Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

Evesham bridge closure – traffic options

| 1 Comment

I blogged a few days ago about the alternative designs for the new Evesham Abbey Bridge that weren’t adopted. But the FOI request which obtained that information also provided the options considered for traffic management while the bridge is closed. Two options were put forward for public consultation, and we should know fairly soon which has actually been chosen, but it’s interesting to see which others were rejected at an earlier stage. These are the five options considered:

1. Do nothing.

The first option is to make no alternative arrangements at all. Instead, all outbound traffic from the town centre would need to go north along Green Hill and round the bypass.

This is clearly the least desirable option from the point of view of residents and businesses, and it also has significant problems from a public transport perspective as well. The only real benefits of this choice are simplicity and cost. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it was discarded – probably the only reason it’s in the list at all is because doing nothing is the option that all the others need to be compared against.

All the other options allow for outbound traffic to reach Workman Bridge from the High Street, something which isn’t currently possible.

2. Two-way traffic along Swan Lane and Mill Street

This is how things used to be, before these two streets were made one-way, and, judging from the letters page of the local press, it’s how a lot of people think it still should be. For a temporary route, it has the benefits of being relatively simple to implement.

The briefing paper supplied to Worcestershire Highways, though, identified a number of problems with it. The most significant is that Swan Lane is narrow, and doesn’t have space for large vehicles (such as buses) to pass each other. That’s the very reason why it was made one-way in the first place, and even a temporary reinstatement of two-way traffic would mean a return to exactly the same problems. Given that the temporary route will have to handle all the bus traffic which currently goes over the Abbey Bridge, a road which is too narrow for two buses to pass in opposite directions is a long way short of ideal.

Another issue is that the High Street bus stops are to the south of Swan Lane. So if this option was chosen, then either southbound buses would need to do a U-turn in order to get out of town, or the bus stops themselves would need to be relocated. Neither of those is particularly appealing.

3. Re-open Bridge Street to vehicular traffic eastbound (downhill).

This is one of the two options which went forward to the public consultation, and from a traffic perspective it’s probably the simplest. It doesn’t involve two-way traffic along any street which is currently one-way, it avoids the bus stop problem of option 2 and it only creates a single pinch point (at the bottom of Bridge Street where it meets Mill Street) which would require temporary traffic lights.

The big problem, though, is that Bridge Street is currently pedestrianised and re-opening it to full time traffic would require work to the street. It would also almost certainly result in damage to the block paving, which would need to be reinstated after the temporary diversion is complete. At the moment, the small amount of traffic – mainly deliveries and other access – which is permitted on Bridge Street is westbound (uphill), so that would change too. And allowing full time traffic on Bridge Street would make it much less pleasant for pedestrians, and would almost certainly have a negative effect on the Bridge Street shops. Safety, too, is an issue, and an increase in accidents involving vulnerable road users is considered likely.

4. Two way traffic along Mill Street, using Oat Street as the eastbound route from the High Street.

This is the other option which made it to the public consultation. It has the advantage that two-way traffic will only be along Mill Street, which is wide enough to take it, rather than Swan Lane where it would be a problem. It also doesn’t have the bus stop problem of option 2, and keeps Bridge Street clear of traffic.

The main disadvantages are that it creates a number of awkward pinch points, including the junction between Mill Street and Oat Street as well as the bottom of Bridge Street (which would still need temporary traffic lights to manage traffic to/from the Riverside Centre car park and service bays). Oat Street is also very narrow, and yet forms an important pedestrian link between the High Street and Oat Street car park. So there are safety issues here as well, and the report suggests that a safety audit would be necessary before this option could be chosen.

5. As option 4, but reverse the flow in Swan Lane and Oat Street so that Swan Lane is one-way eastbound and Oat Street one-way westbound (that is, the opposite direction to the present situation).

This has the advantage of easing traffic flow as it removes the awkward crossover at the Oat Street/Mill Street junction. And it retains the main advantages of option 4 in that it avoids two-way traffic along narrow streets while not affecting Bridge Street.

However, it would be considerably more complex (and therefore more costly) to implement, as it would require major changes to the junctions of both Swan lane and Oat Street with High Street. It also has the same problem with the bus stop locations as option 2. Which, I presume, is why it didn’t get through to the final consideration.

Which to choose?

The Town Council, when asked for our opinion, backed option 4 (Oat Street/Mill Street). I voted for that, and I haven’t seen anything from the other options that would make me change my mind. I acknowledge, though, that no solution is ideal, and I can see the benefits of the Bridge Street option.

In reality, whatever route is chosen is likely to be very congested for the duration of the bridge works, and for a lot of people it’s still going to be quicker to go the long way round via the bypass. We’ve had a foretaste of that this week with the preparatory work on the water main where Abbey Bridge meets Waterside and Pershore Road – some people have complained of being stuck in traffic for 30 minutes or more, which is longer than it took me to get from High Street to Elm Road via Green Hill and the bypass (yes, I’m sad enough to have timed it), so in practice I expect I’ll mostly be going the long way round while the bridge is closed irrespective of which temporary route is chosen.

Long term

This does, though, throw up the question of how best to manage traffic in the long term. Even now, when there aren’t any roadworks, southbound traffic over the Abbey Bridge queues all the way back to the town centre. That in turn has a knock-on effect of encouraging rat-running from Bewdley Street through the Old Brewery car park and Merstow Green, something which is only going to get worse with the construction of new houses on the former nursery site off ALbert Road. And the rebuilding of the bridge will, paradoxically, exacerbate this as HGV traffic from the town centre – currently banned from the bridge because it can’t take the strain – will then be allowed to head south instead of being forced north via Green Hill. The new bridge will carry more traffic than the current bridge does, and that can only make the congestion worse.

It seems to me, therefore, that the county council has to look for a way to allow outbound traffic to use Workman Bridge on a permanent basis, rather than merely during the Abbey Bridge closure.

I can understand why the original eastbound route, via Swan Lane, was closed, and I’m not calling for it to be reinstated. Older residents of the town may well remember when they used to go that way in their Morris Minors and hark nostalgically back to those times, but the increase in traffic volumes as well as average vehicle size means it’s no longer an option.

However, I’m attracted to the idea of leaving Mill Street two-way and continuing to allow eastbound traffic to Workman Bridge via Oat Street after Abbey Bridge is reopened. To be sure, this is going to be heavily congested during the closure (assuming it’s the chosen option), but once Abbey Bridge is open again then the amount of traffic wanting to go out via Workman Bridge will be relatively low by comparison. Abbey Bridge is the obvious route from the town centre to Hampton as well as much of the residential areas accessed from Cheltenham Road, so Workman Bridge will always be a less popular choice. But making it a possible choice will not only benefit those for whom it is the most sensible route (eg, Bengeworth residents) but also Abbey Bridge users who won’t have to put up with Bengeworth-bound traffic sharing the route. And minimising congestion and unnecessarily convoluted journeys also reduces pollution and CO2 emissions, which is an important goal in itself.

What do you think? Which short-term option is the best choice while Abbey Bridge is closed? And do you want to see a route from High Street to Workman Bridge a permanent feature of Evesham’s road system?