Why do cyclists dislike one way systems/gyratories so much?

I've heard a lot of fellow cyclists complain about the one way systems and gyratory junctions prevalent in London. I'd be really interested to know what the rationale behind these complaints is as I've never found them particularly worse to cycle through than other kind of junction.

I can't help but wonder if the problem is more that these junction designs tend to be found on the more major and busy junctions (e.g. King's Cross) and if the issue is really that these junctions are busy, rather than the design of these junctions. Yes, they do have some disadvantages - you may have to go a slightly longer way around and you navigation/determing the correct lane for your intended journey may be more challenging - but these don't uniquely apply to cyclists. To me making these junctions two way would create problems of its own - you'd have more traffic flowing down certain sections of the junction (a gyratory system can spread traffic out - by funnelling traffic going in the most popular directions round the sections of the junctions that would otherwise be less busy), you'd have to cross oncoming traffic to turn right, right turning oncoming traffic would cross you (and oncoming traffic would delay right turning traffic, depending on the traffic lights). You'd potentially also see less restricted turns which would increase the chances of cyclists being left hooked.

So, what do you dislike (or like) about gyratories and one way systems and what would you like to see tfl do instead?


  • By Austen at 3:55pm 8 July 2012

One-way streets encourage and enable drivers to speed up - there's no risk of hitting something coming the other way.  And if you're a cyclist, being in front of and being overtaken by such drivers is no fun - it feels dangerous and often is.

When one-way systems and gyratories have high-speed motor traffic flow as their priority, the negative impact on cyclists is multiplied.

Then there's the obvious disadvantage for all road users - you can't get where you want to go because you've been diverted along a one-way system instead.

In Croydon our town centre is a maze of one-way streets which confuse visitors and cause local drivers to endure unnecessary detours.  It's a great way to encourage pavement cycling too, it seems.

One-way systems and gyratories belong in the dustbin of urban planning initiatives, along with pedestrian subways and railings.


Gyratories are effectivly multi lane speed traps.


Motorists just put their foot down and cross lanes of traffic at will. As a cyclist trying to navigate these can be suicidal!!!

As Austen says, gyratories form immense barriers to those not in motor vehicles - to have to pedal around a race-track amongst fast light traffic or dense slower, heavily -laden with a child or shopping is at best uncomfortable. In Morden it seems like a mile . In Mitcham and Wimbledon at best it's unpleasant. 

If you move slowly, through age, illness or impairment, you are penned in the middle of roads you subsidise, and have to give priority to the motorised while you get soaked and frozen. And we all choke.

It is not fair; its inequitable;it should change.

Large one way systems are designed purely for the needs of motor vehicles travelling through. They have no other benefit than speeding up through traffic and therfore don't belong in urban areas.

Your cycle and walking journey becomes longer (more effort) and requires negotiating more junctions (more exposure to risk). They are therefore an anti cycling and walking measure.

Regarding cycling the effect can be mitigated by exempting cyclists from the gyratory operation. For large gyratory systems (e.g. Kings Cross) this would require substantial infrastructure which in the end wouldn't help pedestrians very much (vehciles would still go fast, bus stops would still be in the wrong places)

Particularly gyratory systems around local High Streets (e.g. Stoke Newington) are a plight for businesses on the High Street (less footfall) and for residents living on the residential streets forming 'the other leg' of the gyratory.

In short there is no defense for the gyratory. It is not easy to remove them. But removed they need to be.

This post was edited by London Cycling Campaign at 11:34am 9 July 2012.

Granted, they can be faster than two way roads.

I'm not sure I buy the idea that being overtaken by flowing traffic is more dangerous than navigating congestion though - where you have to pass through narrow gaps, potentially through blind spots, risk being crossed by lane changing traffic, risk being left in a dangerous position if the traffic lights change and so on...

Austen: "It's a great way to encourage pavement cycling too, it seems."

That's like saying traffic lights encourage red light jumping, so we souldn't have traffic lights.

London cycling campaign: "They have no other benefit than speeding up through traffic " 

You put it like that but someone in favour of them might phrase it "reducing congestion" - which is of course good for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. (It's also worth noting that's whats considered fast in central London (~30 - 40 mph) would be considered average (for a town centre) or slow (for a main road) in most of the rest of the country (granted there is more traffic on London's roads and they are often a bit more cramped).  I certainly won't disagree that quiter roads are more pleasent that major ones, though!

