I’ve told you about the hazards of my bicycle commute before on this blog, well folks, I’ve come across another menace to my journey. Sandwiched between the ‘Brompton blackspot’ and Zone one (or MUST STAY ALIVE ZONE), I would like to introduce you to Barnsbury Road, Islington or better known as ‘Squash a cyclist’ street.
The only thing I can think of is that there must be some sort of unwritten code between car drivers that they get extra nectar points for squashing cyclists on this stretch of road. And the reason for this unforgivable behaviour is Traffic Islands. Traffic islands are apparently for traffic calming, but primarily, on this road, it's main use seems to be for cyclist squashing.
Cyclist about to be squashed
I have been reading up about these beasts and they are installed by councils as a way to introduce speed control, or what I have now named SQUASH control. Let me give you some context. The traffic islands on 'Squash a cyclist' street are a central island narrowing design. These islands are in the centre of the road with traffic flow on either side, meaning that the road narrows significantly without a cycle lane omitting the cyclist from passing through the narrowing. See picture below:
Cycling along this road, it always seems to end up as a game between the cyclist and the car. Let me tell you how it goes:
Cyclist is happily cruising along when suddenly a car is on their tail revving the engine as if they are going to take over the cyclist, however car stumbles upon the traffic island and has to reluctantly hang back whilst both car and cyclist past through. Car then speeds up and attempts to overtake cyclist again, hovering impatiently to the left of the cyclist but then comes across another traffic island and is forced to hang back. Repeat this 5 times and you've experienced the joys of Barnsbury Road.
Unfortunately, more than often the story goes a little differently. Hold tight kids, this is the nasty experience. It starts the same... Cyclist is happily cruising along when suddenly car is on their tail revving their engine as if they are going to take over the cyclist, however car stumbles upon traffic island and impatiently attempts to overtake cyclist through the narrow section, causing the cyclist to be well and truly SQUASHED and having to seek refuge on the pavement for space and recovery. Car speeds off down the road and sits in traffic. Angry and squashed cyclist catches up and passes car in traffic and wishes they had Timmy Mallet's mallet to hand. Car driver revels in (or doesn’t even notice) their misdemeanour and pockets their ‘Squash a cyclist’ bonus nectar points. Hard times.
I have found that if you are not a confident cyclist, there are two ways you deal with this situation.
1. Cycle as fast as you can to try a lose the chugging motor on your tail. This is like a game of cat and mouse which I’ve dubbed the SPEED OR SQUASH approach.
2. Cycle along right on the edge of the road (so you are eligible for a good car dooring by the parked cars lining the curb) in an attempt to allow the car to overtake you before you hit the narrow island section.
I have been thinking hard about these approaches and there is really only one option to brave this level of the ride and come out unscathed. Take the PRIMARY POSITION. When doing this it’s best to cycle really, really, really, really slowly whilst whistling nicely out of tune to drown out the angry revving sounds of the greasy car behind you.
This is my experience on this particular road. Usually I have pleasant experiences of traffic islands and can see how they can improve the cyclists experience, if installed correctly. Sustrans state that-
The object of traffic calming is to modify driver behaviour, control vehicle speeds and, in some circumstances, to reduce the volume of traffic. This reduces danger from traffic and can enable local residents, including children, to reclaim the streets as social places where walking and cycling can flourish.(Source: Sustrans Guidelines to Traffic Calming)
Indeed the islands on Barnsbury Road offer a safe refuge for pedestrians going to the park alongside it, but ultimately it seems to be the cyclists duty to calm the traffic and pay the price. No extra nectar points for us.