©Boris bike in front of Westminster Abbey
I'm back! On my return from the land of the Dutch, I had a short stop in London. I immediately took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus, dropped off my stuff at the hostel only steps from the station, and promptly wandered around until I found a "Boris bike" (nicknamed after Mayor Boris, a regular cyclist himself) at a Barclays Cycle Hire rack. For £1 I got 24 hours of access to any of the bikes in the system. There's no better way to see as much as London in as short a time as possible. If you don't already know how this particular system works, Transport for London provides an excellent video:
The cycle hire bikes, proudly waiting to be used.
©Gentleman on a Boris bike
A businessman on a Boris bike, heading for a quick after work drink?
©Tourists on Boris bikes
Tourists? It's hard to look up at buildings and pay attention to speeding traffic at the same time.
©Wary London Cyclist
Fully prepared to do battle with large white vans.
©Cyclist in traffic
Road warrior takes the middle lane.
In my short time there I observed a sharp distinction between the cyclists on their own bikes and those on the Boris bikes. Bright reflective, yellow jackets and vests were wide spread, helmets less so. The Boris bikers were more likely to be just wearing regular clothes, no helmets, and use the sidewalk for short distances (at least the tourists).
This was jarring having just come back from the Netherlands where I don't recall seeing anyone in a reflective anything and very few people wore helmets. But then the Dutch didn't have daily uncomfortable encounters with large buses and other vehicles zipping closely by them in narrow bike lanes. And when they do, motorists always give the right of way to cyclists. I don't think it's clear how much of a difference the reflective jackets make, but I could see how local cyclists were searching for some way to increase their comfort in the absence of good bike lanes. To the average Londoner these cyclists probably appear to be a special breed of brave souls.
Cyclists often share bus routes.
I was happy to just be able to see London on bike, though I noticed how things still need to improve. London's bikesharing scheme has made cycling appear much more approachable for the average person, and it has made a start with its cycling "superhighways", though it has much room for improvement. Both London and Toronto have a long way to go to reach the level of cycling-friendly Dutch cities, where even the smallest towns have good cycling infrastructure. Toronto already has a higher bike mode share in the core, but with London's quite pro-cycling Mayor, it may soon surpass Toronto. The one thing holding London back is the apparent aversion to separated bike lanes even on their cycle superhighways, and the preference by local officials for cycle training over good cycling infrastructure. This will still keep a lot of the less warrior-types off bikes.
Stay tuned as I go further back in time to cover that below-sea level place they call the Low Countries.