When people at work see my arriving in my cycle gear, either very sweaty or a bit cold, a common response is "God, I couldn't do that, it's so dangerous on the roads". I used to retort that "it's ok really" or mention the CTC stats on how "safe" cycling is. Two accidents later and my response is "I know. I'm absolutely stupid to do it. I don't blame you at all. We need a lot more grade-separarted infrastructure before we can expect more people to cycle."
So it was with amazement that I saw The Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. I tweeted the newsdesk saying I hoped that this would be the UK equivalent of the "Child Murder" campaign in the Netherlands. And, to be fair to my local authorities (City of Edinburgh included) I have a suspicion they've been caught slightly unawares by the sudden rise of cycling as a mode of transport, and particularly that we're a bunch of vocal middle class professionals. But all this attention on bike safety had an odd effect on me (probably not that odd, come to think of it) - last night I nearly became an ex-cyclist. I set off home from campus (I multi-mode commute in the morning, using the train, but cycle [downhill] all the way home) and was filled with a sudden dread that tonight would be the night that the taxi/PHC/Audi/BMW/Vauxhall Insignia (delete as applicable) would hit my handlebars and I'd end up under their wheels at 40mph.
So, this morning I thought I'm going to do this blog post - showing you how stupid my commute is using the power of Google Streetview. So here goes.
1. Leaving campus is ok - we have cycle routes, although the University could put up more speed limit signs and signs on the Gaits to warn delivery drivers of pedestrians and cyclists. I join Calder Road at this toucan crossing and peddle as fast as my legs will take me in the middle of the left-hand lane down to Hermiston roundabout you can see in the distance. This is actually an ok roundabout - it's big and so long as motorists signal (rarely) you're safe to join and exit. There is an off road cycle path through Hermiston village but I don't use that because...
2. As I approach the junction with the bypass the road looks like this. There's a bus lane on the left which I use (more of this in a bit) and gets me in the left hand lane ready to be in the left hand lane to go straight ahead at the next roundabout (which is traffic light controlled). Now, iif you look to the left, that off-road path is shared pedestrian-cycle path which goes all the way to Cultins Road and the canal towpath. But, to cross the roundabout it drops you on the exit to the bypass. You have to peer past an overgrown bush and...the rounabout is traffic light controlled, but you will always have traffic coming down this slip-road. So your only chance of crossing the slip-road safely is to bob across between light phases and hope-to-God no one runs a red light. I feel safer being in the traffic flow.
3. But even so, if you look at the left hand lane of the roundabout, you'll see the old utility trench on the left, which you have to cycle to the right of and at the bridge joints has turned into pot-craters.
4. Coming off this roundabout is shit-scary. You have to be in the middle (very narrow) lane because the slip-road down to Cultins Road starts on your left. Your only choice is to peddle like crazy, hold your line about six inches out from the double-red line, and just hope-to-Dear-Bloody-Jesus-our-Lord that motorists will give you room and people coming up the slip-road from Sighthill.
5. The FEAR continues. This section of road doesn't have a bus lane. And when you approach the Wester Hailes roundabout you have to drift into the middle lane to go straight ahead. While the cars around you are driving at about 50mph. Usually when I leave campus the traffic is so heavy it crawls along here at a nice 20mph so I just cycle between the middle and outside lanes, watching out for people lane changing. But when it's clear it is not nice at all, and you just have to be brave. I see some cyclists leave it to the last moment to drift out following the white line. I wouldn't dare - I'd be terrified of being forced left and off the roundabout.
6. The rest of Calder Road isn't too bad because you're in bus lanes, like this. Lothian Buses are ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL AROUND CYCLISTS. Really, there's nothing more reassuring than knowing you have a bloody great double-decker behind you that will treat you with respect and, because of its size, protect you from other idiots on the roads. The problem is the other bus companies and taxis and private hire cars, who just want to mow you down. You also have the fun of people leaving the roundabouts in the left hand lane and suddenly realising a bus lane is starting so they just do an emergency stop, then check their mirrors and start signalling. Meanwhile you're swerving around them to save your neck.
