Wednesday 16 August 2006 8.40am
Having recently visited Copenhagen, I find this argument between cyclists and pedestrians completely surreal. I have always campaigned quite hard for both groups, as they seem to me to be natural allies.
In Copenhagen, cyclists do not break the rules because the rules are written with cyclists in mind. All the main traffic routes have nearly half their width dedicated for the exclusive use of bicycles (and rollerblades and electric invalid vehicles). Most of the streets in the city centre are completely closed to motor traffic, so cyclists and pedestrians use them together. All cyclists are pedestrians and most pedestrians are cyclists. People cycle in frocks and flipflops and no-one over the age of three wears a helmet. White Van Man cycles, carrying huge loads on his special builder's bike. The air is clean. You can hear footsteps and children laughing. Property prices are astronomical - everyone wants to live there. (Apart from me that is, because I'm in love with London. Copenhagen is just... well, Danish.)
As reported to Southwark Cyclists
: In Copenhagen I saw a very elderly man, at least 80, cycle slowly along one of the city's principle routes carrying an unweildy package including a large bunch of flowers on the back of his bike. The flowers wobbled, the package dislodged and bicycle and gentleman fell to the ground. He was gently picked up and dusted down by the next two cyclists - both fabulously beautiful women, one twenty-something, one thirty-something. He protested, mildly and sheepishly, then cycled off, pink and twinkly. Is it likely your father or grandfather could enjoy such an adventure in London any time soon?
London cycle lanes are much too narrow, ending just when you most need them, noisy, dirty, full of buses, always invaded by vehicles you wouldn't want your children to mix with, often "advisory" - whatever that means. Not really any priority for cycles at all. To cycle on London's main streets, you need to be fit, fast and aggressive and wear unusual clothing, but that's the fault of transport engineers, not cyclists.
You will dismiss me as an impractical dreamer, but I don't want to go on living in an unecessary nightmare without trying to do something about it. Copenhagen was once a filthy mess of motor traffic too, but they took some hard decisions and made it work for them. Their transport system now works extremely efficiently. As I'm sure you can tell, there's no doubt in my mind who should think of mending their ways. If you really, really need to drive everywhere all the time, then perhaps one of Europe's great centres of global civilisation is not best able to meet your needs. Have you thought of other places, like Los Angeles, or Basingstoke?