Why I hate cycling around London as a woman

A female cyclist taking her life in her hands on the streets of London. Image: Getty.

“I said sorry,” the businessman shouted at me as I swore at him. Not because it’s fun to swear at businessmen (it is), but because he had just opened the car door of his Uber onto me as I cycled past, apparently oblivious to my bright red bike in broad daylight.

I have been cycling around London since I was 9, but only recently have I started noticing the behaviour of men on the road. Be it as a cyclist, driver or pedestrian, an underlying entitlement permeates every move.

My daily commute is the only long passage of time where I’m not distracted by something, so in order to pass the dull minutes inside my own head I tend to observe the behaviour around me. The more I cycle around London, the more it becomes clear: men feel entitled to the road, men heckle you as you ride past, and men are almost always the ones knocking you off your bike as they ride through a red light, presumably guided by some super-male power of premonition.

This might seem anecdotal, but it does fit with a statistically observable trend: drivers treat women worse on roads. A 2015 survey noted that, even though women make up a smaller portion of cyclists in London, and cycle slower, they’re still twice as likely to have a “near miss”.

In the same year, women were most likely to be killed by a lorry: a striking statistic, considering the lower number of female cyclists. Women are on average slower and more cautious, yet are constantly penalised for being on the road. No wonder women make up only 27 per cent of London’s cycling community.

If you’re a female cyclist this gender disparity is noticeable, especially in the way you’re treated differently to the lyrca-clad cyclebros. It is almost always men who will walk in front of me as I’m cycling, their glowing shield of virility and manliness forcing me to slow down for their passing, clocking my gaze as if to say “I, man, am walking now.”


I am surrounded by a sea of men weaving past in the mornings, but even the obvious amateurs (Santander bike/ sweaty shirt/ dangerous levels of enthusiasm at 8am) overtake and cut me off, running red lights because who has time to wait when you’ve got important things to do like be a man? Men, in their unchecked arrogance on the road, make my cycling life crap.

The way women are treated on bikes is similar to the way women are treated running – or doing any form of physical activity that isn’t directly related to the pleasure of men. The audacity that we might use our bodies for something other than being passive sexual objects: taking up space, exercising, being strong – all a big no no for women in public. Not only would that discourage women from cycling to work, but it can be a sweaty business, which is not ideal for a gender that is expected to appear perfectly made-up and devoid of bodily function.

Cycling is just another subculture that men dominate, even when it comes to just getting to and from work. The ownership that men feel on road, on bikes, even as helpless pedestrians, is just another opportunity for them to assert power. A cycle home for me is a constant barrage of fragile masculinity manifesting in jeers and near collisions.

I’m grateful that I was bought up feeling confident cycling around London, and for the advice I’ve been given by my other female friends who cycle (“take up space – you’re allowed to be on the road too”). But the condescending and sexist behaviour by men is more than just irritating – it’s potentially dangerous. Sexism isn’t usually fatal – but in this case, it could be.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna tweets as @RubyJLL.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

What would an extended Glasgow Subway look like?

West Street station. Image: Finlay McWalter/Wikimedia Commons.

There are many notable things about Glasgow’s historic Subway.

It is the third oldest in the world. It is the only one in the UK that runs entirely underground. It runs on a rare 4ft gauge. For reasons passing human understanding, it shuts at teatime on a Sunday.

But more significantly, it’s the only metro system never to have been expanded since its original development. A couple of stations have come and gone in the 122 years since the Subway opened (and promptly shut again following a serious accident before the first day was out). But Glasgow’s Subway has remained a frustratingly closed loop. Indeed, while a Scottish newspaper recently estimated there have been more than 50 proposed new stations for Glasgow's iconic Subway since it first opened, all we’ve had are a couple of replacements for closed stops. 

The original route map. Image: SPT.

It’s not for a lack of trying, or at the least discussion. Glasgow’s SNP-led council pledged a major expansion of the Subway as part of their election pledge last year, for example, vowing to find the funding to take the network beyond the existing route.

All this sounds very familiar, of course. A decade ago, with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in mind, operators SPT began looking into a near-£3bn expansion of the Subway into the East End of the city, primarily to serve the new Velodrome complex and Celtic Park.

