Evesham Traffic

Evesham Civic Society is having a meeting this evening to discuss various proposals for improving the traffic flow in the town centre, and in particular restoring two-way access from Workman Bridge to/from the High Street. I can’t be there, as I have another meeting to attend at Wychavon, but I thought I’d stick my oar in anyway with some comments on the suggested solutions.

You need to read these in conjunction with the PDF created by the Civic Society. Since the suggestions aren’t otherwise numbered, I’ll refer to them by the names of the proponents in the order they appear on the PDF.

Alan Pye

This makes Swan Lane and Mill Street two-way and reverses the flow in Oat Street and Chapel Lane.

The main problem with this, as with any scheme which seeks to restore two-way traffic on Swan Lane, is that doing so would almost certainly mean losing the on-street parking. That’s not going to be popular with local residents who don’t have anywhere else to park. It also has two exits onto High Street, one from Swan lane and one from Oat Street, in very close proximity. That’s unlikely to be practical, especially as these locations won’t be suitable for mini-roundabouts. There are also questions about whether the hill section of Mill Street can take two-way traffic, although that could potentially be addressed by a priority system.

On the other hand, it has the advantage of keeping two lanes of traffic onto High Street, albeit on two different streets. That’s important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Anthony Dowling

This system simply reverses the flow of Swan lane and Oat Street, with Mill Street being made two-way. It has the advantage of not needing any changes to on-street parking, and is one of the most commonly proposed solutions on social media.

However, it still has the issue of two exits onto High Street close together, as Avon Street will still be there. More importantly, it halves the capacity of the exit from the east onto the High Street. At the moment, there are two lanes of Westbound traffic in Swan lane, meaning that when the lights are green, two vehicles at once can exit the junction. From Oat Street, only one at a time would be able to do so. That’s either going to mean longer delays for High Street traffic, or longer tailbacks in westbound traffic, or both. As things stand, the tailbacks in Swan Lane reach Chapel Street at peak times. If all that traffic had to use Oat Street, it would reach much further back.

Schemes involving two way traffic on Swan Lane and/or reversing the flow in Oat Street could work if the parking issue was considered unimportant, and if the volume of vehicles leaving the zone to the west (over Workman Bridge) was high enough to significantly mitigate the loss of eastbound capacity. But I suspect that neither of these would be the case.

James Fleck

This system retains the existing one-way flow in Oat Street, Chapel Street and Swan Lane, but makes Mill Street two way. As such this is by far the simplest suggested solution, and avoids all the gotchas inherent in changing Swan Lane and Oat Street.

My main caveat for this is, again, the hill section of Mill Street. I have a feeling it may not be easy to create a road layout that allows two-way traffic here, especially if buses are still allowed to use this route (and banning them would significantly affect route patterns).

I also think that a mini-roundabout at the Bridge Street/Mill Street junction wouldn’t work, as the junction there also has to cater for Monks Walk which is somewhat offset from Mill Street. However, traffic lights would work well enough here, so that’s not a problem.

James Powell

This is just plain barking.

Kate Gardner

This is, effectively, the same as Alan Pye’s proposal, with the exception that it allows two-way traffic on Chapel Street.

As such, it suffers from the same issues as Alan Pye’s scheme, but with the added disadvantage that the bus stop and parking on Chapel Street would also need to go!

Mark Goodge

This is my suggested scheme. Rather than go into it in detail here, you can see the full article elsewhere on my website.

Phil Cooper

This is much the same as James Fleck’s proposal, with only minor differences at the junctions. The main difference is making the entrance to Rynal Place one way, presumably in order to prevent the use of Lancaster Grove as a rat run. I suspect that this would be unpopular with residents of the Rynals, though, as it would force them to go out onto the High Street in order to head west.

None of these schemes are perfect (not even mine!). They all have drawbacks of one form or another. Which is one of the reasons why all of them are impossible to implement without detailed traffic data and computer simulations. Fortunately, that data collection is now in progress, so we should have some idea in the not to distant future of what is and is not practical. Let’s just hope that some solution to two-way traffic between Workman Bridge and High Street is on the cards after the computer has done its stuff.

No, Ed, we still don’t need English Regions.

Regional devolution is back in the news following the Scottish referendum. The latest proposal to give more power to the regions comes from Ed Miliband, who wants to replace the House of Lords with an elected senate representing the “regions and nations” of the United Kingdom.

No, Ed, I don't agree.
No, Ed, I don’t agree.

I think this is just as daft an idea as the unlamented Regional Assemblies set up by former deputy PM John Prescott. While regions may make for convenient chunks of a map, or weather forecasts, or even a handy way of subdividing statistics, they are no basis for government administrative boundaries.

I live in Evesham, a traditional market town in Worcestershire. For statistical purposes, Worcestershire is part of the West Midlands, which has some value (though not a lot). We also get regional TV for the West Midlands. But we are not, in any meaningful sense, part of a West Midlands identity. My rural market town has nothing more in common with Birmingham – our putative regional capital – than it does with Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool or London.

A regional assembly, or a senate constituency, for the West Midlands would simply mean subsuming our county identity – which is predominately a rural and market town identity, plus the historic cathedral city of Worcester itself – into one dominated by the metropolitan concerns of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Dudley, etc.

