Saturday, 30 July 2011

London cycling, last Friday of the month

The last Friday of the month is the regular slot for Critical Mass, when hundreds, possibly thousands of cyclists converge on the South Bank, setting out around 7.00pm on an unplanned and highly disruptive route around central London. Disruptive to traffic, that is. The message is not overtly political, it's just a reminder that not only cars and lorries use the streets. It's interesting to see how safe the whole thing is: there are seldom collisions, and as a pedestrian you can just walk out to cross the road and the bikes weave around you, although a few people clearly think they have to wait for the whole thing to pass.

This month there is a flashride at 6.00pm to protest about the traffic proposals for Blackfriars Bridge, starting at the south end and heading back down the other side, which causes an effective traffic jam for half an hour each way. Most of the riders then head en masse down to the National Film Theatre to join the main ride. You can tell it's summer because numbers are down from usual, but it's still a decent road-filling slow-moving crowd. On the narrow streets behind the National Theatre the procession goes at a snail's pace, perhaps not the most visible use of numbers when we could have used the main road. Blackfriars Bridge is blocked again on the northbound side, but not for long. Self-sacrificing (or foolhardy) types stop their bikes in front of cars to stop them pushing into the route and needless to say this can annoy the drivers, who sometimes get out to argue, but it's reasonably clear that there is no point trying to pass when the entire road is completely full of bikes. The taxi drivers hate this and lean on their horns, van drivers inch forward aggressively, motorbikes try to weave their way through the mass of bicycles, but it's actually a short wait and most people wait calmly, some are even amused. The police are relaxed, waving stragglers through red lights to keep the group together.

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