In a city where the tube is a universally acceptable way to commute for people across the socio-economic spectrum, I am one of those relatively few cyclists who braves London traffic on a daily basis. Whether I am getting to work, or spending a Saturday in London showing a friend around. Cycling in London is definitely something I’ve brought over from Holland. As a teenager, I braved wind and rain to cycle 8km each way to school. I swapped views of farms and cows for traffic and an urban backdrop, but I still prefer to cycle over taking public transit.
Cycling in London vs public transit
When I moved to London, being close to a tube stop was a priority during the apartment hunt. I found one on the Central Line. Which is both a luxury and a curse. By the time I attempt to get on the train during rush hour, I often need to let several trains go by before I can squeeze onto the human sardine can. If I do, I arrive at the office feeling dirtier than if I just finished a spinning class at my gym.
I am not alone in feeling this way. The number of cyclists in London has grown to over 500 000 a few years ago. In contrast, the tube handles over 4 million passengers a day. This does not include the number of people taking the bus, which adds up to 2.4 billion journeys per year. Adding all this up makes me feel pretty special as a cyclist, but it is not the most unusual way to commute.
Skating to Work?
Earlier I’ve written about how Toronto residents stay warm by commuting underground to work. London is considering converting some unused tube tunnels for an underground path as well. If you think cycling in London is a “different” way to commute, compare that to an even more exotic mode of transportation. Skating.
For some people, staying cold is no problem. When the winter is too harsh to cycle, you can swap your public transit pass for skates instead. There are places in the world with guaranteed freezing temperatures in winter, and one of those places is Ottawa. Where residents can (and some do) use the Rideau Canal Skateway to travel through their city. Being Dutch, skating also has a warm place in my heart. Even if I was never good at it. In my defence, my mom didn’t make much of a point of taking me skating when I was little, and it became increasingly rare that our canals froze in winter.
Edmonton wants to one-up Ottawa by building a ‘Freezeway’. It has started out with a 400m path of flooded (and frozen) paths that double as cycle lanes in summer. If successful, the Freezeway could extend to 3.5 kilometres over the next few years connecting different parts of the city. It is a clever plan, although I could see some unsuspecting visitors of the city have some slip and falls unless they carefully mark the icy paths. I’m all for revolutionizing how people get to work or spend time outdoors in winter. Notable recently wrote about this and argued it is a very Canadian thing to do. Taking Ottawa as an example I have to partially agree. But even in the video describing the Freezeway plans, Holland is shown as inspiration for the design. While the Dutch love their skates, and we have some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world, Edmonton can give us a run for our money by flooding their cycle lanes for skating. I suppose now we just have to remember what season it is, so we do not accidentally take a bike out on the ice.
Sadly, I doubt the River Thames will freeze over anytime soon. The last time was in the 1800s. But if it does, I’ll be strapping on my skates to get to work as well.