The exhilaration of rolling down a hill on your bike, wind in your hair, smile on your face, is not one you can fully describe or understand, until you actually experience it. Yet, in and around the Harringay Ladder, where there is no safe cycling infrastructure and cycling is dangerous, most children will not experience riding a bike on the roads in their neighbourhood. This is the tragedy of the prioritisation of cars by Haringey council, who ranked near bottom of the list of London councils for reducing car usage between 2016-2020 (source: lcc.org.uk/climate).
When I suggested a family-friendly, marshalled ride through the area of the Harringay Ladder, there were many sceptics: ‘sounds a bit risky’ was a common response. And this isn’t an unreasonable reaction: in the area of the Harringay Ladder, between Endymion Road and Turnpike Lane between 2017-2021, there were 104 crashes involving bikes and 14 of those were serious. On Green Lanes alone, in the same stretch, there were 80 collisions in that period, 10 of which were serious (source: bikedata.cyclestreets.net).
Rather than a protected cycle lane, Harringay Green Lanes is lined with parking spaces within a bus lane. This encourages cars, blocks buses and makes cycling deadly. Green Lanes is a permanent traffic jam; the pollution is so thick it stings your eyes and leaves a metallic taste in your mouth. Wightman Road is perhaps even worse, with its never-ending stream of traffic in both directions, narrow lanes, and protruding, ‘traffic calming’ obstacles.
The motivation for the Ladder ride was therefore, to experience the fun of riding through our area in a way that was safe from the threat of cars.
We knew the ride might be attended by several children, so the planning and risk assessment had to be very thorough. We are hugely grateful to the guidance of Ben and Laura from HCC who planned the route, the marshalling, and led the ride. Without their leadership, this ride would have been too dangerous to attempt.
On the day, the sun shone brightly over the more than 70 cyclists, between the ages of 4 and 79, who showed up on Ducketts Common excited to finally enjoy their neighbourhood by bicycle. Bells ringing, faces smiling, whistles blowing, legs pedalling; the mood was joyful as we set off down Raleigh Road. For a short exhilarating time, we were free to pedal along Wightman Road, Fairfax Road and Green Lanes without fearing cars. Children met the challenges of the hills on Seymour Road and Wightman Road with courage and conviction, little legs making their way slowly and steadily up the hill, rewarded by the roll downwards as they reached Ducketts Road.
As we approached the final turn into Finsbury Park, our last rider to finish the route was a four-year-old child who entered the gates to triumphant applause from the group, marking a happy end to a fun and safe community ride.
On this day, children got to experience their area in a way that they should be able to every day: feeling the exhilaration and challenge of using their limbs, getting fitter and stronger, and knowing the pure joy of rolling along the roads near their homes, wind in their hair, smiles on their faces.
We were particularly moved to receive this message from the parent of an autistic child who had previously been unable to ride his bike through the area:
“I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all the organisers and marshals who made Saturday’s Harringay Ladder cycle ride possible. My son (5) participated for the first time and he was overjoyed and just bursting with pride to be cycling on the roads and to be part of a big joyful event like this. He’s autistic and many things are a struggle for him to join in with, so honestly to see the joy on his face really made my day. Look forward to bringing him on future rides!”
We want proper, protected cycle paths for cyclists in and around Harringay and will be continuing to pressure the council to act. Until that time, more rides in the area will be happening and you can show your support by attending. Stay tuned for details of the next one!