Saturday, 1 June 2013

What Shall We Do With Markham's Chase?

One of my favourite blogs is "angry people in local newspapers" which takes an irreverant look at the photos staged to accompany local newspaper articles. One item caught my eye "Death trap road anger" and I thought it might be interesting to look a little deeper.

The story is taken up in full by the Echo - "School Road a 'Death Trap' for Angry Parents" and goes on to state the problems of parent traffic outside Janet Duke Primary School, Markham's Chase in Basildon, Essex. You may want to fire up Google Maps to keep track of the various locations I refer to in the post.

Here is the western half of Basildon. The area of interest is in
the red square. Note the yellow/ orange distributor roads which
encircle what is a large residential area in which Janet Duke
Primary School sits. Image based on Google Maps.
Now, some health warnings. Although I know Basildon quite well (having worked in the area years ago), I haven't visited the site and so do not have the necessary knowledge I would need if doing a "proper job" on a possible solution to the street's problems - the idea was to look at some of the issues behind the headlines. 

I will also be using casualty data from the excellent Crashmap website, but it will be basic, as access to full details costs money, plus the latest data is 2011.  I will therefore make some suggestions of how some of the actual casualties in this street may have been caused.

So, Basildon. Home of Mondeo Man and typical of urban development of the last several decades. The town was one of the many 'New Towns' created after the Second World War and has been expanding and redeveloping ever since. The town is bounded by the A127, A13 and A130 (of sub-regional importance), contains many commercial and industrial areas, retail parks, a large town centre and many local shopping centres. It is criss-crossed with wide distributor type roads and car is very much king here. There are some good cycling routes around the town, but the quality is hit and miss and priority is always with traffic.

High Road? More like Urban Motorway! Image from Google Streetview.
Markham's Chase is in the Laindon part of town which is characterised by housing of various ages and tenure tending to reflect the early development and subsequent redevelopment of towns like these. This residential area has the A176 to its east and Laindon High Road to its west - both are community severing dual carriageways.

The street is largely residential, but also has the school. Google Streetview has images of the area dated July and October 2012 and it seems that a sports centre and open land is currently being redeveloped for housing. There may be have been a bus route on the road, but it is not clear - I shall assume there isn't for the purposes of this post.

Massive wide road, perhaps the residents all drive Argos lorries?
Image from Google Streetview, showing the junction with
Leinster Road.
The street is very wide with huge open junctions, plenty of off street parking and reasonably generous footways. Some smaller closes spur from the road and there are walkways to some of the older housing stock, some of which have no road access. My assumption is that speed will be a problem on this road and where junctions are concerned, there will likely be failure to give way type collisions.

Image from Google Streetview.
The school is at the southern end of the street, covering a large site. It has multiple vehicle and pedestrian accesses from Markham's Chase. There are School Keep Clear restrictions everywhere which to me hints that the area is decended upon by cars twice a day. There is also extensive residential development going on opposite the school. I would say that you could find this kind of road layout all over the country, but the width of the roads is notable along with the dual carriageways around and through the residential areas as characterised by the other New Towns.

Markham's Chase highlighted red, the school boxed
in blue and two junctions I will come back to circled
in purple. Image based on 
Google Maps.
The map to the left is a little difficult to read, but essentially, the red line is Markham's Chase and the area in the blue square is the school site.

So, what of the "death trap" the Echo quotes parents as being concerned about? Well in the five years to 2011 (the most up to date data on Crashmap) there were a total 6 casualties recorded in the street. Of these, 5 involved slight injury and 1 involved a serious injury. None of the collisions involved child casualties. None involved pedal cycles, 1 involved a pedestrian and 2 involved motorcycles (including the serious casualty). The rest were all car-related. Search the street in Crashmap for yourself and use the filters - aside from the fact that this is data where people actually got hurt, it is an interesting exercise.

As I stated earlier, Crashmap gives basic data and so I would need to make assumptions about the causes, but it does not appear that the street is in fact a 'death trap' and so this is a typical overreaction of parents concerned about conditions outside a school; but it is a symptom of subjective safety issues which puts people off from walking or cycling. 

The serious injury involving a motorcycle was a single vehicle crash (nobody else involved) and so my assumption is that the rider lost control. To lose control in a residential area, I would suggest that speed is the issue and the serious injury is likely to have been caused (in my opinion) by the rider parting company with the machine and bouncing off a parked car or getting wrapped around a lamp column. There is a lamp column right at the recorded crash location and such a collision could include broken or fractured limbs, injuries to ribs, internal organs, back or neck or even severe grazing and lacerations if the rider was not wearing leathers - casualty investigation is not for the squeamish I'm afraid and can affect the engineer investigating a site, even if they are just looking at data trying to work out what happened.

The pedestrian casualty (slight) was close to the junction with Leinster Road which is in the photo above. Actually, the location is just in Leinster Road and it may be an issue of someone trying to cross a wide junction with traffic turning in at speed (all assumption). For a description of what 'slight' and 'serious' injuries mean, you can download a fact sheet from the DfT. This is all cold definition and so remember we are dealing with people here.

Parking near schools creates uncomfortable and subjectively
unsafe conditions for those who want to walk or cycle with their kids
to school. Pelican crossings can help pedestrians get priority over
traffic in busy locations, but only when the green man gives
In the wider context of funding being provided for a casualty-reduction scheme, it is very unlikely that Markham's Chase with a casualty rate of just over 1 per year would ever be funded - there will be areas in Basildon with a more serious casualty problem to be addressed. 

