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 bridge closure – traffic options

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?