Those of us who are attentive and self-aware motorists often despair at lack of common sense employed in the world of traffic management. National and local authorities responsible for the roads we use everyday seem to have little understanding of how these roads actually work. Hence the blight of ‘smart’ motorways, ill-timed traffic lights, and reduction of speed limits on empty rural roads.
This deficiency of common sense has become apparent in my own town this past week. Bordered as we are by a river and a canal, and with a distinct lack of crossing points, North Yorkshire County Council has once again seen fit to close one of the two main bridges leading out of town for a period of three weeks for another round of supposedly essential roadworks. Why these essential works couldn’t have been carried out a few months ago when they last closed the bridge for essential works is anyone’s guess.
But I digress. The issue here is what traffic does as a result of this closure. The bridge above is the main route in and out of town for those going to and from York, and at rush hours, is very busy. As a result, much of this traffic has been sent towards the other bridge in town, which just happens to be a single-lane bridge over the canal. This has impacted the town in two ways. In the first instance, it meant traffic coming from the north side of town was bunching up in long queues at the traffic lights indicated by the red dots on the left below. Where there were two lanes before to facilitate cars turning either way, the left-turn lane has now been closed.
To their credit, I noticed yesterday morning that the Council has rectified this by significantly increasing the time these lights stay on green. The queues are much shorter now and traffic is flowing better than ever through this intersection.
But there is a second and much more serious problem, and that is at the other bridge. Traffic going to York now follows the red arrows on the map below, while traffic coming from York follows the blue arrows. The result is significant congestion at the single-lane bridge, which is not surprising, given that probably three or four times the usual amount of traffic is attempting to cross at a pinch point.
But this presents further problems, because a lot of pedestrians (myself included) use the bridge every day, not least families with children going to school, and because of the congestion, drivers are proving extremely aggressive and impatient, to the point where I genuinely fear for the safety of these pedestrians. Twice yesterday I saw vehicles come speeding onto the bridge while pedestrians were crossing. This is not uncommon; I regularly cross the bridge with cars so close behind me that I can feel the heat from their engines on the back of my legs.
I snapped the photo below quickly this morning, in which you can see a Citroen and a Honda who both mounted the bridge while the two pedestrians were attempting to cross, forcing them to the side. The man in the black jacket had to stop and turn his body sideways in the middle of the bridge so as not to be hit by the Citroen. Although not the best angle to be taking the photo from, you can also see the queues of traffic on both sides.
The solution here is so obvious that it shouldn’t even have to bear consideration: the Council needs to set up some temporary three-way traffic lights, with a pause in the middle of each cycle to allow pedestrians to cross. It takes very little thought to imagine how this would work. You simply place the lights in the spots I have indicated below and time them appropriately. Traffic would flow much more smoothly through this junction, and pedestrian safety would be ensured. The fact that the Council closed the main bridge without any thought to managing the change in traffic patterns – not to mention the more serious issue of protecting pedestrians – just goes to show how out of touch they are.
The icing on the cake here is that just 100m down the road from this bridge is a highways department yard full of these movable traffic lights.
Having pestered the Council to introduce some temporary traffic management several times now in the past week, I have received one brief response to tell me that ‘we’ve passed this information and your suggestions to the relevant highways area office for their attention.’
I have duly placed myself on the edge of my seat.