Blackspot: Lake Road West

Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House)

Or roads, Shirley. Some roads are just…evil.

Lake Road West is one of them. Running parallel to Allensbank Road, north from Fairoak roundabout, it’s another vital link from the Roath and Cathays neck of the woods to north Cardiff. For cyclists, it’s another commuter route towards the city from the north and has the advantage of running alongside the endlessly wonderful Roath Park Lake. It’s also the quickest way to get to Worley’s Hardware and to Lendon’s Model Shop from where I live. Those are some positives, which are sadly quickly overshadowed, once you get to know it, by the bad. The very, very bad.

It’s a wide-ish 30mph road (though there’s an advisory, unenforced 20mph limit there at the moment at the time of writing, a holdover from the first Covid lockdown) and feels like a fast one, possibly to do with the park offering open views on one side. A lot of drivers break the speed limit probably without even noticing. Some drivers overtake other drivers who are actually observing the speed limit.

It’s generally lined with parked cars on both sides, which should make it feel slower (though again, thanks to Covid at the time of writing much of the parking on the lake side has been removed which may undermine the new speed limit somewhat). It has some strategically placed crossing points and minimalist pedestrian refuges to create pinch points. Unfortunately these encourage drivers to try and race cyclists through in their eternal question to ‘make progress’ and stop the red needle from dropping below 30, or 33, or 40.

It’s with those traffic islands that the evil of Lake Road West really starts. The problem is that, like certain roundabouts that were also born bad, once they’re on LRW it’s as if a malign influence takes over the minds – already weakened by inhaling too many petrol fumes presumably – of certain drivers. There’s one stretch in particular that just sends people over the edge.

Back in December 2015, the driver of a stupid-looking 4×4 was trying to overtake a cyclist at the pinch point by Roath Park’s main gates. They didn’t quite manage it, and sustained minor injuries. Though if someone had been walking along the pavement at 11 am that morning by the traffic island, they’d not have been so lucky. Then in December 2019, at the same spot, this happened. Again, lucky no-one was on the pavement when this nutter managed to lose control of his car and actually demolish the gates and gate posts at Roath Park.

But the malefic miasma of LRW isn’t limited to that one spot. When I tweeted this back in October, the number of comments below about similar experiences on Lake Road West was pretty eye-opening.

There was at least one example in there of an incident of a near assault – which recalled for me one day back in 2018 when a driver who failed to anticipate me moving out round a parked car tried to attack me with his vehicle, up near the main gates to Roath Park.

Thankfully incidents like that aren’t common. But as with a lot of roads where close-passing is a constant occurrence, the road design and how it’s used ensure that some situations do arise again and again and again, returning like an unkillable revenant. The most characteristic LRW close pass is when a driver doing 30+ towards oncoming traffic decides they don’t want to stop ‘making progress’ and just guns it into the closing gap between the cyclist they’re about to overtake and the oncoming cars they need to avoid.

Another common example is the driver who (like the one who tried to assault me) thinks that cyclists will just use their eerie cyclist powers to astrally project straight through parked cars, rather than needing to move out into the lane to pass them. Anticipation? Nah.

Some times of day are, as usual, way worse than others. The school run to Cardiff High School presents some excellent examples of the close-passer’s art.

Surely it would be too much of a stretch to, as with Hill House, just blame the evil agency of Lake Road West for what drivers do when they drive down it. But cars amplify certain human dispositions, and the ways some roads are designed amplify some of these behavioural tendencies still further (which is why the idea of sustainable safety needs to be central to improving things on our roads).

An exorcism is probably needed. One which would ideally be provided by a one-way gyratory all the way around Roath Park, with protected cycle lanes. Cardiff Council’s mention of a ‘one-way traffic and a segregated cycle route through Roath Recreation Ground & Roath Park corridor’ in the Cardiff Covid Recovery Strategy [PDF] hopefully points the way….

Have you experienced an incident while cycling or walking on Lake Road West? Post in the comments below – include a link to any videos you have if you can.

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