Seven Dials is a crazy roundabout, which sits on the old border for Brighton & Hove, so named because seven roads meet there. Negotiating it is tortuous for the pedestrian who hasn’t grown up with it. Most people stay behind the fences which barricade the pavements from the road. The local Council calls it, “one of the city’s most unwelcoming junctions… ” and is asking for people to register in a public consultation with a view to improving it. There’s lot’s of room for improvement.
Meanwhile, here’s some previously secret local knowledge. There’s an easy way to identify people (and foxes) who grew up in Brighton & Hove walking around Seven Dials. It’s the way they cross it. It can be crossed directly, without having to defer to the cars on the road. In fact, it can be easily crossed from and to any direction in day or night.
It’s hard to explain exactly how to do this, so I’m only going to show you the easiest one to master. At the end of the explanation, I’ll show you physical proof of this method being used regularly. The route I’m describing assumes that you have walked up New England Road, more commonly known as New England Hill, and then along Chatham Place with the intention of walking into Montpelier Crescent (with Vernon Terrace on the other side of the road). In other words, this is where you started:
The feng shui of this hill is awful. It’s bad if you’re behind the wheel, terrible for pedestrians and dreadful for cyclists. Many times I’ve been in the position of the cyclist pictured above and I can tell you that is not a pleasant place to be. Ideally, I’d like this entire road taken out of use and grassed over but I’m digressing.
Although this isn’t part of the explanation of how to cross Seven Dials, I cannot do the subject justice without mentioning where you’re coming from. See the pedestrian in the picture above? That’s a really nasty place. The traffic lights just ahead are always set to green for straight ahead. They only change for filtering right there. However, most drivers don’t seem to get that. They hit the pedal hard to beat the lights. The road narrows because there is a traffic island there. It’s not very pleasant walking up the thin pavement with cars etc., racing up from behind. Being on a bicycle is a test of faith. It’s a real pinch point.
By this point, you’re probably sweating and feeling rather discomforted by the horrible bridge experience. If it’s a nice day, there’ll be people sitting outside the Shakespeare’s Head pub (the blue building on the left). They’ll be relaxed and watching people walking past. Nice. The hill keeps going. After you cross the mouth of Howard Place, you need to start checking out the traffic behind you. This is key to the business of navigating your way straight across Seven Dials. When you get good at the technique, you will learn to slow or maintain your pace from this point, so as to perfect the style of your crossing.
Now you are on the final leg and, if you’ve charged up the hill too fast, very possibly on your last ones. The hill begins to level off. By now you need to be looking over your shoulder to assess where the gaps are in the traffic coming up the hill behind you. You want to reach the crossing just before the roundabout to coincide with one of those gaps.
If you’ve mastered the preparatory technique, you will walk up the crossing shown above to coincide with a gap in the traffic. Immediately before the railings begin, take a broad step out to the right, out into the road. Do not put yourself in the gutter. You won’t be owning the lane, it is broad. The hill isn’t quite finished; the ‘summit’ is actually just before the centre island of the roundabout ahead.
Do not hesitate. The really enjoyable bit is just ahead but to get there you need to be walking in big, clear strides. As you walk on, you won’t need to look behind yourself any more. You will need to be looking to your right, keeping an eye on Southbound traffic approaching the roundabout from the North on Dyke Road. You can ignore Prestonville Road (immediately to your right) – it’s one way and only accepts cars entering it from the roundabout. Obviously you don’t want to walk directly into traffic on the roundabout but their route is so fraught with difficulty that they will be travelling fairly slowly. When you first try this, it might not seem like that but believe me, they are easy to avoid. I was nervous too, the first time I did this, as a teenager.
This is it. This is the moment when your timing and technique combine to prove yourself either as the smoothest walker or a fumbling fool. When you reach the white line marking the boundary of the roundabout you will take note whether there is traffic entering it from the North, from Dyke Road. If there is, you need to perform a little half step in whichever direction keeps the timing to allow that car to go past. If there isn’t you can keep walking without breaking your stride. Two paces into the roundabout, you’ll feel the crest of the hill. Oh what a wonderful feeling. At this point only a murderous moron or someone using the worst route ever to escape a police tail will drive directly at you with enough speed to catch you. You’ve done it! The rest of your walk will be utterly straight forward. You can complete it without bothering to look around yourself. Admittedly, this can take a bit of getting used to.
Aim for the kerb corner just ahead of you. From that point you can walk either in the road or on the kerb on the traffic side of the metal fence. I prefer the road: it’s so much freer, so much more… expansive.
Next you cross the junction with the Northbound carriage of Dyke Road. This is one way, as you can see from the road markings in the picture above. I should be sensible here and say that it is worth a half-glance over your shoulder at this point, lest some driver has forgotten to read the signs. You do sometimes get people turning left here and there are occasional head on collisions around that corner. This is partly why I walk in the road – that prevents a driver from making that error. It also means you block the view of traffic trying to enter the roundabout. They have to give way to everything on their right, which includes you. You are firmly established on the roundabout and thus have the right of way. Walk straight towards the tree.
Immediately before you walk past the tree, step to your left. There is a gap between the metal fence and the tree. There is a kerb stone placed between the base of the tree and the fence. With a little practice you can step your right foot on this stone, lean back slightly and swing your left foot onto the pavement on Montpelier Crescent.
In all the years I’ve lived in Brighton and had to walk up this bloody hill to get to Hove, I’ve seen this kerb stone slowing tilting under the pressure of local footfall. I know it isn’t forced up by the tree’s roots because periodically it is lifted and replaced with a new one, which is laid completely flat in exactly the same position. Then the process starts again. It always tips so that the Eastern end of the stone starts to lean down, which is exactly the way in which your foot leans on it when you take this direct route across Seven Dials. It seems to be replaced or reset about once a decade, perhaps slightly more often. Here’s a close shot of the kerb stone I’m talking about:
Obviously I’ve used Google street view for these images. I’ll replace this image of the kerb stone with a better one before the Council makes any improvements but, for now, you can see what I mean. After walking directly across Seven Dials without breaking your stride, you’ll have saved yourself five minutes and can enjoy strolling across Montpelier Crescent, buoyed up by the satisfying feeling that, once more, you have asserted the Brighton (& Hove) way: the pedestrian is King (or Queen)!
Following popular demand, I made a video tutorial on how to walk across Seven Dials.