Hacking your neighbourhood

London is leading the charge on the provision of great cycle infrastructure. The recent announcement from Transport for London of 18 miles of east west protected cycle super highways and the ongoing successful Space4Cycling campaign are transforming London and the expectations of residents.

Councils are beginning to understand that there is a ‘gold’ standard that cycling infrastructure should be built to and that ‘sharing’ space with pedestrians or painting lines on roads is a horrendous cop-out and will never get parents cycling their children to school.

So what TfL are doing is a massive game changer and is great to watch from afar, but how does this translate into what you can do locally in Bath?

One of the 6 ‘action’ categories of the Space4Cycling campaign is “REMOVAL OF THROUGH MOTOR TRAFFIC“.

Fast or heavy through traffic makes residential streets inhospitable for cycling. We’re calling on council election candidates to support the removal of through motor traffic from residential streets in order to create safe Space for Cycling. Bollards and planters are an inexpensive way to remove non-local motor traffic, creating a safe environment in which to live, cycle and walk. Local residents will still be able to access their properties by car, and deliveries and refuse collections will be unaffected.

Now rather than discuss this in general terms, I’m going to give you a practical example.

The Chaucer Avenue Experiment

I live on the junction between Milton Avenue and Chaucer Avenue and have done for 4+ years now. I walk my dog most mornings along Chaucer. I’ve even had one late parent almost take me out while I was riding my bike along Chaucer. There really is no space to pass. So what’s the problem?

Looking at a map gives a general idea of the problem.

Poet's Corner on Bear Flat, Bath
Poet’s Corner on Bear Flat, Bath

What you see there is a rush hour rat run. People come down Entry Hill, cut up the one way Devonshire Buildings road along Chaucer Road and then back down Beechen Cliff Road to rejoin the Wellsway. While this is going on you have an unwritten one way system of cars driving up Shakespeare Avenue, dropping perfectly fit and healthy 11 year old+ kids off at the school and then driving down Kipling Avenue, and turning back down Chaucer Road or down onto Wellsway.

Outside of rush hour, the road is still a rat run for anyone living on Poet’s corner who comes down Entry Hill. The irony is, outside of rush hour, people really really drive fast down this road even though it’s a 20MPH advisory.

So it is complicated. In fact it was SO complicated the council installed this:

Bollard on the corner of Shakespeare avenue installed to protect children walking to school from vehicles taking the corner.
Bollard on the corner of Shakespeare avenue installed to protect children walking to school from vehicles taking the corner.

It’s almost tacit recognition from the council that there is an issue on the road but that little can be done about it.

However I’ve thought long and hard about this and there is an amazingly ‘simple’ thing that could be done that would completely transform the space at a cost of about £4,000. Install a set of bollards across Chaucer Rd at the Kipling Avenue junction!

Bollards across the road
Blocking a road to vehicular access.

The positives:

  1. You immediately prevent the rat run along Chaucer Avenue.
  2. You provide a safe route to the school for all kids.
  3. The community gains a ‘living’ space where children can play and the community can easily hold events.
  4. Chaucer, Devonshire, Milton, and Longfellow immediately see a reduction in traffic, although I do expect parents to drop their kids off on the corner of Milton.
  5. Traffic from the school is smoothed out as parents realistically have one route they can now take.

The negatives:

  1. People living on Kipling and Shakespeare would be limited to where they could get on to Wellsway.
  2. Deliveries/Waste would be slightly more complicated.
  3. That’s it really.

So what’s the problem? Why could this not happen or more importantly, why has a temporary pilot (say out of large concrete planters) not been tried out. Well I tried, but the Bear Flat Residency association is not interested as some of the members live on Shakespeare and use the Devonshire rat run to have an easier life. Their focus is on trying to get residents to take up residents parking. The local councillor will not readily get involved. It’s too close to an election to shake up the status quo. Of course the other issue is budget. However this won’t stop me from trying 🙂

Living where you are, look at your streets, see if blocking one through road would create a community space. Transform your neighbourhood.

Personally I’d like to block St John’s Road at the junction with Bathwick Street. That is one rat run that, if closed off, would smooth traffic down Bathwick Street, create a great community space, and provide a quiet way for people to cycle into town. There are emergency access issues to consider, but bollards are removable. The issues are not unsurmountable.

Hack your neighbourhood and make it a better, safer place to live. The convenience of allowing somebody to drive fast through your neighbourhood because they use it as a short cut is affecting your life in ways you may not have thought about.

The council should set aside money to install temporary closures (say with heavy planters) on roads to allow residents in an area to experiment for a 1-3 month period.

The status quo has to change and it starts with you not letting the car dominate your street.

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