"Your cycle and walking journey becomes longer (more effort)"

At King's Cross, for instance, the added distance is not a lot or nothing, depending what direction you're travelling, for cyclists and buses (it's a little more for cars) and not that much extra for pedestrians either. Anyone for whom a couple of hundred extra meters (at most) is too much efford definitely needs to be cycling! :p

"and requires negotiating more junctions (more exposure to risk)" 

But I'd argue each junction in a gyratory is lower risk due to the more limited options/directions of traffic flow and lack or control of conflicting traffic. So, at worst, the risk is probably the same overall.

"Regarding cycling the effect can be mitigated by exempting cyclists from the gyratory operation. For large gyratory systems (e.g. Kings Cross) this would require substantial infrastructure which in the end wouldn't help pedestrians very much (vehciles would still go fast, bus stops would still be in the wrong places)" 

This, I guess, is a sad side effect of the fact that London was never designed, it just grew. But (to use the example of King's Cross) - with a little local knowledge it is possible to bypass the gyratory. For instance I travel daily north-south past King's Cross by bike (from York Rd. direction). Southbound I can (and do) bypass the gyratory entirely by taking a faster and more logical route around the back of KX and SP stations. Northbound there is a (mostly off road) route, that is probably about the same distance, I could use to bypass the gyratory if I wanted (I don't usually use it as I think it's slightly slower and I don't mind passing the gyratory (well really, heading south from Euston Rd. to York Rd. you sort of avoid it anyway...). Similarly I used to frequently travel east from KX to Liverpool St. and, once I knew the area, I found a better route anyway).

Surely then the problems surround routefinding/route discovery for cyclists rather than infrastructure solutions? (Granted, that won't help the pedestrians). I'd think these alternate routes are better than redesigning the junction since they're more on quite roads (redesigining the junction won't magically reduce the amount of traffic on Euston Rd.) and often more logical routes (if you tailor-pick a route for your chosen journey, anyway). Of course this would benefit regular commuters more than one off visitors but (I could be wrong here) I think that's the majority of people cycling through anyway.

I find junction such as the junction of York Way and Goods Way heading north (near KX) far worse than gyratories (this being the junction on my daily journey I least look forward to) (In this case it's the risk of being left hooked/aggravated car drivers behind you when you use the correct filter lane to eliminate that risk - the fact that you're passing up an incline doesn't help, either. When I used to pass through the centre of the gyratory system more frequently while heading back to KX from Bishopsgate I never used to find the KX gyratory nearly as bad as, say, trying to make a right turn from Wormwood St. onto Bishopsgate (http://goo.gl/maps/fWbZ) at a standard crossroads of 2-way traffic - having to wait for conflicting traffic before being able to complete the turn, without a dedicated filter phase on the lights, didn't help there.

wrt infrastructure I think tfls past record of cycling provision shows that they can't be trusted to design decent, safe, sensible cycling infrastructer (I know, this is something LCC campaigns to change ;)). I'd rather nothing was done with these junction than the tfl engineers let loose on them with the brief to build some cycle paths!

I've always found with the gyratories that, so long as one know where one is going and gets one's lane discipline correct, you can't go far wrong. (If you do make a navigational error and/or end up in the wrong lane often the best thing to do (other than cycle a detour) is just to pull up at the kerb, get off and walk back to a convenient point to rejoin your intended route. It's not really disproportionate effort (and far lukier than an unfortunate car driver who has to go all the way around the gyratory again if he makes the same mistake...)

Well that my experience and my 2 cents, anyway. I'm afraid I'm still not convinced that a gyratory is any more dangerous than any other form of junction with an equally heavy level of traffic.

You've obviously not nearly been sideswiped/t-boned by a taxi or car crossing three lanes of traffic in Parliament Square to turn left into Parliament Street/Whitehall then .....

But that happens on non one-way streets too :s Please demonstrate a causal link.

