You’ve got to feel sorry for Ken Clarke. Especially if he saw Ross Lydall’s piece in the Evening Standard last week about the Royal Parks’ idiotic plans to put speed humps along that lovely cycle lane in Hyde Park.
This genial, cherry-faced chap will have hung his head in despair. Because if you want to see Clarke turn a little less genial, ask the former Chancellor about the biggest regret of his political career. I’ll tell you what he’ll say — and it will be like what he admitted in an interview back in 2008: “I’m afraid I was the minister responsible for introducing road humps. It was an awful mistake. It was never my intention to have thousands of the damn things.”
Clarke had no idea that town halls would so blatantly abuse the power that he invested in them. He never dreamed that councils such as Islington would lay them like land mines along practically every road in the borough.
He did not reckon on the vicious zeal with which councils would use these “damn things” to wage war on the motorist. And neither did he foresee how dangerous that war would become, not for motorists but for cyclists.
If you cycle in London, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Hemmed in on one side by a row of parked cars, and on the other by traffic moving just fast enough to kill you but not fast enough to overtake you. Then someone in one of those parked cars opens a door and knocks you clean off your bike.
That’s what happened to me recently and I was sent sprawling on to the bonnet of a moving car. I couldn’t swerve out of harm’s way because that car was right on my elbow. And he couldn’t overtake me because of the humps. Had he been a few yards behind me, I’d be dead.
At best, speed humps make cycling very uncomfortable. At worst, they make it dangerous. The huge increase in the number of cyclists in London presents the potential for an equally huge number of accidents. Not the fatalities commemorated by flowers and ghostly white bicycles but all those broken bones and wounds requiring stitches, many caused by the additional hazard of speed humps.
Sadiq Khan likes to boast about being London’s most cycle-friendly Mayor. But if he’s serious about making the roads safer for cyclists, he needs to back the removal of a dated and discredited experiment in “traffic calming”. These lumpen impediments to progress desecrate our roads and shame our city.
He can start by halting the Hyde Park humps. He knows that a similar scheme in Kensington Gardens was a disaster. The cobbled humps were so high that cyclists, understandably, had to veer on to the grass to avoid them. The humps have now been lowered but they should have been removed.
So let’s just see if he’ll now start making London’s roads and parks safer for cyclists by removing the humps. Because if he doesn’t, he may find himself removed at the next mayoral election.
Paul Burke is a novelist and keen cyclist. @paulburkeradio