It’s not only our side streets that can be made people-friendly
Traffic restraint on residential streets is not new – humps, speed limits, barriers, residents’ parking schemes, pedestrianisation, and so on. Some of these measures have become discredited because of their impact on driving behaviour: for example speed humps encourage breaking and acceleration with consequent increased fuel consumption and noise. Nonetheless, there seems to be a general recognition that residential streets are for people and – for as long as we have them – their own cars, even if action to develop this belief into practicable schemes is thin on the ground.
Those who live on the main roads into cities fare less well. The A30 at its London end – the Great South West Road – was one of the capital’s inter-war major road building schemes. Today it is a grim industrial three-lane dual carriageway corridor, with Heathrow Airport on one side and industrial buildings or open spaces on the other. By contrast, what was the A30 at its Exeter end is the narrow East Wonford Hill, Heavitree Fore Street and then (surprisingly) Magdalen Road. Apart from the centre of Heavitree, the road is mostly lined on both sides by housing.
Although the through traffic has alternative routes, vehicles heading for central Exeter have no choice but to use one of the main arterial roads, built for an age that could not foresee the growth of motor vehicles. Heavitree Road has substitiuted for Magdalen Road, but Pinhoe Road, Cowick Street, Topsham Road and Alphington Road (the latter two are signposted routes from the national network) have no such relief. All these roads are primarily residential, with some parts such as East Wonford Hill and the city end of Pinhoe Road having the houses very close to the road itself.
In my post Tackling congestion won’t make our streets liveable I suggest that tackling air pollution from traffic congestion is an essential but short-life issue. It should not dominate our thinking at the expense of making our streets, including the main roads, liveable for people. Yet we need, for the foreseeable future, ways of continuing to allow buses, trade vehicles and residents’ private cars to enter and exit the city centre; and until the public transport offer is improved, commuter traffic will still be with us.
Typically, an Exeter main road looks like this:
The characteristics of such roads are:
- High volumes of traffic at peak hours, making crossing the road other than at lights or zebra crossings difficult or unsafe.
- Traffic noise and fumes.
- Random use of either the pavement or the road by cyclists and mobility scooters.
- In some places (eg on Polsloe Road, Blackboy Road) the pavements are so narrow that it is impossible for people to pass without unacceptable intimacy or one of them risking life by stepping onto the road.
Separation schemes are already in use – see the cycle lane against the traffic flow on Paris Street. However the lack of physical barriers enforcing separation weakens their impact. The new cycle lane being built on Cumberland Way near the Met Office has such physical separation and is a welcome step forward. Cumberland Way is wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic in addition to the cycle lane.
Yet this doesn’t do much to make the road more “liveable”, to overcome the adverse characteristics of main roads highlighted above. For that, we need something like this:
What you see here is a primarily (but not solely) one-way street for motor traffic, with generous two-way provision for everyone else. Vehicle drivers who live locally, ie in a side street off the main road, and who are arriving against the main flow of traffic, won’t want to drive around a large one-way system (see the final part of this post) to get to their homes, and nor should we want them to generate extra noise and fumes by having to do so. Hence the idea of an airport-style car park barrier with vehicle licence plate recognition technology: residents simply provide proof of residence to the local authority to register their vehicle and the barrier lets them through. A fixed barrier at the far end prevents vehicles from rat-running, and they may need to drive onto the “non-vehicle path” to avoid larger vehicles coming the other way or to unload/pick up. An exception to the fixed barrier may be needed for buses to pass against the main traffic flow.
But what of those narrow main roads that can only manage two lanes of traffic as they are? How do we bring in separation schemes there? Take, for example, the west end of Pinhoe Road, so narrow that parking is prohibited on both sides. This is a major route in and out of the city centre, so it clearly needs to accommodate traffic. A possible solution is this:
In other words, the same principles, but with one of the “non-vehicle paths” taken out.
By now, readers’ objections are mounting. Two issues in particular are nagging away: parking; and the evils of one-way streets.
Let’s take parking. None of us has the right to park outside our house on a public road. Sometimes there isn’t room without obstructing traffic. Or there’s a double yellow line. Or another car is parked there. So the absence of parking provision on these new-style roads is not adding to challenges that already exist.
Next, one-way streets. Much beloved of traffic planners in the 60s and 70s, main road one-way streets became more like race tracks, with pedestrians hemmed in behind safety barriers. Drive into central Brighton from the north if you want a taste of it. But those one-way streets are a nightmare because they were designed to speed up traffic. What we need now are one-way streets which allow the traffic to flow, thus avoiding congestion and fumes, but to flow at controlled low speeds of say, 20 mph maximum.
And below is how part of a one-way system might work. The aim is to reduce volumes of traffic on individual main roads – by making them one-way – and to improve the environment for residents of those roads by reducing the space for motor traffic and increasing the space for other users. Barriers would be needed in side streets to prevent rat-running to escape the one-way restrictions.
OK, this is not fully worked out. It’s a possible model to add to the options for making our cities and towns places where motor vehicles are less important than liveable spaces.