The diggers start early in Hyde Park
Lots of smiling faces in one of the most beautiful spots in London. But when I saw the guy in the blue T-shirt throw his hands up to the heavens last Friday morning at 7.30am, I thought he might be screaming at yet another digger rearranging the scenery.
Why does Hyde Park matter?
This area of green is like the lungs of London, the handkerchief the city sneezes into. It is London’s biggest central park: 625 acres if you include the land around Kensington Palace. In fact Hyde Park is bigger than Monaco. It also — and this is why the diggers are appearing — is taking the strain as thousands of cyclists use it to get to work. If you look at this photo, my route takes me from the red cross (which is actually the south-west corner) to the yellow circle (Marble Arch, the western end of Oxford Street). It’s two glorious miles of no vehicles and relative safety.
So why the diggers?
Speed bumps. The way to stop cyclists roaring through the park at 25 mph is apparently to insert cobbles at regular intervals. This set are on the gentle side. But sadly this is not where the story ends.
Must be dangerous, all those bikes
Really? I guess they might be. But at the moment the cycles are pinned back to a tiny number of routes inside the park. Cycling on this one, I got photobombed by the rather adorable tourist. She is on the walkway, I am on the cycle path — the white line dividing us. That is how it should be. Incidentally, I’m always ready for a pedestrian with their back to me to veer right. That’s part of the deal too.
I always think if a Martian landed in London and looked at the signs, she would think the name of the city was CYCLISTS DISMOUNT. To ensure the park remains largely cycle-free, the lanes where cycling is allowed have lots of painted instructions. The most important thing for me to know is that I have to stay where the bike icon is and not turn right (into the path where it says “NO CYCLING”). Which means that in 95% of the park a person can stroll around without needing to worry that a bike will zing past their ear.
You don’t mind that?
Me? Not at all. Because I’m also a walker and a driver and I think that being able to take my two wheels on a secure route inside Hyde Park for 1.5 miles every morning is a privilege.
So what’s the problem?
This is the problem. The latest series of cobbled speed bumps have been installed by a group of workmen who evidently loathe cyclists. Anyone with any attachments on their bike — mine has a chain, paniers, a front basket with my work gear in, oh and me by the way — gets bounced around like Tim Peake in a meteor shower. The cycle lane in the park was closed for three months while these were built, meaning I had to take my chances on Bayswater and Oxford Street, both unpleasant and risky roads for someone on two wheels.
Justify the phrase “loathes cyclists”?
The penny dropped when I saw this set of four new speed bumps packed into in a short distance of about twenty yards. The first are made in a way that slows you down but doesn’t bang your bike around. But set four, which you can see further down the path, are altogether more aggressive.
So what? If you go slowly, you’ll be fine
That is not really the point. Cyclists have decided they don’t like the bumps, and they are starting to break the rules. Look what has happened next to this rather modest one — already, after three months, a path is being worn beside it where riders simply won’t accept the new arrangement. I am not saying this behaviour is justifiable. It’s a terrible shame. But this is a classic case of unintended consequences.
That looks terrible!
Oh, it’s not the worst. There seems to be a formula. Where a bump has been put in place by a vengeful construction worker — who doubtless felt inconvenienced by cyclists on his way to work, or just hates all cyclists for no reason — the cobbles are especially outstanding. The higher the bump, the greater the number of cyclists taking evasive action. This means, as you see in the photo, parts of the park are genuinely being ruined. My formula:
Height of cobbles in millimetres x 25 = number of cyclists per hour riding round the side
So, a simple case of bad behaviour. Ticket them!
Maybe. But we all have to give and take. I didn’t much appreciate the lorry parked across the walkway last week which meant that no cyclist could see if a pedestrian was about to step out in front of them. That said, cyclists don’t always help themselves. The guy in the shorts zooming into frame saw me take a picture and for some reason shouted SCUMBAG as he rode past me. Guys like him have a battlefield mentality and it’s not conducive to a peaceful walk.
Then again, getting overtaken by one of the Queen’s official lawnmowers as I tried to comply with the park’s theoretical 5mph speed limit is not conducive to a peaceful ride. Having had an experience with a police speed gun a while back, I do understand it is important to obey the rules. But accepting others is the key.
Back on the road?
I just can’t shake the feeling, as I go through Hyde Park, that it is not really there for cyclists — and the authorities wish we would use the far-more-dangerous roads instead. On the right, behind the fence, is the park. On the left, with the bus, is famous Park Lane. Maybe the message in the turbo-speed-bumps is that the Royal Parks want me back on the road. You can see why I might not be so keen.