(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)
The long-awaited road modernisation system around Blackfriars is now open – complicated isn’t it? Thankfully, we’re sitting in the system for long enough to take it all in: join the queue on Blackfriars Bridge and marvel at the complex arrangement of different vehicle and cycle lanes, traffic lights that apply to different road users at different times; then plan what lane to get in before you get stuck behind a stationary tipper truck.
Exchanging views on social media I found I wasn’t alone in finding the cycle superhighway system confusing. Vehicles and cycles come from different directions, and pedestrians crossing at a stationary line of motor vehicles don’t always realise that the cycles have right of way and are about to speed into their path. There are some sharp turns available to motorists, and these turns are only safe if the cyclists obey their stop lights. It’ll be fun when the traffic lights fail at these junctions. I also wonder how people might make sense of all the different lanes when there’s a covering of snow. You won’t be able to make out the cycle lanes, and even the kerbs could be submerged.
As I write this, there is no access to Tudor Street from New Bridge Street. You have to use Bridewell Place to access the Tudor Street area: a pointless manoeuvre, and yet another restriction that makes people’s journeys longer. They’ve put a huge concrete block stopping you access the Embankment at the bottom of Temple Avenue. They stopped the left turn a long time ago; now they’ve stopped the right turn too. There’s a new unrestricted turn available from Carmelite Street, but for a few weeks there were no warning signs detailing a closure and an alternative route. This behaviour annoys everyone, and ensures our noisy, dangerous, and polluting, vehicles are on the road longer.
Following a sat nav on unfamiliar roads can be stressful and fraught with danger in big towns, and some road systems only exist in London, or in the bigger cities (a northerner I took to Pancras once asked me what double red lines meant. A fair question; and more sensible than my vague answer that they are worse than double yellows).
I believe all roads with contra-flow cycle lanes are hazardous. Do you always remember to look left and right when you cross Royal College Street from Pratt Street? I’m sure you do, as we know what’s coming; but what if you’ve just driven down from outside London and you’re less familiar the complexities of Camden Town’s one way system? All manner of dangers are lurking behind those plant pots in Royal College Street.
More and more you notice parts of roads given over to contra-flow cycle lanes. Have you noticed the cycle lane on the east side of Chancery Lane? (obliterated by scaffolding lorries at the weekend). Maybe you’ve been surprised by a cycle emerging as you turn from Malet Street into Montague Place? In the event of a collision, m’lud will point out in court that there is a warning sign. But if you’re not familiar with the area, you might not think to stop and peer around to your right in case a cycle is coming into what appears to be a quiet one way street.
My favourite is the short eastbound section of Jermyn Street. As far as most people are concerned it’s a fairly narrow one-way street. There’s a sign at the junction of Haymarket indicating it’s no entry apart for cycles, but there are no markings indicating a cycle lane, and there are no clues that a cycle – or rickshaw – might be speeding towards you as you turn in from Regent Street. Amazingly, buses sometimes use this street. Another accident waiting to happen.
Some roads don’t need cycle lanes to make them hazardous. You might not confidently know which bit of Exhibition Road is for vehicles and which bit is for pedestrians. How far you can drive up the western side before you hit a bench or a rank of Boris Bikes? Is the junction at Prince Consort Road a roundabout? There are no definite markings, just vague circular paving. There’s no roundabout sign. Everyone treats it like a roundabout, but maybe it’s not? Maybe we don’t need to give way to traffic on the right? An interesting query for the insurance companies, I think.
Road space has been reduced all over London, yet demand continues to increase. Driving has become harder work; not just because of traffic levels, but because of such complex systems. It would be more helpful to simplify rather than make more complex. Vauxhall junction has always been nasty and I dread going there. The re-modelling was probably well-meaning, but the junction’s complexity doesn’t make it any safer.
Sometimes junctions are hazardous purely because the arrangement of traffic lights isn’t what you are familiar with. The junction of Marlborough Road and The Mall is less busy and less complex than Blackfriars, but we’ve all seen cars speeding through a light that wasn’t meant for them.
However familiar we think we are with the roads, we still have to pay attention to signs and to the increasingly complicated arrangement of traffic signals. Oh, and look out for pedestrian only areas too: I recently copped a PCN for tuning around in Petty Wales. If you don’t know Petty Wales, look it up! Be careful out there!
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.