(Image taken from MailOnline.co.uk)
2011 has been a year where I’ve vowed to take up that which I’ve put off for ages. And one of those things is cycling around London.
First, though, a gripe. I’ve only been using the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme for a few months, but already the limitations of the scheme are obvious. Go into Hackney and Stoke Newington and there’s not a single docking station, given that the scheme only stretches as far as the south tip of Kingsland Road. Likewise no coverage in Mile End and the whole Docklands area in east London; Brixton and East Dulwich in South London; and none in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith in west London. The scheme, by and large, seems designed for those who work in the Square Mile, King’s Cross/Islington, and the West End, with some docking stations thrown in the important parts of South London for good measure (for those from outside London unacquainted with the service, and/or who haven't perused TfL's Barclays Cycle Hire mini-site, each of the 'pin marks' in the image above represents a docking station, where you pick up or 'dock' - i.e. leave behind - a bike).
There’s certainly a high density of docking stations in those areas which are included in the cycle hire scheme, but surely it would be wiser for them to be less concentrated and instead spread out over the city. All the areas mentioned above are relatively near to central or inner-city London, but also have a huge number of residents who would benefit from the scheme.
It’s true that there is a huge demand within central London, to the extent that I’ve passed docking stations entirely empty (though I may have simply passed at the moment when all the bikes have been took away in those Cycle Hire vans to be repaired). But in general the scheme still seems biased to a relatively small area.
Despite that, cycling through the back streets of London opens you up to a whole new vista of the city, with areas that you never thought existed. London has a capacity to surprise just when you thought you knew it well, and the endless stream of previously unseen squares, winding canals and obscure back street areas has opened up in a new, dynamic way compared to taking public transport. I’m beginning to realise now what I’ve been missing all this time. Taking up cycling has opened up a new dramatic perspective on the city. And you’re not forced to listen to people’s tedious conversations on their mobile.