Driving & Cycling In London: The Thoughts Of An Olympic Gamesmaker

So, my work as a London 2012 ‘Games Maker’ is over. We’ve been in the news quite a lot over the last few days since the curtain fell on the Olympics closing ceremony being universally praised for doing our jobs extremely well; making the games. Well, I did my bit. I was pleasant to the people I met, tried to be as helpful as possible, & didn’t resort to sarcasm when perhaps in my real life it would have been too good an opportunity to miss. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I wasn’t based at the Olympic Park in East London; I was more of a roving Games Maker travelling from venue to venue (and occasionally to Heathrow) along the now famous ‘Games Lanes’ of the Olympic Route Network or ORN in one of the several thousand liveried BMWs that had been supplied by the German car manufacturer for exclusive use of the ‘Olympic family’. I admit it; for a few weeks, I was a car driver once again.

The irony of being a driver didn’t of course escape me; this website is dedicated to cycling (indeed if the statistic over there on the left is to be believed, it is the UK’s 8th most popular cycling blog) so what the hell was I doing dumping two wheels for four just for the glory of pulling on the Games Maker uniform? Well, if I’d had the choice, I wouldn’t have picked driving as my role. It was simply allocated to me after the application process. If it hadn’t have been me it would have been someone else and at least when I am behind the wheel, I’m no petrol head; I consider myself to be a good driver who is considerate to all road users whoever they may be.

So how did I get on? Well, I didn’t knock anyone off their bikes, the nearest I came to any kind of collision was when parking the BMW in the underground car park in Park Lane & I wasn’t on the brunt of any heckles or abuse from the cyclists of London so my driving was good. But what about the cycling and driving of others?

The drivers of London

They are an impatient lot but that could probably be said for most large cities anywhere in the World. They spend much of their time edging forward in traffic jams and when they are allowed to move a little more quickly, the network of traffic cameras keep their speed in check most of the time, certainly within the centre of the city. Moving a little further out of town, speed limits are more generally disregarded as most drivers seem to know exactly where the cameras are stationed; they zoom past on the elevated highways (limited to 40 miles per hour, occasionally 30) at 50 perhaps even 60 miles an hour. I stuck rigidly to the speed limits only to receive scornful looks from those who were ‘blocked’ in behind me. Cyclists are allowed on these arterial routes into the capital but most seem to have chosen to vote with their wheels and stay well clear; I can fully understand why. Within the central area itself, my main gripe with my fellow motorists was the lack of respect they seem to show towards cycle lanes and especially the bicycle-only areas than span across the entire lane at traffic lights so that cyclists have an area in which to wait for the lights to change; they are widely abused. Perhaps your average infringer would say that they aren’t very clearly-marked; this may occasionally be the case but certainly not on the glorious stretch of road from Parliament Square leading down towards Tate Britain. No excuses for driving your car in the cycle lanes there me thinks. I know that these cycling superhighways in London have come in for a certain amount of stick but this part of the network must surely be a (no pun intended) blueprint for future projects anywhere. The only possibly improvement might be a partitioning curb between the blue and the rest of the road but this is perhaps another obstacle to throw you off your bike, no? Look very carefully at the width of the blue band. If you are a motorist, do you give that kind of distance to cyclists that you pass on a standard road? Perhaps you should.

The cyclists of London

Even I was surprised just how many people were using bicycles to travel around the capital. OK, TFL working in conjunction with LOCOG and the ‘Get Ahead Of The Games’ campaign have been encouraging London residents for many months to prepare for the Olympic Games and think of alternative methods of transport, cycling being one of them. It was summer,ย the weather was generally goodย & there were more tourists about (often using the Barclays hire bikes). I was being hypersensitive when it came to sharing the road space with them; how embarrassing would it be for me of all people to knock a cyclist of their bike! I tried to think of all the times I have raised my eyebrows or indeed my voice (and occasionally my fingers) as a result of the stupid actions of a car, lorry or bus driver here in and around Reading. I really did want to avoid being on the brunt of a fellow cyclist’s scorn. And as far as I could see, I wasn’t. That said, there were frustrating moments. As a cyclist, I always stop at red, even if there is no good reason to do so apart from there being a traffic light in front of me. I do this for two reasons; firstly, it’s the law. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly) I don’t want to give a motorist any ounce of reason to criticise my cycling. In the mind of many motorists, a cyclist blatantly cycling through a red light gives them reason to develop a deep disrespect for cyclists which only impacts negatively back on cyclists themselves when, as a result motorists inevitably treat us as second-class road users. It’s a collective immunity thing; if there are a significant number of cyclists seen to break the law, the whole of the cycling community is branded as loonies. I have to say that the number of cyclists I saw cycling through red lights in London was a large (probably very large) minority. Frustrating from the perspective of a motorist but also from the perspective of a law-abiding cyclist. Another issue I had to contend with as a motorist was the erratic movements of some cyclists. Again, I was on the look out for cyclists almost all the time (driving down the M4 to Heathrow was such a relief!) but that’s me, a cyclist myself. How many of the other motorists are not so diligent? How many are not constantly looking in their side mirrors when stopping and starting along the roads within zone 1? It’s hard work. Other cyclists seemed lost in the music of their headphones. I have tried to wear headphones myself when cycling but I find it nerve-racking; we need to use as many senses as we can whilst cyclist and abandoning one of them so that we can look cool with a pair of Dr. Dres is perhaps a step too far; it may be a time to restrict their use to the warm-up area in the velodrome…

So, an interesting experience. I’m glad to have handed the keys back for my London 2012 Olympic BMW. It really wasn’t my style. But I will perhaps be just a little bit more tolerant of those drivers I meet on the roads and lanes of Berkshire & South-East Oxfordshire over the coming months.

Update: This article (“Motoring magazine Auto Express claims three in four cyclists ‘break law’ “) has just appeared on the blog. Worth a read.

Categories: Cycling

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