'You there, stop]' The policeman waved me to a halt. 'Do you realise you're committing an offence that could cost you pounds 400?'
I said I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained: cyclists were to be restricted to a narrow strip painted along the edge of the park's outer perimeter road; anywhere else in the park they would risk a large fine. A new clampdown had been ordered by Wandsworth Council, and was in response, apparently, to 'public demand'. I exploded. 'You mean I can't cycle across the park, but dog-owners can bring their wretched animals in to shit all over the grass . . .'
It's not that I object to cyclists having to obey the occasional rule of the road. And it's not that all cyclists are angels - a friend of mine was knocked down by a cyclist while crossing the road last year. But let's get things in proportion. Cars are not banned from the public highway because several thousand dangerous drivers kill each year, or because tens of thousands are caught drunk at the wheel. Dog-owners are not banned from parks because 99 per cent of them fail to clear up after their disease-bearing animals.
Why, then, should cyclists be treated so harshly when a few disgruntled citizens complain about their presence in the park? A blitz on specifically dangerous cyclists, and a few signs around the park warning the reasonable majority to give precedence to pedestrians would be quite sufficient.
It's not that sticking to the cycle track is so awful in itself, although it does add five minutes or so to my daily journey. But what are parks for if not to offer a break from crowded streets to the over-stressed urbanite? The cut across Battersea Park represents my only chance to relax and enjoy the ride on a seven-mile journey to work, the one respite from neurotically dodging motorists. At least once a week I come up against some driver who wants to test his manhood by forcing me to swerve aside. That's on top of the daily ration of road-hogs who just don't see me.
Local authorities are long on pro-cycle rhetoric. Every so often, a junior minister pays lip-service to the benefits of the bicycle. Indeed, Wandsworth's leaflet announcing the Battersea Park clampdown begins 'In order to meet the needs of cyclists. . .'
In the real world, virtually nothing is spent on the needs of cyclists; there is no safe route for me to cycle through central London. The truth is that the authorities feel they represent the poor zombies who subject themselves each day to the grim clutches of London Underground, or the drones who clog our streets and lungs with their pollution-excreting cars. Cyclists are seen as an alien species to be kept firmly in their place.
My stream of invective against the forces of anti-cycling darkness complete, the parks policeman trumped me. 'I couldn't agree with you more,' he said glumly, as he noted down my name and address. 'I'm a cyclist myself. I'm still on a high from the London to Brighton ride. And now I've got to do this.'Reuse content