Are you old enough to remember the seventies? The golden era when flared trousers and prog-rock were in fashion, and highway engineers designed magnificent elevated motorways and multi-lane roundabouts? When racism, homophobia and sexism flourished, and celebrities could fiddle around with young girls and boys without fear? Ahh, it was a happier, more innocent era, before political correctness put a stop to all the fun.
While we’re reminiscing about the good old days, it strikes me that for cyclists the Millbank Roundabout (the junction of Millbank, Horseferry Road and Lambeth Bridge) is a little bit like Jimmy Savile’s dressing room (if recent allegations are to be believed). If you go there, there’s a good chance you’ll be touched inappropriately, or even taken from behind, by an intimidating person in a position of power. And if you are brave enough to complain, the authorities will turn a blind eye – despite the rumours, it's all perfectly fine - and the police won’t be interested in investigating. It’s your fault really – you shouldn’t really be there in the first place, you were asking for it by wearing the wrong clothing and not protecting yourself properly. You can’t expect red-blooded people in cars to control themselves. And we certainly can’t do anything about molesters who are well-respected, important, and fundamentally generous and good people – think of the money they willingly donate to the economy – all that could be taken away if you make a fuss. How's about that then?
We’re reliably informed that TfL people have a penchant for changing out of their skinny jeans and hoodies when they get to work, into spangly flares and polyester shirts with collars so wide you can go hang-gliding in them. They just love the Seventies. They can’t bear to part with their old clothes - or their old road designs. Take a look at their new design for the Millbank Roundabout. Looks exactly like the old one! I’m only surprised there isn’t a disco ball in the middle of it!
On a more serious note for a moment, let’s take a quick look at what’s wrong with this ‘Ashes to Ashes’ design. The main ‘changes’ are: they’ve raised the existing zebra crossings to pavement level in a bid to reduce approach speeds, and put in some ‘shared use’ pavements. Other than that, it's the same old multi-lane roundabout, such as you'll find at most of London's most dangerous junctions. Now, I use this roundabout every day on the way to work, so I know a bit about it. Approach speeds aren’t actually a particular problem most of the time, because the roundabout is very busy. The problems come from speeds of vehicles actually on the roundabout, and trying to time your entry so you avoid conflict with vehicles around you and vehicles already on the roundabout. The changes won’t fix any of that. The shared pavements won’t work, for the following reasons. There are too many pedestrians and bikes, and the two will come into conflict, as surely as if you put a minibus-load of 70’s showbiz personalities into a youth club. By law, you would have to dismount to cross on the zebra crossings. Of course, some cyclists will either be unaware of this or will consider it a trifle unnecessary - after all, why, for goodness sakes, have shared-use pavements if the crossings aren’t shared use? So this will cause a concoction of confusion, conflict and collisions, as motorists are often not keen to give way to people with bikes (legally walking or illegally riding – it’s difficult to tell at a distance) on zebra crossings, pedestrians don’t like mixing with bikes, and vice-versa. Of course, there will be some die-hard vehicular cyclists who selfishly spurn the shared spaces and cycle on the road, and some motorists will ask themselves, “What are they doing there, when there’s a perfectly good cycle track?” Hardly a recipe for mutual respect and tolerance. Which leads to the other problem with these shared pavements. Currently, there are hatched areas on the road junction corners that can act as handy de-facto cycle lanes if you’re turning left. Motors tend to keep out of them. The one leading onto Lambeth Bridge if you’re turning left from Millbank is particularly useful. But the pavements are going to be extended into these areas, so if you stay on the road, you’ll have less space and be even more vulnerable to a left-hook than you are today.
Unfortunately, TfL’s attitude to road design is looking rather like Jimmy Savile’s alleged sex life. It’s just not acceptable in the 21st century to treat vulnerable people this way.
You might care to let TfL know what you think about their ‘new’ roundabout. Just don’t mention the Sex Pistols.