Transport for London (TFL) have announced that the new Cycle Superhighways (CS) have been a great success. According to a survey taken last October, cycle traffic has increased considerably along roads with a new super bike path. There have been on average 70% more cycle journeys, while in rush hour this has risen to 100%. Sadly, some parts of London will never benefit from this new scheme.
If you live in the middle of the borough of Lewisham, like myself, you will have to go out of your way to ride on one. Three upcoming CS routes will skirt around the edges of the borough, but the main artery that pumps into the heart of Lewisham will miss out. This arterial road is the A2, the Old Kent Road, both the cheapest place on the Monopoly board and one of the wildest public highways in London.
If the Old Kent Road did get a super cyclehighway those of us who cycle down it might get a degree of safety, and respect from motorists, which seems to be absent at the moment. This danger is at its peak at the Elephant and Castle roundabout, which is a sort of psychotic, motorised scrum. The roundabout is the sort of junction that makes a mockery of Boris’s plans to get ordinary Londoner’s cycling. I speak from experience.
A nasty turn
Last year, on the way to work in Farringdon, I cycled around the Elephant and Castle roundabout and came away feeling lucky to be alive. A silver Mercedes Benz cut me up – crossing three lanes – a millisecond before I followed my lane right in front his speeding steel bonnet. Perhaps the high pitched whine of his engine gave him away, perhaps I was just lucky. The maniac was 200 metres down the road before I could let out a whimper, and a mere speck by the time it occurred to me to throw my D-lock through his back window.
At work twenty minutes later, a jabbering mess of adrenaline and furious indignation, I made a rare foray onto Facebook and posted that I’d almost been killed by a nut-job at Elephant and Castle. A few responses expressed sympathy, one stuck out as more strident. ‘Please don’t cycle around the Elephant and Castle’. ‘I won’t', I replied, wondering how to get to work if this key junction was out of bounds. After a few more exchanges, it turned out that a great friend of this person had been killed by a bus on the roundabout some years before.
I’d seen the aftermath of an accident involving a cyclist on the roundabout on my way home once, and read about the death of a woman cyclist in April, 2009. Since then, a work colleague told me that his girlfriend’s dad had been left in a wheelchair for more than half a year after being knocked off his bike at the Elephant too! Although theÂ ‘ Death Map ‘ (a Google Maps mashup showing all the Department for Transport’s road accident statistics made a couple of years ago by crafty programmer Ted Reilly) shows a fair sprinkling of serious accidents, and the very mention ‘Elephant and Castle’ tends to make even motorists yearn for the days of the horse and cart, whether or not it is a bonafide accident hotspot I couldn’t say.
It turns out there’s another route. One that will not only by-pass the horrors of the Elephant and Castle, but actually take you on one of the quietest roads in that part of town.
- Turn off the end of the Old Kent Road at the Bricklayer’s Arms roundabout, then take the first exit down Great Dover Street.
- Just before the Roebuck pub, turn left up on the cycle path over the pavement and head along Trinity Street, past Merrick and Trinity Church Squares on your left.
- Cross Borough High Street and then along Great Suffolk Street towards Southwark Bridge Road with a shiny blue cycle superhighway.
- After crossing the traffic lights at Southwark Bridge Road you can either carry on down towards Southwark Street, and then across Blackfriars Bridge.
- Alternatively, turn left up Webber Street which will spit you out in front of the Old Vic, ready to head across Waterloo Bridge.
I learned of this route when waiting at a traffic light on Blackfriars Road only to see a weedy little fella, who I’d last seen somewhere back on the Old Kent Road, zip in front of me down Webber Street. There was, it seemed, a short cut. After some investigation I worked out the route, one that as well as being a quiet also takes you through the lovely Georgian Trinity Church Square. A spot regularly used as a location for film and TV, it also contains a neoclassical church that is now known as Henry Wood Hall , and the rehearsal space for the London Symphony Orchestra among others.
Why exactly the driver decided to take such a big risk with the life of another human being I couldn’t say. It’s true that after the congested grid-lock on the New Kent Road, the Elephant roundabout finally offers an opportunity to open up the throttle, and it is also the case that the driver had the round yellowy-green sticker on his back windscreen of a taxi driver (presumably with a deadline), but are these reasons enough? It could be the driver suffered from a sort of personality disorder, or that the London road environment is a peculiar social system that encourages lunatic risk taking. Whatever drove the guy, the Elephant and Castle cycle bypass is a much more pleasant route.