I live in the southern end of the West Midlands. There are parts of Herefordshire which go further south, but not by a lot. Coincidentally, before I moved here, I lived right at the north of the West Midlands, in Stoke-on-Trent. And, trust me, there is very little that Stoke-on-Trent and Evesham have in common, other than needing to go through Birmingham in order to get from one to the other. Oh, and Birmingham Airport is convenient for both. But the one thing we definitely do have in common is that neither of us has any more in common with Birmingham than we do with each other. The idea that Birmingham is somehow a natural or historic capital of the West Midlands, in the way that London is the capital of England, or Worcester is the capital of Worcestershire, is simply laughable.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that most of the proposals for regional government come from the large metropolitan areas. For people in, say, Birmingham (or Manchester, or Newcastle), regional assemblies are a way for them to not only get a bit more freedom from London-based politics for themselves but also to be able to lord it over their suburban and rural hinterlands as well as second tier cities nearby. Those of us in the rural areas or smaller cities don’t gain anything. Instead, we simply have another layer of bureaucracy in between us and Westminster.

Letting the big cities have more power for themselves, London-style, arguably makes sense. But giving the big cities more power over their neighbouring counties does not. And that applies both to old-style Regional Assemblies as proposed by John Prescott and Ed Miliband’s new “Senate for the Regions”.

If we’re going to have a reformed House of Lords, then let’s do it properly and not create a metropolitan oligarchy which takes no account of genuinely local democracy. Instead of creating yet another layer of local government, let’s give more power to the layers we already have.

Noel Wilkes, a true Evesham hero

On the way to Tesco on Saturday evening, I passed what appeared to be the immediate aftermath of a road accident just outside St Ecgwins Club in Evesham High Street. A man was lying in the road, being attended to by passers-by. I briefly considered stopping, but made a decision not to as there were already several people present, and I don’t have any in-depth first aid training, so I’d have simply been adding to the numbers for no good purpose. So I drove on. By the time I made the return journey, the road had been closed off by the police and I had to take a diversion to get home.

So it wasn’t until today that I learned two things: The accident had proven fatal and the victim was Noel Wilkes.

Noel was a veteran of the D-Day landings and, even at the age of 90, an active member of the Evesham Royal British Legion. I can’t claim to have known Noel well, but during my time as Mayor of Evesham last year I had the pleasure of his company at several events organised by the Legion. And it was a genuine pleasure; Noel’s enthusiasm for his task was obvious and, despite the impressive array of medals he was entitled to wear at ceremonial occasions he wore his history lightly. He never boasted of his achievements, but was always willing to answer questions and share his knowledge. Noel was one of that rare breed of men: a genuine hero of war who lived up to that label in peacetime. Until the very last day of his life he was dedicated to serving his community.

Noel Wilkes

My thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to Noel’s family. Losing a man of his stature is always a tragedy. To lose him in such a manner is doubly so.

RIP Noel Wilkes. You truly fought the good fight.

A brief history of local government in Evesham

When considering Evesham’s history, the things that come to mind tend to be the obvious ones: the founding of the Abbey as a result of Eof’s vision, the battle of Evesham, the ongoing dispute between the Abbey town of Evesham and the castle town of Bengeworth (which the Abbey won), and finally the destruction of the the Abbey leaving us with just the Bell Tower standing. But I thought it might be interesting (to fellow politics nerds, anyway) to look at some more recent history and trace how Evesham came to have its current form of local government.

Local government as we know it in Evesham started in 1605 when the town was granted a Royal charter by James I. Town charters were by no means new – the very first was granted to the City of London in 1075 – but they were only granted as and when the townsfolk could persuade the king to grant one, and it wasn’t until 1605 that Evesham got theirs.

Records show that Evesham’s Royal charter was granted on the request of Prince Henry, James I’s eldest son and heir to the throne. The young prince in turn appears to have been influenced by his chaplain, the Reverend Dr Lewis Baylie, who happened to be combining his royal duties with serving as the vicar of Evesham at the time.

Henry never lived to ascend to the throne, dying of typhoid fever at the age of 18 in 1612. But his name lives on not only in the town’s charter (and his emblems on the town’s coat of arms) but also in one of Evesham’s most distinguished institutions. The charter also formally united the neighbouring towns of Evesham and Bengeworth as a single government entity, and thus marked the end of Bengeworth’s independent existence.

Grant of joint incorporation of the towns of Evesham and Bengworth, under the name of the Mayor, &c., of the borough of Evesham; with confirmation of their former liberties, and grant of new ones, including license to have a schools called “The Free Grammar School of Prince Henry.”

As well as subsuming Bengeworth into Evesham and giving one of the region’s most prestigious schools its name, the charter created a town council comprising several aldermen and headed by a mayor. The council was exempt from certain levies paid to the king, and had the right to raise its own taxes and operate a market (the charter market, of which today’s market is the direct descendant).

That gave Evesham, for the first time, a measure of control over its own finances, with income from taxation and the market available for the council to spend as it saw fit. The first Mayor of Evesham was Robert Allen, of which we know little other than the fact that he was a “Gentleman”, that is, a member of the upper classes and a landowner.

In fact, the majority of Evesham’s early mayors were Gentlemen, interspersed with the occasional Esquire (in social terms, ranking slightly above a Gentleman), a few Reverends and even a Baronet – it wasn’t until 1762 that the first occupational title appeared on the name boards, and not until 1836 when occupational titles became predominant.

