Music and bicycle bells jangled through the air on the Southbank. I unlocked my bike and meandered through the crowds of people milling about with their bikes.
Thousands had turned out for the London Cycling Campaign’s ‘Space for Cycling’ ride. On the far side of the Teletubby land of the re-landscaped Jubilee Gardens, large red flags twitched in the breeze and cyclists stood caressing their bikes as we all waited for the ride to begin.
The demonstration was designed to coincide with a House of Commons debate on measures to secure a long-term future for cycling in the UK, and the short ride would bring the river of cyclists slowly past the Houses of Parliament to help hammer home the scale of public interest.
At quarter past six my demonstration companions arrived, we zip-tied our protest placards to our bicycles and joined the route setting off towards Westminster Bridge.
Around us all manner of beautiful bicycles streamed along the roads while helpful policemen held up aggravated drivers as we processed past. There were Bromptons, resplendent recumbents, shiny fixies, bikes with child-carrying troughs mounted on them, and even a chap with speakers attached to his bike blasting out a challenging mixture of Gaelic folk and 80s pop songs.
I pointed out a sign to one of my friends that read: ‘In Holland, 90% of secondary school children cycle to school. In UK, 2%.’ The man carrying the sign was with his wife and the couple had their young children on board their bikes. He said: “These numbers are disturbingly far apart. That’s why we’re here.”
We crossed the river in dazzling evening sunshine and entered Parliament Square where bells and whistles rang out and music blared. The impromptu festival bubble was punctured slightly when I caught sight of a cyclist wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words ’2012, 16 dead’, referring to the number of cyclists killed on London’s inadequate roads last year.
I didn’t need much of a reminder as to why we were there as I felt the odd twinge in my recently broken arm, caused when I was knocked off my bike on London Bridge in July.
There were no injuries in evidence at the protest though, as cyclists danced on their pedals to the music that accompanied us. I had come armed with a harmonica that I wore round my neck, Bob Dylan style, and used it to some effect in entertaining a group of children on an open-top bus.
According to the London Cycling Campaign, over 5000 people attended the demonstration, entirely surrounding the Houses of Parliament with protesters on bicycles.
While the event got underway, the Labour Party took advantage of the parliamentary debate to launch a new pro-cycling stance – ‘Labour for Cycling’, announcing policies that could potentially make it the most pro-cycling party of the big three at the next election.
The move has already been met with accusations of bandwagon jumping, but should the party match the words with genuine action, the results would certainly be a major improvement for cyclists.
British Cycling gave a mixed response to the results of the parliamentary debate. In a statement, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman said: “I’ve been encouraged with the Prime Minister’s support for cycling and the government’s statement that it wants to put cycling at the heart of its policies. However, when we have a Highways Agency budget of £15 billion for five years contrasted with £159 million for cycling spread over two years with no commitment to continuous funding, it’s clear that’s there’s still more work to do so that actions match words.”
After an enjoyable hour exercising our civil right to protest, we headed off, back down the Cycle Superhighway 7 from whence we came, occasionally noticing the odd red rectangle bearing the words “Space for cycling” hanging from the back of a bike as people zoomed off into the twilight.
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