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London cyclists say ‘green’ Games boast ‘a bit of a joke’

By Ian Johnston, NBC News

LONDON — The 2012 Olympics may claim to be the first ‘green’ Summer Games, but the city’s cyclists have been holding a number of protests — including one on Friday at which more than 100 people were arrested — claiming that the authorities appear to think they “don’t exist” or “don’t matter.”

Part of a major commuter route for cyclists down the east side of London — a path along the River Lea — has been closed for security reasons because it runs close to the Olympic Park.

And cyclists are also not allowed to use many of the Olympic Lanes set up for officials, athletes and others involved in the Games.

According to the U.K., London is “the first Summer Host City to embed sustainability into its planning from the very start” and it is hoped the Games will “encourage more sustainable living” across the whole of the U.K.

Ruth-Anna Macqueen, 28, a hospital doctor, has been involved in three protests over the closure of the Lea path on the last three Sundays and another is planned for this Sunday.

Macqueen said the path had been closed since the beginning of July, weeks before the start of the Games, and would remain so until September.

The diversion, Macqueen said, took cyclists onto a busy main road and a notorious roundabout where two cyclists were killed in one month last year.

“Basically people are left with the option of staying on your bike and taking your life in your hands or getting back in your car or public transport,” she said. “It kind of seems to be all part of the ignorance and arrogance by the people at the top — that either cyclists don’t exist, don’t matter or are not worth any consideration.”

“You can’t imagine them closing a busy road with no consultation and no warning,” she added, saying the idea that London 2012 was the first green Games felt like “a bit of a joke.”

Macqueen added that preventing cyclists from using some Olympic lanes was “ludicrous.”

During Friday’s opening ceremony, an amateur cycling club tried to pedal their way through the security cordon around the Olympic Park.

The cyclists were identified as members of a monthly cycling event called “Critical Mass” that normally passes through the area, but police had prohibited them from cycling there on Friday evening.

More than 100 people were arrested on suspicion of breaching protest conditions and causing a public nuisance, Scotland Yard said Saturday.

Officers scuffled with several pro-cycling activists as dozens of cyclists were blocked by police vans from proceeding, Scotland Yard said. No serious injuring were reported.

Elisabeth Anderson, 38, of Camden, took part in another protest Wednesday night by the “London Bike Swarm” over the Olympic lanes issue.

The “swarm” turned out to be about 14 cyclists and only six actually defied the authorities to ride in the lanes, until they were stopped by police.

“It’s a strange situation. Cyclists are being thought of as an afterthought,” she said. “There could have been a really positive move to push cycling, they could have encouraged officials and others involved in the Games to cycle as well.”

Christian Wolmar, transport analyst and author, agreed the authorities had not done enough to promote cycling.

“The whole thing is completely hypocritical; cycling is just another example of that,” he said. “Cyclists are really considered a bit of a bother, rather than part of the solution.”

“It fits in with the whole hypocrisy of the Games – sponsored by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s even while it’s supposed to be about sport and healthy living,” he added.

A spokesman for Transport for London said cyclists could use some Olympic lanes, but added that it would not be safe for cyclists to use those lanes which are in the middle of the road, rather than next to the sidewalk.

“We’ve invested an awful lot of time and money to make it safer for cyclists,” he said.

A spokeswoman for London 2012 organizer LOCOG told NBCNews.com that the issue was “more one for Transport for London. I’m not sure it’s something we’d comment on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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