These early members of the town council were not elected. The very first members were appointed by the charter, and subsequently appointed their own successors when necessary to fill a vacancy left by retirement or death. So, although Evesham had a certain amount of self-governance, it was not democratic self-governance. For more than two centuries, Evesham was governed by a self-perpetuating clique consisting predominantly of the upper classes with a smattering of clergy and wealthier tradesmen. The thing which changed that was the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

Following on from the Representation of the People 1832 (better known as the Great Reform Act), which had abolished the “Rotten Boroughs” in the process of taking “effectual measures for correcting diverse abuses that have long prevailed in the choice of members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament”, the Municipal Corporations Act aimed to do the same to local government.

178 town or borough councils were reformed immediately by the Municipal Corporations Act, and another hundred followed over subsequent years. Evesham was one of the initial 178. The changes brought in by the Act were far-reaching and created a body which, for the first time, would be clearly recognisable as the predecessor of that in which I serve today.

The newly-reformed municipal boroughs, or corporations, were obliged to publish their accounts, and were subject, for the first time, to external audit. They also had to employ a salaried town clerk and treasurer, who could not be a member of the council. But the most significant change was that all members were now elected, representing a system of local wards which also still persists to this day.

As you might expect, this significantly changed the composition of the council. Previously, the mayoral name boards had been overwhelmingly dominated by members of the upper classes. From 1836, occupational titles started to become more common. By the late Victorian era, Gentlemen and Esquires had become as rare as non-gentry had been earlier. The last member of the gentry to appear on the boards was Henry Smith Esq in 1904. And Evesham’s first female Mayor, Amy Nightingale, held the office in 1944.

Following the Municipal Corporations Act, the Victorians would continue tinkering with local government until the turn of the century. Most of what we now consider “tranditional” local government was, in reality, a Victorian (or immediately pre-Victorian) invention. But this was predominantly at county and city level, market towns such as Evesham avoided further reform until well into the 20th century.

The Representation of the People Act 1948 had a relatively modest effect on Evesham, with the only significant change being the timing of elections – these were switched to the now-familiar first week in May. Other post-war legislation was, again, concentrated on county level and left Evesham unscathed. It wasn’t until 1974 that reform again meant changes to the town.

The Local Government Act 1972 was certainly the biggest change to local government in England since the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and arguably the biggest ever. Whereas previous reforms had addressed the composition and constitution of local government, the Local Government Act reformed its boundaries. And some of the new boundaries were radically different from what had gone before.

The legacy of the Victorians was essentially a county-based overall structure, with an ad-hoc system of boroughs, towns, cities and parishes beneath it. Evesham, as a major market town in Worcestershire, had more local autonomy and more power than, for example, Pershore, but less than Worcester. The new legislation aimed to create a uniform two-tier system across the country, with counties at the upper level and districts below them. Both counties and districts would be based on population geography rather than traditional geography. And Evesham, being a medium-sized market town, bigger than a parish but smaller than a city, fell fairly and squarely into the gap.

The outcome was that Evesham, for the first time since 1605, was reduced to the status of a parish. The borders of the new Evesham Town Council were much more tightly drawn than its Borough predecessor, and most of its powers were transferred to the newly created Wychavon District Council.

Fortunately, the Royal charter granted by James I was not rescinded, and remains the charter of the new Evesham Town. We retain our coat of arms, including the crown and the Prince of Wales feathers, as well as the right to operate a market. We still also have limited tax-raising powers, and we still have to employ a town clerk. But, apart from the property we own or manage, we have no direct powers over the administration of the town.

Probably the best illustration of the difference between the powers of Evesham council then and our powers now is to look at our bridges. Workman Bridge, named after the Mayor who oversaw the project, was constructed by the town and funded from within the town. The first Abbey Bridge, opened in 1928, was built by the county and Evesham Corporation working together. The new Abbey Bridge was built by the county without any input from the town, and if we want to as much as put a banner on a lamppost on the new bridge we have to get permission from Wychavon.

It’s all a long way from the height of Evesham’s powers in the late 19th century. But we’re still here to do our best for the town. And there’s plenty of potential still for the future.

Evesham town centre retail – a few thoughts

shops
At last Monday’s town council meeting, we were given a brief report by Shawn Riley, of the Evesham Market Town Partnership, about the town centre retail areas. The MTP has recently gone to the effort and expense of obtaining a lot of useful data about Evesham’s retail areas and how that compares to other, similar towns around the country. As a data nerd myself, I found it highly interesting. Here are some of the key findings.

Probably one of the most important things to note is that the vacancy rate – the proportion of empty shops – in the town centre, excluding the Riverside Centre is, at 13.2%, a little worse than the UK average of 12%. But it’s significantly better than the regional average of 15.3%. And, overall, Evesham has a higher proportion of independent shops than the national average (71% in Evesham compared to 66% nationally).

On the face of it, that looks like reasonably good news. Where it goes pear-shaped is when we add the Riverside Centre into the equation. The Riverside Centre has a whopping vacancy rate of 47.2% – that’s nearly half empty. And that drags down the town’s overall vacancy rate to 16.2%, which is not only worse than the national average but worse than the regional average as well.