The Calder Road depressed me though. The fronts of the houses must 50ft apart and it used to be a beautiful, classic, inter-war parkway, with a huge verge in the middle waiting for a tram line to be built. The narrow road to the left of that photo still exists, behind a huge grass verge and footpath created when the road was turned into a dual carriageway as part of Colin Buchanan's infamous Edinburgh Transport Plan. There's still room there for a cycle super highway to be built separate from the dual carriageway, with toucan crossings accross the roundabout entrance roads.
7. Much as I love Lothian Buses, their buses are heavy and quite a few routes run down Calder Road - 3, 25, 33, 34, 35 for a start - and since they're always in the left hand lane of the roundabouts, the tarmac takes its toll, you can see on this image from about four years ago that this manhole cover has needed some repair. All these roundabouts now have pot-craters in the same spots on the north and south side from the weight of buses traversing them.
8. A wee thing. I need to be in the left hand lane of roundabouts like this to go straight ahead. I get in the middle of the road about 25 yards from the roundabout and hang back in the traffic. I do see cyclists go up on the left and push their bikes out in front of cars turning left. I wouldn't...
9. This junction was the site of my second accident, when a kid tried to cross the road in front of me, unsuccessfully. It's very fast, at the bottom of a long hill, and invariably a car will try and cut in front of me to turn left into Stenhouse. They must be going about 40 to overtake me. I also have the FEAR that someone will pull out from either the left or right in front of me. Oh, and because the bus lane starts immediately after the junction, you get the emergency stop problem I mentioned above.
10. Stenhouse Road narrows here and the bus lane vanishes, into a pot-cratered mess of a bike lane full of manhole covers and mangled tarmac.
11. At the junction with Chesser Road, I hold my line coming out of the bus lane to go straight ahead in the lefthand lane, as I know there will be cars parked at the shops beyond the junction. This means every night a driver will try and overtake me so they can get to the red light first. Every evening this almost ends up with someone nearly going into the back of the traffic jam waiting to turn right at about 35 mph.
12. I HATE THIS BIT. The bus lanes end and I have to be in the right-hand lane to go ahead. Most traffic actually goes left off to Balgreen road. There's two approaches to this as a cyclist. You can hold left and then hope the straight-ahead filter has not changed by the time you get there, and nip in front of the waiting traffic (there's no advanced stop line). This usually leads to road rage from people wanting to go left as that filter goes green first. Or you do what I do. Get out right before the bus lane ends, to stop people trying to pull left in front of you, and then just sit in the traffic jam.
13. This VW garage needs mirrors so drivers can see the road around them when they're pulling out from the service centre at the back.
14.This junction isn't too bad. It could do with an advanced stop line. The main problem is, it now has a turn right-only lane. Inpatient drivers get in the right-hand lane to overtake buses, and me, and then realise they have to pull in left to go straight ahead. Manoeuvre-signal-mirror reigns supreme! And of course, everyone wants to overtake me to get to the next red light first.
15. For all it's narrow and busy, Gorgie Road is quite good fun. It's not as if I can go that fast as the pot-craters make it a slalom. You also know you're going to get a lot of stupid overtaking-to-get-to-red-light-first and people doing things like that van is doing, pulling out in front of you. At the junction of Gorgie Road and Dalry Road you have the usual Edinburgh stupidity of the advanced stop lane you have absolutely no chance of getting to whatsoever because the road is so narrow.
16. Right the. To skip to the HELL OF HAYMARKET. First of all, the tram works mean the junction changes every week. At the moment, I reach this junction to be faced with a wall of fencing and a tiny arrow sending you round a tight lane to the right. And then you have to choose one of these five lanes to be in. I use that cycle lane, harrassed by drivers all around me, to get vaguely leftish to go straight ahead.
17. I turn left into Manor Place and because of the parked cars, the state of the road, and because I want to turn right, I need to basically cycle down the middle of the road. The New Town/Murrayfield mummy's taking Trixibell and Tarquil to ballet and piano lessons in the Porsche SUVs and the twatty businessmen in their Audis dashing home to see Trixibell and Tarquil really appreciate this.
