In 1967, British psychedelic rock band Tomorrow released their debut single My White Bicycle – a song I really must ask Hampstead rock legends Mad Dog Bites to perform at the next Gayton Road street party.
The song was inspired by a bike-share scheme organised in Amsterdam by the Dutch anarchist group Provo. In the summer of 1965 they painted 50 bicycles white and left them in various places round the town for anyone to borrow, use, and then leave wherever their journey finished.
The scheme was less successful than the single it spawned – within a month all the bicycles had disappeared – most of them to the bottom of Amsterdam’s many canals. Others were impounded by the police, for causing an obstruction.
Fifty-four years on there is a range of colours to choose from when signing up for a bike share scheme. And GPS tracking systems discourage punters from slinging their 2-wheeled steed into the nearest body of water when they’ve completed their journey. But while the technology may have got smarter, people haven’t.
Consequently, as if pedestrians weren’t facing enough obstacles already what with wheelie bins, sandwich boards, pavement cafes, free newspaper bins, parking signposts and dog shit, we now have the additional hazard of abandoned bikes to negotiate.
They may be painted in jolly candy colours but these lumps of pig iron are anything but soft centred. They are angular ankle biters with unyielding heft when you trip over them.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favour of pedal power. I am the proud owner of a mountain bike tandem (affectionately known as The Beast) that transported me and my climbing partner through The Highlands on my latest sea-stack adventure this summer. And I am all for any scheme that encourages people out of their cars and helps drive cars out of London. But…do it thoughtfully and responsibly.
It beggars belief that people who claim to espouse environmentally friendly policies and responsible living are so happy to dump the eco-bike they’ve just used, so carelessly. It’s like dropping litter in the street.
I’ve tripped over bikes left in the middle of the pavement (including one abandoned outside RNIB headquarters in Judd Street), propped up by trees, and resting against lamp-posts. I’ve even nearly been decapitated by a pedal dangling down from a bike wedged on top of a CA-H parking post!
The instructions to users of the bike-share apps are clear:
‘Park your bike responsibly and out of the way of pedestrians, cars and accessibility ramps. This means leaving your bike to the side of a wide pavement, where it won’t be in the way. Always park upright.
However these are listed as ‘guidelines’ and, in the case of the scheme run by those paragons of social responsibility Uber, couched in words like ‘should’. They are not legally enforceable and so, people being solipsistic, selfish or too busy, just ignore them.
And lest you think that this is merely an issue for blind people, then ponder how you would negotiate a bike lying across a narrow Hampstead pavement if you were in a wheelchair – as witnessed a couple of weeks ago in Well Walk. Only the prompt intervention of a builder and a dog-walker prevented the middle-aged lady concerned toppling sideways from the kerb and into the road as she attempted to manoeuvre around its heavy frame having tried unsuccessfully to budge it by hand and footplate. I wonder how Jump would have dealt with that personal injury claim?!
Other cities require bike-share firms to operate a docking system whereby you have to return the bike to a rack. These of course are invariably on pavements – if the aim is to get cars off the road why not co-opt a parking space? After all bikes, like motorbikes are vehicles and so belong on the road. But at least a docking bay corrals bikes at the kerb-side and stops them creeping into the path of pedestrians.
In July Hackney Council suspended dock-less bike parking throughout the borough while it seeks a deal with a provider who can stop bikes being dumped on pavements. It’s time Camden did the same…it could start a chain reaction.