So, what’s the problem? Well, we don’t really have too many shops overall. There are 358 retail units in Evesham town centre (that’s excluding the edge of town retail parks), which gives us an average population-to-shop ratio of around 55. That’s in the same ballpark as Pershore (57 people per shop) and Stratford-upon-Avon (56 people per shop), a little higher than Tewkesbury (47 people per shop) and a lot lower than Kidderminster (170 people per shop). But Kidderminster is the regional sore thumb, with an overall vacancy rate of 19.5% – we’re doing much better than that. We also have a lot more shops than Droitwich, despite being very similar sized towns. But I suspect that their retail centre suffers from being much closer to Worcester than we are (and Kidderminster is in easy reach of both Worcester and Birmingham, making it much harder for retailers there). Droitwich doesn’t have many shops, but it has a lower vacancy rate, suggesting that it’s never been a particularly retail-heavy town.

Looking at the Riverside Centre in detail, a number of things become obvious. One is that it has very much lower proportion of independent retailers, at only 33%. And the national retailers that it contains are almost all doing badly at a national level. We already know, for example, that Burton won’t be renewing their lease when it expires. But looking at their national figures, that’s not surprising – they’re in close to free fall across the country at the moment. Carphone Warehouse are also closing shops, as are New Look, Superdrug and H Samuel. Only three of the Riverside Centre’s chains are showing significant national growth, and one of those is one of the most recent newcomers, Sports Direct.

So the Riverside Centre’s problems are certainly not all related to Evesham. Having originally been targetted at national brands, the centre is now suffering along with them. Another problem is that, despite being aimed at national chains, the Riverside Centre’s units are mostly too small for them. That’s why M&S moved out, and didn’t return to the town until something more suitable at the Worcester Road retail park became available.

There are other, more local, issues, of course. The lack of access to the Riverside Centre car park from the centre and north of the town is certainly a major factor. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Riverside Centre’s problems are mostly of its own making: badly designed in the first place, and dependent on a dwindling pool of national brands that can use its shops. It also means that fixing it is not easy, and for the most part – with the exception of the access problem, which really does need to be sorted out – beyond anything that can be done by local government.

Leaving aside the Riverside Centre for the moment, though, what about the rest of the town? The data obtained by the MTP does give us some clues.

Firstly, a brief diversion here into explaining terminology. Retailers can, broadly speaking, be divided into four main categories: Comparison, Convenience, Service and Leisure. Taking those in reverse order, Leisure is fairly easy to understand: it means things like cafes, pubs, restaurants, entertainment (including cinemas) and stuff like that. Service is also mostly self-explanatory: it includes estate agents, travel agents, banks and other financial institutions, hairdressers, laundrettes and the such like.

Convenience shops are those which people tend to use on a regular basis for repeated supplies of much the same thing. Supermarkets (of all sizes) are the obvious example, but other food retailers such as butchers and bakers also fall into this category, as do newsagents and petrol stations.

Comparison is probably the hardest term to explain. In essence, what it means is shops that sell products that you only buy when you need them – things like TVs, washing machines, bedding, computers, clothes and shoes. Unlike convenience products, where you generally know what you’ll be buying before you go to the shop, comparison products are usually selected after comparing different versions of the same thing – either within the same shop or at different shops – before buying. Hence the name.

Nationally, comparison stores are suffering far more badly than the other three sectors. And a major reason is competition from the Internet. You can’t go to the pub on the Internet, or get a haircut on the Internet. You can buy food on the Internet, but the biggest suppliers of that are the supermarkets who are not competing with themselves. And independent grocers, bakers, butchers etc offer the ability to select and purchase fresh food in a way that a web-based retailer cannot (yet) match. The service sector is generally flat nationally, a reflection of the fact that some aspects of it (such as banking and travel agents) can easily be done online, while others (such as hairdressing) simply can’t. Convenience shops, on the other hand, are generally showing growth across the UK, while leisure is soaring ahead. All of the twenty fastest growing chains in the UK are in the leisure sector, and all of them supply food and drink in one way or another.

What that means for Evesham is that town centre retail growth is likely to come predominantly from the convenience and leisure sectors, with leisure being the largest contributor. And, in fact, we’re already seeing that to some extent. Evesham’s leisure vacancy rate is only 5.4%, which is not only much better than the retail average for the town but better than the national average for the leisure sector. The term “cafe culture” is probably over-used, but it’s clear that the future of traditional town centres like Evesham lies in a thriving leisure market. Convenience and leisure shops are also footfall generators; if you’re going into the town centre every day to get your lunch or to the butchers every week for bacon then you’ll be passing other shops and may be attracted into them.

Finally, one other point is worth noting. When we compare Evesham with similar sized towns across the country, then one particular statistic stands out. Irrespective of where a town is located, those which have a Waitrose not only have a lower vacancy rate than their regional average but also a lower rate than the national average. I’m a savvy enough statistician to know that correlation does not necessarily imply causality, but this is, nonetheless, significant. It doesn’t actually matter whether a Waitrose attracts other retailers (the so-called “Waitrose effect”), or whether Waitrose’s management are simply good at picking locations that are on the up (or even if there’s some entirely different cause which attracts both Waitrose and other retailers). What matters is that town centres which have a Waitrose are, statistically, far more likely to be successful than those which do not. So the fact that Waitrose are still on course to open a new store in Evesham is very welcome news.

British Values: Simon de Montfort and Representative Democracy

“British values” have been in the news recently. I was going to write a blog article listing my own choices for what British values consist of. But, instead, I thought I’d write about a few people that I think have done a lot to shape British values.

