I’ve got a confession to make. I can’t help worrying about Jenny. Every now and then, the same fear comes into my mind. “What is she saying that for? Couldn’t she say something different?”
My electoral adventures with the Green Party are long gone – my membership’s cancelled, and my mayoral votes next year are up for grabs. Their candidate Jenny Jones worries me – a doughty assembly member for more than a decade, but I’m not seeing anything there so far that suggests she’s going to broaden that party’s appeal.
Those worries emerged again when I got on my bike last week. She’d got a bit of local press coverage for laying into Bexley Council’s rather minimal provision for cyclists.
“Bexley Council does not seem to have a clue about the importance of cycling. The council could do with a really good briefing on the value of walking and cycling.
“More people would get in their bikes if the roads were safer.”
Oh dear. In somewhere like Bexley, nothing gets people’s backs up like mayoral candidates wafting into town, shouting the odds as if they’re on a colonial visit, and then scurrying back to zone 2. The Tories who run Bexley weren’t impressed.
“Cyclists in Bexley are perfectly capable of getting around without expensive schemes put in place. We are working with the Mayor to make improvements where they are needed.
“There are cycle lanes across the Borough which are hardly ever used.”
In nearly a year of cycling, I’m well aware of the differences between the boroughs in cycling provision. If I go west, Lewisham’s a bit better than Greenwich, but Southwark is better and Lambeth better still.
Heading the other way, Bexley’s a little worse than Greenwich, but much of the issues there seem to be geographical – a lot of the road traffic is funnelled onto a few main roads, which haven’t got cycle lanes or advanced stop lines. But those are often only as good as the drivers who take notice of them, and an advanced stop line’s useless when you find yourself lining up next to a minicab.
What Bexley does have, though, is lots of side roads. It’s easy to avoid doing battles on the borough’s A-roads, since there’s lots of little rat-runs and lesser roads to nip down. Last Friday, I went from one side of the borough to the other, from Plumstead to Dartford, through Welling, Bexleyheath and Barnehurst, and barely touched a major road.
The real problem, though, is finding these routes. I had to stop five or six times to consult a map and get my bearings because the routes are so poorly signed.
Instead of bashing Bexley over not providing a rubbish foot-wide gutter lane on an A-road, why not suggest, as a start, that they create quiet through routes using adjacent side roads? For me, it’s a much more pleasant experience than fretting over whether or not I’m going to get squished by a lorry on the Bellegrove Road.
Head as far across as Crayford, and you’ll get to a dedicated bit of cycle lane alongside Thames Road, a recently-built dual carriageway heading towards Dartford.
But just like those handy cut-throughs in Welling and Bexleyheath, it’s badly signed – I went a few hundred metres along it before realising it was on the other side of the road. The wrong side of the road, too – lots of workers from the businesses on Thames Road were cycling home, but on the pavement closest to their workplaces, not on the cycle route that’d been installed on the far side of the road. When I switched sides (two minutes to cross the road), the cycle lane was obstructed by street signs built into it.
All a wasted opportunity – but it wasn’t Bexley that’d built that road, it was TfL under Ken Livingstone. With a few extra signs and some better road markings, cycling in Bexley could look a lot more attractive. But the same applies to Greenwich and many other boroughs. Perhaps a mayoral candidate should be looking to make a start by smoothing out those differences, instead of picking futile fights with individual councils.
Why was I cycling from Plumstead to Dartford? I was going to Gravesend along National Cycle Network route 1. It’s an odd route once you leave the safety of Greater London, lots of very narrow shared pavements alongside relatively quiet roads. East of Dartford, around the M25 junction, it feels as if you’ve been sent along a disused path.
But after that it’s smooth going, cycling alongside the eight-lane A2 is an odd experience, and it’s a simple business getting into Gravesend. Three quid on the ferry to Tilbury, a spectacular sunset, and a ride to Grays to pick up the train with my Oyster card. A ride back to New Cross and a cycle home from there – a decent afternoon out to Kent without paying a penny to Southeastern…