Residents of Soho have made the conscious decision to live in the very heart of the city. Everything they could possibly want or need is walking distance away. If it isn’t, then there are plentiful public transport options.
One person, parking one car outside their home, is inconveniencing 100’s if not 1000’s of people.
Perhaps the oddest of Westminster’s road design policies is to narrow roads. They reason that cars and cyclists should mix together and that without enough space for cars to overtake, everyone will travel at the same speed.
Anyone who has cycled on these narrows streets will agree that this is incredibly intimidating. I’m sure drivers will also attest that it doesn’t work.
Maintain current speed limits
Westminster council controls 92% of the roads in the borough. Average driving speeds in London are already around 10mph, yet occasionally a road will be clear and cars will speed up to 35-40mph. It’s easy to see how that would be intimidating and irritating to both pedestrians and cyclists.
A uniform speed limit of 20mph could really help reduce dangers and improve conditions for cyclists.
Give cyclists free “bike bells”
I was baffled to read in the Cyclists in the City blog that the council plans on giving out free bike bells to cyclists to encourage them to warn pedestrians of their presence.
We’ll never see the benefits
In the draft version of the 2013 – 2026 version of the council’s cycling strategy, it’s clear the benefits of cycling in Westminster are recognised:
- Sustain its population growth and new jobs
- Ease congestion on its roads
- Offer a viable way to its population of travelling at minimal cost
- Significantly improve the health of its residents, workers and visitors
- Improve local air quality
Yet, Westminster council, spearheaded by Cllr Algar, is planning to fail cyclists. If they fail cyclists, then they’ll fail the Mayor’s cycling vision. They’ll fail the local residents, they’ll fail visitors to London, they’ll fail businesses, cafes, shops, workers and they’ll fail London as a whole. If they were hoping that at least they’d be making a handful of car owners happy, then ask any car owner if they are happy with driving conditions in central London.
Image via Cyclists in the City