Claire Armitstead: The perils of entering a one-way street

Kensington and Chelsea council has decided to make an honest man of David Cameron by legitimising the Tory leader’s widely publicised habit of cycling the wrong way up its one-way streets. The Royal Borough has agreed to pilot a scheme allowing cyclists two-way access on six residential roads, extending the policy to other streets if there’s no significant increase in collisions. Other councils will no doubt be keeping an eye on the results.

As a cyclist who was once severely cautioned for contraflowing, I don’t know quite what to make of this development. One particular cut-through comes to mind between my home and the nearest shopping street. When lined with parked vans, as it usually is, there is only just enough room for a car to squeak through, and motorists have to concentrate so hard on keeping their wing mirrors from being sheared off that I doubt they would notice a bicycle streaking towards them in the opposite direction. Whose responsibility would it be if there were an accident?

Roger Geffen, policy manager of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, said the club would urge the courts to give the benefit of the doubt to cyclists in any collisions with motorists coming the other way on narrow streets. He added: “The alternative to cycling the wrong way down a one-way street is often to use a much less safe busy road.”

My worry is that motorists hate us enough as it is, without the extra provocation of being blamed for accidents caused by road users who don’t have to abide by the same rules that they do. Anything that increases aggression towards cyclists has got to be dangerous.

But there’s another issue, which is becoming more important as more cyclists take to the city streets, and it’s to do with road discipline. If there are two cyclists at a red light and one jumps it, nobody is going to care much. If there are 20 cyclists and 10 decide to go, a sort of chaos sets in that can easily lead to the last of the 10 misjudging the timing of the lights because they are following the herd. For this reason the “Stop at Red” campaign has always seemed to me to be very grown-up and progressive.

I realise that the arguments for respecting red lights are different from those for exempting cyclists from one-way signs, but unless the policy is universally adopted – which would be impossible – it creates a problem of consistency.

Kensington and Chelsea are going to lobby the Department for Transport to allow them to put up special signs saying “no entry except cycles”, which are not permitted at present, as the DfT shares my fear they would undermine the strength of the ordinary no entry sign. CTC counters that there’s been no problem in continental Europe where the “no entry” sign is widely used with an “except cyclists” plate.

Until such time as the DfT allows “no entry except cycle” signs, Kensington and Chelsea is planning to mark its pilot contraflows with what I always think of as cow-jumped-over-the-moon signs – well, a motorcycle flying over a car, which seems just as daft a way of signalling that motor traffic is banned.

And therein lies my final worry. Only last week the new Mayor of London gave notice that he intended to allow motorcycles to use bus lanes as well as bicycles. Call me paranoid, but with all these Tories in power, I wonder how long it will be before we find ourselves in a deregulated roadscape with one law for two wheels and another for four. As the London Cycling Campaign argued, in contesting the bus lane proposal, “it is well established that motorcycles are involved in a greater proportion of collisions per kilometre with pedestrians and cyclists than are cars.” And frankly, I can’t imagine anything more likely to knock innocent cyclists over than the horror of Boris’s mates roaring up behind them on a motorbike.

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