None of these people are particularly obscure, although they’re not necessarily the most famous in their field. And those that are better known are picked here for reasons that are not necessarily directly connected with their primary claim to fame. But I think they all deserve to be remembered for their contribution to British values.

I was originally going to do this as a single article listing lots of people. But, having written half of it, I’ve decided instead to split it over several posts and focus on one person (or maybe a couple of people) each time. If nothing else, it will give me something to write about for the next few weeks.

Simon de Montfort memorial in Abbey Park, Evesham
Simon de Montfort memorial in Abbey Park, Evesham

Simon de Montfort wasn’t even British. He was a French nobleman who became embroiled in the Second Barons’ War, taking the side of those who wanted to enforce the provisions of Magna Carta against Henry III. In the course of the war, de Montfort’s troops controlled most of southern England and left him the de facto ruler, having captured and imprisoned the king. As ruler, one of the things he did was to summon a parliament.

Neither parliaments nor democracy were an innovation in 1265. Ancient Greece was the cradle of democracy, and Iceland’s parliament is known by millions of pub quizzers as the oldest still extent. Previous English kings, too, had summoned ad hoc parliaments to offer advice to the monarch. De Montfort’s novel concept was to combine the two. As well as the usual (for the time) bishops, abbots, earls and barons, de Montfort also called for two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each borough. As well as being the first time that an English parliament had included members explicitly intended to represent their localities, de Montfort went a step further and stipulated that the representatives were to be elected, not appointed.

Simon de Montfort didn’t rule England for long. Edward Longshanks (Henry III’s son, and the future Edward I) escaped from captivity and assembled an army which later defeated de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. The barons lost the war, and Henry III resumed control. But their principles lived on. Edward had been sympathetic to the reformers and briefly considered siding with them against his father. Although family loyalty won out in the end, he retained his interest in reform.

Following his accession to the throne, Edward I instituted what is now referred to as the Model Parliament. As the name suggests, this was very much the template for future parliaments, and current parliamentary democracy is a direct descendant of it. But what was remarkable about it was that the model parliament itself was modelled on Simon de Montfort’s parliament, complete with elected representatives from the boroughs.

England has had an elected representative parliament ever since. It’s a model of government that we have exported to the world. Every democratic nation on the planet uses a form of representative democracy which can be traced back to Edward I and Simon de Montfort. There are few values more British than that.

Two-way access across Workman Bridge – a modest proposal

Pretty much everyone who lives or works in Evesham thinks that the current traffic arrangement between the High Street and Workman Bridge, with it only being possible to travel from the bridge to the High Street and not in the other direction, is undesirable and needs to be fixed. The question is, how?

The reasons behind the current layout are many and various. Swan Lane was first made one-way as far back as 1964. Since then, it’s been two-way again, and then back to one-way, but in the opposite direction. I’m not going to go into the details of how and why it ended up the way it is now, other than to comment that it isn’t the result of some Grand Design for Evesham’s traffic, but rather a sequence of independent decisions that, individually, all make sense but, cumulatively, have had a very suboptimal outcome. Here’s what we have now:

Current One Way system

So, what do we do? I’ve got a suggestion. Before I make it, though, I want to first take a quick look at two of the most common proposals, and explain why I don’t think they’ll fly.

Firstly, making Swan Lane, Chapel Street and Mill Street (or Mill Bank, as some maps have it) two-way all the way through. That would be the simplest solution, but it runs into several problems.

The most obvious is that if those streets weren’t considered capable of carrying two-way traffic in 1964, then they’re hardly likely to do so now. There are too many pinch points on that route for it to be suitable for two-way traffic, unless you exclude all long vehicles – but then that cuts off delivery access for Aldi, the Co-op and several other shops and businesses as well as diverting some key bus routes.

Another problem is that this would mean removing all the on-street parking on Swan Lane and Chapel Street, and this in an area where residents have little enough parking as it is. So, while superficially attractive, I really don’t think this will work.

The other commonly made suggestion is to make just Mill Street two-way, and reverse the flow in Oat Street, Swan Lane and Chapel Street. This has the advantage of avoiding almost all of the problems inherent with the first idea, but unfortunately it creates a couple of its own.

The first is that Swan Lane is currently two lanes wide for most of its length, while Oat Street just has one. What that means is that as traffic approaches the High Street along Swan Lane, it can queue at the lights in both lanes, and then when the lights go green two vehicles at a time can exit – one going left, the other going right or straight on. If you reverse the flow and send High Street bound traffic along Oat Street, then only one vehicle at a time can exit when the lights are green, meaning that the outflow capacity is halved. At peak times, that’s going to cause significant delays.

A second problem with the “reversed flow” approach is that it requires a second set of traffic lights on the High Street, just yards from an existing pedestrian crossing as well as the existing lights at the Swan Lane/Avon Street junction. That’s too many traffic lights close together, the pedestrian crossing would almost certainly have to go and it’s doubtful whether the other two sets would be far enough apart to meet DfT requirements (and, however much we may wish it were otherwise, a scheme which doesn’t meet national regulations is, and always will be, a complete non-starter).

So, given that I’ve just poured cold water on two of the most popular suggestions made by other people, what’s my idea?

