29 August 2009

London old and new: bikes are the difference

Propaganda, like a lot of TV presenters I expect, is more effective the less clever it is. So I've always rather liked the simple ploy of Sustrans's books: every single picture has a cyclist in it somewhere. The message is hardly subliminal, but it works: bikes are the right answer for everything.

I had this in mind last week. I was breezing around town taking a pictures for work of various London spots. They'd all been featured in an 1870s photo album recording the look of London's streets and buildings. (The entire album is on the British Library website.)

I was taking exactly the same views from the same spot, to show how things had changed, or not. It involved a few hours visiting around 25-30 places each for 15 minutes or so, all within a two-mile radius or so.

Yet another of those things impossible, or horribly cumbersome, by any other form of transport: a parking nightmare by car, a slow logistical slog by bus or tube, ludicrously expensive by taxi, way too far to walk.

But on a bike it was just a delightful way to spend a couple of half-days, nosing round back streets and lanes in the city that have been unchanged for over a century in their non-provision of bike parking.

The pictures, new and old, will feature on the blog of the next big British Library exhibition, the photographic blockbuster Points of View this winter. The three examples here are:
St John's Gate, Clerkenwell (top; see the 1870s version);
Canonbury Tower, Islington (bottom; see the 1870s version); and
Great St Helen's, off Bishopsgate (middle; see the 1870s version).

And, as you can see, I've done the Sustrans thing, and smuggled in cyclists wherever I could. Oh, very subtle. Maybe I have a career in propaganda. Or at least as a TV presenter.

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