I’m starting to really love Tufnell Park.
I know – it’s hardly the most attractive or exciting area of London. It’s not even as if I live there. But let me explain…
I recently started a new job working for the MS Society, and so far it’s all great – except for one thing. The location. It’s all the way up near the North Circular, north of Cricklewood. In other words, bloody miles away from Stoke Newington. Getting there involves cycling for nearly an hour through back streets and up and down a number of hills – I mean, I go through Hampstead. That should tell you something about the route. Tufnell Park is the point after which it’s basically flat – on the way home at least – and I know it’s all going to be easy cycling from there onwards. Just the sight of Tufnell Park tube station makes me happier than I ever thought it could do.
It’s also the point at which my route changes from the unfamiliar to the familiar (depending on which direction I’m going in, of course). I’m not used to cycling up hills. I’m not used to cycling along narrow side streets. I’m used to wide, busy roads and negotiating heavy traffic. I know most people say they’re afraid of cycling in central London, and I’m sure the statistics will probably show that it’s more dangerous than elsewhere. But I’m not scared of it. Buses and main roads I can deal with. But a narrow side street, with traffic coming from both directions and a line of parked cars down one side? I’m not so sure.
I always thought I was a good, confident cyclist. But cycling to my new job is really making me start to question that. There are so many streets on my route that just leave me feeling quite nervous. It’s the way that the roads just aren’t wide enough for all the traffic plus a bike. It’s the way that I never know if someone is about to open a car door on me, or pull out in front of me.
It’s also the way that I just don’t think the drivers on the roads round there are really aware of cyclists. In central London I think drivers have to have a certain awareness of cyclists, simply because there are so many of us. But in the back streets around Hampstead and Finchley Road I’m frequently the only cyclist around. I’ve already had a number of drivers pull out in front of me, having apparently not seen me or even thought to look out for me. I’ve had cars drive far too close to me, because they just don’t seem to understand how much space I need on the road.
There’s one road, laughingly marked up as a cycle route, which is just about wide enough for two cars to pass each other plus the inevitable line of parked cars. On the morning I tried cycling along it the traffic was solid in both directions, and there was no room for me at all – yet that didn’t stop some drivers from trying to squeeze past me. It didn’t take me long to realise that I couldn’t use that road at all, otherwise I risked being as flat as the painted cycle markings on the road.
It’s all enough to make me understand – finally – why some people say they’re too afraid to cycle in London. I’m not going to stop cycling, and I will get used to it eventually. But in the meantime…Tufnell Park, I love you.