My solution is simpler than the ones I’ve mentioned so far. There is, in fact, only one short stretch of road which needs to be made two-way in order to allow access from the High Street through to Workman Bridge. If you look at the map above, you can see it: the lower section of Mill Street. Make that two-way, and people can get to Workman Bridge via Oat Street, Chapel Street, Conduit Hill and Mill Bank. It’s a bit of a convoluted route, but it avoids all of the problems associated with either making Swan Lane two-way or reversing the flow in Swan Lane and Oat Street. And I think that being a bit convoluted is actually a good thing in this context, because it means that the only people who are likely to use it will be those who would genuinely benefit from it – people who are heading for Port Street and roads accessed from it, or who are heading to the Riverside Centre car park. For everyone else, it will still be quicker to go via Abbey Bridge.

That’s an important consideration, because one of the other objections to allowing traffic to reach Workman Bridge from the High Street is that Port Street is already congested and, in particular, has very poor air quality. Any changes which significantly increase traffic along Port Street, therefore, are likely to be strongly opposed. But my proposal, by making it possible, but deliberately awkward, to get to Workman Bridge from the High Street means that the traffic using it to reach Port Street will overwhelmingly be the traffic which already goes along Port Street, but at the moment reaches it from the High Street via Abbey Bridge and Waterside. There will be insufficient benefit for traffic headed elsewhere to switch to this route.

I could leave it there. But I think that it would work better with a few more tweaks.

The first is to make Conduit Hill and Mill Bank themselves one-way. This would effectively result in a figure-of-eight rotary system, with Chapel Street being the crossover. Here’s how it looks on a map:

Proposed One Way System

This does still have a few potential issues, but I think they are relatively minor and can be solved. The first is that Chapel Street becomes a potential choke point. It will carry more traffic than it does now, and that will include traffic merging in from two directions at the Oat Street end. That could lead to what’s known as “weaving” problems, where cars coming from the right and wanting to turn left interlace with cars coming from the left wanting to turn right. To avoid that, it would probably be necessary to repaint the lanes at the junction with Oat Street/Cowl Street to make it clear where priority lies in the traffic flow. I’d also like to open another entrance into Oat Street car park directly from Oat Street, so that traffic heading for the car park doesn’t have to go onto Chapel Street. That will tend to offset the additional volume of through traffic on Chapel Street.

Incidentally, although it looks tight on a map, the junction between Conduit Hill and Mill Bank is not a problem. It looks awkward as it’s a greater than 90 degree turn, but the radius of the curve is easily large enough even for long vehicles. Making those streets one way also means that on-street parking can be retained, which is very much needed here and would be threatened if both streets had to continue carrying two-way traffic at greater volumes.

A second genuine issue is that the additional traffic along Oat Street will make it less attractive to pedestrians. To address that, I’d put in a “road table” – that is, a large, flat hump of the type currently used in the High Street at the Bridge Street junction – in between Wallace House and the library, to slow traffic down. If guidelines permit, making it a zebra crossing would be even more helpful.

Finally, the junction between Mill Street, Bridge Street, Monks Walk and the Workman Bridge approach may need attention. With traffic coming from the High Street wanting to then turn into Monks Walk to get to the Riverside Centre car park (or even, for delivery vans, right into Bridge Street), it may need traffic lights to keep things moving. But this would also have the benefit of also improving the exit from Monks Walk and the car park, which can be awkward at peak times. Any lights here could be synchronised with their counterparts the other side of Workman Bridge, at the Port Street/Waterside junction, so as to maximise traffic flow.

There are possibly a few other places on the route that would need some relatively minor work, such as adjusting the kerb line in a few places. And, of course, white lines would need repainting and signs installed, as well as a set of traffic lights. But, overall, I think it would be a reasonably cheap option; something else which is also very important. Whatever we do has to be doable within the county’s highways budget. And a large proportion of that budget, don’t forget, has just been spent on Abbey Bridge. There isn’t an awful lot left in the kitty, so more grandiose schemes – even if they are workable – will be very much on the back burner for quite some time.

So, that’s my suggestion. What do you think?

Evesham parking concessions – some figures

Wychavon District Council have kindly provided me with some figures for the number of parking tickets sold in in district-run car parks in Evesham during the period that concessionary rates were in operation, compared with the same period the previous year.

The concessionary period ran from September 2013 to April 2014. Over that time, 418,151 tickets were sold, compared to 358,021 in the equivalent period the previous year. That works out at an average of around 2,020 a day during the concessionary period, compared to 1,729 a day previously. Or, to put it another way, Wychyavon sold an average of 290 more tickets during the concession period than normal.

So, does that mean it worked? Well, maybe. On the face of it, an extra 290 cars a day in the town is an improvement. But, on the other hand, 290 isn’t a lot. It’s an increase of just over 16%.

More importantly, other statistics obtained by Wychavon have shown that there was not a significant increase in footfall in the town centre during the concessionary period. So that 16% increase in cars doesn’t seem to have translated into a 16% increase in people.

How can we explain that? There are a number of possible reasons. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few:

People who would normally have walked into town, or taken a bus, chose to drive instead, because the parking was cheaper.

People who would have scoured the town centre for free parking were more prepared to pay for it instead, as it was cheaper.

People, particularly those only parking for a short period of time, who might previously have tended to keep an eye out for the parking attendant and not buy a ticket at all if they thought there was a low enough risk of ending up with a fine, decided that the risk wasn’t worth it for 20p and bought a ticket instead.

People used the town centre car parks, but didn’t visit the town centre shops.

There may, of course, be other reasons. But it doesn’t take many different reasons for them all to add up to enough to explain the difference between the extra cars and the lack of extra people.

