On the tram lines

“Don’t mention the trams…” was a bit of a running joke around my office for a while. One of the people I work with, in particular, could be guaranteed to go off on an enormous rant on the subject with minimal provocation. Now that the construction has finally finished, the opportunities for tram-based rants have, thankfully, decreased, but they continue to cause me a problem.

Or rather, the tracks do.

I’m really nervous that I am going to slip on the tracks and fall off. Now a low-speed fall in itself might be OK (see my pothole accident), but equally might not be (I have slight but permanent damage to one thumb after falling off on what we think was diesel). But what I really don’t want is to end up in a heap in the middle of the road with people trying to drive into the place I have fallen in to. Especially in the dark; one disadvantage of relying on the lights on your bike to make you visible is that they are not so much use if you have become detached from said bike.

I therefore always take the council’s advice and aim to cross the tracks at 90 degrees. This is all very sensible, but it isn’t what the drivers of the cars around me are expecting me to do. Coming from the Dalry Road at Haymarket, the natural angle to stay in the line of traffic would be about 45 degrees across the tracks. If I start in the left-hand lane and I go at 90 degrees to the tracks, it takes me away to the left of the traffic flow, and I then have to try and get back into it again before the lights change and traffic starts coming from some completely different direction. I have found that it is actually better to be in the right-hand lane, which is actually the lane that the right-turning cars use, then when I move left I’m still in the traffic lanes. It causes all sorts of confusion behind me, of course, because no one understands what I am doing and I can’t signal because I need both hands on the handlebars while going over the tram tracks. There are nice yellow signs saying “Cyclists beware tram tracks” but nothing about “Motorists allow cyclists time and space to cross tram tracks safety”. That would just be too much to ask.

However the junction that I really hate is turning right from Charlotte Square into Princes Street. In fact I hate it so much that I have started going round a longer way just to avoid it. I get into the right-hand lane at the South Charlotte Street exit but once I have gone slowly in a straight line I’m really in the middle lane of three, which is a lane you’d take if you want to go left down Lothian Road. But I don’t want to go left, I want to go straight on into Shandwick Place. I can’t use the straight-on lane, though, because it is full of tram tracks and then there’s some dodgy surface between the tram track bit and the non tram track bit. So once I am over the tracks I signal right (and usually get overtaken on the right by someone who thinks I’m about to move left) and cycle along the divide between the two lanes, while drivers blast past me on my left with no space (while I’m in rant mode, why do people think it is OK to whiz past me with no space when I am waiting to turn right? I might have one foot on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that being close-passed at 30mph+ is a pleasant experience.) And then, assuming the light to go straight on to Shandwick Place is red, I have to stand at the edge of the lane while people drive past me within touching distance until I get a green light.

Phew.

So, when I realised that I can go round Charlotte Square, though Hope Street and Queensferry Street and then left down Alva Street and William Street I was very pleased, even though it is a longer way round. That way, I get a single crossing of the tram tracks at 90 degrees. I can do that.

So, how would I fix these junctions? The first problem, of course, is that cyclists were not taken into account when the tracks were put in. But ripping up the tracks simply isn’t going to happen. My problem, certainly, is that I am having to deal with the tracks and traffic at the same time. In fact, I wonder if I find the two junctions particularly bad because I go through them after 7pm when traffic is lighter and people are able to drive faster and more aggressively. Certainly a simple fix, that would benefit existing cyclists though probably not attract any new ones, would be to add a 30 second bicycle only start phase to the Dalry Road lights. That way, if you were waiting at the lights, you could get over the tracks before the cars and so on started moving. I wonder if it would work? Or would everyone ignore it? You might need cameras to enforce it (cameras would be useful at that junction anyway, to enforce the yellow box…)

The Princes Street junction is much harder, though, unless you really reduce the amount of traffic going through there; or stop it altogether. But that’s a discussion for another post.

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On going to visit my parents

So my parents live about 100 miles away, and the other weekend I decided to go and see them. By bicycle, as you do. Now I will admit that a 200 mile round trip probably does not count as utility cycling, especially as I didn’t get to see all that much of my parents, as I turned up mid afternoon on the Saturday and left again first thing on the Sunday morning. I really enjoyed the outward trip, but the return leg took me much longer. This was partly because I was tired, of course, but also on the outward leg I went along the obvious route, pretty much exactly as I would drive (the exception being that I would use the Edinburgh bypass in a car and you’re not allowed to cycle on it). On the other hand, the return leg used a lot of quieter back roads, which had more hills and corners and needed me to stop and get the map out. In other words, unsurprisingly the fastest route in the car was the fastest route by bike, too.

That fast route is a main road, and I was a bit concerned about what the traffic would be like, but actually it was fine. I mean, fine if you are used to busy main road traffic and can deal with the odd numpty who thinks that they can overtake on the crest of a blind hill (yes, I’m looking at you, oh driver of the white Audi, and yes there was something coming the other way) or the people who seem to think that because the car in front has got past they car too, but with half as much overtaking room – the usual things that mean that for many people the suggestion that one might cycle even a short distance on that road would bring the response “no, far too dangerous”. ¬†The scariest moment was actually a pair of trucks who were travelling right behind one another – the first one pulled out just a little to go round me, so I moved into what they call the sacrificial tarmac by the side of the road to get to a bit more space and so the following lorry didn’t seem to move out at all. They had foreign number plates and I have seen it suggested that drivers of left hand drive¬†vehicles sometimes leave less space because they can see the cyclist better – but I don’t think there’s any excuse for passing so close. And it is driving like that that keeps cyclists off the road. In spite of the odd moment, I rolled up to my parents’ front door saying “that was a lot of fun”.

The return leg was not so much fun. As I said, I used a lot more back roads and they were much quieter. And hillier and more twisty. And I was tired. And I had a headwind. Still, in the end I got back, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not sure if I’ll do it again in a hurry, though I do quite fancy cycling down and getting the train back.