Whilst I applaud Lambeth and Southwark Councils, TfL, and the Mayor for all making the appropriate noises on their respective websites regarding the importance of encouraging more of us to cycle around London (health benefits, easing conjestion, reducing pollution, etc. etc.) and also for earmarking a certain amount of hard cash to deliver improvements, I suspect I am representative of a significant minority when I say that it will take a lot more than a few cans of green paint and an intermittant white line along the side of the road before I take the plunge. Not because I am unwilling, you understand. Personally, I would love to cycle around this neck of the woods. But until you provide me with the all important curb-stone separation between me and the cockney white-van men, taxi drivers, and bus drivers, frankly you can forget it. White and green paint is all very well, but it is no substitute for a curb stone. If its a question of road and pavement width, I can think of plenty roads that could lose 15" at their sides, and pavements that could lose another 15", providing more than enough space for a narrow, SEGREGATED cycle lane. If you ask any cyclist who already cycles, they say that "its not so bad/dangerous" to cycle on the road. That's as may be, but that is not my point. My point is that- if you are to get over the psychological barrier that prevents current non-cyclists from cycling, you have to buy into the segregated argument. Otherwise, it will always be a minority of Londoners who are prepared to go for it. And (very) Central London is perfect for cycling because its mainly flat. There is always the argument that some of the old medieval roads are too narrow and we can't afford the road-space. But if most people were honest, there are plenty roads out there that could lose 15" and another 15" from the pavement. Plenty room for a cycle lane.
Speaking as someone who does cycle, I don't like segregated cycle lanes. They are often full of broken glass, parked cars etc. They reinforce the idea that bicyles are a marginal form of transport and don't really belong on the road. As you say, central London is an ideal place to cycle and it's often quicker than a car or public transport - but only if bikes have equal status on the road.
I guess it will be a while before you stop whizzing around on your little cloud, but I try to cycle everywhere and I would encourage you to give it a go. But I can understand your nervousness.
Like SEH, as a current cyclist, I think cycle lanes have their problems - as does messing around with roads in general. But I think it is roundabouts and lorries you really need to fear, rather than the things you mention.
But your question is about getting people started - and I think you are right, we do need more segregation as they have in cities like Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm.
Studies in those cities have found that the best way to make cycling safer is for more people to cycle - other road users are then used to cyclists and more aware of them. Congestion charging has apparently led to a 16% increase in cycling in Central London.
But is London a sensible European city? Or is it the usual British muddle?
If you have a bike, take it for a ride at the weekend by the canal in Wapping, through Mile End Park to the Victoria Park and then along the Green Way atop the main outlet sewer to Three Mills (TFL do free bike maps). It's mostly car free, so it could get you started. Then try out riding to Greenwich along the River and mixing with a few cars. You may find, as I do, that mixing with the other traffic then becomes part of the fun. ..
I think the breakneck speed is the key here. Pedestrians -particularly small children - are not predictable and where cyclists share space with them they need to go slow enough not to scare them or bump into them (having said that I can't recall ever seeing a press story saying someone has been knocked over by a cyclist - perhaps James can find one).
Where cyclists use pavements, it's usually a sign of some failing in the road system (e.g. E&C roundabout).
On the River, Upper Ground behind the South Bank is good for riding on; there is a network of roads behind the Tate, the Globe and the Cathedral; and Tooley St is just about to be 2 way for cyclists. The only excuse for riding on the River will be going East, crossing Blackfriars Rd and getting onto Upper Ground (which is difficult).
I suspect Riverside cyclists are playing pedestrian slalom - good fun, but not very responsible - a new olympic sport?
I walk along the river to work in the mornings and I think the cyclists are generally responsible except for the ones who speed through the narrow walkway under Blackfriars Bridge and the blind cyclists who manage to ignore the signs outside the OXO tower to dismount although they are rather prominent. I do get a bit bloody minded and refuse to make way for them, I've had so many near misses when I've turned the corner at the side near Bernie Spain gardens. Grrr!
You could also shout "Marigold Alley" at them. Possibly confusing if there is a lady cyclist of that name, but this Alley connects Upper Ground to the the river walkway (on the West side of Blackfriar's Bridge). They can then get to/from the safest way of getting past the bridge without going by the OXO tower.
The east end of Upper Ground is one-way with a contraflow cycle lane, so there's no excuse for being on the riverside path at that point.
Though many cyclists do dislike the enclosed cycle lane in the middle of Blackfriars Road outside the Express building - there's been a lot of correspondence about it in London Cyclist (the magazine of the London Cycling Campaign)
No excuse when going East, but the problem is going West. There is often a big queue to cross Blackfriars Road on Southwark St and the Rwy bridge over Southwark Street concentrates the fumes so that the atmosphere is truly poisonous. The Junction is then so busy that turning right in safety is really difficult. This is why people use the Riverside walk.
A classic example of one of the reasons people get put off cycling!
My solution (if I can be like a cabby for a moment) is to turn left off Southwark Street onto Lavington St, turn left into Great Suffolk St, right into Dolben St, left into Nicholson St and cross Blackfriars Rd at a lower point so I go into Meymott St, which leads onto Hatfields, from where one can go N,S or W.
Having just witnessed a cyclist "sharing" roadspace with a white-van man which resulted in the cyclist catapulting into the road and cutting himself up quite badly, near the elephant roundabout, I can only say - god help those of you who don't where helmets. This guy wouldn't have looked too pretty if he hadn't a been. And it was bloody lucky that the lights were still on red, because he was completely invisible as he and bike lay on the ground in front of the van. If someone had cut in front of the van accelerating on green, he would have been mince. Nice idea, cycling- its a shame that a significant number of your fellow road-users have no desire to share their space with you. The good thing about clouds is that you are above the rat-race below.