The other issue here, though, is revenue. I don’t know how exactly much Wychavon earned from parking over the respective priods, but we can estimate a minimum. Assuming that everyone only paid for the shortest possible time, then during the concessionary priod the revenue was £83,630.20, while previously it was £179,010.50. In reality, both figures will be higher, because not everyone will have paid for the shortest time possible. But the additional income from longer time tickets will be much greater in the normal rates than during the concession, because normally the minimum price only buys you 30 minutes whereas during the concession 20p bought you three hours.

What that means, therefore, is that Wychavon’s revenue during the concessionary period was definitely slashed by at least 50% compared to normal, but in reality probably by far more. It would not surprise me if revenue was less than a quarter of normal.

That’s an unsustainable loss, and illustrates why the prices had to go back up again once the bridge had re-opened. It also illustrates why the argument that “cut prices, and more people use it, and you’ll make more money overall” is flawed. There’s an upper bound on the number of people using car parks in Evesham, partly limited by the number of available spaces and partly by the number of people who want to use them.

It also illustrates that tweaking parking prices isn’t necessarily the answer to increasing footfall in Evesham town centre. What’s more important is giving people a reason to come. And that’s an entirely different problem to solve.

If it aint broke…

Remember the Apple Maps fiasco? Google clearly didn’t.

I’ve previously blogged about how Google has managed to get the colour scheme horribly wrong in the latest redesign, but the latest change plumbs yet new depths of inanity.

You may have seen media reports of how Google managed to rename Basingstoke, but when my Maps were suddenly “upgraded” to the new version I noticed an equally glaring error right here in Evesham. Or, as Google now calls Evesham, “Raphaels”. Here’s a before and after screenshot:

Old Google Maps

New Google Maps

Actually, Evesham itself hasn’t been misnamed (unlike Basingstoke, which really was). What’s happened here is that a local business, Raphael’s Restaurant at Hampton Ferry, has, for some inexplicable reason, been given more prominence than the name of the town. If you zoom further in, or back out, then “Evesham” reappears on the map.

But why do this? I initially thought it might be a bodged attempt at personalisation, as I happen to know the owners of Raphael’s and eat there often. It’s not beyond the bounds of plausibility that, somehow, I’ve created enough of a digital footprint via social media that Google knows that, and is therefore highlighting it to me. But then again, neighbouring Pershore also shows up as “Holy Redeemer RC Primary School”, and I have no connection with that institution at all. In fact, until earlier today, I didn’t even know it existed.

So, what is the connection? My next thought was that it’s because Raphael’s Restaurant has a Google+ page, and a couple of generally positive reviews (currently rated 4/5, which is pretty good, really). But no, the Holy Redeemer RC Primary School doesn’t appear to have a Google+ page of its own yet. (It has an auto-generated Google one, but not a “real” one, if you know what I mean).

So I’m still none the wiser. And, while I’m not going to say anything negative about Raphael’s Restaurant (you should try the Sunday carvery, it’s excellent), I can imagine that other business owners in Evesham are somewhat less than chuffed about this. Why should Raphael’s be the first food outlet to appear on the map as you zoom in to Evesham? And why should the Evesham Pizza and Kebab House, in Port Street, be the second? (Other than the fact that I am a regular customer of theirs as well!). Why do St Richards First School and St Mary’s Catholic Primary School show up on the map of Evesham before the considerably larger Prince Henry’s High School? Why does the Vale of Evesham Christian Centre show up before Evesham Methodist Church? Why is Bonk the first shop to show up in the High Street (which is wrong now, anyway, as Bonk is moving to Port Street), and Phones 4U the first to be visible on Bridge Street?

I could go on. The entire selection of businesses on the new Google maps seems utterly random, and bears very little relationship to what people are likely to be looking for. If you want a primary school, a riverside cafe and a skate shop then it’s not a bad selection. But, realistically, how many people are going to care about these things?

I said in my previous post that Google seems to have stopped considering Google Maps to be first and foremost a map, and instead sees it primarily as a kind of geo-located business directory. That in itself is a bad move, of course. But it’s compounded by the fact that Google Maps is an absolutely atrocious business directory. It’s missing 90% of the businesses and organisations that people actually use, and of those it does include, it ranks them in an entirely arbitrary order of priority.

Anyway, enough ranting. There are three important things you need to know:

1. To opt out of the new Google Maps, click on the question mark icon at the bottom of the screen, and select “Return to classic Google Maps”.

2. Raphael’s Restaurant is definitely worth a visit if you’ve never been there before, particularly the Sunday carvery.

3. Buy your skate stuff from Bonk. Kim does a lot for the town, and needs all the business she can get.

Traffic management during Abbey Bridge Closure – a few reasons why it is what it is

With further delays to the re-opening of Abbey Bridge, one of the things that’s repeatedly cropping up on social media is the question of why the current traffic management system was chosen. In particular, people want to know why we have the crossover at the end of Oat Street, instead of reversing the flow in Oat Street and Swan Lane.

Map

The main reasons for rejecting the two options of either reverting to two-way traffic along Swan Lane or reversing the flow in Oat Street and Swan Lane are essentially practicality and safety.

