Way back in the mists of time there was something called the Enfys Network.
This was Cardiff Council’s plan to develop a cross-city cycle network, using mostly paint-on-the road cycle lanes, of the kind that runs alongside parked cars on Cathays Terrace (which was part of this network). Fairoak and Monthermer Road in Cathays were also to be part of this network. You can spot the roads which were intended to form part of the network by looking out for the jolly children’s paintings of cyclists which adorn the BT/Virgin cabinets on the streets thereabouts.
One of the streets that rejoiced in being recruited for Enfys is Shirley Road. Along with Fairoak and Ninian, this road takes a lot of commuter traffic – cars mostly – and has a generally ignored 20mph speed limit. It also has in common with them the fact that it meets Fairoak Roundabout, one of the busiest in this bit of Cardiff, and one of the worst blackspots for collisions. So why is it so dangerous?
Here’s the last 21 years of incidents there as visualised by www.crashmap.co.uk.
Roundabouts don’t need to be so dangerous. The way they’re often designed in UK, however, is to maximise ‘flow’ and capacity – in other words, to ensure that the largest number possible of vehicles is entering and exiting the junction at any one time. By vehicles here is meant motor vehicles, something which is implicit in how flow is maximised – that is, by adding ‘flare’ to the arms of the roundabout. This invites motorists to approach the roundabout using their sight lines to anticipate whether they’ll need to give way to traffic coming from their right, and then continuing across the give-way line and round the roundabout without slowing too much if they’re able to avoid it. Roundabouts of this size (3 or 4 arms) are designated as ‘Normal’ roundabouts in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (2007) used by Welsh Government and the relevant highways bodies in the rest of the UK. Two lanes round the roundabout itself are required to service the number of exits. This generally means that there is room to use the roundabout at a higher speed if it’s possible to.
I remember very clearly my driving instructor pressing home the use of sight lines and anticipation when approaching roundabouts to avoid having to slow too much. In the service of the cardinal rule of driving, I was asked to ‘make progress’, and not to slow down traffic behind me. After all, drivers have a duty to the God of Flow, as do road planners.
Of course, where gods are concerned, there tend to be sacrifices involved too. I find it amazing that this roundabout was supposed at one point to connect to Enfys, which was Cardiff Council’s great hope ten years ago for ‘encouraging cycling’ (encouraging, by thw way, is not the same as ‘enabling’ or ‘making easier’) in the city. Because the great sacrifice associated with this junction has been the safety of vulnerable road users, and particularly that of cyclists.
Here’s another couple of images from Crashmap.co.uk, comparing road traffic collisions at Fairoak where cars (not other motor vehicles) hit cyclists or pedestrians, between 1999 and 2020.
The difference here is significant. The roads leading up to the roundabout are all crossed by zebra crossings signalled by belisha beacons, but the sightlines to these from the roundabout itself are in several instances very bad, with the worst undoubtedly being from the Lake Road West exit up Wedal Road. I’ve seen several cases of pedestrians being scared out of their wits while crossing Wedal Rd south to north and nearly being hit by a driver coming off the roundabout who was far too keen on ‘making progress’ and ‘maintaining traffic flow’.
But bad as the junction is for pedestrians, for cyclists it’s a lot worse. The problem rests with the geometry of the roundabout – the ‘flare’ factor – which encourages motorists to anticipate early, look for oncoming motor traffic, and to keep going if at all possible to continue appeasing the Great God of Flow.
Here’s a typical example of what happens all too often here.
The problem here is pretty clear, especially from the first of those vids. When drivers approach the roundabout at speed, slowing a little and anticipating cars, vans, buses, lorries approaching from the right, then when no such vehicles are there they just keep driving.
In both of those incidents, I was wearing my customary bright blue hi viz. It was broad daylight. I’m a six foot bloke on a bike. Bit of a streak of piss, maybe, but if you can’t see me in my regular attire in those conditions, you really shouldn’t be driving. The issue is not cyclists’ lack of visibility. As I posted about before, the problem is that drivers often do not look for cyclists. They are not trained to, are simply not sensitised to our presence – and so they do not see us, even when we are clown-suited up in best Road Safety Industry-approved garb.
The design of this ‘normal’ roundabout (together with the way we are trained to worship the God of Flow when we’re behind the wheel of a car) more or less incentivises this kind of error. It rewards drivers who are able to anticipate motorised traffic with that blissful experience of continued flow. But it penalises cyclists at the same time, a fact to which the collision statistics bear eloquent witness. Drivers look early, see no evidence of the larger, faster vehicles which they’ve been trained to look for, and miss anything smaller and slower, no matter how many flashing lights and fluorescent stripes they happen to be festooned with.
Three weeks after the first of those vids was filmed, a friend of mine was knocked off his bike on Fairoak roundabout, in circumstances that made me remember the time I saw a cyclist hit there, knocked off by a driver who entered the roundabout from Ninian Road without even trying to stop. This is one of those places I can foresee something similar happening to me one day.
It desperately needs a root and branch redesign. Might as well redesign the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (2007) while we’re at it.
Have you experienced an incident at Fairoak Roundabout? Post in the comments below – include a link to any videos you have if you can.