18. The end of Melville Street has the same silly left filter thing as the junction of Stenhouse Road and Balgreen Road. This was the site of one of my most terrifying cycling moments when I was chased down the road, where I had to be in the right hand lane, by a Biffa rubbish lorry at about 30mph. They seemed to think it was great fun. I thought I'd die. I go straight ahead here as it's a National Cycle Route (NCR). Hahahaha. A couple of times, drivers coming up Queensferry Street haven't noticed the red light and just cross the junction in front of me.
19. That dropped kerb there is the entrance to a NCR. HAHAHAHAHA. At least the Google car didn't find the usual car parked in front of it. And that's the exit. *falls over laughing* When the tram works sent all the road traffic ever around the south west side of Charlotte Square you were dropped into a three-lane motorway here. Thankfully now this corner of the square is basically closed. It's bliss.
20. I now pause at this junction before turning right, after a near miss with a Porsche who went through the lights at red.
21. I drop down onto Heriot Row using this bit of cycle lane obstructed by this van. It's a nice left hand turn, as you can imagine. For about a week I cycled down Queen Street. But since Edinburgh Council like having a five-lane motorway through the historic centre, IT'S SO F**KING TERRIFYING I no longer bother.
22. Instead I deal with the painful, slippy-when-wet, granite setts of the New Town. This entire section of road, all the way to Forth Street in the East End, had some utility works in times past. You can just about see on that image that the entire lot has since collapsed, so the road has a pot-canyon which leaves you cycling down the middle of the road.
23. And I have to cross two junctions that look like this. The next one has an advanced stop line, but Mrs Porsche SUV, Mr Audi and Messrs Taxi presume that pink bit of tarmac is for them. The trouble here is, if I go in the left lane to go straight ahead, someone will pull up on my right and then we have a race to see if I can get out right before I hit the parked cars beyond the junction. If I go right, someone will come up on my inside and try and barge me out the way when they realise they're about to hit a parked car. If I hang back behind the cars waiting then one will usual just stop in front of me and then realise they forgot to signal right. More of that pot-canyon.
24.I don't go fast down Dublin Street because I have to turn right onto super slippy granite setts at the bottom. Really, Edinburgh Council, if you're going to have an NCR through the New Town, put some pink tarmac in. Please. Oh, and it's a myth that setts slow down cars. Mrs Porsche SUV can drive at 40 no problem, and because Trixibell is at ballet, not playing in the streets, she doesn't care.
25. East Claremont Street. The only road in Edinburgh where I cycle down the pavement because I have to. Firstly, the setts are so potholed and worn out that it's just painful. It really, really hurts. You can either go really fast so the pain is short or really slowly to ease the bouncing. And that really pisses of the drivers as they want to drive at 40 between the speed bumps. Oh, and the speed bumps. Some genius laid the setts parallel to the direction of travel. If your wheels get stuck in the rutt you just feel like you're going to fall over. The only way to safely manage it is to go right out right and then cross them diagonally. I just go down the pavement slowly. It's easier.
26. Turning right onto Broughton Road, yet again the mangled road outside Powderhall Waste Transfer Station means I have to cycle down the middle of the road. Invariably a meter-obsessed-wheeled-black-box-of-death will be hovering off my back wheel. And the junction with Newhaven Road is another one where parked cars and a lack of road markings mean I have no idea what lane to be in to protect myself.
27. I'm nearly home... But like this dumper truck, I have to tootle along slowly in the middle of the road by the parked cars. And Bonnington Road is very fast and not nice for doing this. Given it's a residential area they should really turn it into a 10mph home zone.
28. Home! We now have an advanced stop line. But no parking restrictions which means it's impossible to reach most of the time. Oh, and the green phase at the lights isn't long enough for a cyclist to safely cross Great Junction Street. And finally, coming up to this roundabout you get the usual dangerous overtaking, around a blind corner, to reach the red lights first.
And that is why I don't blame anyone for not cycling. It's bloody lethal out there.