Taking safety first, reversing the flow of a one-way street (or making it two-way) is something that is very strongly recommended against by the relevant guidelines as statistics show that doing so almost always results in a sharp rise in accidents. There are five significant traffic outlets onto Swan Lane (Conduit Hill, Rynal Street and three car parks) as well as several commercial sites accessed from the street. If traffic was flowing the other way, it only takes one forgetful motorist to fail to look in the “wrong” direction for there to be a collision. (The objection to this objection, so to speak, is that traffic will be nose-to-tail anyway, so it would be hard not to spot that it’s going the other way. But there are quieter times, and the main accident risk would be overnight when traffic is much lighter).

By contrast, there is only one road (Mill Bank) which exits onto Mill Street, one house and one business. The Mill Bank junction is closed for the duration of the works anyway (and safety is the main reason why), so that means a significantly lower accident risk by restricting the two-way flow to this section.

Using Swan Lane for eastbound traffic, either as a two-way road or by reversing the flow along with Oat Street, would also require temporary traffic lights on the High Street junctions as well as on Mill Road, as well as repainting (or coning off) new lanes on the High Street to handle the different flow patterns. Two way traffic along Swan Lane would require removing all on-street parking from it, which would have seriously detrimental effects on adjoining property owners.

Another issue is the bus station. This is on High Street between Swan Lane and Oat Street and, because of the way that the routes work, there are more buses using it in a southbound direction direction than northbound (and hence there are three southbound stands but only two northbound stands). All the buses need to use the diversion during the closure, and with the chosen option southbound buses simply turn left down Oat Street after leaving the bus stops. Northbound buses turn left out of Swan lane and loop round by using Merstow Green roundabout, leaving them on the right side of the street for the stops. That’s a slight diversion, but it’s less convoluted than making southbound buses loop round and then turn back on themselves.

Reversing the flow in Oat Street would also need traffic lights at the High Street end. And that would be additional to the existing lights at the Swan Lane junction, as they would still be needed to handle traffic to/from Avon Street. So we’d end up with two sets of lights in close proximity, close enough for the queues to interfere with each other. There’s also the problem of access to the semi-pedestrianised service road which runs along High Street in front of the shops, parallel to the main road. At the moment, to get to that, traffic turns into Oat Street from the High Street and then right into the service road. If service traffic had to do so against oncoming traffic from Oat Street, it would mean more complex traffic management and traffic light patterns.

Another problem with reversing the flow in Oat Street is that it’s only one lane wide. At the monent, traffic exiting Swan Lane into the High Street splits into two lanes, one turning left and the other turning right. That means that two vehicles at a time can exit into High Street. And, even during the work, there’s still a significant amount of left turning traffic. If westbound traffic was going via Oat Street, then all the traffic would need to queue in a single lane irrespective of which way it was turnning and only one vehicle at a time would be able to exit into High Street. That means that to get the same throughput, the lights would have to be green in that direction twice as long as they currently are. It also means that the queue, being half as wide, would be twice as long for the same number of queueing vehicles. So it would be far more likely to tail back into Mill Street, which still has to be one-way because it isn’t wide enough to handle two-way traffic round the bend at the bottom of the hill. So the tailback from Oat Street would get in the way of traffic from Swan lane wanting to go down the hill towards the bridge.

On a side note, it doesn’t help to say that Mill Street used to carry two way traffic as normal, and therefore could again without traffic lights. Firstly, the fact that it didn’t do it very well was one of the reasons why it was changed in the first place, and, in any case, the road has been deliberately narrowed since then. It would need rebuilding to allow two-way traffic around that corner again.

Using Oat Street for eastbound traffic makes it much simpler, as none of the existing lanes and lights on High Street need to change – all that’s necessary is a sign to direct through traffic down Oat Street instead of continuing along High Street to Abbey Road. And simplicity is itself a big factor; it’s easy for those of us who know Evesham to think of alternative routes but whatever is chosen has to somehow be communicated to visitors as unambiguously as possible – and that means not only putting up temporary signs saying what to do, but also removing or covering any existing signs and road markings which conflict with the temporary route. The more complex the changes, the higher the probability of someone getting it wrong – which takes us back to the safety issue, because mistakes lead to accidents.

Greater complexity also comes at greater cost, and, given that the funding from central government is solely for the construction of the new bridge itself, the costs of managing the traffic during the closure will come out of our council tax contributions. So keeping things cheap and simple is a valid goal in itself.

Individually, none of these reasons may be compelling in thmselves (although the safety aspect is probably the most important, and the chosen solution is one which was favoured by the emergency services). But, taken together, they make a very strong argument against any solution which involves reversing the flow in Oat Street or using two-way traffic in Swan Lane. Which is why those options were considered, but rejected.

Incidentally, one of the other options which was considered, but rejected, was to make no changes at all and require all outbound traffic to go round the by-pass. I think, on balance, that what we’ve got is better than that!

While we’re on the subject, it’s also worth explaining a bit more about how the traffic management is working at the moment. Far from being paid to stand around doing nothing, as some people have suggested, the “orangemen” are actually key to the operation of the one-way system. Rather than operate the lights on a simple timer or close-range vehicle detector (which is what’s normally done at roadworks), the orangemen are manually controlling the lights in order to balance out the flow. All of them are in radio contact with each other, and the two operators of the lights themselves take instructions from the “spotters” about the lengths of the queues at each end, and then switch the lights in order to always give the side with most traffic queueing priority. Where they can, if there are no large vehicles in the queue, they’ll also allow short bursts of two-way traffic along Mill Street to maximise capacity. The lights are only on a timer overnight when traffic is lighter.