(In fact the junction on my daily ride where I'm most concerned about kind of risk is on a two way road.) Also, without knowing anything about the junction you mention, you can usually substantially reduce (although not eliminate) the risk of such issues by cycling in the correct filter lane for your journey.

I got left hooked while travelling along a quiet road through a town out of London a few weeks ago. Clearly quiet roads in towns are a massive evil and should be replaced with something else.

Clearly roads in themselves are not dangerous. Drivers and to a lesser extent other users are.

But the design of roads can encourage or reduce dangerous driving. One aspect of dangerous driving is speeding. And gyratories are designed to increase speeds.

In London a lot of gyratories are also high streets (Swiss Cottage, Kings Cross, Stoke Newington,...). These high streets cannot fulfil their potential because the gyratory system has made them into something like a motorway service station (without the service). Look at them and show me a pleasant, happy high street environment.

I repeat, you have clearly never cycled Parliament Square in rush hour.  It doesn't matter if you take the correct lane - traffic from the other side of the gyratory has to cross three lanes of traffic to get into the fourth to exit to Whitehall, and makes the assumption that you are 'only' a cyclist, therefore travelling very slowly, and it is okay to cut straight across inches in front of you, despite you being in the correct lane for your destination, which is straight ahead across Westminster Bridge (having originated from Victoria Street).

Take Lancaster gatea as an example Sussex Gardens to Bayswater road,

Have to cross 3 lanes of traffic to get on right hand side of gyratory, dodge taxi, busses and  illegal parked vehicles outside hotel then merge and cross another 3 lanes to get back on left where busses stand!..... straight on would be much better!

@LCC - I'm glad you agree that when used correctly the roads are not that dangerous, although I could actually give you a few examples of street designs in London that I think are dangerous even when used correctly (mostly involving cyclepaths that were seemingly designed to be as dangerous as possible).

I think first one has to define speeding - for the sake of this discussion I shall assume that it is defined as travelling at a speed above which is safe for the road. It follows that increasing speeds is not necessarily the same as increasing speeding. In fact I think it would be fair to say that some of these systems (KX, for example) exist to increase flow, rather than speed. This surely is a good thing for cyclists since cycling in flowing traffic is safer (at least I believe it is, I haven't researched the statistics..., it's certainly easier) than cycling in congested traffic.

I'd hardly call King's cross a high street. You've got the frontages from the stations and a bunch of slightly run down takeaways. It's not a pleasant place but actually most people just pass through on the road, rail or tube - many of them probably won't even see the outside world there. Even as someone who lived there for a year (Argyle St.) I never really lamented that fact. The only time I ever had to encounter it was catching the tube/bus (no problem since I could use the tube station as a subway to cross the road) or when I crossed to road to go to Tesco - sure I had to pass through something like 3 sets of pelican crossings to get there but meh, push button and wait for green man - it's not exactly difficult and it's something you should be willing to do and put up with if you move to central London - it's par for the course, don't like it? Live elsewhere. That traffic isn't going away, no matter how hard anyone wishes, so it's got to be accommodated somehow, somewhere.

tbh what you said just sounds like a slightly rose tinted attempt to return to 50 or 100 years in the past - the concept of the local high street doesn't really exist any more when we live in a London where there's virtually no intersection between social and geographic communities and where shopping consists of a trip to Tesco (or, increasingly, tesco.com). If there's a choice between these streets being geared around transport or around "pleasantness" then perhaps I'm too utilitarian but I'd go for transport any day since that benefits most people the most.

Of course if we could get rid of the transport issue that would be the best solution (personally I think it would be great to have a, say, 8 lane inner ring road around central London - presumably either raised or buried to simplify obtaining land and to prevent it forming an impermeable barrier - and then make the whole of central London no through route to everything except pedestrians, cyclists and service buses - traffic that needs access would still be able to get it but would be routed around central London until the nearest point to their destination while through traffic would be routed around central London entirely. Of course that may be way too expensive/never work.).

