East London, north of the Thames, is no place for a cyclist, especially when the temperature is in the high twenties.. Busy roads, little of interest to see, lots of derelict properties. But it's all part of Britain's amazing coastline. We must count our blessings that we live on a relatively small island that has such a diverse and interesting coast.
Unlike the south side of the river, there's no Thames-side path. It's impossible to even see the river, let alone view any of its quays. They're all hidden behind warehouses and other industrial complexes.
As elsewhere, I tried to use National Cyucle Routes where possible. The trouble is, though, I don't know where they're heading. For example, I found myself on Route 13 (they often seem to mimic the local A-road number). But at some point it seemed to turn back on itself, so I left it and continued along my pre-planned route. This gives me an opportunity to list the problems with NCRs, as I see them, and to suggest some solutions.
1. The condition of the road or track is never pre-announced. A lovely smooth off-road tarmac trail can suddently deteriorate to a narrow path, strewn with rubbish and glass, with brambles in your face and nettles attacking your legs.
2. Some routes include steps, but there is never any warning. By the time you reach the steps you've often come too far to turn back.
3. Barriers are often added to prevent motorcyclists from using the route. There is no conformity in their design, and sometimes it's difficult, or even impossible, for a cyclist with wide panniers to negotiste them.
4. Signs are often missing, or ambiguous. Possibly local vandals enjoy twisting them around, or removing them altogether. Some signs just show the direction, whilst other better ones include a destination and mileage.
5. There is little if any promotion of these routes. You can look them up online, and print off a section of route, but this is time-consuming and not always possible if you're on a long ride.
My proposed solutions include:
a) Getting local cycling clubs on board to advise on signage and to report errors. There should be a named contact in every area for reporting to. In Suffolk there's a 'signing guru', who ensures that there are sufficient unambiguous signs on all the routesw in the county. This needs to be repeated elsewhere.
b) Local Sustrans groups appoint volunteer rangers, but these are either few in number, or not doing their job properly. They should be responsible for a section of a route, even going out with dustpan and brush to clear up glass, if necessary.
c) Where obstacles are present, signs must make it clear, well in advance. Signs such as the one in Dover - 'Alternative wheeling route...' - need to be amended (this one included about a hundred steps).
d) Councils should consult local cycling clubs before installing barriers. Many are just unnecessary, and could be replaced with something less elaborate and expensive.
e) Sustrans should produce leaflets for each route and place them on sale (cheaply) in local shops along or near the route.
So that's my twopennyworth. Perhaps I'll forward these ideas to the local Sustrans group, although Suffolk is one of the best areas; some other parts of the country are not so blessed.
Finally today, my 'Thought': 'Keep your promises'. If you say you're going to do something, make sure you do it, and on time.