In the end, the plans — like so many discussed for expanding the Subway – failed to materialised, despite then SPT chairman Alistair Watson claiming at the time: “We will deliver the East End extension for 2014. I am being unequivocal about that.”

As detailed previously on CityMetric, that extension would have seen seven new stations being opened along a second, eastern-centric loop, crossing over with the original Subway at two city centre sites. Had that gone ahead, we would by now have had a new route looking something like this:

The 2007 proposals for an eastern circle. Image: Iain Hepburn.

St Mungo’s would have been close to Glasgow Cathedral. Onslow, presumably located on or near Onslow Drive, would have principally served Dennistoun, as would have a link-up with the existing Duke St overground station.

Gorbals, benefiting from the ongoing redevelopment and residential expansion that’s all but erased it’s No Mean City reputation, would have gained a station, while Newhall would have been next to Glasgow Green. Dalmarnock station would, like Duke Street, become an interchange with Scotrail’s services, while crucially Celtic Park would have gained the final stop, serving both the football stadium, the nearby Emirates Arena and velodrome, and the Forge shopping centre.


Those plans, though, were drawn up more than a decade ago. And if the SNP administration is serious about looking again at the expansion of the Subway, then there’s more than a few changes needing made to those plans.

For starters, one stop at the far end of the loop serving Celtic, the new sports arenas and the Forge feels a bit like underselling the area, particularly with so much new residential development nearby.

Two feels more realistic: one serving the Forge and the rest of Dennistoun, and the other sited on London Road to serve the mass volumes of football and sports traffic. And if Ibrox can have a stop, then it seems churlish not to give the other of the Old Firm clubs their own named halt.

That’s another thing. The naming of the proposed stations is… arbitrary, to say the least. You’d struggle to find many Glaswegians who’d immediately identify where Newhall or Onslow were, off the top of their head. 

The former, especially, seems like there’s a more natural alternative name, Glasgow Green; while the latter, with a second Forge stop also serving Dennistoun, would perhaps benefit from named for the nearby Alexandra Place and park.

(Actually, if we’re renaming stations from their unlikely original choices, let’s say goodbye Hillhead and a big hiya to Byres Road on the original Subway while we’re at it…)

So, what would a realistic, 2017-developed version of that original 2007 proposal give us? Probably something like this:

Better. Image: Iain Hepburn.

One glaring issue with the original 2007 study was the crossover with the… let’s call it the Western Subway. The original proposal had St Enoch and Buchanan St as the crossover points, meaning that, if you wanted to go out east from, say, the Shields Road park and ride, you had to go into town and double back. 

Using Bridge Street as a third interchange feels a more realistic, and sensible, approach to alleviating city centre crowding and making the journey convenient for folk travelling directly from west to east.

There’s a good case to be made for another south east of the river station, depending on where the Gorbals stop is sited. But these are austere times and with the cost of the expansion now likely more than £5bn at current rates, an expanded Bridge Street would do much of that legwork.

Putting all that together, you’d end up with something looking like this:

 

Ooooh. Image: Iain Hepburn.

Ahead of last year’s election, SNP councillor Kenny McLean vowed the party “[would] look at possible extension of the Subway and consider innovative funding methods, such as City Bonds, to fund this work. The subway is over 120 years old. It is high time that we look to connect communities in the north and east of Glasgow.”

Whether Glasgow could raise the £5bn it would probably need to make the 2007 proposal, or an updated variation of it remains, to be seen. And this still doesn’t solve how many places are left off the system. While a line all the way out to Glasgow Airport is unrealistic – after all, an overground rail service to the airport from Paisley has failed to materialise after 30 years of discussion and planning – there’s plenty of places in the city not well served by the Subway, from Maryhill in the north to Hampden in the south, or the riverside developments that have seen flats replace factories and new media hubs, museums and hotels line the Clyde.


Image: Iain Hepburn.

Key city landmarks like the Barrowlands, the Riverside Museum – with its own, fake, vintage subway stop, or the Merchant City are woefully underserved by the subway. But their incorporation – or connection with a Glasgow Crossrail – seems a very expensive pipe dream.

Instead, two adjoining loops, one to Ibrox and one to Celtic Park, seems the most plausible future for an extended Subway. At least colour coding the lines would be easy…

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook