There's been construction works at Highbury Corner for years.
But now it's all over. And Highbury Corner is more of a corner than ever.
This used to be a massive three-lane roundabout, but that's no more. Instead, the road loops around the arboretum, and creates a whole new public space.
So why the want to de-roundabout Highbury Corner? It all stems from the Mayor's Healthy Streets initiative., which aims to encourage cycling and walking, so the junction has been redesigned with public crossings and segregated cycle lanes.
It officially launched on Wednesday 2 October, with a grand opening attended by Khan himself, but this is a bit misleading. The changes to the junction happened earlier this summer, while the paved public space has also been open for a few days.
Here in Highbury we've completely transformed Highbury Corner into a much safer junction for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) October 2, 2019
Every improvement like this helps us get more Londoners walking and cycling - key to cleaning up London’s toxic air.#DeliveringChangeForLondon pic.twitter.com/u4ir8n9DI9
As for the access to the green area in the middle of the old roundabout... well, it currently isn't accessible. We went mere hours after the official launch to find bright orange fencing as seen below. Seems it was briefly removed for the official photos earlier, only to be replaced immediately.
Even so, it's clear that the green space will be pleasant when it opens, and considering how busy Highbury & Islington station gets, having plenty of extra room for pedestrians outside is a bonus. The benches bordering the grass are a handy place to wait if you're meeting someone — or alternatively, take a pint across the road from the local 'spoons (something we saw a fair bit).
What of changes to the actual road? Well, there are the new segregated bike lanes. These protect cyclists using the junction, and on the whole work reasonably well, separating cyclists from traffic around nearly the entire junction (we'll get to that 'nearly' in a second).
Despite the junction being reconfigured partly for their benefit, we saw a few cyclists travelling between Upper Street and Holloway Road skipping the lanes and instead heading through the pedestrianised area. It's easy to shake a fist and cry *darn cyclists with no regard for the rules of the road*, but there might be a reason for this. Firstly, it's far quicker this way round — perhaps a cycle lane cut through could work here — but secondly, things can and do still go wrong at the points where the lanes aren't segregated.
This is because the build up of motorised traffic occasionally blocks cyclists' paths. We saw a car driver mistakenly pull into the cycle lane, only to find themselves boxed in by traffic when they tried to pull out. While they waited, bikes had to manoeuvre around them.
And yes, following on from that point, there is more of a build up of motorised traffic. Cars and buses frequently splay across the junction jockeying for position. This is always inevitable when roads are ceded to pedestrians — see Archway gyratory and Old Street roundabout for other examples in Islington. But if London is to commit to relying less on personal vehicles — to make it a healthier place — perhaps this traffic is a necessary evil for now.
As the Mayor puts it:
With thousands of people dying prematurely every year as a result of our dirty air and our continuing inactivity crisis, it is essential other boroughs follow the lead of Islington in getting more Londoners walking and cycling as part of their everyday routine.