Biking in London

I'm participating in London's Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and was pleased to see a question on cycling and infrastructure. Excerpt below:

Tell us your views on London's walking and cycling infrastructure. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied, or does it matter to you? What are the next steps in fixing or expanding this infrastructure?  What advice would you give a novice cyclist, younger or older, before cycling in London?

Here is my answer:

I ride to work at Fanshawe College three to four days per week almost all-year round. My one-way ride is 12.4 km (coming from Hyde Park area). The route I normally take is to Brescia via Lawson Rd., through Western to St. George and then along Cheapside to Fanshawe.

For me personally – and I believe for the city – better on-road bike infrastructure is absolutely essential. Whenever I speak with someone about my commute, they always say "Isn't it dangerous riding on the road?" or "What about all the traffic?" The absence of bike lanes through most of my ride means that I need to ride more defensively (sometimes even aggressively) to keep myself safe.

I ride with an aggressive lane position (up to 1 meter from the curb when necessary) and take full-lane position at stops and red lights. When I ride, I obey all traffic laws and behave as if I were driving a car. Even with this, I get passed too closely and get pushed by cars rushing to pass when there isn't enough room. LTC busses are especially disrespectful. When I approach an intersection, I find vehicles continuing to race past me only to cut me off at the stop sign.

I don't mean for this to be a rant about drivers, because for the most part, my commute is quite safe and uneventful, but I do find that I need to be the one to establish the boundaries around myself and take control during interactions with other vehicles.

I attribute most of this behaviour to the traffic culture that London has. Because driving across the city takes a long time with a lot of traffic, Londoners tend to rush, running yellow and red lights, being aggressing when turning left etc. This translates into a lack of respect for slower (but fully legal) vehicles like bikes.

Bike lanes do make a difference. The clear delineation of space that a lane creates reminds drivers that cyclists are there and need space as well. The other factor is education, which is a challenge. We need to remind drivers that cyclists are people as well, just trying to get somewhere.

The advice I'd give a novice cyclist is to be prepared at all times. Use lights all the time, wear a helmet and be ready for unexpected pull-outs, dangerously close passing and for rude drivers to yell and honk at you for simply being on the road. Beyond that, I'd tell them that commuting by bike in London is fantastic. It's cheap, healthy and efficient. It takes me ~20 minutes to drive to work and only ~35 minutes to bike. That's pretty great.