Bath has given over too much space to cars

In Bath, what you will notice, are queues and queues of standing traffic all being controlled using traffic lights. Very much a stop start design that frustrates drivers, plays merry hell with pollution and steals space from people who want to walk or cycle in the city.

Traffic lights have a space requirement that cannot be overcome in our compact city.

So why do traffic lights cause a space issue?

Due to the need to feed traffic turning right into its own lane you end up having an extra lane into a junction and one exit lane. This extra lane usually extends back from the lights for some distance, in fact sometimes up to the next junction. In an ancient compact city designed in an age of steam, where you can walk from one end of our compact city to the other in 1hr 4 minutes or cycle it in 23 minutes giving over space to one of the most inefficient traffic control mechanisms really is strange.

There is a better solution. The roundabout, but not any old roundabout, I’m calling it the Dutch roundabout. In fact it comes from a rather well known place in cycling communities, Assen, Netherlands.

Dutch Roundabout: Zero accidents in 5 years between cars and pedestrians or cyclists.
Dutch Roundabout: Zero accidents in 5 years between cars and pedestrians or cyclists.

What is interesting about this is the complete separation of motorised vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. In fact more interestingly is the distance away from the roundabout that pedestrians/cyclists interact with vehicles. The vehicles are off the roundabout and have great visibility of pedestrians wanting to cross the road. In effect the interaction space is not close enough to the roundabout to be an issue.

Close up of the space the pedestrians and cyclists interact with the vehicles coming off/on the roundabout. Good visibility at all times.
Close up of the space the pedestrians and cyclists interact with the vehicles coming off/on the roundabout. Good visibility at all times.

So it gets quite frustrating when you hear council members going on about how to solve Bath’s traffic “problem” and that all you need to do is put a 1000 park and ride spaces on the east side of the city and ban HGV’s, oh and a A46-A36 link road please.

You actually need to fundamentally change the type of traffic control you are using, because for one thing, roundabouts are more efficient than light controlled junctions.

And this has been done in the UK already to great affect. There’s a place that has become synonymous with shared space enthusiasts, Poynton. This is what it looked like:

Poynton space before conversion
Poynton space before conversion

This is what it looks like now:

Poynton shared space
Poynton shared space after development. Note that all junctions are single lanes of traffic.

In fact a  lot has been said about it and it mostly does work, reducing roads down to single lanes each way and returning public space to pedestrians. The junction copes better with over 26,000 vehicles a day compared to the previous traffic light design. It does have its problems. Cyclists still need to share this space with cars and this excludes cycling as a mode of transport for ages 8-80 in this space. In fact most people that want to cycle, now cycle on the footpaths which causes conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

It has become a study case for transport planners throughout the UK.

The point is, roundabouts do a far more efficient job while enabling road space to be re-allocated back to pedestrians and cyclists while increasing the efficiency of the junction.

Which brings me to the two ‘case’ studies I want to bring into this.

London Road/Cleveland Place Junction
London Road, Cleveland Road Junction showing wasted public space due to traffic lights.
London Road, Cleveland Road Junction showing wasted public space due to traffic light controlled  junction .

This junction is a pain. It is clogged up and horrible. It doesn’t work well and is extremely intimidating. They even tried to take away what limited cycling infrastructure there was on the road but thankfully this was improved upon.

The gateway work is now underway. This will improve the public space, but you still have 3 lanes of traffic on each road. If this was changed to a ‘dutch’ roundabout you could reclaim a lane along London Road going up to Walcot Street. If you applied a similar smaller ‘dutch’ roundabout to the Morrison’s junction and Gloucester Rd junction you could get to the A46 before it got tricky freeing up a full lane. Enough to put protected bike lanes along the full length of London Road and feed them into Walcot St.

Note this would only be achievable by removing parking on the road unless space could be provided to use parking to protect a bike lane.

Parking Protected Bike Lane
Parking Protected Bike Lane (yes slightly space excessive but remember the door zone can kill)

You could even join the protected bike lane to the city centre by making Walcot St one way freeing up a lane to play with. I’m getting slightly carried away here. The point is traffic lights are stealing space that could have a better use.

Pinesway Gyratory after it isn’t one

There is a plan to change it from a gyratory into something slightly more pleasant. The designers have kept with the idea that traffic lights are a good thing. I’ve discussed this in detail here. The real issue isn’t just that you are changing the gyratory but that this is part of a bigger network that includes Brougham Hayes. A major corridor for kids walking to school and people walking to work. I expect not many cycle this way.

Brougham Hayes and Pines Way Gyratory
Brougham Hayes and Pines Way Gyratory

So if you are going to do this to Pines Way

Proposed redevelopment removing the horrible Pines Way gyratory but still being horrible.
Proposed redevelopment removing the horrible Pines Way gyratory but still being horrible.

You better understand what you are doing to Brougham Hayes.

What I think Highways (council) and the designers of this new monstrosity don’t seem to understand is that the roads coming into and out of the gyratory are single lane. It is the use of lights to control the junctions that create the need for so much road space.

Redesign the space using a dutch roundabout at the Brougham Hayes junction and two more at the junctions shown on the above picture and you can recover TWO lanes of road to develop a better public space while improving traffic flow.

In conclusion

Bath has a traffic problem. A major one. Seriously bad. People keep thinking that the way to solve it is to ban HGVs, build an east side park and ride, and put in the odd bypass. None of these get traffic moving. None of these solve what Poynton did. Poynton got the traffic moving that was stifling the place. Traffic lights are a major problem that stall traffic. Traffic lights put a unnecessarily costly demand on the road space of our compact city.

By using Poynton as a starting point and applying a bit of Dutch magic, we can develop a smooth running Bath, reclaim road space for protected cycling for all ages, provide wider pedestrian space and possibly extra parking! All this while reducing pollution and stopping that awful thing councils love doing, the cheap plaster that is ‘shared’ paths that brings pedestrians and cyclists into horrible conflict.

Traffic lights have their place. but they are causing major problems in Bath and I don’t think Highways (council) gets it. We need them to up their game and reclaim road space from cars all while making traffic flow smoother.

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  1. This makes very good sense to me. Why are the traffic engineers we employ so backwards thinking and uninformed? All of us waste vast amounts of our time sitting at traffic lights and even the less switched on must realise how inefficient they are. TL’s use up loads of space as you say but also they promote an unwanted competitive aspect on the roads, they interrupt flow and they waste an awful amount of electricity (all night long they go through their stupid sequences quite unnecessarily).

    How can we get the people who make the decisions to employ intelligent forward thinking traffic engineers?


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