Reclaiming the earth

The fashion for one-way streets is long passed its sell-by-date.

  • A month of Sundays
  • A blue moon
  • A Sheffield flood

…add to any index of proverbial rare events a head-wind Dunwich Dynamo.

2013 – the legendary beach-party’s twenty-first edition – promises this unlikely happenstance.

The balmy North-Easter is good luck for those who like an extra portion, the bonus of a gentle ride back to London. There’s a relative shortage of back-wheel on the road home. Whatever your plans after the salt-water finish don’t forget the sunblock.

A further novelty for DDXXI is an extended cyclo-cross interlude, courtesy of Essex Highways who are renewing retaining walls and drainage on Wethersfield Road on the western approaches of Sible Hedingham and have built the kind of temporary runway that goes through beer tents in Belgian winter races.

Last Friday, on the final check, I figured the ‘ROAD CLOSED’¬† and ‘DIVERSION’ signs which start 8 kilometres ahead of the works, on the exit of Wethersfield, were actually what are called – in progressive circles – these days ‘modal filters’, and that a pedestrian – even armed with a bike – would be able to force a route through without rope or crampons. When I finally reached the filter I walked through on the road with no trouble and it’s good to see that pedestrian access is maintained even if it’s considerably more elaborate now. If you’re on a tandem, and can’t get it through the gate, take the bags off and wait until enough fellow pilgrims are assembled to hoist it over without risking a hernia. Please make the negotiation quietly or the people in the house across the road will be disturbed.


Intelligence from Braintree District reports that – after a rash of complaints – the kissing gate has been removed. So we can pass EVEN MORE quietly.

Riders in pretentious half-human-half-machine footwear have the option to change into their beach shoes to yomp through the chicane. If you’re wearing shoes that don’t work for walking – and aren’t carrying a seaside change – you can follow the signed diversion via Gosfield and the A1017 and turn left at the Total garage in SH for the village hall, which will give you a bonus 10 kilometres at no extra cost; either that or turn round and go back to London because you’re not going to have much fun on the ghostly shingle of the Lost City in your stocking feet anyway.

A further, further novelty, new for 2013 Рsupposedly for a trial period but with no real chance of reversion Рwill be riding North on Mare Street, Narrow Way, Hackney Central, without transgressing a dopey Twentieth Century  prohibition on uphill cycle-traffic which was lifted earlier this year. Buses have lately been rerouted away from this human-scale shopping lane. The street is now much more convivial and more than twice as good for people on bikes.


Hackney Narrow Way is part of an old corridor whose line – or lines – are not only prehistoric they might (guidance from readers with palaeontological backgrounds very welcome) be pre-human?¬† Narrow Way, Broadway Market, Columbia Road are all on this line which connects London Bridge with the Lea Bridge Road; the lowest natural crossing points on the two great rivers. Powerscroft Road – which features in the DD’s early kilometres on the London side of the Lea – has also had a short one-way section recently returned to the default-setting, for cycle-traffic.

Two way operation makes roads easier to cross on foot, reduces the number of times you have to change lanes on a bike, makes it easier for bus passengers to find their stops and is probably more convenient for local motor-traffic. It’s better for everyone except the motor-fantasists who want the World remade as parody of car-racing circuits.

Thinking animals like us construct reality from theory. Some people abuse the privilege. The Twentieth Century vogue for one-way traffic systems can be interpreted as modifying the World to justify a prevailing assumption that automobile travel is quick and convenient even in urban areas. One-way operation always produces alienation. The days when you could rely on rolling into a town on a road named after the last one visited, find the town square and pick a road named after the next one on your itinerary may have gone but much of the infrastructure remains waiting to be reclaimed for our luxury use.

The Dunwich Dynamo – for example – aspires to historic desire lines and spends half it’s distance on roads named after their origin or destination settlements. Big holes are the gyration of Sudbury – how much sweeter to roll into the very centre of town and exit on East Street? – and the Eastern exit of Needham Market where Coddenham Road is cut to two stumps by the A14 running up the Gipping valley from Ipswich.

A fashion, a social movement – mass motorisation for example – may carry a lot of economic inertia. It may be so dominant that it’s widely treated as permanent; but nothing lasts forever. Time passes, ideas change, cities get washed away.

See you on London Fields, on the road or on the beach.