Two Wheels Good

Back when the internet was young — or at least the commercial, available-at-home internet — I sent an email with the subject line, “Bicycle on the Superhighway”. It was about me having a publicly-accessible email address for the first time since uni (as opposed to one that was only usable within the company where I worked at the time).

This was back when people — inspired, if I recall correctly, by Al Gore — were calling the net the “Information Superhighway.”

This post is not about all that, though; this is about literal cycling on a literal superhighway: specifically London’s “Cycle Superhighways.”

Since the building where I now work has showers, I decided it was time to get back on the bike. And since it’s in Westminster, it turns out there’s a really easy route, that uses CS6 and CS3: down Farringdon Road and west along Embankment, by the river.

These are fantastic cycling facilities, especially the Embankment one. Properly separated from the motor traffic, plenty of room to move and overtake, great sequencing of traffic lights so you hardly have to stop. It’s hard to fault it. Especially compared to nearly every other pathetic painted cycle lane in the city.

It gets a bit hairy where it all ends, in Parliament Square: the traffic there is unfeasibly heavy. Who drives near parliament?

If there’s a downside to it all, it’s this: I suspect that the motorised traffic is busier and faster, exactly because it’s not tempered by having bikes in the mix. I can’t be sure — I’ve never used Embankment before, and it’s years since I used to cycle regularly on Farringdon Road — but it feels to me that there’s a crazy amount of traffic and that it’s going faster than ever.

The latter can’t really be true — there are still speed limits, and they either won’t have changed or might have dropped to 20 mph in sections. But I still get this sense that, freed from interacting with the fragile two-wheeled minority, the armoured legions behave more like they’re on a motorway.

Whether that’s the case or not, the number of people cycling — especially in the recent bright spring weather — is huge. The only time I’ve seen more cyclists together was when I did the London to Brighton ride many years ago.

And also in the mix now are electric scooters and electric skateboards, which makes it all the more interesting. There’s even the odd cycle rickshaw.

It’ll be interesting to see how the volume changes with the seasons, but you can’t beat it for a way to commute: it’s faster than the tube, it saves you money, and you get some exercise. I recommend it for anyone who’s able.

Two Wheels Good

The Water of Life

Or at least a container for it. It’s Bike Week this week, and as I happened to be cycling through Islington anyway, I was caught up by the members of the local LCC. They were offering a free cyclists’ breakfast, and a Dr Bike clinic. I had already had breakfast, and my bike was serviced recently, so I didn’t stop for that (though it is making a strange noise again, so perhaps I should have).

However they were also handing out free water bottles, which is just what I needed: I just noticed this morning that mine is cracked, and in any case it’s very prone to making the water taste plasticy. So I accepted that gratefully, and am giving something back by adding what tiny amount of Google juice I can to the URL that is printed on the bottle: Islington Borough’s Green Travel page.

Now get on yer bike, everyone.

The Water of Life

In which Martin meets annoyances at Waterloo

I don’t mean to come over all disgruntled again, but on arriving at Waterloo (by bike) this morning, I found two changes which seemed designed to inconvenience travellers, with no obvious gain.

First, at the entrance I usually roll in by (the wide one next to the Costa Coffee shop), they have added two bollards. Quite widely spaced, so no immediate problem for cyclists or pedestrians: except that anything unnecessary in the way is a distraction and just adds to the complexity of a journey. And what purpose do they serve? All they can possibly be for is to stop cars and vans driving in that way. And while that is something that has been technically possible until now, I wasn’t at all aware that we had a problem with it.

Indeed, apart from floor-cleaning machines and those little luggage carts, the only motorised vehicle I’ve ever seen inside Waterloo is an ambulance. I do hope they haven’t stopped those from getting in.

Perhaps more significantly, they have added some sort of tall rack containing, I think, paper timetables or other leaflets. But they’ve put it in the middle of the floor near the the departures screens. So not only is it in the way, but from certain positions it obscures the view of the screens.

Screens which have been hard enough to see since they were introduced, replacing the old big boards. The screens’ main fault is that they are in the wrong places: over some of the shops which form islands in the concourse, instead of over the entrances to the platforms. As well as that, the text on them is smaller than the old boards, so you have to stand closer to make them out. This last will have the effect of amplifying the blockage caused by the rack (this can be proved by a simple piece of geometry, which I won’t go into).

At least the rack looks as if it should be easy to remove; but bah, grumble, etc.

In which Martin meets annoyances at Waterloo

Transport against london

I take a couple of weeks off (a week at home with the kids, a week in Dorset: very nice, thanks, since you ask) and when I first get back to posting, I find I’m channelling the excellent Disgruntled Commuter. This morning’s journey into work was a vision of madness and chaos straight out of Dante’s Inferno.

I exaggerate, of course. The Waterloo and City Line is a key link in my standard route to work, when I go purely by public transport. Hackney to Wimbledon is not the simplest route between two parts of London, but it doesn’t have to be insane. That line, though, is currently closed. Until September. If we assume it won’t reopen until the end of that month at the earliest, that means it will be closed for half the year. I understand that things wear out and break down and have to be maintained: but it only goes between two stations. There’s not that much to it. How long can things take?

So for two days this week I cycled to Waterloo (I work at home on Wednesdays) which is the best way to get in anyway, for all the usual reasons why cycling is best1. But lately I’ve fallen out of the habit. To break myself back in gently (in other words, to give myself a rest from it today, or out of sheer laziness), I decided to chance public transport today.

I’m a great fan of public transport generally, of course: but there are times and services that… don’t show it in its best light, let’s say. The North London Line is one that has a bad reputation at best: indeed, the aforementioned Disgruntled one has written about it in the past. Yet gettting that line to Highbury and Islington and then the Victoria Line to Vauxhall for the last leg to Wimbledon seemed the best alternative route for me.

You’ll have guessed, since I’m writing this, that it was not.

The North London Line is characterised by infrequent, jam-packed services, and it deserves the characterisation. Don’t get the idea that this was a surprise to me: I knew perfectly well what it would be like. What do you think was the biggest prod to get me back onto my bike?

So that wasn’t really the problem (though the difficulty of seeing the station name signs when you’re jammed in standing up makes it extra hard for the infrequent user to be sure they are at the correct station). No, the problem was my old friend2 the Victoria Line.

It was, in short, fucked.

So I got on that curious bit of non-Underground underground line that also runs out of Highbury and Islington (and that I can’t remember the name of), and got a train to Moorgate. Thence by Northern Line to London Bridge and Jubilee to Waterloo. I left home at about 8:15 (significantly later than I originally intended to, admittedly) and the train from Waterloo pullled into Wimbledon at 9:35. Bah!


1. Exercise, knowing fairly exactly when you’re going to get there, and not being at the mercy of the transport network chief among them.

2. Before I lived in Hackney I lived in Walthamstow. You get on at the start of the line (and thus are almost guaranteed a seat) plonk yourself down, open your book, and don’t look up until Vauxhall.

Transport against london