Peckham Rye

Are we ever going to get a safe space to ride up Peckham Rye? Cars are allowed to drive across, it, park in it, but decades since I believe @southwarkcycle first asked, we are still forced into unsafe inches of space, especially southbound. I had an especially bad time today

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I’ve spent a good chunk of my working life in Southwark, doing some of the councils jobs (detached youth worker, child care worker, teacher). I’ve also lived in the borough off and on and am only just over the border into Lewisham now. I’ve always used a cycle to get around London and commuted by cycle for over forty years. Peckham Rye, east side, has been a part of that commute off and on throughout my working life and still is. And even when that commute included the Elephant and Castle 70’s style (two multi lane roundabouts, no light controlled junctions at all), London Bridge, Aldgate in fact dozens of other notorious junctions,   I’d still say that little trip up the east side of the Rye has always been my least favourite section.

Part of the reason for that is that it’s almost at the end of the return home. At the end of the day, after at least 8 hours work, mostly more, a climb, however gradual, is not really what you want on your home commute.

But mostly it’s because of the road conditions and design. For many years the surface was terrible, potholed, gravelly. That has admittedly improved. But it’s still a busy narrow road, and a rider has to cope with a climb, pinch points all the way up, and impatient drivers in cars that have got bigger and more powerful over the years making close passes at high speeds more and more common.

The descent on the way to work isn’t so bad. You’re fresh and full of energy and anyway it’s easy to ride downhill at the speed limit keeping pace with drivers, so they have no reason to overtake you. It’s easy to hold the lane through all the pinch points, so even if a driver decides they are going to break the speed limit, they find they can’t squeeze through and push you to the kerb at the pinchpoints. It’s still not that great for less experienced riders though, who may be less comfortable with riding at 20mph and just over and I’ve often seen others squeezed into the gutter, as drivers overtake them at the pedestrian refuge islands and also, a couple of times, almost t boned by drivers exiting the flats on the way down.

All these years of people being forced to fight for a tiny bit of space on a road that we all know isn’t a safe place to ride a bike. Yet right next to a community asset that could provide just that. Without any appreciable loss of its value as a green and beautiful space.

I have never been able to understand why folk are allowed to drive their cars across the Rye and a sizeable chunk of it has been turned over to drivers so they can park in the middle of it, and I believe still free of charge, yet a small strip of land can’t be allocated to allow people to ride bicycles safely down one side of it. There’s even a desire line there showing that’s where people want to go. Yet, still decades after people first asked for it, its not there.

To be frank, I’m sick of it. I had a specially bad experience this week. After a hard mornings work, which involved a fair bit of bike riding around the City, I headed back home. It’s been windy recently, you may have noticed and that day it was particularly bad. As I pulled away from the lights on the Nunhead Lane junction, that headwind just slapped me right in the face. It seemed to be blowing straight down the road from the top of the Rye, and determined to make my ride up as hard as possible.

As if that wasn’t bad enough at every single pinch point, I had drivers behind me. It’s so hard to hold a lane through a pinchpoint when your maximum headwind checked speed uphill is about 7mph. Or less. And when there are at least 7 pinchpoints in that half a mile from the bottom to the top it’s impossible to stop a driver who is absolutely determined to get through and is not willing to give you the space you need to feel and keep safe. On two occasions I was unable to prevent drivers squeezing into the space alongside me at a dangerous level of speed. Horrible.

Two other drivers pulled in as they overtook me, between the pinchpoints, as they misjudged the speed of oncoming traffic, and again ended up close passing me at speed. So close I could have touched their cars quite easily.  And was dangerously close to hitting the kerb on my side. Not good.

I’ve had enough. I tend to use the desire line now, up the Rye itself, if it’s not too muddy. So why not just formalise that line with a permanent path big enough for two way cycle traffic? The junction at the bottom could be easily configured to allow cycles to cross the junction. I’d actually consider taking children on that cycle trip then. Let’s not forget it’s meant to have been a cycle route for years now. I’m now officially an older person, and have spent my teenage, youth, middle years in dangerous conflict with drivers on this short stretch.

It would be nice to ride safely and pleasantly to and from my home to Peckham and central London when I’m a proper old woman, one of the many cats with whom I will most likely be sharing my old person days, sitting in the basket on the front of an old Dutch bike. Such a simple ambition you’d think.  Seems these simple dreams involving just riding a bike or walking round your home city safely and happily are actually radical extremist ambitions in this country. Still hoping though.