Thursday, 12 April 2012

Speed control or squash control?

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.

13 comments:

Grant said...

Agree this is a ridiculous bit of road, adding unnecessary danger to an otherwise relatively pleasant route into town. It's amazing quite how many drivers MUST GET PAST even when 30 yards away from a red light. In fact last week I was badly cut up on this road and had to brake/swerve to avoid a collision. I asked the driver what on earth he thought he was doing and he replied I ought to be in the cycle lane... The same lane he was at that moment driving in...

The real question is why through traffic is allowed on this residential road (near a park and junior school) at all - it's simply a rat run for drivers who can't be bothered to use more appropriate roads to the east and west.

easyslowrider said...

HC 153
Traffic-calming measures. On some roads there are features such as road humps, chicanes and narrowings which are intended to slow you down. When you approach these features reduce your speed. Allow cyclists and motorcyclists room to pass through them. Maintain a reduced speed along the whole of the stretch of road within the calming measures. Give way to oncoming road users if directed to do so by signs. You should not overtake other moving road users while in these areas.

cyclingfromscratch said...

This reminds me of a bit of road near me that combines queuing traffic and alternating wide/narrow lanes. A taxi tried to overtake me once in a "wide" section, then complained as he almost collided me in a "narrow" section, saying that I was "speeding".

emilyobyrne said...

I ride this road everyday, and I couldn't agree more. This isn't traffic calming, it's traffic stressing, with motorists getting increasingly frustrated because they can't overtake.

The only safe course for a bike here is to ride in the middle of the road, along the white line helpfully painted in to guide you. If you hear hooting from behind you, you're in the right place. If they are overtaking, they don't hoot - they just zoom past. Don't be frightened of the revving engine - it means they've seen you and slowed down. I think turning to look at the driver can help - it sometimes seems to encourage them to back off a bit.

Oh, and I really try to stop myself talking to drivers, especially ones who've just nearly killed me. They will have been frightened by the near miss too, and they turn that into anger at you. It's not reasonable, but people often aren't when they've just sacred themselves silly. I try to think about car drivers like we get told to think about spiders - they are more frightened of me than I am of them.

Schnauzer Minelli said...

I agree with the first posting

I cycle down this street every morning and I cannot understand why through-traffic is allowed there. So many cyclists use this street so why don't they just say : Look motorists, go down Upper Street or use one of the other streets but this street is for cyclsits only. would make it a lot easier for cars. and cyclists.

nilling said...

Primary, primary, primary...

@Emily "If you hear hooting from behind you, you're in the right place" :)

NO said...

I used to commute down this stretch regularly, best option for the cyclist is to cycle in the middle of the lane, doesn't always work though...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PsLqrNgGGA

Rob said...

I hate these too. It's a shame that car drivers can't be trusted to stay under the speed limit as then there would be no need to install them. Instead what could be nice roads to cycle down are turned into roads where there are at least half a dozen good opportunities to get knocked off your bike.

Even worse are the ones with cycle-lanes which allow you to skip them. In theory these would be amazing but they always fill up with broken glass, rubbish, cigarette butts and are never cleaned. Also, quite often there is parking on the other side so you still need to merge with traffic anyway.

Jemma said...

Nice to here a few of you cycle this road regularly and feel the same! I have experienced being cut up here and have seen it countless times, it's so frustrating.

Say hi if you pass me! :-)

Har said...

I live cycle paradise Holland, so I can't compete in the awfulness of cycling in the UK, but whenever there's not enough room for both a car and me on my bike, I hog the road until there's some room and only then I allow the motorists behind me to overtake. Works here, but motorists are more relaxed than they seem to be in London.

Joff said...

Take the primary position and also start flailing around with a bike pump or D-lock. Suddenly motorists aren't so keen to play Speed or Squash :(

cyclelyn said...

National Standards teaches take primary on approach to any 'pinch point' and hold it until you're through, then go back to secondary allowing the vehicle to overtake. If you let them squeeze, they'll squeeze hard!

Russ Nelson said...

Primary. Every time. Being "polite" at the risk of your life isn't polite -- it's just stupid.

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