A big reason why I moved to Hackney a year ago was it’s status as the *best* borough to cycle in in London. But I knew really, that best really meant *least worst*. I’d like to see that change.
I’d previously lived in Haringey and Tower Hamlets: when I say ‘best,’ Hackney was way better than their utterly forbidding or completely inconvenient cycle routes. There were filtered streets without cars, through which I could patch a route away from through traffic. There were parks, easy to cross. There was always the canal. I used to cross from the Wild West environment of Tower Hamlets backstreets into Goldsmiths Row with a sigh of relief.
But, the longer I’ve lived here, the more it’s felt like *least worst* is the more accurate term. There is no journey I can make across the borough without at some stage fearing for my life or limbs. While I can ride through London Fields, De Beauvoir Town or some of the back streets, in relative safety, no journey avoided main roads entirely (the clue’s in the time). I spend a lot of time visiting friends in Haringey: I could choose direct routes like the A10, among speeding cars and buses, weaving around the parked cars; and others like Mare Street, or slightly quieter roads like Well Street, parking on both sides, drivers zooming past, often far beyond 30mph. Or I could use the true backstreets – often with rat-runners squeezing past me as fast as they dared, taking far longer and never quite getting me where I wanted. I appreciated small things like the 100m of safe space in Goldsmiths Row, but I realised Hackney was no better than the other boroughs for end-to-end journeys or for genuine safety.
I thought about joining the Hackney Cycling Campaign, but they seemed to want the opposite of what I wanted. I hoped that Cycle Superhighway 1, up the A10, would finally bring safe segregation, separating me from drivers. I found out that they had campaigned against this – returning the route to the inconvenient, dangerous backstreets of London Cycle Network Route 10. I read that HCC felt there was no space for segregation: but I looked at the streets around Victoria Park introduced parking controls and saw acres of space in unused parking spaces – and yet the one-way system so fast and busy that almost everyone I saw cycling was on the pavement. I read that they believed sharing was fine: but I found myself frequently terrified – many drivers are kind, considerate and careful. But it only takes one to end my life or at least my career. Reading that Hackney was in the top five boroughs for hit and runs suggested that my own experience was not unusual. And seeing the construction of great infrastructure in Camden and on the new cycle superhighways, I felt sad that Hackney would be left out.
But I couldn’t face starting a one-man campaign, given the apparent determination of a few people in the borough and Hackney Cycling Campaign to ensure people on bikes mixed with people in vehicles. When Hackney People on Bikes came along, I jumped at the chance to contribute to something which would make the borough safe enough that I (and children, and old people, and everyone) could cycle around it and feel safe. The popular reaction has been amazing, from individuals telling us what a difference this would make to them, to gaining almost 250 followers in three days. It’s clear this campaign has widespread support.
Hackney People on Bikes are taking this message to the Hackney Cycling Campaign at its monthly meeting on 3rd December (7.30, Marcon Court Estate community hall). I hope that a strong showing of people will help to evidence the demand for change in the borough. This is just the start: they have more plans afoot to help ensure the council and TfL make the borough safe and pleasant for everyone.
Hackney People on Bikes letter to Hackney Cycling Campaign can be found (and signed) here.
Hackney Cyclists has chronicled a good deal of Hackney’s problems here.
Here’s another reflection on the stance of Hackney Cycling Campaign from the Alternative DfT.