I repeat, SJSBrompton, you've failed to explain how a non gyratory road design would make for a better experience. Or take account of the needs of the other people on the road (gosh! there are other people on the road!?!), since I can only imagine that any other solution would result in queues, chaos and conflicts with oncoming traffic. It seems to me that a gyratory makes perfect sense here since, if the roads were less major, you'd presumably have a roundabout at a junction with that road layout. I'll admit I've never cycled it at rush hour (although I think I have cycled it at non-rush hour) and it may be that an off road route through the park would be a good idea for cyclists that aren't happy using it (I phrase it like that only as I regard highway code rule 61 giving the cyclist discretion over such use as sacrosanct, not because I wish to cast aspersions on your cycling ability). (This solution would only work for parliament square though, since there's a park in the middle of it - not a luxury the other gyratories have). And perhaps the construction of proper off road (not segregated on road) routes through developments on gyratories should be required (they are redeveloping the building in the middle of the KX one atm, for instance).


@cycleoptic - again, I'm not hugely familiar with that junction but it looks like (Google maps/streetview), on the merge with Bayswater road, the traffic lights should hold the traffic on Baywater rd. back so you're not actually crossing lanes with traffic? Again, I'm not really sure what could be done differently there, aside from signposting a route on minor roads for those that wish to avoid the gyratory.

hhmmm... perhaps as a young male with plenty of testosterone I'm just warped enough to enjoy the adrenaline rush from the real life game of frogger? :D :P

Anyway, I think this conversation has probably run it's course now, so unless anyone really wants me to I probably won't be posting in this thread again...

lol you really do not know the Lancaster gate gyratory do you!

There are lights at Sussex gardens but you have to get to the right before them.

At bayswater road you cross moving lanes of traffic filtering left to right whilst you go the other direction, at the point where busses stand.

try cycing it then you may be able to make informed comments.

Unfortunately most planners also seem to just look at the map, not actually experiance the junctions themselves.

I once was young, be careful or maybe you won't get to be old and experianced! 

PS Try the Archway gyratory as well

(oldie with over 30 years of commuting N to W London and remembers the original frogger on the BBC micro)

I think I have cycled it in the past (although not at rush hour) but not regularly and not enough to be completely familiar with the junction... let me get this straight, as this is what I think happens:

Coming up on LHS of sussex gardens. Maintain LHS onto gyratory, though give way. From LHS westbour st. cross 1* lane traffic into RHS centre lane and then merge into RHS lane or cross 2* lanes traffic into RHS lane (of course, you can (sometimes should) change earlier as road conditions allow, but always using leftmost suitable lane for journey). Follow single lane onto Bayswater road; cross 3 lanes to RHS of Bayswater road, but isn't the traffic on Bayswater road held at red while you cross those lanes? so that doesn't really count. (I was unclear since I was aware of the first lane crossings all along - however I don't imagine they'd be as challenging as merging onto Bayswater road would be).

At the end of the day a bit of lane work is unavoidable in London. If this was a traditional T-junction you'd probably still have to move across lanes to head west and those lanes would probably be somewhat more congested. Having a gyratory halves the amount of traffic trying to navigate each space of road since oncoming traffic is sent elsewhere.

The gyratories/major one way systems I have most experience of are KX, Smithfields (although I don't think that really counts), Camden area and TCR/Gower St. and I can't say I've ever felt the existence of the one way systems there to have  had a negative effect. I think the main problem with junctions such as KX is that they can be very, very busy which needs better solutions than just making the junctions less attractive to cars (any cycle provision on these junctions would also not alleviate the problem for cyclists unless it was properly off road through the junctions, and even then it probably would only apply to certain journeys).

Well I won't argue that London's junction planners can be poor at times, although I think they deserve a bit of sympathy. They've got to manage high volumes of motor, cycle and pedestrian traffic on roads whose basic layout was never meant to cope with that and there's often constraints such as buildings that stop them just doing what would be best. And quite frankly I'd rather take my chances in the traffic than contend with whatever nightmares they dream up for cyclists.

Haha, I like to think I am careful ;), I obey the highway code and cycle as if I were a car. I just take an unnatural enjoyment from some of the more "fun" sections of London's roads :p

This post was edited by N1 Cyclist at 10:41pm 24 July 2012.

Looks like I owe you an apology cycleoptic - I was cycling round there this evening and they don't seem to use the pedestrian crossing to hold one lot of traffic back while the other goes. They should, though.

(I don't think this affects the case for/against gyratories though, just reaffirms that TfL's road design team are a bunch of muppets)

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