I moved house last month.
I mention this not merely to explain why things have been quite quiet on this blog lately; what with packing, organising the logistics of the actual move, unpacking, sleepless nights worrying about the move and then, in the new place, getting used to sleeping in a strange room, the subsequent headaches from the stress of it all, and then – once I’d finally settled in – the horrible summer cold that sneaked up on me when I wasn’t looking, I didn’t have the time nor the head space to write anything.
No, I mention this because the move has had two wholly unexpected bike-related consequences.
I’ve moved into the kind of place that I was once convinced I’d never live in, a new-build estate made up of blocks of cookie-cutter, characterless flats. But, while the new place lacks the character and charm of the Victorian terrace I used to live in, it makes up for it in many other ways – such as the secure bike storage.
The Trusty Steed, as I’ve mentioned before, used to live out in the back garden of the old place; with nothing to lock him to, nor to protect him from the elements, I knew it wasn’t the best place for him. So I was looking forward to being able to store him in one of the bike sheds around the estate.
Except that I can’t.
My flatmate (and good friend) Rachel asked the housing association for a key to the sheds, and was told she couldn’t have one as they’re full.
Full, you say? Well, yes, if you look at the bike sheds there doesn’t appear to be much, if any, space. But if you look closer you’ll see that the same bikes are in there, day in, day out. As far as I’ve seen, only one of them has been taken out of the shed in the month or so I’ve been living here.
And is that a motorbike in there? Yes, I believe it is.
Essentially, what this means is that the bike storage is entirely taken up by people who don’t use their bikes, plus a motorbike that really has no business in a bike shed. Meanwhile, I have to keep my bike in the hallway in the flat, and hump it up and down from the first floor every time I want to use it – which is pretty much every day.
If I lived any higher than the first floor I’d be onto the housing association in a flash, but as it is I can just about live with it.
The same can’t be said for the Stoke Newington gyratory. This is the bit of the A10 that, some time back in the mists of time – possibly the 1970s – was turned into a one-way system, as a way of dealing with traffic congestion. Infrastructure fashion has moved on since then, and it’s now widely disliked.
There’s a campaign, which has been running for a number of years now, to return it to two-way. In the run up to the recent local elections, it was the focus of the Space for Cycling campaign ask in Stoke Newington, and its continued existence is one of the main reasons why Hackney council continues to block the introduction of a cycle superhighway along the A10.
Despite this, and despite having lived and cycled in Stoke Newington for about ten years now, the gyratory had somehow never really bothered me before – largely because I’d always worked out my own route through the side streets to avoid it.
Since moving house, however, there’s no escaping it. Pretty much every time I get on my bike I have to follow the gyratory.
From a safety perspective, it’s not the worst gyratory I have to use – that award goes to the one at Nag’s Head, where I have to cut across four lanes of traffic to turn right – but I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable using it. There’s a right turn at the bottom of the gyratory, with traffic merging from opposite directions with neither having clear priority, that I’m coming to really dislike. I’ve already had one close call with a car coming from the south, and I suspect it won’t be the last.
But the main reason for my new-found antipathy towards the gyratory is that it makes going to Church Street on my bike such a hassle. Church Street – for those who don’t know the area – is essentially the heart of Stoke Newington: a vibrant, characterful street lined with independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, with a cemetery-come-nature reserve at one end and a park at the other.
It’s one of my favourite places to go for a pootle along, or to meet friends for coffee, and it ought to be really easy to get to – after all, the junction of Church Street and the High Street is a mere 200 metres or so south from the end of my road.
Except that I can’t just head south.
I have to follow the gyratory, which makes it about four times as far. Admittedly there’s an abbreviated version of it to get to Church Street, but to get onto it involves a nasty right turn, cutting across two lanes of what can be quite fast-flowing traffic. Then I have to fight through all the traffic at the junction with the High Street – including lots of buses – all trying to do the same thing as me, all snarling up the road, all fighting for space.
It’s somewhere between a pain in the arse and really quite dangerous, and the upshot is that I simply don’t go to Church Street on my bike these days.
It’s a shame, as in all other respects the new place is great and I’m really enjoying it. If only I could just fix the gyratory and the bike sheds, I reckon it might be pretty much perfect.