This is the traditional approach to engineering interventions where funding is always very constrained - in other words, with little cash available, we go after the locations where we judge we can make the greatest impact. The problem with this approach is that the "easy" sites have been treated over the last 20 years in terms of issues on a "traditional" road layout (like Basildon).

The challenge for the future, if policy moves towards supporting active travel as I hope it will, is making sure that changes to the network themselves do not create safety risks and where numbers of people walking and cycling increase, that that casualties do not increase as well (the subject of a future post which I am thinking about).

Back to the angry parents in the article. They are calling for two new pelican crossings in Markham's Chase - "installed the length of the school". (I assume they mean one at each end of the school frontage). Failing that, they want a pelican crossing at one end of the road and the (existing) school crossing patrol at the other.

Eric Street, Bow, East London - a good example of a cheap road
closure with cycle bypass to create filtered permeability and to
prevent through traffic using a residential area.
A new pelican crossing will cost in the region of £40-50k to design and construct and so for two, the parents need a working budget of about £90k as a first stab. Assuming a pair of pelican crossings are built - one at each end of the school, then there will still be chaos twice a day outside the school with parents driving and there will be complaints about some parents choosing to cross their children on a red man and children crossing in other parts of the street. More seriously, for the rest of the day, nobody will be using the crossings and local drivers and regular rat-runners will get very used to them showing green - this is a safety issue off peak when drivers do not expect to have to stop. Statistically, the crossings will generate annual pedestrian casualties over time (less then one a year would be my estimation, but casualties nonetheless).

Markham's Chase closed half way with Eric Street style closure.
Image based on Google Streetview.
The solution here is not expensive crossings, it is removing the through traffic from Markham's Chase. The road can be accessed from three other streets and essentially means people can drive through the whole area and out the other end, rather than use the major roads bounding this residential area. These major roads are wide and fast and so why shouldn't non-local traffic be forced to stick to them? I would close Markham's Chase in two key places which would mean that the only traffic to use the street would have business there. Without knowing local traffic patterns in detail, I would close the road at the southern end by the school (at Great Knightleys) and just north of Leinster Road which creates the opportunity for a pair of turning areas for each half of Markham's Chase - it also means that Leinster Road cannot be used as a rat run any more.

Road closed at Great Knightleys.
Image based on Google Streetview.
These two closures would cost in the region of £10k - perhaps using the layout above from Eric Street which maintains cycle bypasses. My scheme costs significantly less than that the parents' pelican crossings and when it comes to lobbying Essex County Council, I reckon more likely to be funded.

My scheme will not stop the parking by parents, but it will deal with traffic speed outside the school and it may put off some parents from driving to the school, it would also remove general through traffic and so start to make it feel safer to cross the road outside the school. There might be displacement of traffic and parking to other areas and so road closures should not be looked at in isolation. The road to the south of Markham's Close (Great Knightleys) is undoubtedly a busy and fast road because of its layout. If I had the money for a pelican crossing, it would be for here.

Returning to the article in the Echo and the Angry People in Local Newspapers post. "Dangerous" roads are a mainstay of local papers and it is always easy to stage a photo of "angry residents" (which is the point of the blog) and get quotes from them. In fact, the story writes itself and the journalist doesn't need to do an awful lot of work and more's the pity. In this story, I wonder why the journalist didn't undertake some basic research into the actual casualty record and why he didn't examine whether or not the pair of pelican crossings was a sensible idea?

The rest of the article explains that a meeting on site has been held between parents, Police Community Safety Officers (whatever that means), the local MP's secretary (!), a local councillor and the head teacher of the school. The head teacher explained that she has written to parents asking them to take more responsibility for their parking, but I wonder if she has written to find out why they drive their kids to school and what it would take to get them out of their cars?

The solution to improving walking is rarely a crossing outside a school (unless the school is on a major road) - the real barriers will be the busy main roads away from the school gate. But where schools are not on main roads, it should be possible in many cases to change the balance away from catering for the rat running traffic so that at school times, pedestrian activity dominates. With £10k, we could make a difference to Janet Duke Primary School, what could we do with the £90k the parents want spent on two pelican crossings which will probably end up creating pedestrian injuries?


  1. Hi there,

    I've been working on an approach to get widespread buy-in from local residents for similar type of changes to local streets in Tooting.

    Over 90% of local residents were supportive of the petition I ran. The key I believe is that I asked their support for a trial. Everyone can agree on the problem of rat-running, but the challenge at a local level is often the political support to do these type of measures. By running it initially as a trial (I've suggested using flower planters to act as bollards), people will be able to experience the difference.

    I believe that it will work, and they won't want the layout to be returned in the future to it's current configuration. If, for whatever reason they do, we won't have dug up the road to change it. So it can be relatively quickly returned to the status quo.

    Fingers crossed!

  2. Jon, this is a fantastic scheme - experimental schemes don't seemed to be used that much, but the law is easy to use and the planters will be a great way to trial the layout. I would agree with you that after people have lived with it, they will not want to go back - do let me know how the scheme goes, I have a questions tab which can be used to leave comments - I may need to comes over to the other side of London for a look!

  3. You might want to think about the design of your bollard island a bit first:

    :) - Joe

  4. That looks like criminal obstruction - but the police will not be interested! At least Markham's Chase has double yellow lines already - perfect for the Royal Mail to park on!