I Say, Bicycles!

By on May 19, 2013 in Columns

I prefer older architecture. One of my favourite types is the architecture of the Industrial Revolution. I adore the beautiful, awe-inspiring factories and railway stations of this period. I had little understanding, however, of those who romanticise the sordid modern railways and infrastructure. I found the fascination with modern railways almost perverse, and I remained thoroughly baffled by it until one day in April, when I happened to cycle past a railway bridge at twilight. I was awestruck. It was a bridge like any other, it was nothing I hadn’t seen countless times before, but that evening it was beautiful. The champagne I had previously might have influenced me slightly, but it was a pleasant experience all the same.

On that very same route, a kilometre or so further on, there is situated a large burial place to one side. That night when I reached it the light had already dwindled. The sky was now a dark, dark blue, and the bushes which stood on either side of the path mere shadows. Here I was overcome by a new and equally unfamiliar emotion, yet again possibly due to the champagne. I’m not fanciful as a rule, but I have never been so utterly frightened. Panic fear in its purest form gripped me. I seemed to see shadows moving in the cemetery. If I could, I would’ve shut my eyes. I pedalled past it at breakneck speed. I didn’t calm down until I had reached the motorway with its friendly lights shining down upon me and its cab drivers reassuringly violating the speed limit.

Imagine that I had instead taken the bus home. I would have had a safe, uneventful and panic-free journey home. I didn’t however, and I urge you to do the same. A bicycle is the closest thing you can have to an adventure on your way to school.

But before you do I’ve got a tiny but important revelation to make.

The ardent cyclists amongst you will know this already, but it is troublesome and very, very dangerous to cycle in Stockholm. The fault is sometimes with the cyclist. There are those with an alarming disregard for traffic rules. (This is possibly out of ignorance or hubris or somewhat possibly out of hatred towards Swedish society and everything it represents. I have yet to meet anyone of the last category, but you never know.) The biggest problem, however, is the space allotted to cyclists. It is at the very best ambiguous. It is difficult to make traffic flow seamlessly, but something as simple as a teeny tiny mini minute bicycle lane surely can’t be that problematic? Not on the spacious roads of our city, I’m certain.

I know that parking is a big concern. These frightful bicycle lanes, the motorists will cry, they will leave no space for parking! No matter, says I, because we know you will park there anyway.  As a cyclist in Stockholm you are given a whole new appreciation for the work of the traffic warden.

Of course the majority of motorists are sensible, respectful and law-abiding citizens, simply expressing their reasonable concern about the space these lanes will take up. I understand them, I do. But I think they’re wrong.

You would need about two fifths the width of a parking space to make up a sensible bicycle lane. Many streets in Stockholm contain both parking spaces and a bicycle lane, and they work beautifully. Bicycle lanes might be impossible on streets like Mårten Trotzigs gränd, but there is no room for cars on these roads either, so that’s fine. But streets like Odengatan (not coincidentally where I cycle to school every morning,) could cheaply and easily be fitted with a proper lane. I envisage it drawn in beautiful, clear white, so that no motorist need ever wonder where the bicycles are. The lines might even help draw attention to the No Parking signs arranged aesthetically if provocatively beside the pavement.