London: Greenest City in the World?

11:25am on a Great Western Train to Bristol, 25 miles west of Paddington Station

Bicycling around London is better than ever. There has been a significant recent uptake of cycling by residents in the Capitol City, for a number of reasons. There are new bike lanes and pathways, the 7/7 tube bombings scared some off public transport but the biking boom is primarily attributed to congestion charging concept of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London. I’ve particularly been enjoying the canal towpaths that provide a car-free corridor and a park like setting through some of the busiest areas of London. The Grand Union Canal, pictured above, runs right through my Grandma’s neighborhood, and is a great way to get to Camden Lock, the ‘Haight-Ashbury’ of London.


It’s been great to see my family of course- my Grandmother Adele, aunts and uncles Noel, Margit, Jeremy, and Gillian, and my cousins Ben, Anna,Kate, Dan and Louis. It’s like I never left. I’ve been setting up a UK identity, which is rather difficult after living in the US 27 of my 30 years. It’s like convincing people that I actually exist. Yesterday I got an Oyster card (a transponder based transit pass) for London buses and tube, and a bank account at the Cooperative Bank, which only invests in ethical and environmentally friendly businesses. I tried to apply for a Greenpeace “Rainbow Warrior” Visa card but I was declined! I need to build up my UK credit I guess


The day I arrived, I received an e-mail from my friend Arena that the Bicycle Film Festival, and my friend Brendt Barbur, the coordinator of the festival, was in town the next four days. In its sixth year, the festival is now in 9 cities worldwide, including Sydney, NYC, and Tokyo. It comes to San Francisco next, on September 28-30.


I went to see a film called B.I.K.E. about the Black Label Bicycle Club in NYC. The club is a pretty rough bunch. They drink a lot, shoot heroin, and get bloody while high-bike jousting at events like Bike Kill. Not my scene really, but it was an interesting snapshot of a thriving bicycle subculture. They could be doing all that and driving cars too- so it COULD be worse. Definitely worth seeing though. After the film, I hung out with Brendt and some of the local organizers of the festival, weaving through London traffic as our own bike gang, having a pint in Shoreditch, then riding to Hackney where we visited a pub called the Dolphin. (No smack or bike jousting though sorry to disappoint)


Together with my cousin Ben and his girlfriend Sara, I went to see an exhibit called “Footprints of a Generation” about the environmental impact of daily consumer decisions. We grabbed some curry at the Brick Lane Street Festival, and then the choir headed to the exhibition to hear the sermon.


Some interesting statistics from the exhibition:


– London is the greenest City in the world– 40% of its land devoted to green space.


– The typical urban 4×4 vehicle will have 25% more accidents, is 27% more likely to be at fault, and is twice as likely to kill the accident victim.


-Flying produces 19 times the carbon dioxide emissions of train travel.


It’s too bad that the people who really need to go to these types of things rarely do.


While in London, I read an article in the Times about a researcher based in Bath, Ian Walker, a so-called “traffic psychologist” (that’s what I want to be!!) who did an experiment where he measured (using an electronic device on his bike) the average clearance that drivers gave him while wearing a helmet, no helmet, or a wig. The results were that drivers gave him more room without a helmet or wearing a woman’s wig. The paper led with the headline that it was safer to ride without a helmet. Hmmmm….. I think I’ll start riding with a mini-skirt, high heels and fake boobs. That’ll get ‘em to give me more room on the road.


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