Living here, I have lots of nice places within easy cycling distance. Indeed, also walking distance. But what I’m missing is places to walk.
The trouble is the monster main road: the six-lane dual carriageway along the estuary. Walk that and not only do I get filthy on the outside, but the lungs fill with crap so I feel grotty throughout. The third road that actually goes somewhere is no better: it’s small but busy, little different to walk, and much worse to cycle. Ouch 😦
On a bike, these roads have the redeeming feature of brevity: it’s never long before I can get off them and onto something nicer. On foot, no such thing: they’re all a barrier to going out. Fortunately there is an alternative: I can go up the hill a short way on quiet residential streets (enjoying the view) and thence into footpaths and parkland. I can make a pleasant enough short walk mostly off road: for example up to Efford Cemetery, then back on another variant of the route. Another direction from the same start takes me to Marsh Mills, which is a hub of terrible roads, but also a vast retail park where I can get many things I’d hitherto have expected only to find online.
What about getting to any kind of walking country? The Plym Valley, the Coast Path, or even just across the estuary to Saltram? Access to any of these destinations is cut off not merely by the road, but by the Sentinels: monuments to terrible design that turn a simple crossing into a nightmare.
Let’s take a look at what I have to navigate to get home if I’ve just been across the estuary. At the head of the estuary it narrows rapidly to a fairly small river, and that is where transport routes converge. First the A38 parkway – the big road, which is elevated – appears overhead on the right. The landscape becomes one of urban dereliction, and vegetation gives way to polluted-land scrub. Next the path rises to go over the railway. Immediately to the left the railway goes over a bridge across the river, while to the right, the slip road to the parkway is tantalisingly close (as seen in google maps from the slip road). Either railway bridge or parkway would take me where I want to go, but both are firmly inaccessible.
Instead the path descends again the far side of the railway and goes diagonally under the parkway and its slip roads on both sides. Returning to the river upstream from rail and road, there’s still no crossing, so I have to walk some distance up the river until I hit another road, the B3416. This is a five-lane dual carriageway. If it’s not too busy I can cross the first half painlessly, but for the second half – where the traffic comes sweeping round a blind bend from the parkway – I have to wait (usually quite a long time) for the lights to change.
Now finally the way is clear to turn and head back in the direction I need to go, following the B3416 back to the parkway (crossing another couple of minor roads on the way). This time I’m at the level of the roundabout, so I have to cross the slip roads in three crossings. Approaching the roundabout, the slip road is bifurcated, so two separate crossings – the first two lanes, the second three – are required. Fortunately the lights for these give me plenty of time, as their real purpose is to control traffic entering the roundabout. Now back under the parkway and some way along it, until I can cross the final slip road – again with traffic sweeping round a bend at me – to my side of the estuary.
Phew! At least that way there are light-controlled crossings of all the big roads. The other evil Sentinel – to get between Laira Bridge and Plymstock – has no such help: pedestrians are faced with a choice only of which of the big dual carriageways to cross. And of how far out of the way to go to put distance between yourself and the roundabout, so you can at least see what traffic is coming on the road you’re trying to cross (though that only works on the bypass: the other way has too many roundabouts to get a relatively-safe distance from any of them).
Yes I do enjoy cycling, and none of these are as bad from a bike – provided you’re not scared to assert yourself and take the lane for wherever you’re going, which may mean crossing lanes of traffic. But walking is surely the most basic and natural way to get out, and it’s a bit miserable having to do battle with these ghastly Sentinels every time. Especially when it would be so easy with a little thought to give us some decent routes!