How to avoid King’s Cross as a Cyclist

The tragic death of Min Joo Lee, 24, who was crushed by a lorry while cycling at King’s Cross on the 3rd of October, triggered a lively debate about cycling safety around King’s Cross.

As William Perrin reported on the King’s Cross environment blog, the junction was criticised in the strongest possible terms in a road safety report commissioned by TfL in 2008.  As William puts it:

“The report was damning of the entire street environment in Kings Cross.  Sober engineer speak was interspersed with phrases like ‘highly dangerous’.”

Unfortunately, this report really has a point. However, TfL did nothing to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists. William considers to sue TfL for corporate manslaughter, BBC London reported about TfL’s failure, and the excellent “Cyclists in the City” blog got involved.

But how can you as a cyclist minimise the risks in the area?

My office is a few hundred yards north of King’s Cross station and I cycle around King’s Cross regularly.  I try to avoid the Ring road and the other busy roads like Farringdon Road like the plaque. In this post, I want to describe my routes in the King’s Cross area.

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Car free Cycling in London: North Circular

Carfree cycling in London: Finsbury Park

I’ve moved from Düsseldorf in Germany to London in October 2009. One of the things I’m missing most are my after-work rides on the bicycle. In the center Düsseldorf – a city which is normally not known for its cycling credentials – it was fairly easy to do a 15 or 20 miles bike ride without almost any car traffic. All you had to do was getting to the river Rhine.

(The GPS Track is also available here.)

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My own Superhighways (I): Paddington – King’s Cross/St. Pancras

There has been a lot of fuss around the Barclays Cycle Superhighways in London – and a lot of criticism. This is the gospel according to “Transport for London” (TfL).

Barclays Cycle Superhighways are new cycle routes that run into central London from outer London to provide cyclists with safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city. The new routes are clearly marked and easy to follow.

By 2015 twelve of those cycle paths are supposed to be built. Currently two are in operation. However, a lot of cyclists severely criticise the superhighways.

Be that as it may. Here I want to present a different view on the issue. I’m going to present my own personal cycle superhighways. Or, to put it differenly and with an appropriate degree of decency, the real cycle superhighways. Most of them are not running into central London from outer parts of the city but are running across central London – routes that I frequently use on my Brompton.

My personal cycling philosophy probably is different than that of the ordinary London cyclist.  I’m trying to avoid busy “A” and “B” roads as well as large roundabouts asmuch as possible. Both are notorious accident hot spots where almost all fatal cycling accidents happen. I just don’t use them.  Most of the time, that’s amazingly easy. You’ll (almost) never see me on the Old Street roundabout, on Euston Road or High Holborn. I’m constantly looking for routes on quieter roads and trying to avoid those notorious accident hotpots.

Here’s my first example: going from Paddington station to King’s Cross station.

View and download the route ad

The most straightforward way to go there would be the ring road (Marylebone Road, Euston Road). For cyclists, however, that route is a complete and utter nightmare. The northern ring road is one of the busiest and most congested roads of the city with dozens of bus lines, a lot of lorries and way too many cars. Cycling there is definitely no fun.

However, there is a great alternative which is almost completely car-free. Just use the canal.

Looking for a real cycling superhighway?

Since I’ve moved to London in October 2009 I’ve always been a big fan of the canals for cycling. But it took me almost 1.5 years to realize that there is a direct link between King’s Cross (where I work) and Paddington (where I have to get sometimes to catch a train to Oxford). This route is approximately 1.5 km longer than taking the ring road but it’s MUCH safer (I haven’t seen a lorry at the canal, lately, for instance.)

Today, in the early afternoon, it took me 28 minutes to cycle from Paddington to King’s Cross. The tube takes 19 Minutes, and the highly theoretical travel time by car according to Google Maps is 13 minutes (probably at 3am, that’s doable, in the peak hours I bet it’s more than double). I reckon that taking the canal route adds 6 to 8 minutes to the cycling journey time at most.

From my personal point of view, instead of painting existing cycle paths blue, at least some superhighway funds would have better been invested in upgrading the cycle paths at the canal. Underneath some bridges, for example,  the path is very narrow and should be widened.

Do you have your own personal cycle superhighways? Just tell me, please!

On a rather shaky start – and a brilliant night

Last night, finally, the first Friday Night Ride to the Coast was taking place. For me, it all had started rather awkwardly.

Shadow on the wall

On Wednesday, I realised that I really do need a new handlebar for the Grasshopper. Thanks to  frequent tumbles when I was learning how to ride a recumbent the handlebar got a little bit twisted. I probably could use it for another 10 years, but I don’t take any chances with regard to such vital parts. Alright, I’d always fantasised about doing a night ride on the Brompton. Well, here you go.

Good morning, Essex

The second issue was due to a guy I got to know on the German Brompton forum. He got in touch with me and told me that he was going to be in London in March. I touted the FNRttC and the joys of night riding and, rather unsurprisingly,  he got interested. We were supposed to meet prior to the ride at 10 pm at pub close to Hyde Park Corner. Well. I was there. He wasn’t. At 9.45 pm he sent me a text that he was running late. When the pub was closing at 11pm I still was on my own. I can thoroughly assure  you: There are things more funny than sitting in a London pup on a Friday night, fully dressed in Lycra and sipping on your sparkling water. (Of course, stuff happens but the guy only halfheartedly murmured an unconvincing apology.)

[Question to my English friends: What would you have been done in that situation? At 10.55pm I texted him: “The pub is going to close at 11pm. You guys are clowns. See you at HPC”. Would you consider this rude?]

But anyway. When I got to Hyde Park Corner and had chatted with some so the usual suspects this was quickly forgotten.

Apart from the shaky start the ride was utterly brilliant. I was absolutely delighted and amazed that Andy, a recumbent rider who introduced me to the FNRttC, was on the ride. He’d got clipped by a van recently and suffered quite severe leg injuries. He has been (and will be) the only one in the  history of mankind who did a FNRttC with having a crutch mounted to his bike. Absolutely outstanding!)

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The Joy of Night Riding

My German friends frequently ask me how I like living in London. My answers are highly dependent on my current mood and my recent experiences. One thing is for sure: In certain respects it’s definitely better to be a tourist in London than an inhabitant.

The Friday Night Ride to the Coast

However, even when I’m completely fed up, there is one thing I always praise. It’s the FNRttC.

The what?

The “Friday Night Ride to the Coast”. That`s probably one of the weirdest bike rides in the world. And most definitely one of the greatest.

Between March and November, on a Friday night, once a month a group of cyclists meet at Hyde Park Corner at midnight and ride to the coast. (Technically, the ride should be labeled “Saturday Morning right to the Coast” because it starts on Friday, 12pm.)

Today (March 18th, 2011), the night riding season finally starts again . Around 11.30pm, more than 100 cyclists will meet at Hyde Park Corner. At 12pm sharp the group is going to leave – we’ll be heading towards Southend on Sea (around 55 miles). Southend is the shortest and most easiest ride but perfect for this time of the year.

I’ve been looking forward to this for several months.

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