Situated on the West side of London, UK, where the North Circular Road (or A406) meets up with the Western Avenue (or the A40 if you prefer), the Hanger Lane Gyratory System is perhaps as bitter a disappointment as anyone could hope for.
If you are unfamiliar with gyratory systems, the name seems dark and intriguing, bristling with a thousand possibilities - it just oozes Heath Robinson with a hint of Hieronymous Bosch. So what could be more of a let-down than to discover that it's just a big roundabout with a pretentious name?
So why not just call it a 'roundabout'? Well it appears that when such a rotary intersection grows too big for its boots, acquiring multiple lane markings and complex filtered multiphase traffic lights, the basic roundabout priority rules break down, so the powers that be have decided that these things must be called something else. Evidently the term 'gyratory' won the day.
What's it for?
Like any other road junction it's there to connect some roads together. Once you've recovered from the overwhelming mundanity however it turns out to do a storming job of it.
To begin with its namesake, Hanger Lane enters the gyratory from the South (on which side Hangar Lane is also called the A406, and is often referred to as the North Circular Road, although the maps appear to disagree on that point), and leaves it heading approximately NW, but by this time it has been stripped of all other titles. The 'A406' and (if local legend is true) 'North Circular Road' monikers are conferred trans-gyratorily onto a road which has no other titles, finding the 'A406' and 'North Circular Road' combination to be sufficient for its purposes1.
Meanwhile, the ever popular A40 which, in this part of town calls itself (rather grandly) the 'Western Avenue' enters the fray. Just to complicate matters it goes both onto and under the gyratory. Depending on which lane you choose for your approach, you will either be directed onto the gyratory itself, or through an underpass, bypassing it entirely2.
In order to spice things up a little, some local roads have got into the game - many would say that a meeting of arterial highways of such consequence would be enough to make any self-respecting road junction proud. But no such high-mindedness applies here - anyone can have a go! Thus the quaintly-named 'Twyford Abbey Road' (whether they mean the Twyford 30 miles away in Berkshire, or the one 80 miles away in Wiltshire is hard to tell, since it appears to head directly away from either of them) joins on the NE corner, while a building identifying itself portentously as 'Western House' gets to feed not one, but two access roads into the system.
The icing on the cake however was an act of sheer town planning genius! What else would you put smack in the middle of the meeting of several major roads and an assortment of minor ones but a London Underground station? To keep in the spirit of the whole affair there even appears to be road access to it from the gyratory, presumably for the benefit of adrenaline addicts who have long since tired of relatively sane pursuits such as bungy jumping.
If you're looking for a place to hone your London driving technique, then the Hanger Lane gyratory system offers some attractive features:
- There are plenty of other cars to annoy3.
- It features deeply misleading lane markings combined with several acres of tarmac, giving scope for truly heroic feats of lane protocol abuse.
- It boasts wide run-off areas (eg, the A40, the A406) should you outreach yourself.
- It's covered in Shell grip (or some similar high-grip surface), so you should be able achieve cornering speeds that will put a huge grin on both your and your local tyre dealer's faces.
- It's just a big roundabout, so if you actually had some specific destination in mind, you can always go round again if you missed your exit, although this could take 20 minutes or more in the rush hour.
But before you rush there to try out your gyration technique, here are a few tips:
The lane markings are there to give the experienced drivers an edge: they do this by utterly confusing neophytes through the simple expedient of being inaccurate, so it's best to ignore them. Simply select the lane which is moving fastest, or which is least crowded, and then aim towards your exit as it approaches. This can be easier said than done - if you are not in an appropriately-marked lane by the time you get within an 1/8th of a gyration of your exit, you are in danger of getting elbowed out either by drivers who are already in the correct lane, or more likely by the other chancers who are doing exactly what you're trying to do... In fact there's always a good chance that even if you are in the proper lane you'll be forced out of it by someone attempting an audacious run all the way around the outside of the gyratory system for a laugh.
The inside lane technique proving so popular on lesser roundabouts (viz hug the corners on the innermost lanes, usually the emptiest, and then slingshot out towards your exit) is troublesome here. The main problem is that you can find yourself with three lanes to cross in as many seconds, each of which will be full of cars. Always plan your escape route - if you can't see a clear path to where you need to get to, at least get yourself in the vicinity of your exit lane in advance.
That said, the inside lane technique can work well until you are within about 1/4 gyration of your exit, although it must always be balanced against ambient lane occupancy. On entry to the system your lane choice is essentially irrelevant, but not everyone seems to realise this, a fact which can be exploited to your advantage. You may find that the right hand lane is backed up because everyone thinks this will get them round faster, and yet the next lane across is empty. Take it - a visibly clear path wins hands down over an anticipated strategic route almost every time.
Car drivers should beware of motorbikes, which will wait until the lights are about to change, and then suddenly sneak up on you. They hunt in packs of four, and perform flanking manoeuvres on cars at the front of traffic light queues. Apparently they have been misled by the fact that their vehicles can leave any car for dead on a 0-60mph sprint. They fail to realise than from 0-10mph a reasonably swift car has the considerable advantage of being very unlikely to pull a wheelie when accelerating flat out. It's very annoying to be forced into a sluggish start having secured a prime position at the lights, but since the alternative is mowing down some bikers, you just have to put up with it.
But otherwise, just get out there, be careful and enjoy yourself!
1 UK planning authorities keep alive the charming and fun tradition of a road naming scheme that is very nearly consistent (in order to fool the casual observer) but is so subtle in its fickleness as to throw even the most seasoned traveller off course.
2 This compounds the inevitable disillusionment.
3 Admittedly not often in short supply in London.