The BBC has reported that TfL is advising Tube users not to use the Northern Line between Tooting Bec and Clapham North from 8am to 8.45am. Apparently commuters are having to wait two or three trains before getting on, due to congestion. People could try walking or cycling instead, Tfl has advised.
Does it strike anyone else as strange that people should need government advice on something as straightforward as taking a healthy, uplifting short walk or cycle ride each day rather than sitting on a Tube train which, even in the best of times, labours through a stuffy, claustrophobic tunnel and is rammed with stressed-out commuters?
I consider conditions on the London Underground to be a humanitarian issue which is awaiting its time for public attention and action. But if the Tube, at least in its current form, is a grim relic that deserves to be consigned to history, then why do people persist in using it, when they could be cruising through the streets on a bicycle or e-bike? Are Londoners masochists?
I’ve got a few theories. I think the difficulty of navigating by bike in the capital makes people scared that they’ll stray onto main roads and into heavy traffic when cycling. A Tube-style London Cycle Map showing a network of safer, quieter signed backstreet routes would instantly solve this problem, and get people off the Tube and onto their bikes.
Yet regular Londoners aren’t exactly clamouring for a London Cycle Map. They seem resigned to their underground fate. What’s going on?
Psychologists have identified a simple mechanism whereby a person can become trapped in a dysfunctional relationship. Any relationship that causes stress and uncertainty, and inconsistently gives support, can dampen a person’s confidence so much that they don’t even have the confidence to make a change.
I often think of this when I see ashen-faced commuters scanning disrupted train timetables so anxiously that they are unable to contemplate an alternative way of travelling.
If TfL really wanted to wean people off disempowering trains and onto liberating bicycles, they could inform commuters every day, not just at exceptional times, of the benefits of cycling. They could, for instance, supply copies of Cycle Lifestyle at every Tube station. We asked TfL to do this, and they declined. I guess there’s more money to made from the freesheets that are supplied on the Tube – freesheets that are full of bad news (often, indeed, about cycling) and mind-destroying celebrity nonsense all of which further dampens people’s impetus for positive change.